If I'd commission a coat of arms in stone… what should I bear in mind?

Copy of old family crest, sandstone.

I often get asked what it costs to have a coat of arms carved in stone. However, I noticed that there is often still a lot of confusion for many customers. Why is it so expensive, why there are different price ranges for the same crest, and in what are you different from others? What is the surplus value to have a family crest carved by a sculptor, as opposed to passing it through a sand-blasting machine, milling it or by having a stonemason carve it?

A stone coat of arms is a form of relief carving

crest stone with coat of arms, coat of arms embossed in stone

A round coat of arms, sandstone, 2013

On this blog you can find many kinds of reliefs I've made in stone in recent years , plus some family crests, which actually fall under reliefs as well. A relief differs from a 3D sculpture in that it bridges the gap between a drawing and a complete sculpture. A drawing takes place in the flat surface, and can, just as a photograph can, display all kinds of thing that aren't possible in a sculpture: a cloud, lighting, a reflection, a flying bird…

A spatial sculpture is tangible, has a certain dimension, and especially can been seen and touched from all sides. A good piece of sculpture therefore preferably has something interesting to offer on all sides. A relief is situated halfway between these two: it could depict clouds, but a reflection becomes a bit more difficult, and lighting is even trickier, but on the other hand it is tangible, and can sometimes almost be viewed in the round…. but not always!

A high relief seen from the side. (Photo by Ser Amantio Nicolao, Wikimedia Commons)

bas-relief with Tree of Life

A bas-relief is carved much flatter (Photo by Philippe Chavin – Own work, CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia Commons)

The difference between high relief and bas-relief

sandstone coat of armsA distinction is often made between high relief and bas-relief. The first is almost as if a complete spatial sculpture is placed against a flat background, and the second is more of a flat depiction that is carved shallowly out of the material. Actually, the distinction between these two terms are not very important to know, except that a relief can be worked out very flat, or very spatial. Personally, I find a relief with a lot of differences in depth of carving the most interesting, but of course that type will also be more expensive, because it takes a little bit more material and a lot more work.

A coat of arms in stone made by a sculptor

That spatial thinking comes natural to a sculptor. As a sculptor, I always look for the expression and movement in the picture, and I try to bring some tension and liveliness to it. That's why I often tend to choose for the more voluminous shapes. I could also work out the picture a bit more shallow and then all lines are neatly carved, but it lacks the movement in the mantling and the rounded shapes of the helmet and shield.

a coat of arms, shallowly carved in stone, as a basreliëf

A flat coat of arms carved in bas-relief

Therefore, the costs will be higher

small coa of arms in Udelfanger sandstone completed

So when I compare the two images above, the difference is clear to see. One takes a few days to make, and the other takes a few weeks. That piece of stone will not be much more expensive, that stays about the same. So it will be just what you want: if you want a simple flat image, then that will have a certain price. If you'd prefer a more voluminous looking carving, then that would have a different price tag to it.

A clear view of my approach to carving a family crest in stone can be found in most blog posts on this topic, but perhaps the next link is clearest in this case: A sandstone coat of arms with deep relief ↑.

More coats of arms in stone

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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Bluestone family crest completed

bluestone coat of arms with two falcons. Coat of Arms, coat of arms, relief with crest/coat of arms, family crests

The bluestone coat of arms on which I recently shared a post has now been completed. I've carved it out of a piece of Belgian bluestone (arduin) of 41 x 66 x 16 cms. After the last post that I shared about it, I've been busy for a long time with making everything sharper and sanding all the details, in order to remove all false dents. And all the small tips needed to be made sharper, the frame had to be finished and, of course, the text had to be carved and painted.

The relief depth is eight centimeters; it will be put into the wall for ten centimeters . There is a text underneath it: Me Restauravit MMXIX, or 'I've been restored in 2019', and that of course refers to the building in which this coat of arms stone will be installed soon.

Below in a gallery is again a summary of the process of making this coat of arms relief. Click on a picture for the enlarged view.

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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A bluestone coat of arms with two falcons

Bluestone stone coat of arms

I merrily went on to the next commission, another stone coat of arms this time. The previous one was a smaller relief with only the shield. That required a little more attention to the shape of the shield, to make the design a bit more interesting. But this coat of arms is quite extensive in itself because of the helmet, the mantling and the crest. I prefer deeply carved coats of arms, and this is no exception: the total depth of the relief is eight centimeters.

The customer lives in Belgium and has renovated a house that already had a plaque of Belgian bluestone in its façade. Hence, this plaque will have the same size, 41 x 66 cms. It's obviously a fairly elongated size, whereas the actual coat of arms occupies a more or less square space. So this leaves some space for a Latin text underneath the emblem. I'll get to carve that next week.

The rough shape

family crest transferring the drawing on bluestoneI first started with transferring the drawing onto the stone. I never fuss about that: I just stick the print onto the stone and carve the lines into the stone, right through the paper. Hoopla.

From woodcarvers I learned to first jigsaw out the contours. That way, you'll have these parts defined already and you can continue to trust in them. Now doing that in stone, and certainly in Belgian bluestone or arduin as the Flemish say, is a bit harder to do, but it remains a good plan. Using the drill, I could define the shapes and also the depth of the background plane for a number of spots (quick and easy) in one go.

To keep margin for errors, or not?

bluestone coat of arms-drilling the contoursThe rough carving of a relief is quite a bit different than that of a freestanding sculpture. When carving a sculpture, it'll be useful to have some margins in case you'll make a mistake. That is, you'd make sure you don't make anything definitive yet during the rough carving phase, so for example you'll still be able to move the limbs a little in case it is not quite to your liking. In relief carving that would not be convenient. You'd keep searching over and over again where all these frills should go if you wouldn't set any hard borders. By carving the parts straight down at right angles to the background plane from the beginning, the exact location of each component remains defined right up to the end, even if you start shaping its height with a coarse tooth chisel. The margins that you always need as a sculptor lie in the depth in this case. For you could always encounter a bad piece of stone, or you could make a mistake. In relief carving, parts can often be placed a bit deeper without too much damage.

Assigning the volumes

bluestone family crest: defining the volumesI have previously written about it: the next step is determining the heights of the various parts. In this case the helmet will be the most protruding part. I wanted to keep the mantling at the left and right below the level of the helmet, the shield should be covered by the helmet and consequently end up lower as well, and the lowest point are the tips of the mantling and especially the crest.

I just make those decisions by eye. I picked up the grinder and quickly cut down the planes of the mantling to a lower level. Then I once again drew on the lines of the shield , took into account the depiction on the shield, and carved it into the right curve.

Luckily I had made just such a little helmet before, in dolomite stone, and that one was still on the wall. With that piece next to it, it was quite easy to shape the helmet.

Playing

family crest rough carvingOnce I had rough carved all of these parts to their proper height, the best part came. This is why I love carving coats of arms so much. I'm sorry for the customers, but I'm not really into heraldry all that much or coats of arms as such. To me, family sure is important, but I'm not so concerned with ancestors and descendants. Other than gratitude for what they have given and for what beautiful things they'll be going to bring after I'm gone, it actually doesn't go any deeper for me.

bluestone coat of arms detailingBut the cárving of these crest reliefs is what I love to do! And that is because of all the lines and movement in the design. The clear shapes of the helmet and shield, in contrast to the elegant curves of the mantling… for me it's a each time again a play with lines and volumes. That's why I never make a maquette of these things. I just start, and let the lines lead me to the shape. It should of course end up looking somewhat symmetrical, so I usually first carve one side and then do the same thing mirrored on the other side.

Halfway through: finishing

bluestone family crest: halfway carving process

Once all the shapes are just about right, the detailing and finishing of the stone coat of arms starts. That is usually what takes the most time. I tapered the shield a little bit to make it all a bit more playful, and also gave it a good bulge, in order to give it some tension. But everything needs to be crisp in the end, otherwise it will end up as a complete mess and not easy to read. So next week I'll still be working a long time making it all crisp and sharp, and with carving the letters. And the edge still needs to be carved straight.

Read more in the following report ↑

family crest stone halfway  carving process
-below is a time lapse in slides. Click on a photo for the gallery-
Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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The flying buttress with the seven sins-2: Carving!

Copying flying buttress statue Rage. Photo during the carving of the detailsPerhaps you remember when I received the next series of flying buttress figurines in my yard? In a post from 9 March 2019 on this blog, you can read how they arrived in our yard in pieces. Jelle then spent a long time gathering all the loose parts and bonding them into recognizable sculptures again. These were the seven sculptures from flying buttress no. 24, on the subject of The Seven Sins. The first sculptures are finished now.

I haven't even done that much work on this arc myself, mainly because I was busy with other projects: Thomas Aquinas, large crockets for The Utrecht Dom Cathedral, and some family crests (I've been busy with the next one already, in Belgian bluestone).

Naughty ladies for Jelle

Jelle Steendam busy carving a copy of the flying buttress statuette of Gluttony Jelle Steendam with Gluttony

Stide has also been busy with other projects, so Jelle was the one who had the most momentum. He had presawn a number of sculptures and subsequently been carving away on Vanity and Gluttony. He is now working on Greed. I've only made Rage so far, and Stide is now working on Lust.

Flying Buttress Figurine Vanity, copy by Jelle Steendam

Vanity is very pleased with her own beauty

Vanity is a lady with long hair and a mirror, Gluttony is a fat lady stuffing something in her mouth, and Lust is a naked lady with toads to her chest. I'll keep it short about these sculptures here, the gentlemen can explain that on their own websites.

The Anger

copying flying buttress statue RageCarving a copy of flying buttresses figurine RageOne of the seven deadly sins is the rage, or anger. This was the statue that I got to carve myself. It represents a man pulling a knife and with a face distorted from rage and hair pulled back, frightening everyone else.

expression study of flying buttress figurine The Rage

The original image had sharp teeth, but the eyes were closed, so that the expression was a bit half-hearted. So I took some pictures to find out how the eyes are in such a face.

Latin terminology

carving flying buttress statue Rage (close-up)

Each of these seven vices has a latin term to it, and Ithought it would be nice to carve that word in the side of the profile for each of the sculptures. This would be Ira, the Latin word for rage, Gluttony becomes Gula, Vanity would be Superbia and Lust becomes Luxuria . Then there are Avaritia (greed/avarice), Acedia (laziness/sloth) and Invidia (envy/slander). And each virtue has its own term as well, but those will be coming up much later on, because after this, we first get to carve the Musicians and the Apostles from flying buttress no. 14 and some 16.

Crates full of debris: old photos wanted!

crates with flying buttress figurines that are yet to be copied.

some of the crates with the old flying buttress figurines

a crate with a flying buttress figurine in ruins

if you have any old photos, that would help me a lot in their reconstruction

We had a few weeks of good weather, so I took the opportunity to measure up all of the remaining flying buttress sculptures, so we'd -in due course- be able to order the new stone in advance. But I didn't find all the figurines in good condition in their crates! There were a few crates among them with only a thick layer of debris at the bottom. I have no doubt that if necessary we could also reconstruct these sculptures properly, but seven of these figurines will not return to the church. People are thinking hard about a modern interpretation to fill the holes they leave behind.

weathered tuff sculptures in storage in the sculptor's yard

a small part of the old sculptures in the yard

But for the rest of them, we'll have to restore everything and let our creativity fill in the missing parts. If anyone has any old pictures of the flying buttresses on which the sculptures still shine in full regalia, I can use those very well. My email address can be found on the contact page.

Almost 60 finished, some 38 more to go?

weathered figurines of the musicians in storage

a few of the seven musicians and seven apostles from buttresses 14 and some 16

We're coming along nicely, carving all those new figurines: with these three we've landed at 56 , and number 57 and some 58 are already in progress. It is hard to imagine that we've made so many already and it still is fun to do! I must admit that the Foolish Maidens and especially the Crippled were not as interesting, but these are definitely worth it because they are so expressive and clearly tell a story. And then you have to remember that we also did a lot of work for the tower of St. Eusebius's Church. Especially Stide spent months of carving in the workshop in Arnhem and made a lot of corbels in new stone.

lijst met alle luchtbogen en hun thema's

-click on the image for a larger view-

There are still a lot of figurines to go, but not all of the sculptures can be saved. We do not know how many we'll still get to carve exactly, but for the curious among us, here's a list of all the flying buttress numbers and the themes for each arch (sorry, it's in Dutch only!).

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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copy of Thomas Aquinas completed

-Click on the pictures for more details-

the two parts of the sculpture are glued together

7. The parts are glued together

beginning with carving the head

8. starting to carve the face and bird

Thomas in two parts

After long interruptions (carving finials for St. Eusebius's Church and some large crockets for the Utrecht Dom Cathedral this summer) the statue of Thomas Aquinas is finally finished. In my previous blog posts you can read who this man was and how I reconstructed the sculpture, and how I started the copying of the statue with a lot of sawing.

When I got started again,I had already anchored the two parts together with two thick stainless steel threaded rods of 20mm thick and about 50 or 60 cms long. That won't come off so easily. I made it so that the top part fits onto the lower part a bit like a bottle cap. But I still needed to connect the jointing plane with a restoration mortar, because carving this plane to fit 100% is unnecessarily difficult. I can't glue it entirely, because a horizontal glue layer is like asking for trouble. The water won't seep through the material and the stone above the line will rot and break by freezing. Of course I did attach the pins firmly with epoxy adhesive. With the mortar I grouted the seam in the same colour and now it's hard to tell the spot.

carving of the face and the bird on the copy of the statue of Thomas Aquinas

9. detailing bird and head

hoisting the statue of Thomas Aquinas

10. hoisting

Feathers and feet

This was followed by the wellknown steps of carving the details. With some measuring work and gradually detailing, a proper copy of the weathered sculpture emerged. I didn't use the pointing machine for this, because my presawing machine had already given me so much references that I could transfer the intermediate points much more easily with compasses and templates.

I had reconstructed the missing pieces with plastiline clay in the old statue. This clay will not harden and can easily be removed again later. The clay coloured remarkably well with the rest of the statue, so it did not interfere while copying.

The pigeon on Thomas’ s shoulder was carved with great detail, with tiny legs and feathers. This kind of thing is not really hard to make in this stone, it just requires a little more patience.

copy of statue of Thomas Aquinas put higher for the carving of the folds

11. carving of the lower half

finishing the lower side of the statue of Thomas Aquinas

12. carving the folds and finish sanding

At working height and easy to turn

I then placed the statue a level higher, in order to tackle its lower half. I always set them up close together and preferably on a turntable, so I can always put them in the best position and easily oversee everything.

I had these stands made so they fit on small pallets, so I can easily wheel them around with a pallet truck. They are stackable too, so I can build them up to a good height. But the stands are just for the larger statues; for smaller ones I'll use my yellow scissor tables. I can use the turntables on these as well.
In case that's still too low, I can add an extra platform to it.

sanding the habit of the sandstone sculpture

13. Sanding the habit

copy of statue of Thomas Aquinas beside reconstructed original

14. Statue finished; the original, here still with the clay repairs

Buffing and sanding

Once all the details were to my taste, the sanding started. With diamond files and abrasive stones, I sanded the entire statue. Later on it still didn't look good enough to me. I discovered that in this Udelfanger sandstone it works quite well if you finish it with sandpaper or emery cloth by hand. It gives a kind of velvety finish that suits the sculpture quite well, and all the scratches of the chisel and abrasive stones will quite easily disappear. However, it is again just another of those jobs that take a bit of patience. I've been sanding on his habit for days, and started to feel it in my fingertips.

copy and original side by side. Original now without clay

15. The finished copy and the original, here without clay

the original statue of Thomas Aquinas, damaged.

16. The original before repairs

Making history for posterity

At the rear of the original statue, there were all kinds of different chisel marks. I reproduced them in the copy. But to make things clear for future generations, I also carved in the following text:: copy 2019 k. van velzen

This should make it easier for future historians what happened to this statue in the present year. For I don't dare trust that this blog will survive the centuries. Perhaps not even the Internet will. It is said that one good solar eruption is enough to fry all of our electronics and even the electrical equipment and facilities. We'll see, but this way, Thomas will remain, at least a little, a guardian of history.

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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Small coat-of-arms in Udelfanger sandstone

Small coat-of-arms in a baroque shape

For a customer I made a small coat-of-arms in Udelfanger sandstone. Since this time no mantling and helmet were added, I chose a somewhat more baroque shield shape to make it a lively relief. I also tried to give the shield a nice bulge, to create an interesting shape with curled edges as if it were a scroll.

Finishing

Because of the small size of the crest stone, it took a lot of care to get all the details clear cut. It is designed to stand out by strong shadows. This small stone crest will end up in the top of a facade, so the shadows will be important in order to recognize the picture. To enhance the contrast I therefore 'pointed' the background of the coat of arms, ie I've beaten small pits with hammer and point chisel in the background. The rough surface makes the smooth shield stand out well.

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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Ornaments in basaltic lava for the Utrecht Dom Cathedral

large crockets in basaltic lava for the cathedral of Utrecht, ready for transportThese last months were a period when we were mainly busy carving stone ornaments. After all the carving of crockets for finials of St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem we went straight ahead with these large crockets in basalt lava for the Utrecht Cathedral. During my vacation the blocks had arrived and a first example was approved by the assessment committee.

French basalt lava

completed and precut crocket in Volvic basalt lavaVolvic Basaltlava originates from near the French village of Volvic in the Puy de Dome, in the Auvergne. This village is known for the eponymous mineral water, but its stone has gathered its own fame as well. Basaltic lava is tremendously resistant to weathering, and this kind in particular is also suited for carving, such as, for example, can be seen at the Cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand. It can all appear to be a bit grey and dull when it is used all over a building, but when used sparingly and mixed in with other stonework, it can be a valuable addition. Unlike for example Peperino Duro, Volvic will remain well defined under all kinds of weather- and lighting conditions, whereas Peperino will soon appear a vague gray mass, and the play of shapes becomes unreadable. Even when it rains the lines are still clearly visible in Volvic. It was widely used, for example, in the last restoration of Our Lady's Tower in Amersfoort as a replacement of sandstone, even for the sculptural parts. This stone actually blends in very well with the gray tones of weathered Bentheimer sandstone.

completed crocets in Volvic basaltic lava, wet by rain

even during wet weather these crockets stand out clearly

There are more types of basalt lava, like Niedermendiger and Mayener basaltic lava, which for centuries has been used for grindstones, because of their durability, hardness and sharpness. To me, these are not nice stones to carve in; one needs to really work hard to make something and it all remains very dark. That is why, in this case, I submitted a proposal to carve these ornaments in Volvic, in particular because a few meters below them the same stone is used on the same walls of the Dom Church. Alternatives for this were Peperino and sandstone. However sandstone is more vulnerable than Volvic.

Advantages- and disadvantages

rough carving a large crocket in Volvic basalt lavaAs mentioned, Volvic is well suited for carving. It can even be used for enameling, or rather glazes, provided it's first covered in a thin layer of clay. This process is mainly suited for large tile panels without seams. Drawbacks are that those can't be made much thicker than 3 to at the most 5 cms, and there will always be a risk that the stone will snap in the oven. However, I would like to carve a relief one day and then have it glazed to create a vivid and colorful display.

The material will always remain unslippery and that's one of the reasons that basalt lava is often used for steps and stairs. It will weather very slowly. But it is a lava rock, containing many small gas bubbles. These bubbles may occur in lines, along which the stone could break during processing and also after cutting when on the pallet it could still spontaneously break along an invisible tension line . The stone is layered and carves a lot easier in one direction than in the other. Like most natural stone, Volvic basalt lava also comes in various shades of colour, from gray to deep anthracite, from nearly black, to brownish purple and almost burgundy-like brown.

Four on the same page

The four of us have worked on this assignment. Stide has made four of them, I did five, Jelle made two more, and Serge accounted for the lion's share and carved the remaining nine. Working together in such a group, the individual differences between the individual sculptors working are bound to show, for after all, we are not machines. Yet there was a great partnership and close cooperation among us. For instance, on two occasions the three of us have been working on one clay model, all at the same time , during which we noticed to our own surprise how much consensus there was on the shapes that we were pursuing and how the tension needs to flow within the leaves. Stide had initially made a clay model, which we adjusted together during the first visit of the committee, and Serge's first piece was carved after that model.

Ten left and ten right

Old photograph from 1960 ofthe left transept of Utrecht Cathedral, without any crockets

the facade of the transept, here without any crockets, around 1960

These twenty large crockets will come on top of the left transept, where the wall ends and the eaves begin. So there are ten left hand and ten right hand crockets. If you stand between the Dom Tower and the cathedral and you walk a little to the left, you will just be able to see them. And perhaps even from the terraces next to the church.

These crockets in basalt lava will replace twenty crockets that were installed in the 1980s. These were casts, but they did not survive the last thirty years very well, so they already need to be replaced now. Fortunately, this time was chosen for graceful ornaments in a much more robust stone, so we can assume that these crockets will adorn the church for much longer.

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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Finials for St. Eusebius's Church-2: crockets!

crockets carved for St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem, the Netherlands

As I already explained in in an earlier blog post I spent my days before the summer holidays carving crockets on finial parts for St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem (the Netherlands).

And my colleagues Stide Vos, Serge van Druten and Jelle Steendam were also contributing to this project. I have not seen how these finials are installed now, but I have every confidence that they're looking great.

Completion

Shaft piece with crockets for St. Eusebius's Church. Below is an ornament with a surprise in it

For a while, it was still a bit uncertain whether it would all be finished on time. The stonemasons always make the basic work, i.e. all the geometric parts of the finials. We take care of the ornamental parts (the crockets), then it's all sent to the church, where the contractor is responsible for the installation. It was at that time very busy at the church yard, because …Read the whole article…

A short radio interview on national Dutch radio2

Daniel Mayer [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

(Sorry folks, the interview was in Dutch) On Sunday 11 August 2019 I was interviewed for radio show Bureau Kijkindevegte in response to the following question from a listener: How would a sculptor correct mistakes made during carving in stone? A short interview about how to approach the carving of a stone sculpture. More about this question can be found in the following article: …'Never hit that nose off?'?..↑

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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Looking back: the South Chapel of the Utrecht Cathedral

tufa crockets on the south chapel of the Dom cathedral in Utrecht

Tufa crockets for the southern chapel

After a visit to the Utrecht Dom Tower for a quote, I took the time to shoot a few pictures of our recently completed work on the Dom cathedral. To be precise, the 3 facades of the South Chapel on the Pandhof side.

If you'll remember: a few months ago we had carved 29 large tuff stone crockets for the pointed arches of the cathedral in Utrecht. Now Serge and Stide did carve the majority of the flowers, but …Read the whole article…