Saturdays project: two Kalasams in dolomite

one of two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

Strict Confidentiality!

reliefs in basaltic lavaIt has been a while since I shared a project, and that's because our current project is a big one. Not only do we need to make a lot of parts for it, but also a lot of this work is new and exciting. I can say that it concerns the façade reconstructions for the church of Veghel, but the details remain a surprise as it will become a gift to the city/village. We have been busy for more than a year with the preparations, reconstructions and the sculpting itself. Meanwhile the work on installing it all is progressing quickly and we're already working on carving the final parts, but we will keep the icing on the cake a secret for a while. This is also an exciting part for us, of which we very much look forward to the result.

Saturdays project

blocks for the two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

two blocks of dolomite

But in addition to all the hustle and bustle in Veghel, I still saw an opportunity to make good use of my Saturdays and carve two temple finials in the same green dolomite limestone from which the plinth for my father's statuette "Surrender’ was made, as well as his tombstone.

This was a venture that required some planning as it was going to be very thin and yet needed to remain strong. How did I do that? I didn't want this ornament to break in half after a few years outdoors, so I decided to glue in a stainless steel threaded rod. I drilled a hole in the middle of the 80cm tall stone with a diamond drill, well aligned, so that I would end up right about in the middle on the other side. It needed to be really sturdy right away, so I chose a threaded end of 20mm thick. This one need to stick out the bottom for 15 cm and at the top for 5 cm, so I thought to seal the stone with clay and pour some epoxy around the threaded rod. But it was still very cold outside and the epoxy would not flow properly.


gluing pens into the blocks for the two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

gluing the pins

The second attempt was with a much thinner cast epoxy. I poured this in from the other side, via a clay bowl, and this glue did flow all the way through. Success, I thought. But then it turned out in the following week that the epoxy wouldn't harden fully! To my disappointment, I had never read that you need to use this glue above 15 degrees Celsius, and it was only 5º Celsius. The stuff stayed a bit rubbery and although it hardened a bit more in the following month, it never really cured fully. But… actually that is better. These temple ornaments will be placed on the roof and will have to deal with considerable temperature differences. Then it is beneficial if the binding is not too rigid.


Kalasams are ornaments atop a Hindu temple, usually made out of brass but sometimes stone. Traditionally they were used to store rice, so that after a disaster it could always be resown. They are intended to protect the temple. Also see the English Wikipedia. In this case I was asked to make these Kalasams for the temple of Onderdijk. This hall got a new roof, and though first was thought of removing all three chimneys, later on was decided to keep the two little ones as a pedestal for these kalasams. They serve as the crown on top of the temple.

Drawing and sawing

3d sketch

side view and cross section of the two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

side view and cross section

I drew a model on the computer based on photos using Sketchup, from which, after some adjustments, I printed a profile. I used that for a full-size wooden profile template, that I could use on my sculpture sawing machine. With this copying saw I was able to cut out of the stone, just like a vertical lathe, the ornaments in several steps. However, sawing in dolomite is a very slow process, so I was kept busy for a few days sawing each kalasam.

Buffing and sanding

one of two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

first turning work

But just with this sawing work you're far from finished. The result is still not accurate enough and very striped because in fact it consists of lots of saw cuts that run horizontally around the ornament. I have been busy shaping for a few more days, sanding, grating and filing until it was to my liking. And because these are all difficult shapes, I just had to do a lot by hand. I finally sanded the two ornaments down to grain 200, so it wouldn't get too dark and shiny. A little bit matte light green, like a copper roof, seemed nice to me. Over time, this stone will weather to this color on its own.


crowning for one of two kalasams in green dolomite limestone (Anröchter Grünstein)

the first version of the capstone was much too pointed

As a last part I still had to make two separate cover knobs, which I also cut out with the lathe first. I had a very slender shape in mind, but when I put the parts together it all turned out to be out of proportion. The stem was still too long and the bud was too much Efteling theme park style. After I had adjusted all that, I was happy. I made it so that the button sits like a lid over the stainless steel threaded rod and the stem. It has become quite a slender ensemble, but the reinforcement in it makes it surprisingly strong.


first of the two Kalasams is installed

first one installed

I had thought beforehand that it would be useful if the two Kalasams each consisted of two parts: the actual ornament and a loose peak. Then I could screw on an eye bolt so that I could hoist the piece in the workshop and it could also be handy on the roof.

That turned out alright. I had prepared it all well and because many hands make light work, they were in their place on the chimneys in no time. With a long lifting strap onto the eye bolt, two men on top and two on the bottom, we could easily hoist them onto the roof. I suspect they weigh around 60 kilos, but it was doable this way. They are 80 x 40 x 40 cms. A little bit of adjusting, attaching the cap and filling the joints and it was done.


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A Lotus flower for my father's grave

The symbolism of the lotus flower

For my father's grave I made a design with wavy water and a large lotus flower. The waves represent turbulent life and the lotus flower is a well-known symbol for the spiritually grown person who is firmly rooted in earthly life, but the worries of everyday life are beading from him or her, like water drops roll off a lotus leaf. The flower is directed towards the light, just as the soul strives for unity with the Divine.


I had ordered a few large pieces of stone. In trade it generally called dolomite however, but the actual name is Anröchter Grünstein. It's quarried in the German village of Anröchte, about 60 km from Dortmund in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is actually an ideal stone for sculpting in a few ways: it's not all that hard, all surface treatments come into their own beautifully, from roughly worked to polished, and you can carve in it in great detail. It also turns beautifully light green outside over time.

Much too fat

At first I thought to make the waves quite deep and so I had ordered a slab of stone of 100 x 200 x 20 cm. I had already carved some of the waves but it all got very restless. So I just decided to cut the thickness back to 12 cms, so that I could carve the waves much more subtle and it would radiate much more tranquility. I then sanded these waves and not polished them too much, so that they retained a soft surface that will later oxidize nicely to light green.


Then came the lotus itself. I had found a nice image on the internet. I traced it onto the 16 cm thick standing stone and first removed the contours of it up to 8 cm thickness for the background.

Shaping the petals

Then I could start carving the remaining shape. I shaped the petals with a tooth chisel to make an effect of the veins in the petals. One of the most frequently asked questions I received was whether water will remain standing in it. That would be a beginner's mistake, of course. After so many years in restoration work, carving ornaments in all kinds of stone, that is something I really don't have to think about anymore. Although the leaves are hollowed out, the water from each petal flows neatly downwards.


I outsourced the installation and lettering to a befriended stonemason. Harder Natuursteen BV from Hoogkarspel who have very conscientiously taken care of this part. If I wouldn't have been up to my neck in assignments and deadlines, and if I hadn't been hopelessly out of routine in letter carving, I might have carved the text myself. But now it has been sandblasted and colored very subtly, and I'm glad it looks so nice. I'd rather have it neatly sandblasted than end up with not-quite-up-to-standard hand carved letters.

I also didn't have the equipment to install such a big stone in a cemetery myself. It can of course all be arranged, but these people do this several times a week and have a trailer with a hoist, a flat cart, a movable gantry crane and all the expertise, in short, everything you need to do this smoothly and professionally. I myself could have rented everything and probably would have taken four times as long and had a lot more headaches. You can't always do everything best yourself. I am very grateful that they have completed all this so professionally for us.

Can it be an ounce more?

When ordering the stone, I had taken into account the information provided by the cemetery. A family tomb is 100 x 200 cm and may be up to 100 cms tall. But it has now become apparent that these sizes are considerably larger than the other graves, especially because the neighboring grave has also subsided considerably. That is why this grave stands out so much now. Most graves are 80 wide and 50 high. But anyhow, it has become an attractive ensemble, I think.


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Modelling griffin in clay and plaster

Jelle modelinf the griffin. Modeling Griffin in clay and then cast it in plaster

Jelle and I are halfway there with the modeling work on the griffin

Continuing with the large griffin

griffin modeling in artificial clay It's a project with long interruptions, because there's always work coming in between that seems to be much more pressing. But last summer there was a holiday period in which Jelle and I could get to work to finally shape the large mirrored griffins. In my last post on this, from more than a year earlier, I said that these two mirrored griffins will probably be cast in concrete. But I got good news from the customer: on closer inspection he preferred sandstone originals to concrete casts. We can proceed to carving them in stone! I decided that this is quite a big project for me alone and that I would like to make it together with Jelle Steendam both the modelling and the carving. With the combination of both our senses of shape and an extra pair of hands, this will become a great piece of sculpture that I am extremely enthusiastic about.

Not foam but clay

Making steel frames for the work of griffin in clay and then casting in plaster

I had already started to enlarge my scale model in hard foam. But the work was not to my liking. I could not get the suppleness that I had in mind and decided to do it differently and thus, I wanted to model the griffin in clay. The first step was a sturdy frame. I drew a contour template from my scale model, enlarged this to the desired scale and sawed it out of a sheet of wood. Then I welded together a steel frame from square profile tube for the griffin. I could roughly model the body of the griffin out of wire mesh and fix it to the frame, and filled with polyurethane foam. I made the wings removable.


modeling griffin shield in clay 3Then came the modeling of the shield. The shield is such an intricate movement of parts with all kinds of details that at first it was difficult to read from the small pictures. When we were almost done with all the casts, the client sent us a whole series of razor-sharp photos showing that I had been very close to the original. But there was also new information that we discovered on them which we will certainly incorporate in the reconstruction. I had already spent many hours in photo editing to find out what it once had looked like.

old photo griffin in situA colleague noted that he was more likely to use such old photos as a guide to make his own animals than to make an exact copy of them. There is also something to be said for that. But for myself it has been a challenge to reconstruct and approach the level of the old griffins. It has made me a better sculptor. And it is also a very educational project for Jelle. He has a lot more modeling experience than I do and is also better acquainted with making plaster caps. But doing it on this scale is new to him too! So together we learn a lot. Only when we really start carving will we be on familiar territory; we have done that many times before.

I made a one-sided cap from the shield and with the help of Jelle also a plaster cast. We could use this for further modeling work on the griffin's body.

Teeny tiny knights

family crest Von Klot for left griffin's shieldThe shields are also both different. They both have a family crest on it, one is of Graf Von Klot-Trautvetter with two helmets and two knights with banners and lances and a motto, and the other of Graf Von Bohlen, with five griffins and three helmets and the weapon motto "Cave Gryphem". These family coats of arms alone are extremely laborious pieces, so this is a project we will be spending a lot of weeks on in addition to the time we needed to model it in clay.

family coat of arms Von Bohlen for right hand griffin's shieldThe general shape of the shield I had also modeled n clay and cast in plaster. I did not model that whole family crest, because that is a lot of work that you cannot transfer anyway with the copying saw. I could better carve it directly into the stone, which is much faster once the drawing's transferred onto it. A good example for this is the large family crest with two griffins that I installed in 2013 in sandstone.

The body of the griffin

modeling griffin in clay and then cast in plasterThen came step three: modeling the body, the wings and the tail. This was the point where Jelle could also come into action. Together we shaped the griffin in a number of days of intensive modeling. Clay can naturally dry out and shrink, so it was very nice that we could do this together in a shorter time. The griffin will be 115 cm tall and the shield 122 cms, so that was hard work.

Plaster molds

modeling griffin in clay and then cast in plasterBut you can't do much with a clay model. When it dries out, it will crack and disintegrate. When wet, it can sag or become damaged. That is why we have used up a gigantic load of plaster to arrive at a plaster model. We were satisfied with the expression of the clay griffin, so that we could proceed to step 3: Placing plaster molds over it.

First I took off the wings and tail and made separate plaster molds for those. Then we made, in an intensive rhythm of mixing plaster, putting on a thin layer of plaster in color and applying a thicker layer over it, a plaster mold for the belly of the griffin. The last two molds were for the griffin's head. We definedthe seams with strips of metal, in this case cut from a sheet of zinc that I still had. Finally, the two molds for the left and right half of the griffin followed.


modeling griffin in clay and then cast in plaster. Hollow plaster casts.After that Jelle and I made casts of each mold part. We had mixed a good load of glass fiber through the plaster, so that the casts could remain thin. Finally, we joined the loose parts together with more plaster, which we smeared over the seams from within. Overall, we now have a hollow griffin of approx 8 cms thick, that we can still handle a bit.

modeling griffin in clay and then cast in plaster. carving away the plaster moldsBut the statue was still encased in the plaster molds! That is why we have also been busy for a few days to carve away all the molds from the plaster cast. Fortunately, we had added a little red dye to the inner layer of the plaster molds, allowing us to see when we were getting close to the final surface. We ended up with a bunch of casts, which may not have been perfect according to the views of professional mold makers, but more than sufficient quality for our copying saw and also good enough for a maquette to start sculpting from.


modeling griffin in clay and then cast in plaster. Carving away the last remnants of plaster by JelleThis griffin will later on be carved in stone. And just like all those flying buttress figurines of the past years, it is first sawn on the sculpture sawing machine. For this we need a sturdy model that does not depress when a follower disc rests on it. I could've also cut the beast out of foam and covered it with polyester, but with this method we were more flexible with the design. After all, you can easily remove and add clay, and with foam that becomes more difficult.

But the griffin will become two different griffins, a left version and a right one. They need to be mirrored and that means the front legs, the claws, sit differently with one version than with the other. I thought we could first cut out and sculpt one griffin, and that we will then adjust the plaster legs of the model so that the right claw holds the shield and it rests on the left.

Ordered some sandstone

For these two griffins, the two shields, the four wings and the two tails I have now ordered a batch of Obernkirchener sandstone. The quarry informed me that it will take a while to find good blocks of such a large size for the sculptures. But I really wanted this type of stone, although it is very dense and quite difficult to carve. But it is extremely weather resistant and has a beautiful color. Above all, the material is very strong. I had cut a slice of approx 1 cm thick, about 15 x 15 cms, and I couldn't break it with my hands. And yet I still have quite a lot of strength in my fingers. This is a perfect property for my purposes, because these beasts will be standing on 1 front leg, and the shield, the wings and tail are not very thick either. This way they can last a few centuries. is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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