A flying buttress figurine with two pedantic heads

Two-Headed Eagle Completes

Too many other priority projects

We haven't made flying buttress figurines for the Eusebius Church for three quarters of a year now, because a number of other projects came in between, such as the finials and large crockets for the Utrecht Dom Tower, the figurines of the 4 seasons from Badhoevedorp, the 10 blocks from the Latin School in Nijmegen, the roasted dolphins of the Art'otel in Amsterdam, the Kalasams, once again a whole batch of large crockets for the Dom tower, and especially a lot of ornamental, relief- and sculpture for the reconstruction of two facade claddings for the church of Veghel, about which more later, after the unveiling.

Headless chicken

double-headed eagle before disassembly

before disassembly, around 2006

But once that was completed I could enjoy carving another flying buttress statue, a two-headed eagle this time. This figurine had also suffered quite a bit from the impregnation process gone awry and the weather conditions. As a result, it ended up going through life headless. Two old photos showed that the heads were not really very expressive, and if someone doesn't agree with it they should come over and tell me so, but I took the opportunity to make some nice and pedantic new heads in foam and plaster. I imagined those two heads arguing with each other all the time and being very conceited to boot. Taking into account the block size from which they had to be carved afterwards, I also made sure that they each looked in a different direction. I also made them look a bit more like eagle heads, because I couldn't make much out of that old photo.

Foam and plaster

old weathered eagle of tuff

a few years after dismantling

As said, the necks of this two-headed eagle were so thoroughly broken off that even a beginning could not be found anymore. So I drilled a few holes for a support frame and made two foam necks and heads, which I later covered with a layer of plaster. I left it all pretty coarse, because I would only really start to shape it when carving the stone. This also fits better with the approach of the original sculptor, who preferred to carve the flying buttress figurines in direct carving style at the time.

Following our tried and tested method, I then sawed a copy into new stone with my contour saw, after which the carving could begin. More about the operation of this machine can be found in this article and video, and in all articles about the copy saw machine.

Plaster reconstruction of the heads of the double-headed eagle

the plaster reconstruction between the finials of the Dom Tower

The Two-Headed Eagle

Two-Headed Eagle CompletesThe two-headed eagle is an ancient motif, that can be found in many cultures. Often it has to do with references to an empire. Van Kuilenburg had clashes with Germany in his youth during the war, where the symbol was widely used, but also in the centuries before that, the Reichsadler was already a widely used symbol.

Bald bird gets feathers

Two-headed eagle during carving process

We've now copied have a whole series of figurines by Eduard van Kuilenburg into new stone. For the vast majority of these, we have closely followed the original figurines. But with a sculpture like this, much of which is missing, it was more important for me to make an interesting image that fits in with the atmosphere of his other work, than obsessively trying to reconstruct what is no longer clear. Because I have already found feathers on some of his earlier birds, and because it soon turned out that I would otherwise be left with a large uninteresting surface at the front, I chose to apply a new plumage here. double-headed eagle completed

The heads of the double-headed eagle have also become quite stubborn, as I envisioned. Initially, the left head (for the viewers at home on the right) was a lot bigger than the right one, and I had to carve away quite a bit of it before a kind of uniformity came in. Of course something like this affects the position of the head, which makes this neck look a little more stretched, which came in handy for me.


profile of the eagle

I still have to adjust the profiles on the spot

I carved the plumage of the two-headed eagle with a a tooth chisel for structure, creating a lively effect.

The head and beak were carved less expressive because otherwise the design would suffer. This two-headed eagle stands on the spot where two flying buttresses sprout from the church, which probably also led to this design. I have tried to follow the dimensions of the old connections between the arches and the church as accurately as possible with a pointing machine and templates, but as the past few years have taught me, nothing ever fits exactly on such an old church. Nothing is square or plumb. That is why I left extra mass on all parts that have to connect to existing work, that after placement will be adjusted on the spot. This chicken had very expressive legs, and when these get a little more space later, after carving away the excess stone, I can shape them a bit clearer as well.

All in all a very nice flying buttress statue to make!


-click on a photo to view them in a larger size-

on to the next flying buttress figurine→

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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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.

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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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, instead of …Read the whole article…