Friday, March 31, 2017

Lazy Stones

Having been taught this stuff in school, everyone pretty much knows the three basic types of rock, right? - Sedentary, Metaphoric and Ignorant.

Today I’d like to talk about the Sedentary group. These rocks are the most inactive of all the rock types. Though they have been classified as indolent and torpid, they are not so much slow moving and lethargic as completely motionless. This quality of remaining stationary is sometimes looked for in a rock or stone, however it can be pretty frustrating if you’ve ever tried to move it somewhere else.

Sedentary rocks are like statues, fixed and frozen in place, shiftless. Most other types of stones can be made to work in some situation or other, whether it be in a wall, or even made to do activities where they can work as say millstones or grindstones. These slothful rocks however have never worked a day in their life, not even to make a garden border or a stone curb. They are completely lifeless, and trying to get them to do anything is like trying to get blood from a stone.

Sedentary rocks can be found almost anywhere there is a finished basement or comfortable reckroom. They are often found gathered on shelves. Dug foundations usually have lots of them laying around. They are found mostly in deposits of bedrock, always resting horizontally along the geological bedding plane.

As far as their composition the sedimentary molecular structure is pretty much a shapeless blob. Chemically it reacts to nothing, and on a sub atomic level, is totally inactive. 

The test for sedentary rocks is to dip them in a mild solution of mud and watch them sink to the bottom.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

There's more than one way to paint a rock.

Following up on the account of my recent attempts to paint rocks and capture their gritty essence ( see last Sunday's post ) it was suggested to me by a reader, that rather than covering their surface details and textures with scratchy layers of random words, I try Pollocking them. 

The idea being that the appealing quality, specifically the randomness of Pollock's work, has been linked, by some art critics and scientists, to a subconscious association we all have with fractals and the repeating infinite patterns contained within everything. Rocks, of course, with their attractive patinas and granular surfaces are very 'fractal-like'. So why not try to paint them in a way that applies a similar Pollock approach. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Prime Time

Who would have ever thought when we were making it back in 2010, that there would come a time Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, would one day walk through our dry stone arch ?


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returns with Sheldon Lambert, conservation manager with Parks Canada, from a walk along trails at the Landon Bay area near the Thousand Island National Park on Tuesday morning. (Lars Hagberg/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Walling With Escher's Hands

A tribute to, and inspired by - M.C. Escher - digital graphic March 2017.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Stone-paper wins !

I received a late Christmas present yesterday. My daughter Maddy had ordered a hardcover 100 page journal for me in November and it finally arrived. It was out of stock because lots of people were trying to buy such a unique item. 

I have to admit it is a pretty special book. It's a 'stone book' with 'stone' pages. That's right, the paper is actually made of stone. The sheets are thin, amazingly shiny, and quite flexible. The pages are so smooth/soft to the touch, it's hard to believe. 

It occurred to me to do the first painting in it combining the three elements of the common children's game - Rock Paper Scissors.

For sure, rock-paper will win every time over scissors now. That's because I don't have to cut this first page out of my stonepaper book, having stupidly painted the word 'scissors' incorrectly . 

The thing is, the paper is so shiny and nonporous I was able to wet the the letters c and i ,and with a paper towel completely erase them. I then painted them in again, in the right order .

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Painting Contours

In attempting yet again to try to paint the 'common dry stone wall' in a way that captures that elusive merging of imagined lines and planes over each surface, I discovered a new technique this week.

Most often before it has been the randomness of shading and difference in detail in the texture of the stones that has been so hard to replicate convincingly. 

My new method involves covering the surfaces along the contours with a continuous stream of text and writing. I ‘literally' colour/smother the area inside each stone with a kind of tiny scratchy hieroglyphics. As a result of applying this kind of detail, the stones take on a texture I quite like. In their individual placement the stones possess, what you might call, a new ‘contextual' element. 

I’m also pleased with the implications of 'depicting' stones this way. With a kind of indecipherable trail of inscriptions, the stones in the wall become solidified paragraphs, each containing words and fragment sentences of form and thought. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sculpture/Construction Project

I should have looked a little further.... 
Thanks to a reader who emailed me the link, I have been informed that the stone structure at Ireland Park was not so much a sculpture but actually more of a construction project taken on by a team of Read Jones Christoffersen, Picco Engineering and Quinn Design Associates Inc along with
Kearns Mancini Architects Inc.

Here are some of the details about the design and the materials they chose.

The design of Ireland Park needed to be in harmony with the powerful emotive energy evident in the sculptures situated in the park, created by Irish artist Rowan Gillespie. The massive, craggy, sculptural rock-face of black Kilkenny limestone was obviously the right material to fill this need. A technical approach was devised to make smaller pieces of stone convey the feeling of massive rock and generate the effect of size, scale, texture and emotional energy. 675 names of famine immigrants, who died in Toronto in 1847, are located in the openings cut into the rock, similar to the fossils in the stone, where they can be similarly discovered. The stone material greatly influenced the design; the light-grey sawn faces of the Kilkenny limestone provide an ideal surface for the inscription of the Famine immigrants' names, just as the roughness of the stone simultaneously evokes the battered bow of a ship, as well as the shoreline of the west of Ireland, the departure point for many emigrants in Ireland.

The stone work has set new standards in technical achievement. Without extensive structural engineering, the gravity-defying sculptural qualities of the stone columns could not have been executed. The structure which is referred to as the ‘memory wall’ is a combination of reinforced concrete and stone. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Remembered in stone and bronze

During this St Patricks Day week, Mary and I visited a park dedicated to the 38,000 Irish immigrants who came to Toronto during the famine of 1847. 

Ireland park, which opened in 2007, is a hard to find wisp of property not far from Harbourfront, which looks directly across to Toronto Island Airport. 

A kind of stone oceangoing ship creates a solemn backdrop for a handful of haunting bronze sculptures ( created by renowned artist Rowan Gillespie) personifying the hardship endured by families leaving Ireland during the famine, many of them arriving in Canada only to die later of typhoid. The cluster of sculptures representing ‘arrival’ in Canada mirror a similar collection of ‘departure’ sculptures by the same artist at the Famine Memorial in Dublin at the Custom House Quays. 

The rugged contour of the looming boat-like structure (built from of limestone shipped from Dublin) was purposely designed to be reminiscent of the towering 'sandstone' Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland, the last sight seen by emigrants leaving home. 

Some names are engraved in the stone and hidden in the gaps in the ships walls. A kind of presence of nameless thousands who died on the 'coffin ships’ is felt in the layers upon layers of stones heaped together to create this powerful and very sobering stone sculpture. 

In my research I was unable to find anything else about the ship or the sculptor. It seemed fitting that he or she also remains nameless.

DEATH or CANADA from Daniel Thomson on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Giant Chess

I envision the Irish tower we built in California as a giant stone playing piece, the first one of many different towers in a gigantic world game of three-way chess.

The stone tower is the castle or the ‘rook’ and it’s on the white side. (This could be the side of the international team of French, Irish, US and Canadian.) 

Who the grey and black sides are, will have to be decided on as other chess towers are designed and constructed and ‘transported' to the board

This video clip is a quick rough visualization of how I imagine the board will be ‘landscaped' and how the view might look from a drone’s perspective, (minus all the pieces except ours).

I’m not sure what all the rules are yet. Three sides and three dimensions might get a bit complicated. 

Anyway the tower was the hard part, right?

Of course there is only this one rook on the board so far.

Three full sets of monumental chess structures still need to be constructed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sometimes it's good to be tasteless.

In the stone world 'culture' has become not much more than an advertising concept.

Here are some other examples of 'cultured' rock.

What then does 'tasteless' rock look like

A bit more interesting and engaging, perhaps.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rock vs Plastic

Bruce Curtis, a master craftsman with the DSWA in the UK spent two years building some amazing dry stone walls at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (otherwise known as Ratho) 

When we visited it in 2007 it was considered the world's largest climbing arena.

Not only did Bruce build the upper walls with a challengingly difficult stone material, he must have been an incredibly fit climber to have got all the way  up there to build them.

I wonder why we don't see dry stone installations for climbing on at more climbing facilities in North America. 
They would look more authentic and probably feel much more like what climbing feels like. 

I think I would even take up climbing if I didn't have to hang on to coloured plastic knobs.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ripplings.... Believing IS Seeing.

We as a species are always looking to discover patterns. 

We believe they are there.

If we look hard enough, our imagination starts to see some sort of design in everything.

And so, in what just seems to be random arrangements of stones, eventually, we will manage to find order. 

Sometimes in order to discover it, we just have to dive right in.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Well worth the time.

A brilliant twenty-five minute documented exploration into all the reasons we as wallers love building with stone. 

Sometimes you just need to stand back and watch other people talking about their passion and see it in such perspective. 

JuliĆ  Rocha Pujol has created an all-encompassing cinematographic 'enclosure' around a subject that will be appreciated by anyone curious to learn, not so much how, but whywe choose to do what we do.

Big thank you  to my friend James Asbury who drew this film to my attention. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It nearly drove me back to the bottle.

I've been trying out a pretty amazing paint app on my iPad.

It's called Procreate

After a week of experimenting painting bottles, I ventured on to my first serious stone wall painting yesterday, based on a photo (on right) I took of some stonework I did in California.

As I gradually got familiar with many of Procreate's paint functions, two things occurred to me during the hours and hours I was painting, trying to achieve some degree of stone-like realism.

1. Stones, though seemingly commonplace and fairly homogeneous, have far more visual information stored on their faces than any common homo-sapien.

2. Because stones are so naturally given to the idea of endlessly sitting there having their portrait done, it makes the diversion of stopping for a drink, just to take a break from trying to paint them, seem like an undeserved indulgence!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Jason Hoffman is in Norway helping out on a dry stone bridge building project with Haakon Aase an accomplished stone mason from Litlebergen Hordaland.
Haakon's bridge has a whopping nineteen and a half foot span and is being constructed with local gneiss material. 

Haakon and a local farmer had been planning the bridge for several years. They have been raising funds and sought advice from the roads department whose engineers produced a lovely but useless report. So Haakon and some keen helpers went ahead and just built the arch. 

Jason has been FB friends with Haakon for a couple of years and this winter asked about coming to Norway to help build the bridge. Steven Rowe and Jason flew out last Sunday for an intensive week of dry stone bridging. 

Jason says he and Steven are part of the phase two squad. The phase 1 squad built the voussoirs.  Phase 2 is building the side walls with some pretty massive gneiss stones.

Haken Says that “the people involved have jumped into their tasks with great enthusiasm. Pinning and tickling in ‘mellomroma' between ‘kvelvsteinane’ . The build is going quite fast and it’s hard to pull people away from work for supper.

It looks like pretty rough going doing the foundation digging

The segmented arch form is positioned on steel I beams until  the voussoirs and most of the entrados stones are in place

Safe working areas are needed either side to work off of.

All the 2x4s over the form will be pulled out before the supporting curved centering.

Notice the clever metal stone scoops.

Nice work everyone ! Thanks Jason for the update.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Inversely Hard

It's fairly hard to do this sort of thing, even with rocks that are big and heavy.  

The smaller the rocks however, the 'harder' they are to actually balance. 

Ironically, tiny pebbles are the 'hardest' to stack - Just ask this tiny rock balancer. 

But then again maybe it's not so hard for him. He's obviously quite prepared to stand there forever until he gets it.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Seeds of Creation.

Out in the field with his team of Clydesdales a farmer is planting seeds the old way.  

A farmer long before him removed rocks from that same field and presumably made the old wall in the foreground.

The rocks are like 'inverse seeds'. 

They come out of the soil instead of go into it. Instead of being scattered, they are combined to come to fruition. 

Instead of needing water and sunlight to grow and ripen, all they need is a little imagination to survive, eventually becoming something that enhances the landscape. 

Unlike seeds, rocks are pretty much imperishable, and do their job well, unless of course you crush them and plow them into concrete to create a totally different landscape - a landscape where all too often neither type of seed survives.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Life is a Puzzle

Life, like this pile of rocks, is a puzzle - a free puzzle. Building a wall with these rocks (or any pile of rocks) could be compared to solving that puzzle. 

To take a piece, and without inflicting huge changes with hammer or saw on it, place it in your wall where it actually seems to belong, is like taking life as it comes, and discovering a solution to part of the puzzle. 

It may not be the only solution, but it is valid one. It is valid because you did it . 

Nothing compares to that 'one-with-the-universe' moment, when you find a stone that fits so well that you just know it was supposed to be there.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Shaking out the mountain

The mountains around the San Joanquin Valley look like rugs waiting to be shook out.

The geology below the expanse of green furriness is from when everything was swept under the carpet, leaving only the telltale signature of crevices and mounds of rolling hills.