Sculpting 101 At Main Street Square Pt. 2

Oct 1, 2013

Yuki Nagase swings his hammer while creating The Passage of Wind and Water
Credit Photo by Jim Kent

To be a sculptor you need two primary tools – a hammer and a chisel. To complete a sculpture with those tools you need talent, training, practice and most of all patience. Today we return to Rapid City’s Main Street Square for more insight on how to create art from stone in “Sculpting 101”.

Welcome back to “Sculpting 101”, where world-class sculptor Masayuki Nagase is taking time to explain how he’s creating the largest privately-funded public art project in the country. Called The Passage of Wind and Water, the project requires to create images related to the history and culture of the Badlands and the Black Hills on 21 granite stones.

There are various techniques for sculpting, says Yuki Nagase. Which one is used depends on the surface of the stone and the requirements of the project. But regardless of the stone’s texture, Yuki always begins by drawing his design on the surface.

“I use pencil and then chalk,” Yuki explains. “then at the end I use Chinese ink.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Oh, because it doesn’t go away,” Yuki notes. “Even if rain comes. So, Chinese ink and a brush and I have a special drawing pen with bamboo. This is basically hand drawn. But I prepare a one-to-one template in plywood. So, I mark and made holes on those plywood templates and I trace that point then I drew on top.”

“So, the template is a guide for you to draw with,” I comment.

“Guide, yes,” confirms Yuki.  

Once an image has been drawn on the stone, Yuki decides what areas – if any – need to be polished. For small spots, he does the work himself. For large areas, he gets assistance from someone like Danny Cabral.

Stone polisher Danny Cabral working on The Passage of Wind and Water
Credit Photo by Jim Kent

“I’m a polisher for Rausch Granite, here in Rapid City,” says Cabral.

“What is your purpose with regard to this project?” I ask. “What are you supposed to be doing with regard to this particular stone?”

“It’s one texture when it comes in,” Cabral explains, “where in order to get it polished and shined it has to go through a grinding and sanding and polishing process until that actual shine comes out of the stone.”

“And that allows the sculptor to do what?” I ask.

“That allows him to have the areas he needs looking a certain way,” Cabral replies. “Some of it isn’t going to get any polishing because the texture that they’re looking for is really rugger and rough. But then some of it has to be polished and it needs that shine…and that’s what I’m here to do.” 

When the stone’s been polished, Yuki begins the carving process of the drawing he’s created on the stone.

“When I see the part where I work, I see how much depth I have to carve out, “says Yuki. “I’m using this diamond wheel to cut an area I have to cut very deep. So, it’s a very small hand grinder and I have a very small four or five inch diamond wheel and that cuts into the stone.”

Yuki Nagase uses diamond wheel to cut a deep groove in granite stone
Credit Photo by Jim Kent

The diamond wheel has diamond grains bonded to it and allows Yuki to cut into hard material such as the granite of the stones at Main Street Square. Observing Yuki’s dexterity in using a tool that with one wrong move could easily destroy his work, I wonder if sculptors…even those of Yuki’s ability, make mistakes.

“Always,” Yuki acknowledges. “It happens. You know, we’re human beings. That’s the time you really need your creative ability. Well, you know, when you work many years, you don’t make such obvious mistakes. So, you can adjust. Or sometimes, you know, mistakes bring some fortune. You know, something happens good.” 

Once any deep areas have been cut, Yuki’s primary tools are his hammers, or mallets and chisels  or “points”.

“So you have three different sizes there,” Yuki explains. “Different weight of mallet and different size and weight of the points.” 

Yuki Nagase's uses various size hammers, or mallets and chisels, or points
Credit Photo by Jim Kent

Yuki uses hammers made in Japan shaped to allow him to slide the handle back and forth with each swing. This reduces the impact of the hammer’s weight on his arm. The hammers, like the points, are of various sizes depending on how deep or delicate he needs each strike to be.

The sculptor takes breaks throughout the day but can swing his hammers for hours, as a result of letting his tools do most of the work. The concept is similar to that of martial arts, where power comes from the energy of motion not the bulk of muscle.

For surfaces where the images are too delicate to be created by Yuki’s hammer and chisel, the pattern is sandblasted on to the stone.

Yuki Nagase feels respect for the stones he works with…noting that some granite can be two billion years old.  He hopes to reveal the ancient mineral’s unique qualities as much as he reveals the unique culture and history of the area as he continues to create The Passage of Wind and Water.