Itai's Design Process
Charcoal / Chalk Sketching
Each piece of stone that I use is specifically selected, mostly because of its colors, or shape. Once I’ve selected the stone, I decide which of my drawings best suits that stone, or I sometimes see a stone that sparks an image in my mind. If I find a particularly beautiful stone I can spend hours just staring at it, looking for the shapes and patterns that emerge from it. I then start sketching on the stone with charcoal or chalk. This process can take many hours, and even a few days--sketching, wiping it off, sketching, wiping it off, over and over again, until I feel that it’s the right design for that particular stone. But the chalk is only a basic sketch.
Pencil Drawing of the Details
I then start the process of detailed pencil or pen drawing on the stone, which includes the use of rulers, chalk string lines, compasses and any circular objects that fit the size of a circle or curve that I want. My favorites are disc saw blades that I trace to get a perfect circle or curve. Both the discs and rulers are very challenging to use on the bumpy surfaces of a stone. Once my design is penciled onto the stone, it’s time to start sculpting and etching.
Cutting, Chiseling, and Filing
I work with different artists, each with his own specialty. The long straight lines are first cut with a disc. This is tricky because I don’t want the lines too deep and they should all be approximately the same depth throughout the piece. This is done completely by eye and hands moving the disc. For the shorter lines a die grinder is used with small burrs--another very careful undertaking because one wrong move and the whole line is ruined. Finally, rifflers, rasps, files and chisels are used to sharpen the lines and carve out angles and corners.
Sanding and Washing
After the chiseling and filing stage is completed, every worked area is sanded by hand with every grit level of sandpaper, from 400, to 600, all the way to the very fine 1200 grit. The sculpture and especially those sanded areas, is washed with soap and water to remove every speck of dust.
Now it’s time for polishing. The areas I want polished are heated, usually with a gas blower, and when the stone is very hot, floor wax is applied which, due to the heat, melts nicely into the stone. Usually a brush or cloth is used to apply the wax, but in my designs that include thin lines, either a very fine brush or thin twig is used. Once again, even at this stage, if you get wax on the rough, natural areas you ruin the look of the piece. So, the careful application of the wax is just as important. When the sculpture cools down again, those areas where wax was applied are buffed out with a cloth which produces the shine.
That process refers to the side that leaves a lot of the stone untouched, and unpolished. Many of my sculptures also have a side that is a more black color, with white, or greyish, lines making up the design. First of all, that black color is not paint or dye, it is the natural color of the stone as if it was wet, like in a stream, or just when it rains, but instead of water bringing out the color, the polishing process brings it out with the use of the wax. On this side of the sculpture, the process previously explained is almost the same, but instead of sculpting out the lines and polishing them, the whole side is polished and the lines are left unpolished. There are a few reasons for this. To try to keep things simple, I did not mention this at the beginning, but the reduction of the volume (essentially shaving down one side, reducing its thickness) is done before I start my detail drawing. First of all, when the stone has too much volume, I prefer to reduce the thickness in order to reduce the weight, thus making it easier to move, and since I often ship to my clients who are not local, less expensive to ship. I also wanted you to have more options in one sculpture, being able to choose which side you prefer to display in your home, with the option of occasionally just swiveling the piece around to completely change the look in the room for any period of time. So on this side, the volume is reduced using chisels, or what is referred to as a “punch”, which looks like a large metal pin or nail. Then this whole side is sanded down, starting with a disc grinder, then filled, and then sanded with sandpaper to smooth it. On the previous side of the sculpture, I am the first person to touch the stone with my drawing because I want to use and keep the rough, natural face of the stone. But on this side I only begin my drawing after the other artists have finished reducing the volume, and have sanded the surface. This smooth, mostly level surface is obviously much easier for me to draw on, especially when it comes to laying rulers and discs on it for the more accurate lines. Then, just like on the previous side, a disc is first used for the long lines, die grinders, chisels and files, and finally sand paper to smooth out the entire surface, including the carved out lines of the design. It then gets washed and polished. Another part of the process that I should mention is the base. I am obsessed with creating a sculpture of the finest quality, which means that before anything else, it must be perfectly stable. A base is made from the same type of stone (usually spring stone, which is one of the hardest used for sculpting in Zimbabwe), a hole is drilled in both the sculpture and the base, and the two are glued together with a metal pin connecting between the two.
Journey to USA
Now the sculpture is ready to be carefully packed, placed in a wooden crate, loaded in a shipping container, and begin its 2.5-3 month journey to the port of Los Angeles. It will first travel by road from Harare, Zimbabwe, to the port of Beira, Mozambique, where it will be loaded on a ship. On its way to LA, it will stop in various ports in Asia. When it finally arrives at the port of LA, it will be unloaded and usually inspected by US Customs, and sometimes USDA. Then, it will travel once again by road to my warehouse in Cathedral City, and unpacked. Your sculptures are very well travelled, and have touched many lives along the way, even if sometimes in a very minuscule way! I hope they will touch, and enrich your life in some way.