Inside the Head of a Natural Slate Artist

I’ve checked with Guinness World Records and there are currently just two entries that mention roofs.

And regrettably neither of them relate to Natural Slate.

I say this because I reckon if there were entries related to slate, we would probably have set a new record at this year’s Roofex exhibition. The annual show attracts many of the leading players in the international roofing business and, during the two-day event, you expect to see exemplary products and workmanship alike. At the competitive demonstration arena, we were set a challenge: to clad a panel with a variety of sizes and shapes of natural slate without exceeding two 30-minute slots on consecutive days.

We linked up with French expert Jean Paul Monnier, considered by many to be the world’s leading slater. He was assisted by his skilled colleague Justin Grieg and took on the task on both days with the hook fixing method used traditionally in France.

Jean Paul installed Del Carmen slate on battens, as used widely in England, and Riverstone on sarking board, as used more often with thicker slates in Scotland.

As I stood amongst the crowds watching the duo work I thought about what master slaters such as Jean Paul are thinking when they choose materials. In no particular order, here are the top six:

  • “I want workability: the less brittle the slate, the better. When I use my traditional tools on a brittle slate it will crack easily when I work on the more detailed areas of the roof. I need a slate that will work with me – otherwise I cannot express my creativity and ideas I have to make a truly exquisite roof.”
  • “I want slate that is flat and consistent. Most quarries will give you slate of different grades. But I want the very best: regular and straight as an arrow. I can’t be seen to be using anything other than the best quality there is – I have a reputation to protect.”
  • “I don’t like pyrites. And no, not even unreactive pyrites. Firstly, it’s quite a job to explain to clients that the pyrites they can see won’t react with the weather over time. Secondly, you can never be 100 per cent sure they won’t react! And thirdly, as far as I’m concerned, reactive or not, most types of pyrite spoil the overall appearance one way or another. The best quality installation deserves the best quality, smooth finish (can you imagine putting speckled paintwork on the body of a brand new car!)”
  • “I want customers to recommend me. And I want them to come back to me again themselves. It takes many years to build a great reputation. Why would I want to risk damaging it? I always select a high specification of slate and use it time and time again. I certainly wouldn’t mix high quality slate with lower grade slate in the hope that a client won’t notice. Eventually, they will!”
  • “The eyebrows say it all. The classic eyebrow feature is one the best ways to express great craftsmanship: a quality installation, made with great quality slate. Try doing them with anything but the very best slate.”
  • “I am a slate artist. So I strive to be the very best I can. I can only achieve my potential if I have the right combination of factors for the job in hand. This includes focus, the right tools and the very best quality of slate.”

As Jean Paul and Justin put down their tools on both days I glanced at my watch. They had completed their stunning works in under 20 minutes. And it was a good thing too because it allowed them to lap up the adulation of a disbelieving crowd who were witnessing first-hand the art of slate craftsmanship. Slating at its very best.

I’d like to ask the people Guinness World Records if they are interested in setting up a slate record. I’ll happily vouch for both the time and the quality of these displays. And I’m sure that they would vouch for the quality of the products (Del Carmen and Riverstone Ultra) that they used to create their masterpieces.

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