Gecko Evolves Into Salamander Bowl

In my last post, I introduced a carving in progress of a bowl with what was going to have a gecko on the side of the rim. I have decided to change it to a salamander because the wood is yellow cedar which does not grow where geckos live. We have many salamanders and lots of yellow cedar on the west coast of Canada, so these two go together better than a gecko.

The bowl now has maple leaves incised along one side and curling over the rim, and just to the left is where the salamander is peeking over the rim. Maybe she is looking for a tasty morsel of food in the bowl?

So many people have picked up the bowl and commented similarly: “I love this beautiful bowl – the leaves are great!” Then they turn the bowl slightly and remark, “Oh! I didn’t even see this little creature! I like it!”

That’s exactly the reaction I hope for with almost all my carvings – there is always something subtle about them that isn’t noticed right away. Salamanders are like that – you have probably stepped over more of them than you’ve seen. Even if you are looking for them they are hard to find because they blend into their environment. I carved this one to follow the swirling grain of the burl. The worm holes in the surface of the burl are also in the surface of the salamander.

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Carving a Gecko Bowl

What? You’ve never heard of a Gecko Bowl? I’m shocked and amused!

I found a couple of yellow cedar burls (carbuncles?) in my dad’s old woodpile and thought I would try to carve a bowl in one.

I started by hollowing out the bowl before taking off the bark. I did it like this to minimize any potential damage from clamping the wood.

A couple of folks at the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers Club suggested that they thought some kind of animal could be carved into the bowl. I stripped off the bark and find just the spot for a gecko.

Check out those bug holes, er, speckles on the gecko’s body!

More to come as I have time to work on this.

Grant McMillan

Living Outside the Box: A Carved Urn

22 months ago my friend Ray Olafsen was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. We had the privilege of walking through it with him and his wife Doris. Ray was unique and amazing. I have never met anyone who lived so intentionally and so generously. Ray made everyone feel special and loved. When Doris asked me, a few weeks before he passed, if I would make his urn, I immediately said yes. And could I carve something about Ray on the box? Oh yes I would!

The pictures below tell the story:

Ray wanted me to be sure to spell his name correctly “with an e, not an o.” He joked that when he got to the Pearly Gates, he would have St. Peter double check the spelling of his name in the Book of Life. I made sure his earthly home had the correct spelling!

Ray was not a pushy, Bible- thumping Christian. Far from it. Instead, Ray would simply want you to know that you are important to God and that he hopes you are prepared to leave this earth with little warning. I heard him say to people who were nervous about talking about his looming death, “I know I am dying and I am ok with that. But we are all dying. I have been given the privilege of having some warning and I know I am going to heaven. Do you know where you are going?”

Ray’s urn points the way. He lives outside this box, which is exactly how he lived life.

See you soon, Ray. See you soon.

Trout Carving 

Here are a couple of fat little trout that I carved for a client in the Okanagan valley. These fellas are going on the face of a fishing cabinet.

After cutting them out I used a nice little carving jig to hold them in place while I carved them with my mallet and gouges.

In the pictures and videos below you can see more of the progress and the stain selection. I received great service from Michelle Sparrow and her paint store North Langley Paint & Decorating when she advised me on stain selection and application as well as a good clear coat to spray.


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Cougar Carving Completed

Finally!


You say, “It’s about time, Grant. You’ve been dragging this carving out forever…”

True. I’ve started and stopped and finished and restarted this carving a few times. But now it is finished, mounted in a hand-carved frame, and is hanging on my wall.

It is a rare opportunity to buy something that wasn’t carved on a commission for someone else. I manage to squeeze in a carving of my own maybe once a year. The rest of the time I am carving items that others have requested from me. For example, my next projects include a box for an urn, a cross for a collector, a large sign for the Pacific Woods Lodge at Camp Qwanoes, a relief carving of a fireman’s helmet, a sign for a cabin, a lintel above a grand entry set of doors, and a large cross for a chapel. All this will easily take me into next year.

Mountain Lion Carving Update


A few blog posts ago, I mentioned that I had finished the Mountain Lion carving. Then I decided it needed a frame. And it couldn’t be just any frame. It needed a frame that was integrated with the carving subject. So I custom made a frame from a piece of old growth redwood that I salvaged from a neighbour’s renovation about 10 years ago.

After fitting the frame around the carving, I decided to carve the cougar’s paw prints into it. You can’t see the cougar’s feet in the carving, and that is by design. I want people to feel a little uneasy about how close the cougar is to them, and by hiding the feet in the grass, it leaves you unsure about how close it is. Hikers, fishers, and hunters will all know the sphincter-tightening feeling of seeing those fresh tracks.

I started the project in the fall of 2016, thought I’d finished it this summer, and now think it is nearing it’s true completion. All that is left is to put a few coats of finish on the frame and attach a hanging-mechanism.

This carving is less than 2 mm in depth. In fact, the carved paw prints are the deepest part of the carving, yet it gives a beautiful impression of depth and life when under the proper overhead lighting. I’ll post the proper measurements when it is completed.

Remember, this carving is for sale – make me an offer! You can email me at gvmcmillan@gmail.com

 

Little Frog Sculpture 

Here is a little fellow I carved a few years ago out of an off-cut of Lignum Vitae. He’s been sitting in my office being remarkably quiet and unassuming. But I have noticed there are no bugs around! 


Lignum Vitae is extremely dense wood and naturally oily. The frog is this shiny only from buffing with a cotton cloth. 

It is for sale – make me an offer! 

Hand Hewn Cross


A friend who collects crosses from around the world asked me for “a Canadian cross.” She asked for something simple but made from an iconic Canadian wood. I chose Western Giant Maple and of course I had to make it artistic so I carved it to look hand hewn. The cross that Jesus died on was made by hand, perhaps by a Roman slave. It is a horrible thing that we often try to clean up and “gloss over” unless you are Mel Gibson. We humans are responsible for this symbol of death but Jesus redeemed it with grace and forgiveness. I have tried to capture both the humanity and the grace in this piece. 

This one is 7″ tall, and is finished with a blend of linseed oil and beeswax. You can have one like it for $90. 

Not-so-new Brand Image

Artists sign their work, right? Well, I guess Banksy doesn’t, but his schtick is to remain shadowy. But how does a woodcarver and sculptor sign a completed sculpture? I know a few who sign  a Sharpie marker, but to me that is a little gauche. Woodworkers have signed their work in unique ways over the centuries (here are a few examples). Woodcarver and instructor, Chris Pye, recommends getting some small circular brass plates made up with name (or initials) etched in. When the carving is completed, drill a shallow hole a hair larger in diameter than the brass plate and fix the plate in place with a little epoxy glue.


I experimented with inscribing my initials with a rotary tool and diamond bit, but it never looked clean enough for me. I have had brass plates made up too, but they don’t fit every carving or sculpture. I wanted something I could easily adjust the size of and yet still maintain the design. I have for years admired Albrecht Durer’s monogram but couldn’t really settle on something for myself.


I have slightly modified the design over the past few years (see above) but when a good friend who has been in the graphic art and design business for decades offered to help me out, he really cleaned it up. He asked me a few simple questions, went quiet for a couple of days, and then sent me some examples. I chose one that I liked and he created about 5 different electronic file types for me to use. The best part is, I can carve it in about 30 seconds or less using two tools – a number 9 gouge and a chisel or even a knife.

Here is the big reveal:


There is a deliberate reason why the lines of the M are not continuous. It is to indicate that my middle initial is a V for Victor, and I am paying homage to my mentor and father Vic, who I have written about several times. He is at the heart of all I carve and, more than a decade after his death, he is still providing most of the wood I use.

You will start seeing this brand image show up on this site more often and it will be on my business cards and stationary, as well as on every carving I make. My friend who designed it for me requested to remain anonymous because that kind of work isn’t where he’s going with his own business – he just did it for me as a friend. As much as I’d like to give him public recognition for his work, I will respect his request. But if I introduce you to him as a graphics design genius and wink at you or give you the secret handshake, you’ll know he’s the one.

Fishing Net Part One


I recently returned from a very nice fishing trip with a friend where we caught many, and some large, rainbow trout. They were feisty fish, with some extra spunk and I had a hard time landing and releasing some of them, which convinced me that I need a landing net. 

A quick trip to my local fishing shop caused me to develop a serious pain in my wallet grabbing hand. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay double for a net what I paid for my best fly reel. 

Oh, I could buy a cheap aluminum handled net for $14, but at least two of the fish I caught would have bent it out of shape and the fish may not have even fit (yeah, yeah, a likely fish story!). Watching episodes of fishing with Brian Chan, I fell in love with his nice wood-framed net. But wow are they expensive! I can’t judge the makers for that, because I know how much the materials cost and how much work it takes. From that perspective, they are a steal, which leads me to believe they are probably factory-made. Never-the-less, I figured I could make my own for the cost of the wood and a $10 replacement net. 


I cut three strips of wood out of maple and walnut and steam-bent them around a jig I made. I thought I would need more clamps but the wood was very compliant as I plied it around the bends. After drying overnight, I glued the strips together around the same jig, with Gorilla Glue, which is waterproof and easy to work with. 

Reject Handle

I ditched my first handle idea because I did not like the length after laying it out. I also wanted to have dark inside and light outsides – an aesthetic choice of my own. 

Accepted Handle

Once all this was ready, I needed to glue the net rim to the handle. Someone thinking ahead would have done this at the same time as gluing the strips together but, hey, this is a first for me and I’m making it up as I go along. 


Is that a ridiculous setup for gluing, or what? Did I tell you that I am making this up as I go along? If you missed that, the above set of clamps should tell you all you need to know! 

Next I will drill the holes for the net and start shaping the curves. Stay tuned!