A corbel is a piece of architecture that supports a beam or some such structure above it. Corbels are almost always decorated and often quite extensively. One of my very best clients has contracted me to carve two of these pieces which will sit at the top of a staircase and balcony overlooking the foyer and entrance of the home. They will support a gorgeous oak beam with some traditional Georgian elements to them.
This corbel is designed to look like a large scroll with acanthus leaves growing up the front and sides. The acanthus leaves are extensive and richly designed.
My first task was to carve a curve along the top left and right sides which allows the acanthus leaves to wrap over the front of the corbel like fingers of a large hand gripping the architectural piece. Then I carved the scroll and leaves on the side.
Then I turned my attention to carving the top face of the corbel and those large finger-like leaves curving across.
Then my job was to continue to the other side and do the same work.
On one side, the leaves curve down to the background, but the other side will curve up and away from the background at the tips of the leaves.
Next, i will turn my attention to the heavy bottom of the scroll. These leaves will be easier to carve because I don’t have to blend them into the side of the corbel. However, the grain of the wood shifts from side grain to end grain as the scroll wraps around, which adds some complexity. The main problem is trying to ensure the carved leaves have enough structural strength to not have little bits vulnerable to being knocked off during the carving process or afterwards when cleaners will be dusting the work.
Check back soon to see the progress on the lower half of the corbels.
We went home to my Mom’s place in Hope, BC for Easter. While we were there, I managed to get a new picture of one of my earliest carvings. It is a carving of a decaying leaf, carved out of some decaying wood which somehow seems to work for me.
Early one morning, my wife and I took a quick walk around town and admired a few of the many, many wood carvings there. Two that jumped out at me this time were carved by Pete Ryan, who has recently been part of a fun new TV show, Carver Kings.
The carving below is called “Man in Motion” and it is a carving of Rick Hansen, known for his Man in Motion tour to raise money for research into spinal injuries and their treatments.
The second carving that we admired was also carved by Pete Ryan, and is of a police dog that died in the line of duty, which is explained briefly in the plaque that is attached. You can read more about the story here (scroll down to the story about Chip).
Most of the large carvings in Hope have been carved by Pete Ryan. All the carvings are top quality and show the incredible skill of the carvers. Be sure to stop in town and take a walking tour of the carvings. They are impressive. Don’t forget to pick up a coffee at the Blue Moose, a top-notch coffee shop right across the street from several of the carvings.
Yesterday I had some fun teaching a woodcarving course at the Coquitlam location of Lee Valley Tools. There were seven students with varying degrees of experience. We carved an acanthus leaf in aspen.
Lee Valley Tools is doing a good thing with these seminars that teach skills such as wood carving. The participants got to try out new tools and many of them bought one or two that they liked. This will improve their carving experience. We all learned new things, and everyone went home with a mostly finished new piece of art. My own personal favourite carving gouge is a Henry Taylor #3 in half-inch width.
Carving in aspen is very nice. It is much cheaper than basswood and is at least as easy to carve. It does tend to fuzz when sanded and can be more brittle and prone to breaking, but it hold good detail especially in a low-relief carving such as this one.
I left my card with each participant in the hopes that they will contact me and keep up with their carving.
Months ago I started carving a bust of a horse out of a parallam beam off-cut given to me by my friend Carl, which I wrote about here. I’ve been chipping away at it in my spare time between commissions for clients. It has been a most interesting project for me. The parallam “wood” acts like most other woods except for when it doesn’t. I have discovered that not all the wood fibers have accepted the glue. These show up when I’ll be using a gouge, cutting away by pounding it with my mallet. The gouge will suddenly slip and skip over the sculpture. What happens is my gouge will partially cut through a long fiber (more like a strip of wood) and will pull the strand loose when it will slide out of the sculpture and cause my gouge to take off for regions unknown! I have learned to keep a firm grip on those gouges. Fortunately, this has happened only once in an obvious location, leaving a gap in the left nostril. I am undecided about whether to fix it or leave it, although I’m leaning towards leaving it.
This “wood” is unique in another way. The wood strands used to make up the beam are softwoods (spruce, pine, and fir), but the glue is incredibly hard. It causes my gouges to dull quickly, sometimes even folding over an edge. It’s much worse than carving in hard rock maple! I’m wearing my tools down at an alarming rate, and spending an inordinate amount of time resharpening them.
Years ago I learned from an experienced carver/sculptor to work on the whole carving all at once so as to not lose perspective. In general, that’s what I’m doing here, sculpting the snout, neck, ears, etc. as I go along so as to not lose their places as I remove relatively large chunks of wood. I plan to leave parts which will have more delicate details like the mane, ears and eyes, to the end. For now, I’m just giving them the basic outlines with the details to be added later.
But this will go back on the shelf for a while because a client dropped off another carving project.
Woodworkers and sculptors have to be a resourceful bunch. The problems we face take a little ingenuity to overcome, which is why I enjoy this work so much. In this case, a client contacted me about carving a couple of corbels for his home. These turned out to be very large – much larger than can typically be purchased from a catalogue of pre-cast architectural elements (I won’t call them carvings because they’re not carved anymore). They were so large that his carpenter couldn’t find a band saw to cut them out whole. Instead, they were cut out in smaller widths before being glued together to make the large corbels. Of course, they weren’t perfect at this point, with some lumps and bumps to be smoothed out and some curves had to be hand-carved before his designer could transfer the drawings on them.
Of course I said it was no problem to do this. After all, I solve these sorts of issues all the time for people. How hard could it be?
As it turned out, It was harder than I thought. The corbels would not fit in my 14 inch band saw. My hand planes would not work because the design wouldn’t let me get into the corners. Hmm. What to do?
[Sits, stares into space, runs through mental list of tools available, crosses each one off the list, stares into space…]
I was fortunate to have a father who was an excellent wood worker and who took great pleasure making jigs to expand the use of his tools and to solve common problems of wood workers. He loved making jigs so much that when I gave the eulogy at his funeral, I said that he was up in Heaven making jigs so God could make more stuff. Taking inspiration from my father, I asked, “What would Vic do? He would make a jig.” Lights went on, ideas were formed and I went to work creating two jigs.
The first jig was for my well-loved and very sharp cross-cut hand saw. I set up the jig to control both the depth of cut and to remove any chance of it wandering and creating a waggly line. It was simple and worked like a charm. I used the saw to ensure a uniform elevation of each straight line across the width of the corbels.
The second jig was more complicated and took a couple of days to create. In fact, it turned out to be a fairly common form of hand plane, although it was custom fitted to this project. It required some hardwood, epoxy glue, four screws, and some drying time, which is why it stretched out over a couple of days.
I needed a plane that would get right into the corners, and yet be large enough to leave a perfectly flat finish over a long span. This chisel plane “jig” worked better than I could have hoped. I designed it so I could insert wedges to change the angle of blade at the mouth of the plane to reach into the corners of an acute angle. That meant I had to grind a straight chisel into a skew chisel to make that happen, but it worked!
And one more problem emerged. Somehow, between the three people involved in making these corbels, some dents were made in the wood in some highly visible locations. These needed to be removed. I knew that fitting these corbels into the entire architecture of the location would be challenging enough without sanding down the sides and changing angles and widths, so I didn’t want to do that. Also, I enjoy wowing clients, so I set about removing the dents with a hot iron and damp cloth – essentially ironing the dents out of the corbels. I deliberately left the pencil marks which would show the client that no sanding had occurred that would change the edges or angles. He noticed and I got a punch on the arm when I said I used a little magic to remove the dents.
Now I could begin carving the initial shapes into the sides and corners of the corbels.
Happy clients mean more work, and solving difficult problems is what I enjoy doing. It doesn’t hurt to have an inspirational father and a little magic up your sleeve.
The Township of Langley where I live has a ridiculous number of horses. I have heard numerous times that Langley has more horses per capita than anywhere else in North America! The Langley Horse and Farm Federation puts the number at over 5000!
Did you hear that, Calgary, Alberta? Did you hear that, Montana and Texas? More than YOU. Put that in your cowboy hat and smoke it!
Everywhere we drive in the Township we see horses. One of my favourite places to see horses is the Thunderbird Show Park. This place hosts some amazing, world class shows of people horsing around. I have a 7 minute drive to work, and on that short commute I pass about 20-30 horses. There is a lady who occasionally rides her horse over to the church we attend, and a number of our favourite hiking trails in the area also allow horses. We do a lot of hiking which means we also do a lot of avoiding horse… um…, er, droppings.
I’ve always believed that art is personal and reflects the heritage, location, and culture of the place where the artist is. It is for this reason that I have wanted to sculpt a horse for a long time now. But to do so I needed a substantial piece of wood and I felt that it needed to be a very unique wood.
Enter my friend Carl. He was building a large shop and two of the parallam beams he’d ordered came too long. He wondered if I wanted the cut-offs. they were exactly what I had been waiting for.
This horse is just a little on the wild side. Only barely tamed, he is a horse who is feeling his oats. The unique wood and direction of the “grain” (strands of the parallam beam) highlight the wildness and sense of action in this sculpture.
Friends and readers of this site, I wish you a very merry Christmas from my wood carving and sculpture shop. It’s been a very busy year carving for different clients and sculpting a few pieces of my own as art-for-art’s sake.
The year started with a project for some friends who were renovating their home and needed a custom piece of woodwork made for them.
You might remember that project as I blogged about it here.
Then I was privileged to be asked by the incoming Bishop of Victoria to carve a Bishop’s Crozier and a Pectoral cross for the installation service. That was a fun project because it involved some creative woodworking as well as a good bit of creative carving.
I always enjoy carving celtic designs and you can see the project here. And you can see the Bishop with the Crozier and Pectoral cross here.
Then it was on to a very large carving project. I’ve been working for this client for a couple of years now and we’ve become good friends. He has a unique and intriguing vision for the house that he has been building for the past 25 years. Quite frankly, nobody builds this way anymore. This house is being built to last at least one hundred years, not 25 like so many slap-happy builders are doing jobs these days. But Jack is a man of vision and legacy.
My most recent work for him involved carving acanthus leaves, and if you’ve followed this blog for any time you’ve seen the work here. The next project involves carving two oak corbels for the entry. The carpenter, Larry Kwiatkowski, is the best I’ve ever seen. That is no hyperbole – he is world-class. He’s gluing up the wood for these now, so I anticipate getting a call to carve again soon.
The last two projects this year were a hummingbird sculpture out of red cedar and ebony that you can see here, and a burly shelf that I just finished after working on it in fits and starts all year. You can see it here.
People often ask me what I carve. I think you can see from the snapshot of this year that I can carve anything. I enjoy letter carving, as well as sculpting animals, and even some fine wood working, and basically solving problems for people or providing them with something so unique there is no one else around who can do it. I don’t work for free, but I do try to make my work accessible. If you would like a carving or sculpture, contact me soon as I have work booked for many months in advance for 2015.