Horsing Around: Sculpting a Horse Bust

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.

Horse Bust Cutout
Horse Bust Cutout
Horse Bust Rough Out
Horse Bust Rough Out

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.

Merry Christmas and Year-in-Review

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.

Filing the edges
Rounding over the sharp edges

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.

Pectoral Cross
Pectoral Cross

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.

Silver Ridge Estate
Silver Ridge Estate

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.

My email address is gvmcmillan@gmail.com

Wishing you many blessings this Christmas season.

Grant McMillan

A Burly Shelf for Christmas

One of my favourite things to do is to go home to my mom’s place in beautiful Hope, BC, and snoop around in my dad’s old woodpile searching for treasures. Last Christmas we spent a few days there when I discovered a sort of triangular shaped chunk of wood. It was covered in dirt, bark, spider webs, and chainsaw marks. At first glance I wondered why this was piece was there. It wasn’t in the burn-in-the-wood-stove-pile, but rather in the I-could-use-this-someday-pile, so I figured there must be some potential that Dad saw in it. He always had an eye for potential.

I lugged the piece inside and made a few passes over one of the flatter sides with a #4 Stanley hand plane. What I saw got me excited. I spent a few more hours in Dad’s old workshop working over the piece, truing up the two flat sides to get a 90 degree angle and level sides. Then I took the piece home after Christmas, where I worked on it for the past year between commission carvings. It truly became a labour of love as I peeled back the bark to reveal some amazing art work by the Creator.

After many hours of work with hand planes, cabinet scrapers, wire brush wheels and dental picks, I lightly sanded it and prepared it for finishing. I chose my favourite finish for projects like this: Lee Valley Tools Tried and True Original Wood Finish, which is a mixture of raw linseed oil and beeswax. After 5 coats of this, hand-rubbed and buffed between each coat, here is the finished product:

Burl Shelf underside
Burl Shelf underside
Burl Shelf
Burl Shelf

Isn’t the wood amazing? It positively glows!

This shelf is a red cedar burl. It is approximately 19 inches wide by 8 inches deep and about 9 inches tall. It is currently hanging on the wall in my home, but it is for sale (shh, don’t tell my wife!). Please feel free to contact me by email if you would like it: gvmcmillan@gmail.com

Hummingbird Carving for Sale

This hummingbird was carved out of red cedar, spalted birch, and ebony.

Cedar hummingbird
Cedar hummingbird

It’s unusual to carve something like this out of red cedar, especially as it is carved from a solid block of cedar. It would be easy to break, so I had to design it carefully to minimize the chances of that. The wings and tail are the most at risk, however, there are clues to strengthening them from nature. The wings and tail of the real birds are gently curved to improve flight and, I’m sure, to protect them from breaking too. I carved similar curves and the wings and tail are surprisingly strong as a result.

There are many carvings of hummingbirds out there, but if you search the internet for images of carved hummingbirds, they look similar. How many of them have their beaks tucked into a flower to hold them up? All of them? So it seems. I wanted something different, something that portrayed some motion and a sense of action. Hummingbirds have a most intriguing way of hovering and swooping in arched flight patterns, which was something I hoped to capture in the tiny sculpture. I found a piece of curved spring steel which served the purpose quite nicely.

Speaking of curves, the other thing I observe in real hummingbirds is the beak is slightly curved. It was a challenge to carve the beak so thin with a very slight curve along the length of it. Sanding it with the taper and curve required extra care and attention as it was difficult to hold and very easy to break. And *newsflash* it’s very hard and dense wood – sanding it took a really long time, but I think it turned out.

The base is from a piece of birch, cut by my father-in-law from their back yard, and the cedar came from a tree that my father cut years ago. I wish the ebony had a special story behind it, but I simply bought it from Windsor Plywood.

The carving is finished with water-based, semi-gloss varnish, and hand-rubbed with a finishing paste wax to give it a slightly softer glow and smoother feel. It is for sale.

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Carved Acanthus Leaf Panels Finally Finished

The acanthus leaf panels have been stained, varnished and installed. They turned out very nice indeed, although I had nothing to do with this part of the job. The client invited me over to take some photos of the completed work, and so on Sunday afternoon Kathleen and I took the quick drive out to Silver Ridge Estates.

The client told me the story of how challenging it was to get the guy responsible for all the stained and varnished wood in his place to be brave enough to do this job, but I think he did quite well.

This is the angled panel going up the staircase.

Carved Stair Panel
Carved Stair Panel

And here are a few panels from the bottom edge of the balcony.

Balcony
Balcony
Balcony Panel 2
Balcony Panel 2
Balcony Panel 3
Balcony Panel 3

And the full finial.

Finished Finial
Finished Finial

And the half finial.

Half Finial
Half Finial

And I’ve saved the best for last – a full panorama shot of the entryway taken from the first platform of the staircase.

Panorama
Panorama

You can see from the panorama shot that the house isn’t finished yet. There are many oak panels to go all around the room. The circles in the middle of some of the walls are for sconce lights. The front doors of the main entrance are barely visible to the right of the image. They will need a large carving over them, but the final design drawings are yet to be completed. The double doors in the lower middle might still have a carving to go over them too, but I haven’t heard the final word yet. As you can tell, this room is intended to make a pretty large statement as you walk through the main entrance.

It has been a very great pleasure to work on this job with this client. He has incredibly high expectations, and there are very few contractors who have been able to meet his standards, but when they do meet them he is very supportive. I feel a deep sense of pride that he has let me be part of his vision for his estate.

Acanthus Leaf Finials

If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you may be wondering what all those acanthus leaf panels are for and where they will go. They are for a client’s grand entry to his home. The entry is quite large – two stories (ten-foot ceiling stories) tall, and large enough that an eight-foot wide chandelier could be bigger and you wouldn’t notice. 

The panels are part of the board that covers up the stair stringer and the board that runs under the handrail of the balcony. The client called me up to show me the carvings that he had temporarily installed until they could be stained and lacquered. I took a few photos to share with you.

Stair Stringer Acanthus Leaf Panel
Stair Stringer Acanthus Leaf Panel
Balcony Acanthus Leaf Panel
Balcony Acanthus Leaf Panel

But there’s more! The client wanted some finials (sort of an upside down post cap) carved as well. One is a full square, the other is only half of a finial. They are to be installed under his balcony to look as though the post for the hand-rail continues right through to the finial. In the picture below, you’ll see four wood clamps. The full finial is to go between the two middle clamps underneath the post for the handrail with the point of it aiming at the ground. The half finial is to go just to the right side of the 4th clamp on the right. 

 postcap location

 Here’s what the finial looks like mostly finished – there’s still some final smoothing, burnishing, and sanding to do to it.

Square Finial
Square Finial

Note that I am holding the finial upside down compared to how it will be installed.

The two finials were quite challenging to carve, as they are primarily end grain after they begin curving toward the point. The design had to be modified slightly because I found that undercutting a point of a leaf to give it shadow meant I was cutting all the fibers underneath the tip that were holding the point in place. They may not have held up under the pressures of sanding, staining and lacquering, so I had to do a little redesigning on the fly. What I like about low-relief carving is that it is basically a trompe l’oeil, so I was able to create a little illusion instead of actually undercutting the leaf tips. The only way you can tell the difference is by actually running your finger tips over the carving. 

That completes this part of the job and now I can move on to some completely different carving. I’m working on a hummingbird “in the round,” some posts for an entry way to a home, and a large sign complete with trees, ocean, lettering, etc. Sign up to receive an email that alerts you every time I post some new pictures of another project. 

Acanthus Leaf Panel Carvings Completed

Finally, after some long and challenging carving sessions, the acanthus leaf panels are complete. The client was very particular about the style he was looking for and the level of sanding required (smooth, down to 320 grit). I actually prefer the carved look versus the sanded look, but these will pop when they’re stained and varnished. The installation also required a very consistent depth of carving (3/8ths of an inch deep). Setting the depth was relatively easy. Maintaining it was not. It took some steely nerves and strong wrists to carve to the edge of the leaves but not let the carving tools slip over the edge and into the background. That would leave a mark that would have to be carved and sanded out, lowering the depth in that spot.

Acanthus 1

The various panels all have a similar theme and look to them, but the leaf patterns are all different. I can’t wait to see them installed.

Acanthus Panel 2

They are all carved in 3/4 inch thick red oak. I like this wood for carving as it can hold a lot of detail. Sometimes the grain of red oak can be distracting for highly detailed carvings, but in this case, the grain actually highlights the carving. I like it!

This was an interesting job because the client had been unable to find exactly what he wanted, but upon contacting me found that I could offer a solution. No one else will have anything like this in their home and I’m excited for him. His unique home (really, an English style manor) in the Fort Langley area will be a show piece when it’s finished.

I’ll post more pictures when these carvings are stained, varnished and installed.

Til then,

Grant