Friends, thank you for coming to the Art of the Carver show and sale this past weekend. It was a resounding success! There was some discomfort among the organizers because we introduced a few significant changes this year, but I think we’re all celebrating now. We moved the venue from Chilliwack to the Matsqui Community Hall and guess what? More people showed up! We placed a greater emphasis on offering carvings for sale and guess what? More people purchased carvings! We asked some carvers to demonstrate how to carve and guess what? We could hardly finish carving because of the crowds of people asking questions and chatting us up about our work. We had a food truck outside – thanks to the fine people at Urban Spoon – and they served BBQ’d brisket along with a bunch of other great menu items. Brisket! My mouth is watering even as I remember the deliciousness… Step aside people, I’m going back for seconds!
So many volunteers made the show a success. The judges were fantastic (even if I didn’t do quite as well as the Richmond show). We had a few vendors who I’m sure did quite nicely based on the lineups I saw to purchase their equipment. Rick Wiebe of Wood ‘N Wildcraft had a huge table with a row of carving tools like you’ve never seen in one place before. And Bow River Woods had a solid table with nice sales on items. There were other vendors as well, and I saw many people walking away with tools, wood, and other items they had purchased.
These next photos are of carvings by other carvers and one of my bread plates.
This past weekend, I had the privilege of being in the Richmond Carvers Society annual wood carving show. It was held at the Steveston Community Centre on Saturday and Sunday, May 28-29. It is a high quality, juried show. This year, there were three judges. All the carvings had to be entered by 9:00 on Saturday morning, and by 12:00 noon, all the judging was completed and the show was open to the public.
As I was dropping off my carvings, I saw the quality of what was already in view and I was amazed. I sent a note to some friends that I didn’t think I stood much chance against the stiff competition. Here’s a sample:
As you can see in the background of that photo, there are many tables with a lot of carvings on them. I estimate that there were 250 to 300 carvings entered in the show! Around the outside were vendor tables with representatives from Lee Valley, Chipping Away, and others selling everything from carving tools and wood, stone, jewelry, and even soap (why is handmade soap such a “thing”?). Our club had one of these tables for the purpose of supporting the Richmond club, but also to hopefully attract new members.
Our club President Joany carved all the carvings on the table in the picture above, with the exception of the sign, which is (I’m told) about 25 years old and was made by Jordan Straker.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of being tutored by an older, very experienced carver and judge on how to be a judge at a show. He told me that most judges are not good at recognizing their own biases. For example, he said that most of the carvings that win first place or Best of Show are large. The small carvings tend to get overlooked, even though they may be technically better and more artistic. In fact, sometimes the small carvings are significantly more difficult, yet judges heads are turned by large carvings. Second, he said most of the carvings that win first place are ones that are sanded and have a glossy finish.
In the end, my entries did ok. I won a first place in my division (Advanced) for the horse, and two second places for the ear and pear.
Note that this carving won a first place in a the Advanced category, and it is large and sanded smooth with a glossy finish.
Note that this pear carving won a second place, and it is not large, nor is it sanded smooth and doesn’t have a glossy finish…
This carving was very technically challenging, yet it is small and a matte finish. I wonder whether it would have done better if I carved it three times larger and sprayed it with a shiny lacquer?
Here are a few more photos:
Note that these two birds, which are as perfect as can be, did not win a ribbon. They are small, not sanded smooth, and not shiny…
This carving, by Ken Fotheringham is spectacular! The two horses beside it didn’t even win a ribbon, yet they are also some of the best and most difficult carvings in the show, in my opinion.
This was beautiful, and artistic, with a couple of tiny issues (that adipose fin and the size of the head in relation to the body), but they are not substantive in my opinion. But the base – with the half-buried reel – awesome! The fins, scales, and the teeth and paint job are all top-drawer! It may have been on the display table, which is possibly why it didn’t get a “Best of” ribbon. It must have taken a year or more to do!
This heron won best of division in Advanced. It was the largest carving in the show. Don’t look to closely at it – there are all sorts of issues with it. But it’s large. Very large. So large the judges probably couldn’t see the perfect and artistically carved little wren two to the right, which didn’t win anything at all. Hmm…
All in all, it was a very good show, with some excellent carvings and sculptures. I’ve really only shown you some of the highlights. I missed taking a photo of Ken Fotheringham’s carving of a flower drop which easily rivals anything Grinling Gibbons ever sculpted.
My response to her concern is related to the title I’ve given my sculpture. I believe we in North America live in a narcissistic age where it can sometimes seem that we are preoccupied with capturing the perfect selfie. Learning to listen, bending to hear, lending an ear to someone or something other than ourselves becomes difficult when we’re most concerned about our own image.
I was inspired by a blog post by David Savage, who may be the world’s finest bespoke furniture maker alive today. His shop, Rowden Atelier, produces fine furniture that in my opinion offers the perfect blend of beauty, usefulness, craftsmanship and artistic statement. I have similar aspirations for my carvings and often lament the number of cheap, reproduced (3-D printed or laser-cut) “carvings” out there. There is no question that they can look perfect, and I believe there is a place for them. However, there is a real difference between the art being made by an artist working with her hands and art produced by a machine. David Savage explains the issue here:
We make only by putting in effort, time and love. Good making is an act of love. I wonder as I am laboriously cutting those pins and tails WHY? I quite enjoy doing it but that is not enough. I enjoy sitting in the sun just as much. A good CNC would do this perfectly, so why bother?
But it would be perfect. And it would be so perfect it would be intimidating. We are not that good. We screw up, we miss the line or slightly crack the carcase with too tight a joint. I did both and the evidence is there. I struggle to be perfect and fail. The evidence is there. You can see it in a hand made piece. You can see the human being, skilled but human, attempting perfection, struggling and failing. Again and again. And that is the attraction of it. Not the doing of it, that is O K, but if the doing is to be worth doing, then the object bears witness to the struggle. Hopefully it like proper Art helps us understand and see who we really are.
As a sculpture artist, I am embedded in the process of creation – inseparable from it. I suppose that my work is full of imperfections, but when I think that through, is that even possible? Here’s what I mean. My hands choose the wood. By its very nature, the wood is unique. No two trees are identical, and no two sets of grain structure are the same. I suppose it could be called imperfect, but no more imperfect than you are from me. My hands choose the design. They pick up the pencil and sketch the shape of the sculpture. I’m an imperfect designer/sketcher, but that’s hardly the point. Once I pick up the carving gouge and start cutting, the design/sketch can only be the outline – the draft of the finished product because I have no idea what’s under the surface of the wood. It is only by cutting away everything that isn’t a horse or a frog or a leaf is the final sculpture revealed. That unique grain structure has to influence the final product – why else use wood? I could use plastic and a 3-D printer, but it would be lifeless, impersonal, perfect.
I can still royally screw up. My gouges can be poorly sharpened and show “teeth marks” in the cuts. I can knock bits off that I shouldn’t. I can get the perspective wrong. All the things that an art critic would highlight as errors or imperfections are possible for me. However, that is the point Mr. Savage makes – it is the struggle, the evidence of love, the embedding of me in the sculpture that makes it what it is. A CNC machine or laser engraver cannot do this. We may be impressed by the perfection of the laser-cut letters or the exact arcs of the circles, but these do not contribute to the art. In fact, they may even detract from it. This is why we marvel at the plot, the writing, the style of a novel and the author, not the perfection of the letters on the page. We are not after perfection. We are after the pursuit. Without the struggle, my sculptures cannot exist.
The club I’m a member of, the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers , has a new website with all sorts of goodies on it. There’s a link to the schedule of meetings, a history of the club, links to instructional videos, etc. The site is still under some construction and I look forward to its development.
Check it out, but more importantly, come check us out at Yale Secondary! Membership is only $30 for the year and well worth it!
Hope to see you at one of our meetings in the fall. In the meantime, bookmark the new website and check it often.
I hope you had a chance to visit the “Art of the Carver” art show on Saturday. What a great experience! It was held in a very large facility, Heritage Park in Chilliwack, BC, as it needed to house approximately 400 visitors as well as enough tables to hold hundreds of wood and stone carvings. There were about 20 vendors (by my count) selling everything from wood carving tools to books and magazines, to carvings, and even jewelry. The fine folks from Raptor’s Ridge were there with live birds: a Harris hawk and a Kestrel – my favourite bird.
There were 4 long rows of tables displaying carvings. Each row displayed a level of carvings: novice, intermediate, advanced, and expert.
This was only the second time I’ve put a carving in a show. The first time was two years ago but the venue was much smaller. Clearly, woodcarving is taking off, based on the numbers of carvers and attendees.
I was a little unsure about how my carving would be judged this year, and I really wanted to improve, so I volunteered to follow the three judges around and record the results. I figured there would be some discussion about what makes a good carving, and I wanted to glean some tips and ideas. The three judges were Dennis Moor of Chipping Away, Betty Sager of Captured in Wood, and Rick den Braber, three very experienced and professional carvers I admire. The picture above and below this paragraph shows some of their work.
I learned quite a bit from following them around. First, these judges didn’t like a glossy finish on a carving. Several carvings that were close in quality lost places by having a high-gloss finish. They said it distracts the eye from the quality of carving. It also shows flaws rather more than is desirable. Second, they definitely lean towards larger carvings that have “a sense of presence” with an artistic flair. If it was supposed to have humour, the one that made them laugh won. If it was supposed to be technically correct, it had better be correct. For example, realistic bird carvings were critiqued very closely for eye-placement, beak/bill placement and angle, and the colour and skill of painting was also important. Size of feet, shape of body – basically everything was critiqued very closely. One other thing that I expected but is worth mentioning because the judges noticed also: slips and cuts from gouges and knives are quickly discerned by the judges and lose marks. By this I mean that if your gouge slips and stabs the wood or you make a stop-cut too far and there’s an extra long cut in the wood, that’s a no-no. Otherwise, the general shape, balance, and overall skill shown were also significant factors.
I don’t mean to make the judges sound overly critical, but obviously they had to judge the carvings. However, I was heartened to hear them make a lot of encouraging comments as well. Any carver that asked a question about their carving was answered in great detail and went away encouraged. The spirit of the whole thing was very positive.
And the results? Well, let’s say I was pleased to come away with a blue ribbon. The carving is a surprise commission from a wife to her husband, so you’ll have to wait until he receives it before I post any pictures.
Oh, and if you weren’t there, you really should try and make it next year. I’ll let you know when the next show is.