Horse Sculpture

  
i have completed the carving stage of the horse head sculpture. This included a few last minute adjustments to the eyes, mouth and mane. Then I determined the way it would stand before cutting the base of the neck at the proper angle.

The next steps are to put a finish on it and make a stand. Does anyone know where I can find some plate steel, something at least 1/4″ thick onto which I can weld a post? 

Thank you to my lovely daughter Miriah for the photos.

  

Horse Mane Carving

  
The horse mane carving has gone well, although I did find it challenging to work in wood where little bits just randomly spring off and fall out under the v-gouge. This happens when certain strips of wood in the parallam beam did not receive enough glue. It’s not really a problem. It means I adjust the carving slightly. I finished the mane tonight. At this point I will set the carving as it will stand and make sure the entire sculpture looks right. I’ll probably stare at it, turn it around and around, nip off bits here and there. I’ll sand it and sand it some more until I’m finally satisfied. Only then will I put the finishing coats on. 

This is the point where I get excited. 

Carving a Bust of a Horse

Nose to Nose with a Horse
Nose to Nose with a Horse

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.

A good look at the wood strands.
A good look at the wood strands.

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.

Horse Bust Progress
Horse Bust Progress

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.

Cheers!

Grant McMillan

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.

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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Bishop’s Crozier & Pectoral Cross

A few weeks ago I was contacted by an Anglican minister who was going to be installed as a Bishop and was looking for a few items to be made for the ceremony. He wanted a Bishop’s Crozier and a Pectoral Cross, both with Celtic themes. Not being an Anglican I was unfamiliar with these terms and had to do some research. Based on the research I made a few proposals which he kindly helped me to refine. After giving me the go-ahead on the carving I had some difficulties finding the right materials for the job. Finding straight grained Black Walnut of decent length is harder than I thought. After scouring all the local (and not-so-local) hardwood lumber shops with no luck I remembered my dad had a length of it in his shop. I hoped it was straight-grained, as he was pretty picky about his wood. I found the chunk of 2″ by 8″ by 4 ft length had 3 feet of length that would suffice, which was a huge sigh of relief. But finding the right kind of ash was much, much easier, fortunately.

I started by glueing up a few pieces of the walnut to make the shepherd’s crook. I needed to join the pieces in such a way as to make the crook stronger, as any end-grain would be prone to breaking. Then I drew up a shape that looked pleasing to my eye and appeared to be traditional, which the client was looking for.

Shepherd's Crook Cutout
Shepherd’s Crook Cutout

Then I shaped the crook with a rasp until it looked like this.

Shepherd's Crook Shaped
Shepherd’s Crook Shaped

After this, I got to work with my table saw, cutting the walnut into two 3 foot lengths and then rounding them with a spoke shave and hand plane. Of course, you remember that the longest straight-grained walnut I could get was 3 feet, so I had to join two lengths together. I did that by inserting cane couplers from Lee Valley Tools into the end-grain. I used my drill press and some epoxy glue for the task. It proved to be a little tricky to get them to be straight!

Spokeshavings
Spokeshavings
Crozier Shafts Rounded
Crozier Shafts Rounded

 

Crozier Shaft Joinery
Crozier Shaft Joinery

After rough-sanding everything, I got down to carving a Celtic cross into the shaft of the Crozier. I’ve rarely done relief carvings “in the round” so to speak, so that proved a little interesting. I drew the cross onto the shaft and then clamped the shaft in my vise and worked on a section before rotating the shaft to work around the bend. Setting the right depths was important, especially working around the shaft. But in the end it worked out and I couldn’t wait to test a little patch with my favourite oil & wax finish.

Oiling the Celtic Cross
Oiling the Celtic Cross

Finally, after sanding through several grits of sand-paper, and down to 400 grit wet-dry paper, I oiled the entire project and immediately fell in love with it. This is the moment I wait for every time I carve something. It just pops. But that’s just my opinion. Take a look at this next picture and tell me what you think:

Crozier drying
Crozier drying
Detail of Celtic Cross
Detail of Celtic Cross

Finally, I worked on the Pectoral Cross, which is a cross the Bishop wears on his chest. This was fairly easy, as I’ve carved numerous Celtic crosses in the recent past. The biggest challenge of this carving was stopping all the little bits from breaking off. In the end, I had to find a happy medium between enough depth so you can see the carving, but not so deep as to have parts break off.

Pectoral Cross
Pectoral Cross

I had the opportunity to meet the client and deliver the carvings in person, which is a real joy. And as a bonus, I also was able to meet his wife and daughter. Meeting clients adds so much to the experience for me. The connection between maker and receiver is one of those intangibles that makes my work important to me. It is something you can’t get at the cash register in the big box home decor store.

Grant

An Early Carving

My wife went to visit her folks for a few days this week and sent me a photo of one of my earliest carvings that I made for my mother-in-law. She loves hummingbirds and goes through about 30 pounds of sugar feeding the hummingbirds over the summer. That’s a serious addiction to hummingbirds, if you ask me!

So a number of years ago, I decided to carve her a hummingbird. I foolishly decided that figured maple would be the wood of choice, mostly because that was what what my dad had given me. What a lot of hard work that was! I tried to capture the idea of movement and gracefulness, with the beauty of a hummingbird in mid-hover.

After about a month of Sundays sanding and sanding and more sanding, this is what emerged from the wood.

Hummingbird view 2
Hummingbird view 2
Hummingbird view 1
Hummingbird view 1

About the carving:

It’s about 8 inches tall, carved in figured maple and black walnut. It is finished with Krylon. It’s in my mother-in-law’s private collection.