One really cool thing about being an artist who takes commissions is that I get to participate in the lives of the most interesting people. The projects they ask me to do for them are always deeply personal and often profound.
Earlier this year I received an email from a Catholic Priest who was soon to become the Bishop of Tuktoyaktuk, which is located in the Inuvik region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. He had seen that I had carved a Crozier for the Anglican Bishop of Victoria, and hoped I could carve one for him too.
What made this carving so interesting is that he had his own bit of heraldry that signified his specific calling or vocation as a Bishop. In Latin, the phrase is Veritas et Reconcilio, or Truth and Reconciliation, which we Canadians know from a Commission with the same name. The shield and symbol he had was unique and striking in its simplicity and style.
The broken heart is mended (see the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, verse 18). The cross has a spear on one side , part of the ancient Roman method of crucifixion (shudder!). The other side has a stick with a sponge soaked in vinegar. This is mentioned by John in his Gospel, chapter 19, verse 19, in which he tells the reader that when Jesus said he was thirsty, the Roman soldiers offered him a sponge dipped in vinegar on a hyssop branch.
The top space of the shield symbolizes the northern ocean that Tuk sits on the shores of, while below it is land with a river flowing through it, which I assume is the Mackenzie River.
I chose a piece of wood that should last forever and handle the weather of the Canadian north: teak. I finished it with the best feeling finish ever – a blend of flax seed oil and beeswax.
My client, the Bishop, is happy because he said it was exactly what he had hoped it would be.
I was given a beautiful and large piece of yellow cedar, and a fellow carving club member was in the midst of carving some large spoons which inspired me to carve one myself.
I like spoons that have a shape that flows from curve to curve.
This one has no flat lines anywhere. It is all curves. Even the top side of the handle gently curves from side to side as well as down the length.
The abalone shell is also not flat, but has a slight curve that closely matches the handle.
The entire spoon has been carved by hand, and the carving marks from the knife and gouges show. I believe a good wood carver is like a good painter whose brush strokes demonstrate her skill. Marks from the knife and gouge show how skilled is the carver, how sharp the tools are, and demonstrates his or her knowledge of the wood.
This is west coast style: carving that uses a west coast wood, shows a connection to the ocean, emphasizes nature and allows nature to show through.
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.
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!
It’s not always about the big, complicated, detailed, historical carvings around here. Sometimes when I’m between projects, I pull out a scrap of wood and carve something that I can finish in an hour or so. Last night was a good example. All the projects that I’m either working on or about to start are quite large. One requires more research. One requires cutting and laminating together a bunch of yellow cedar. One requires a consultation with the client. At about 9 pm, I wasn’t about to start on any of these. But I didn’t want to waste an hour, either. So I grabbed a 6″ x 1 3/4″ x 3/4″ piece of walnut out of the off-cut bin and started carving a spoon.
First, I found the middle of the board, and drew a line down its length. I used a compass to scribe a circle with an inside and outside edge, which would form the bowl of the spoon. After that, I clamped the board in my vise, took out my #7 – 14 mm wide gouge and started carving the bowl. Once I had the bowl scooped out, I switched to a 5a – 7 mm spoon gouge to clean up the bottom of the bowl. Then I drew the handle and cut the outside shape on my bandsaw.
After the shape was cut out, I cut a strip of double-sided carpet tape, flipped the spoon bowl-side down and stuck it to the tape on a piece of scrap wood which I clamped in my vise. Double-sided carpet tape makes a wonderful “vise” for things that are difficult to clamp due to their shape. I took my #3 – 25mm gouge and shaped the outside of the spoon bowl. A quick switch to a #7 – 14 mm gouge, flipped over so I was primarily carving with the inside edge of the gouge, helped me shape the handle in a few strokes. Once all that was done, I worked it free from the double-sided tape, made a few passes with my round rasp and smoothed it with a large double-cut file before sanding it with several grits of sand paper. It requires a little more sanding as you can see from the photo, and them some foodsafe oil to finish it.
I really like the shape, and it fits very nicely into my hand. It will make a nice coffee scoop or something similar.
I’m trying to decide whether to put my maker’s mark on it or just leave it smooth. Got any recommendations for me on that? Leave a comment and I’ll consider it!
Remember the pear I carved for the theatre company a few months ago? That garnered a surprising amount of attention and requests from others for more carved pears. It appears that pears are a favourite among many of you!
I call it a wormy pear because the wood (mahogany) is from a log that has been eaten through and through by the tiniest of worms. The holes they left in the wood are black around the edges. It reminds me of the pear tree that grew outside my bedroom window when I was growing up. It had the most delicious pears in the world – I’ve never had another pear that was nearly as good – but they were rough on the outside and often had worms, so eating them required paring with a knife (see what I did there?). Those pears would never sell in a grocery store because of the imperfections. Learning to see the beauty in imperfections can help us discover some of the best that life has to offer.
This one is carved in mahogany and finished with linseed oil and beeswax. It is approximately 7 inches tall.
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.
Carving fruit is an old tradition. I don’t mean cutting up watermelon or an apple to munch on. I mean carving wood to look like fruit. People have been doing it for centuries, even millennia! Fruity carving is another thing altogether that I am not getting into…
I was contacted last week by the director of an upcoming theatre production who asked if I could carve a prop for a play called The Woodcarver. She needed a pear to be used in the play. I have carved fruit in high relief and low relief, but never in-the-round, so this would be a learning project for me too.
I grabbed a board that was three and a half inches square and quite long, and lopped a piece off with my saw. I cut it a bit longer than necessary so as to leave enough to hold in the vise as per the picture below. Then I ran off to the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers club meeting on Wednesday night and started by roughing it out with my largest gouges.
I made quite the mess in the couple of hours that the club met but had some fun discussing whether or not I was making those dangly-bits of bulls you see swinging from the bumpers of over-sized pick-up trucks in Abbotsford (but not in classy Langley). Several members wondered why I wasn’t making this on a lathe. A lathe can only make things perfectly round and there aren’t any perfectly round pears out there in the wild. I wanted a little more artistic license than that.
After a few back-and-forths by email with the client, I was able to confirm the appropriate size and smoothness of the carving.
After sanding the pear and shaping the stem, I gave it a light coating of oil to bring out the natural colour and grain of the wood. This went so well I will definitely carve more.
If you want some wood carved fruit, feel free to contact me about options for something unique to you. In the meantime, I hear my wife asking if her fruit is finished yet. Back to the carving bench I go!
Each year, I carve a figure from the Christian nativity scene for a family member. Last year it was Mary, the mother of Jesus. This year it was Joseph.
I had a lovely piece of mahogany given to me by a client and friend, which was straight grained, relatively soft and of a warm reddish-brown colour. I cut out the basic shape on my band saw and went to work with the carving gouges. Joseph is intended to be a figurative sculpture, hence there is little detail. The idea is that you can see yourself in him and imagine what it would have been like to be at the birth of Jesus in that manger in Bethlehem. Joseph’s body language is a mixture of awe and pride, welcoming you to the scene and showing off the baby.
Joseph is approximately 6 inches tall, and is finished with a blend of linseed oil and beeswax.