Living Outside the Box: A Carved Urn

22 months ago my friend Ray Olafsen was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. We had the privilege of walking through it with him and his wife Doris. Ray was unique and amazing. I have never met anyone who lived so intentionally and so generously. Ray made everyone feel special and loved. When Doris asked me, a few weeks before he passed, if I would make his urn, I immediately said yes. And could I carve something about Ray on the box? Oh yes I would!

The pictures below tell the story:

Ray wanted me to be sure to spell his name correctly “with an e, not an o.” He joked that when he got to the Pearly Gates, he would have St. Peter double check the spelling of his name in the Book of Life. I made sure his earthly home had the correct spelling!

Ray was not a pushy, Bible- thumping Christian. Far from it. Instead, Ray would simply want you to know that you are important to God and that he hopes you are prepared to leave this earth with little warning. I heard him say to people who were nervous about talking about his looming death, “I know I am dying and I am ok with that. But we are all dying. I have been given the privilege of having some warning and I know I am going to heaven. Do you know where you are going?”

Ray’s urn points the way. He lives outside this box, which is exactly how he lived life.

See you soon, Ray. See you soon.

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Mountain Lion Carving Update


A few blog posts ago, I mentioned that I had finished the Mountain Lion carving. Then I decided it needed a frame. And it couldn’t be just any frame. It needed a frame that was integrated with the carving subject. So I custom made a frame from a piece of old growth redwood that I salvaged from a neighbour’s renovation about 10 years ago.

After fitting the frame around the carving, I decided to carve the cougar’s paw prints into it. You can’t see the cougar’s feet in the carving, and that is by design. I want people to feel a little uneasy about how close the cougar is to them, and by hiding the feet in the grass, it leaves you unsure about how close it is. Hikers, fishers, and hunters will all know the sphincter-tightening feeling of seeing those fresh tracks.

I started the project in the fall of 2016, thought I’d finished it this summer, and now think it is nearing it’s true completion. All that is left is to put a few coats of finish on the frame and attach a hanging-mechanism.

This carving is less than 2 mm in depth. In fact, the carved paw prints are the deepest part of the carving, yet it gives a beautiful impression of depth and life when under the proper overhead lighting. I’ll post the proper measurements when it is completed.

Remember, this carving is for sale – make me an offer! You can email me at gvmcmillan@gmail.com

 

Hand Hewn Cross


A friend who collects crosses from around the world asked me for “a Canadian cross.” She asked for something simple but made from an iconic Canadian wood. I chose Western Giant Maple and of course I had to make it artistic so I carved it to look hand hewn. The cross that Jesus died on was made by hand, perhaps by a Roman slave. It is a horrible thing that we often try to clean up and “gloss over” unless you are Mel Gibson. We humans are responsible for this symbol of death but Jesus redeemed it with grace and forgiveness. I have tried to capture both the humanity and the grace in this piece. 

This one is 7″ tall, and is finished with a blend of linseed oil and beeswax. You can have one like it for $90. 

Not-so-new Brand Image

Artists sign their work, right? Well, I guess Banksy doesn’t, but his schtick is to remain shadowy. But how does a woodcarver and sculptor sign a completed sculpture? I know a few who sign  a Sharpie marker, but to me that is a little gauche. Woodworkers have signed their work in unique ways over the centuries (here are a few examples). Woodcarver and instructor, Chris Pye, recommends getting some small circular brass plates made up with name (or initials) etched in. When the carving is completed, drill a shallow hole a hair larger in diameter than the brass plate and fix the plate in place with a little epoxy glue.


I experimented with inscribing my initials with a rotary tool and diamond bit, but it never looked clean enough for me. I have had brass plates made up too, but they don’t fit every carving or sculpture. I wanted something I could easily adjust the size of and yet still maintain the design. I have for years admired Albrecht Durer’s monogram but couldn’t really settle on something for myself.


I have slightly modified the design over the past few years (see above) but when a good friend who has been in the graphic art and design business for decades offered to help me out, he really cleaned it up. He asked me a few simple questions, went quiet for a couple of days, and then sent me some examples. I chose one that I liked and he created about 5 different electronic file types for me to use. The best part is, I can carve it in about 30 seconds or less using two tools – a number 9 gouge and a chisel or even a knife.

Here is the big reveal:


There is a deliberate reason why the lines of the M are not continuous. It is to indicate that my middle initial is a V for Victor, and I am paying homage to my mentor and father Vic, who I have written about several times. He is at the heart of all I carve and, more than a decade after his death, he is still providing most of the wood I use.

You will start seeing this brand image show up on this site more often and it will be on my business cards and stationary, as well as on every carving I make. My friend who designed it for me requested to remain anonymous because that kind of work isn’t where he’s going with his own business – he just did it for me as a friend. As much as I’d like to give him public recognition for his work, I will respect his request. But if I introduce you to him as a graphics design genius and wink at you or give you the secret handshake, you’ll know he’s the one.

Fishing Net Part One


I recently returned from a very nice fishing trip with a friend where we caught many, and some large, rainbow trout. They were feisty fish, with some extra spunk and I had a hard time landing and releasing some of them, which convinced me that I need a landing net. 

A quick trip to my local fishing shop caused me to develop a serious pain in my wallet grabbing hand. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay double for a net what I paid for my best fly reel. 

Oh, I could buy a cheap aluminum handled net for $14, but at least two of the fish I caught would have bent it out of shape and the fish may not have even fit (yeah, yeah, a likely fish story!). Watching episodes of fishing with Brian Chan, I fell in love with his nice wood-framed net. But wow are they expensive! I can’t judge the makers for that, because I know how much the materials cost and how much work it takes. From that perspective, they are a steal, which leads me to believe they are probably factory-made. Never-the-less, I figured I could make my own for the cost of the wood and a $10 replacement net. 


I cut three strips of wood out of maple and walnut and steam-bent them around a jig I made. I thought I would need more clamps but the wood was very compliant as I plied it around the bends. After drying overnight, I glued the strips together around the same jig, with Gorilla Glue, which is waterproof and easy to work with. 

Reject Handle

I ditched my first handle idea because I did not like the length after laying it out. I also wanted to have dark inside and light outsides – an aesthetic choice of my own. 

Accepted Handle

Once all this was ready, I needed to glue the net rim to the handle. Someone thinking ahead would have done this at the same time as gluing the strips together but, hey, this is a first for me and I’m making it up as I go along. 


Is that a ridiculous setup for gluing, or what? Did I tell you that I am making this up as I go along? If you missed that, the above set of clamps should tell you all you need to know! 

Next I will drill the holes for the net and start shaping the curves. Stay tuned! 

Mountain Lion Relief Carving 


For sale: $250

Here is a very rare opportunity to purchase a piece of original art from my carving studio. Almost every item I carve is by commission, so I don’t often have items for sale to the general public. I’ve been slowly working at this piece for several months, in a spare hour here or there. It is finished and is for sale. 

This cougar, or mountain lion, is powerful and fearless. It could kill you in a few seconds and eat you with no remorse. It is not preparing to attack, but is stepping towards you with some interest. Where are it’s feet? How close is it? Do you know how to defend yourself if need be? 

It is a project that I have dreamed of doing for years but only decided on the design last fall. It is carved in low relief, only 2mm high and very challenging to convey all of the above and more.

It is carved in aspen wood, and is 6″ x 8.5″. It is finished with a water borne enamel. 

If you purchase it, you will need to display it properly and with good lighting. Here is a video to show you how to do that:

Carving an Heirloom 

I have been at my carving bench working on a commission for a client who asked me to carve two family crests – one for him and one for his brother. I have carved many items for this client over the years. He is nearing completion of his house, which is beautiful! Here are a couple of pictures of some of the architectural details I have carved for him.


The family crests are to be carved in a similar style, and are being carved in black walnut. Walnut is a very good wood for carving. It is relatively hard, straight grained, and holds details well. It is easy to finish, and the wood is not heavily grained so it does not distract from the carved details. 

I started by cutting out the general shape of the crest before transferring the drawing onto the wood. 


Then I set the depths for the various elements of the crest which were very specific. No more than 3/8ths of an inch deep, the helmet, feathers, and castle turrets should be the highest points, etc. 


Then I began removing wood with my carving gouges. Having a reference drawing nearby is essential to get the details correct in this sort of carving. 



I finished the first one and have made substantial progress on the second one. 

Carving a Large Sign

A few months ago I was commissioned to carve a large 4 foot diameter circular sign for the Coulter Berry building in Fort Langley, British Columbia.


I seriously considered carving it in Ultra High Density Urethane Foam sign board because I would only have to cut out the circle and start carving.

However, the developer, Eric Woodward, and the local contractor built the building with the goal of gaining the LEED Gold certification for environmentally friendly construction. As a result, I decided to carve the sign celebrating environmental construction out of certified sustainably harvested Aspen wood.


Making the sign in wood meant a lot more work cutting the wood to length, jointing, planing, gluing, clamping, cutting the circle and sanding before carving the letters and design. But it is in keeping with the purpose of the sign, so I felt it was worth it.


After some adventures with the design (bonus prize if you can find it in the picture below), I worked with a good friend who is an old pro at sign painting who helped me with the lettering and layout.


Then I talked with Michelle, the manager of the North Langley Paint & Decorating Benjamin Moore store in Walnut Grove, who made some great suggestions about what sort of finishes to use with the colours I was given by the designer. As you can see below, it turned out very nicely.


Torch Sculpture Installed 

The TWU Torch sculpture was installed by the Township of Langley this morning at about 10:00 am. My friend Dale asked me, “Grant, what is the history behind this? Why is there a TWU insignia up in Fort Langley?” 

Trinity Western University has obtained a lease for a building in Fort Langley and opened it up to students and community members as a place to hang out, get some great coffee (thanks Republica Roasters), free wifi, and free nightly entertainment. Fort Langley is a favourite place for students, and it seemed like a natural fit to open up what is essentially a collegium there. 

The Facebook page for Trinity Western House says, “We are a place for TWU students, staff, faculty, alumni, and the public to study, work, and hang out in the heart of beautiful Fort Langley.” Here is a short video showing the space. Inside Trinity Western House

Torch Sculpture Complete 

The Torch sculpture is finally complete. I have a meeting on Wednesday with a few people on location in Fort Langley to discuss the installation. This is going on the outside of Trinity Western House, a new collegium for students and the general public in Fort Langley in the old Bedford House Restaurant on Glover Road, across from the Fort Pub. The wood is Western Red Cedar, the frame is steel, painted to match the siding of the building. In spite of its size (the cedar is 3 inches thick!) as you can see by my lack of grimace or bulging veins, this is surprisingly light. 

Huge thanks go out to the fine people in the TWU Maintenance department. They volunteered to print the design, provide the steel, weld it up, and provide working space as well as tools and supplie. Paul Johnston and his great staff, people like Matt, Brad, Jan, Brenda, Maureen, Graham and others all helped me in some way. I kinda invaded their space and they made me feel welcome. I thoroughly enjoyed working with them and they made this project possible!