A Carved Lotus Blossom

Last year, I was contacted by a person who was creating a studio at the Richmond campus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University. The studio was called “Blossoming Lotus Studio” and was being created by the Student Association. The studio had an image they wanted to use, and which was being painted on the wall of the hallway outside. They wanted me to carve something similar.

As this was going to be one of the few pieces of art inside the studio, I understood that it needed to be a relatively large piece. The studio also had  distinctly Eastern feel about it, yet here it was almost as West as it gets in Canada. This piece needed to capture both East and West. I decided that to be eastern, it needed to look like the lotus blossom, while also carved in a rich, dark wood. To reflect it’s location in the West, the lotus should be carved from an indigenous wood – local and common in Richmond – Western Red Cedar just seemed right.

Here’s a series of photos showing the progression of the carving:

Lotus in Concept

 The above picture is 5 pieces of Western Red Cedar, laminated together to form a panel almost 3 feet by 3 feet.

Lotus cut out


Lotus Beginning Carving


Lotus Almost Completed


Completed Blossoming Lotus


About the carving:

This carving was done in Western Red Cedar, approximately 2 feet 6 inches tall by 3 feet wide by 5/8″ thick. It’s finished with multiple coats of Tung Oil and hand rubbed to a smooth finish. It was done as a commission and is not for sale. It is currently hanging in the Blossoming Lotus Studio at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Richmond Campus.

Carved Bread Plate

What I enjoy most about wood carving are the never-ending challenges. First comes the challenge of a good design. I hope to design carvings that are pleasing to the eye and create the impression of wholeness. Second comes the challenge of the material. Wood is always unique. There are no two pieces of wood that are the same. Different types of wood create different effects and allow or limit the carver’s options. For example soft woods are difficult to carve intricate detail into because the grain can crush or simply not be strong enough to hold up under the carver’s gouge. Hard woods, on the other hand, can take any amount of detail, but take much longer to carve. Also, different types of wood have colour and grain uniquenesses, and knowing how these work with or against the design is important. Third comes the challenge of executing the design in a special piece of wood and bringing all the elements of skill, design, and material to form a piece of art.

I am particularly fond of this bread plate:

Carved Bread Plate

About the carving:

This is a bread plate that is 18″ in diameter and 1″ thick. It’s carved in Cherry wood which naturally oxidizes and turns the rich reddish/brown that you see here. It’s finished in a food safe oil and beeswax blend. The phrase is taken from the famous “Lord’s Prayer” passage in the Bible (Matthew chapter 6, verse 11).

Carving letters around a circle is more difficult than I first imagined. I hadn’t realized that the outside of the circle would be longer than the inside. Stretch a string around the inside of circle below the letters and then again around the outside of the rim of the plate, and you’ll find aproximately one and a half inches difference in length. The design of the letters and the spacing of the top of the letters and the bottom of the letters all has to take that into account. I ended up using a compass and protractor, drawing rays from the centre out to where I thought each letter should be. I spent many hours figuring out the spacing and drawing each letter to fit the spacing, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The symbol at the top of the plate is a stylized stalk of wheat. I designed and carved this while we lived in Saskatchewan. Our house overlooked a wheat field, literally a few steps behind our house, which was a daily reminder that we lived in the Bread Basket of Canada. I jogged past amber waves of grain daily in the summer and early fall and often thought about how I might incorporate some of that beauty into my carvings.

This one is in a private collection, as are 5 of 6 others carved in oak, walnut and maple and I can carve you one of your own for $150. Other phrases are also possible too! Send me an email at gvmcmillan@gmail.com to commission your own.

A Love-ly Spoon

Love spoons are a very common wood carving project, often recommended for beginning carvers. This was one of my very first wood carvings that I ever did. My father cut out the general shape with his bandsaw, and gave me an article in a magazine to follow directions from. Of course, something went a little wrong and I ended up having to modify the carving a little to make it work. As usual, I can’t carve something without making it my own, so I was happy with making the change.

Love Spoon

About the carving:

This love spoon is carved in Black Walnut, and sprayed with clear lacquer. It’s at my Mom’s place and not for sale.

Collaborative Carving

This week’s post is about a carving that I did in collaboration with my daughter Miriah. She’s quite the artist, and I wanted to carve a mask, so I asked her to draw one that I could carve. The drawing she came up with was quite fetching, with very simple lines and an appealing look to it. With just a few minor alterations I knew it would carve up very nicely. I really enjoyed collaborating with my daughter on a project and would like to do more.  Here’s the result.

Carved Mask

About the carving:

I chose one of my favourite carving woods for this project: Birch. I chose it because it is a hardwood and strong enough for the purpose. It has almost no noticeable grain to distract from the unique lines of the carving. Left unstained, it is almost white in colour, allowing it to blend with many different backgrounds. I finished it with multiple coats of tung oil, buffed after drying. It is 8″ x 6″ x 1″, and came from a board given to my dad by Roy Corbett, cut on Roy’s own bandsaw mill.

It’s not for sale and is hanging on the wall in Miriah’s room.

Carved and Painted Loon

This carving was an attempt for me to try my hand at a common woodcarving subject: the Great Northern Diver or Common Loon. I don’t normally paint my carvings, as I prefer the wood to show, but sometimes I’ll make an exception. You see, the way I figure it, if I’m going to go through the trouble of carving something in wood, why bother painting it? To me, a painted carving suddenly becomes in competition with the cheap, plastic or resin jobs that you can get at the nearest big box department store. Who can tell if it’s wood or mass-produced resin? But if I let the wood show through, well then, it’s pretty hard to compete with that – the skill of the carver is on display.

Obviously, to paint a carving well takes great skill. I’m not belittling those great carvers who carve birds with every possible detail, right down to wood burning the feathers, and then paint them with iridescent colours. Those carvings look like they could up and fly away at a moment’s notice. But I’m just not that into painting – I’m a wood carver by nature. However, every now and then, something catches my fancy and I just have to give it a whirl.

The picture below is of a Great Northern Diver or Common Loon, carved as a smoothie, with just a touch of detail carved into it. And then I painted it. The part that makes me happiest is that you can actually see the wood grain under the paint. You can’t see through the paint (although that idea did run through my mind), but the grain is raised enough to be seen in the paint.

Common Loon

About the carving:

It’s carved in pine, approximately 12 inches long by 7 inches tall. It’s painted with acrylics, top-coated with clear acrylic. This is in a private collection and not for sale.

Please give me your feedback : do you prefer painted or natural wood carvings?

Over the Fireplace

Are you looking for a very cool, one of a kind gift for someone you care about? Here’s a story of some very good friends who were moving to a new city and the gift I was commissioned to create.

Our friends had been long-term members of the community, and had made many close friends. The lady of the house had fallen in love with a children’s story book that had a painting of a room with a fireplace mantel. The mantel had a phrase in German carved into it which said, “Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott”. These are the starting words of the famous German hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

The best part about the story is that another friend overheard her say, “I wish I could have a mantel someday with that carved into it.” That friend talked with a bunch of other friends, and they all decided they would commission me to carve it for her. The trouble was, she and her family were moving and most people don’t take their fireplace mantels with them when they move. So, some creativity was needed to come up with something that would work. I chose a piece of oak, 1 inch thick by 6 inches high and approximately 36 inches long. I carved the letters into it, taking care to match the lettering in the painting. Then I rigged a hanging system on the back, so they could take it anywhere and hang it where it suited best.

Eine Feste Mantel Piece

About the carving:

The wood is oak, 1x6x36 inches. It is stained in medium oak Danish Oil stain and sprayed with lacquer. It is in a personal collection, hanging over a fireplace, and not for sale. Contact me if you have an idea. I’ll work with you to come up with a piece that suits your style and wishes.

Carving in Threes

When my wife was a teen, her parents got her an antique hope chest. It’s beautiful – dark stained oak that has aged to a lovely patina, with some well-carved acanthus leaf scroll work on it. I have admired the craftsmanship for years, and said I’d one day like to have more pieces like it in our house.

A few years after I started carving, I clued in that maybe I could make some pieces to match. So my wood-working father and I designed a serving tray and made it out of 3/4″ oak. I took a crayon-rubbing of the original hope chest carving and, after reducing its size, transferred it to the tray. That tray has been in our house for about 7 years now. Then I had the idea of carving a mirror frame to match. Out came the crayon again. Then came the carving tools. The results are below – first the hope chest, then the tray and finally the mirror frame.

Antique Hope Chest
Carved Tray
Carved Mirror Frame

About the carvings:

I’m not sure what the stain is for the hope chest, but the wood is oak. The serving tray is oak, stained with medium walnut gel stain and sprayed with lacquer. The mirror frame is birch, stained with numerous coats of medium walnut danish oil and hand-rubbed till it glows.

Till next week,