When my father retired from working at BC Hydro, the guys from work commissioned Pete Ryan, the famous wood carver from Hope, BC, to carve something for Dad. He carved a couple of herons in a softwood burl.
After my father passed away a few years ago, I was rummaging around in his stacks of wood (he had hundreds of pounds of wood for his wood working projects) and found a slab cut out of a maple burl. After admiring Pete Ryan’s carving for years, I finally had a piece of wood worthy of my own attempt at something similar. However, there were a few issues I had to work out first.
The slab was 14 x 8″ of solid maple burl, about an inch thick, and very heavy. It had a few rough edges with the bark still on, as it was cut out of a piece of firewood with a chainsaw – likely a piece Dad found out in the bush or perhaps given to him from our neighbour, Roy Corbett. It had a split partway up the middle where some bark had grown in as well. And the wood had very interesting colouring – after I sanded off the rough chainsaw marks with my belt-sander, I could see a dramatic colour change from one side of the wood to the other. The grain was very interesting as well, with a strong arch in the lighter grain to crazy-curls in the dark area. I knew I wanted to carve a heron into this, but how?
I like to represent animals in their natural context as much as possible, and we see herons most often wading in water. I decided this bird was going to have his feet in the water. The way the colour shifted from very light on the top right to very dark on the bottom left had sunshine & shadow written all over it. The split in the wood was a problem at first – would I have to cut it off and make this a much smaller piece? Then the idea came that it could play into the sunshine & shadow, especially with the bark on it, giving a very dark shadow away from the ‘sun’. And in the end, the curly dark grain of the bottom left sure looks like wavy water with the sunlight reflecting off it. It took first prize in its division the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarving show a few years ago.
About the carving:
It is carved in maple and finished with multiple coats of tung oil. Oh, and the little snail clinging to a bull-rush? It’s carved in lignum vitae. I carved it tucked away in its shell as though it’s hoping to avoid being the heron’s dinner. This carving took me about 20 hours and currently hangs on our wall and reminds me of my father. I can’t part with it, so it’s not for sale.
Hi and welcome to my new blog about wood carving. I know that you’re busy and have many things competing for your attention. I also know that you like eye candy (hey, don’t we all?), so this blog will have lots of pictures. Some of my art is for sale, some is for a commission, and some is just for me and my family, but all of it has a story behind it. Sometimes the story is about the wood, sometimes it’s about a person, and sometimes it’s about an experience.
Today’s post is about a beautiful piece of wood.
This carving of a leaf is one of my very first attempts at carving. My father was quite the wood worker. He wasn’t really into wood carving, but he provided me with many pieces of wood and most of my tools. When he was cutting up some birch for his fireplace, he found a large piece that had “spalted”. Spalting is something that happens when birch and maple and a few other types of hardwoods begin to rot. It’s a fungus that gets into the wood and changes the nature and colour of the wood in really cool ways. It can be tricky to carve because it’s hard to tell whether the rotting has gone too far and the wood has turned soft and punky or whether it’s still hard enough to hold together and take detail. Oh yeah, and once you expose the fungus to the air, it kills it and it stops spreading and rotting. The best, but also the most challenging part of spalted wood is that you don’t know what you’re getting when you carve it. You have to go with the flow and try to highlight what you find under the knife and gouge.
This piece above was carved in 1995, and is approximately 8″ in diameter. It’s carved like a leaf, and I hoped to capture the essence of late fall in the lower mainland of British Columbia. Here, unlike the north or central and eastern Canada, our leaves hardly change colour – they mostly fade from green to yellow to brown, often rotting in the copious amounts of rain that we get. This leaf hasn’t really changed colour much – but it is clearly rotting and curling up at the edges.
About the carving:
It’s spalted birch, 8 inches in diameter, 3/8ths of an inch thick. It’s finished in wax. If you look closely, you can see some veins carved in it. It’s finished in tung oil and wax. It got dropped and broke in half a few years ago. I glued it back together, but that means that this one’s just for our family’s enjoyment and is not for sale. I can make you one like it because I have quite a bit of spalted birch. Just promise me you’ll keep it in a safe place where it won’t get dropped.