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:

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Spooning With Style

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!

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. 

Relief Carving Classes

One of the things I love about woodcarving is how many people are interested in learning it. In my other life at university, I teach a few courses every year and I find teaching to be something I love. Teaching carving classes is also something I do quite often and I find a lot of fulfillment in watching students get excited as they think about the endless possibilities of carving.

Recently, I have taught two different types of carving classes. The first was a lettering class at Lee Valley Tools in Coquitlam. In that class, we learned some basic principles of lettering – such as what is a serif? We didn’t dwell on this part, but moved on quickly to learn how light and shadow works for letters and how important it is to have tools that match the  curves of the letters. We learned that a 60 degree incised angle can be difficult to cut but it can make a large difference to the look of the letters. We learned that it is important to “give the wood a place to go or it will find its own way” and so we started each letter with stab cuts in the middle of the letter. Then we also learned how much easier it is to cut the serifs before cutting the rest of the letters. The students went home with a completed project and some ideas for how to apply their new-found carving skills to other carpentry projects.

The second class was an introductory relief carving class which I taught at our club location – the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers Club. We meet at Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford on Wednesday nights.

Relief Carving Class Brochure

What I found most interesting was how much the students seemed to take to carving with large gouges hit with a mallet. They learned just how easy it is to control a carving gouge with a mallet and how fine details can be cut by light taps with a mallet on the tools. We also learned how every carving gouge can cut a circle and how much difference it makes to use a slicing action when carving by hand. My goal is to show the students how to finish a carving right from the gouge, with no sandpaper needed. This method of carving is quite quick, and with the correct techniques and some artistic vision, can create a unique piece of artwork that shows the individual carver skill. I compare this to a painter whose brushstrokes set him or her apart from every other artist. The marks left by the carver show the skill of the carver, the sharpness of the tools, and are what shows the uniqueness of each woodcarver.

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No sandpaper was used on these relief carvings!

 

If you are interested in taking a course, contact me by email at gvmcmillan(at)gmail.com

 

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.


Live Edge Sign Carving

I’ve never carved a sign larger than me, until now! 


The Fraser Valley Antique Farm Machinery Association had a huge slab of fir they wanted to turn into a sign.


I had to flatten the slab, and remove the bark from the live edge. After that it was a matter of transferring the letters to the wood and carve away! 

Herald Angels or Heraldry?

It has been quiet on this site but not because it has been quiet in my carving studio! It had been crazy busy with carving work such that I have neglected you, my loyal readers! 

The Christmas season always sneaks up on me and I have to be careful not to overcommit. Must leave time to sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and other Christmas carols.

Some projects I am working on include a blanket ladder with dovetail joinery. 


It isn’t really carving work, per se, but I wanted to show old Roubo that his rants about carvers being imprecise are misplaced. I was building furniture and doing complex joinery long before I picked up a carving tool. 

I carved two other pieces that I have done before: a lettercarving piece (the first photo above) and a stylized acanthus leaf in relief. 

And on the heraldry front, I am working on a large family crest that is getting close to being finished. The short video below shows some progress. 


Stay tuned for more updates. I have a very large lettercarving project that I am on the verge of starting. In the new year I am picking up the wood for an ornately carved lintel over a front door in a large foyer. And I have another family crest in the works. It’s nice to have work, but I am feeling the pressure to get things completed! 

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! 

A Successful Art Show

 

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Visitors to Art of the Carver show

Friends, thank you for coming to the Art of the Carver show and sale this past weekend. It was a resounding success! There was some discomfort among the organizers because we introduced a few significant changes this year, but I think we’re all celebrating now. We moved the venue from Chilliwack to the Matsqui Community Hall and guess what? More people showed up! We placed a greater emphasis on offering carvings for sale and guess what? More people purchased carvings! We asked some carvers to demonstrate how to carve and guess what? We could hardly finish carving because of the crowds of people asking questions and chatting us up about our work. We had a food truck outside – thanks to the fine people at Urban Spoon – and they served BBQ’d brisket along with a bunch of other great menu items. Brisket! My mouth is watering even as I remember the deliciousness… Step aside people, I’m going back for seconds!


So many volunteers made the show a success. The judges were fantastic (even if I didn’t do quite as well as the Richmond show). We had a few vendors who I’m sure did quite nicely based on the lineups I saw to purchase their equipment. Rick Wiebe of Wood ‘N Wildcraft had a huge table with a row of carving tools like you’ve never seen in one place before. And Bow River Woods had a solid table with nice sales on items. There were other vendors as well, and I saw many people walking away with tools, wood, and other items they had purchased.

These next photos are of carvings by other carvers and one of my bread plates.

Experts table – White flower drop won best of show
Koi Fish
One of Milt Stein’s beautiful creations
One of my bread plates