Gecko Evolves Into Salamander Bowl

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.

Advertisements

Trout Carving 

Here are a couple of fat little trout that I carved for a client in the Okanagan valley. These fellas are going on the face of a fishing cabinet.

After cutting them out I used a nice little carving jig to hold them in place while I carved them with my mallet and gouges.

In the pictures and videos below you can see more of the progress and the stain selection. I received great service from Michelle Sparrow and her paint store North Langley Paint & Decorating when she advised me on stain selection and application as well as a good clear coat to spray.


​​

Cougar Carving Completed

Finally!


You say, “It’s about time, Grant. You’ve been dragging this carving out forever…”

True. I’ve started and stopped and finished and restarted this carving a few times. But now it is finished, mounted in a hand-carved frame, and is hanging on my wall.

It is a rare opportunity to buy something that wasn’t carved on a commission for someone else. I manage to squeeze in a carving of my own maybe once a year. The rest of the time I am carving items that others have requested from me. For example, my next projects include a box for an urn, a cross for a collector, a large sign for the Pacific Woods Lodge at Camp Qwanoes, a relief carving of a fireman’s helmet, a sign for a cabin, a lintel above a grand entry set of doors, and a large cross for a chapel. All this will easily take me into next year.

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.

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.

img_0023
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

 

A Successful Art Show

 

show-pic
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

The Maker’s Struggle

Heraldry

I was inspired by a blog post by David Savage, who may be the world’s finest bespoke furniture maker alive today. His shop, Rowden Atelier, produces fine furniture that in my opinion offers the perfect blend of beauty, usefulness, craftsmanship and artistic statement. I have similar aspirations for my carvings and often lament the number of cheap, reproduced (3-D printed or laser-cut) “carvings” out there. There is no question that they can look perfect, and I believe there is a place for them. However, there is a real difference between the art being made by an artist working with her hands and art produced by a machine. David Savage explains the issue here:

We make only by putting in effort, time and love. Good making is an act of love. I wonder as I am laboriously cutting those pins and tails WHY? I quite enjoy doing it but that is not enough. I enjoy sitting in the sun just as much. A good CNC would do this perfectly, so why bother?
But it would be perfect. And it would be so perfect it would be intimidating.  We are not that good. We screw up, we miss the line or slightly crack the carcase with too tight a joint. I did both and the evidence is there. I struggle to be perfect and fail. The evidence is there. You can see it in a hand made piece. You can see the human being, skilled but human, attempting perfection, struggling and failing. Again and again. And that is the attraction of it. Not the doing of it, that is O K, but if the doing is to be worth doing, then the object bears witness to the struggle. Hopefully it like proper Art  helps us understand and see who we really are.
 As a sculpture artist, I am embedded in the process of creation – inseparable from it. I suppose that my work is full of imperfections, but when I think that through, is that even possible? Here’s what I mean. My hands choose the wood. By its very nature, the wood is unique. No two trees are identical, and no two sets of grain structure are the same. I suppose it could be called imperfect, but no more imperfect than you are from me. My hands choose the design. They pick up the pencil and sketch the shape of the sculpture. I’m an imperfect designer/sketcher, but that’s hardly the point. Once I pick up the carving gouge and start cutting, the design/sketch can only be the outline – the draft of the finished product because I have no idea what’s under the surface of the wood. It is only by cutting away everything that isn’t a horse or a frog or a leaf is the final sculpture revealed. That unique grain structure has to influence the final product – why else use wood? I could use plastic and a 3-D printer, but it would be lifeless, impersonal, perfect.
I can still royally screw up. My gouges can be poorly sharpened and show “teeth marks” in the cuts. I can knock bits off that I shouldn’t. I can get the perspective wrong. All the things that an art critic would highlight as errors or imperfections are possible for me. However, that is the point Mr. Savage makes – it is the struggle, the evidence of love, the embedding of me in the sculpture that makes it what it is. A CNC machine or laser engraver cannot do this. We may be impressed by the perfection of the laser-cut letters or the exact arcs of the circles, but these do not contribute to the art. In fact, they may even detract from it. This is why we marvel at the plot, the writing, the style of a novel and the author, not the perfection of the letters on the page. We are not after perfection. We are after the pursuit. Without the struggle, my sculptures cannot exist.
Without love, art cannot exist.