Tuesday, August 25, 2009

We have a winner!

It gives me great pleasure to announce the winner of the first Left Coast Eisteddfod lovespoon is Howard Evans! Howard was very generous in his support of the Eisteddfod and is a more than worthy winner of this traditional, handcrafted, one-of-a-kind Welsh lovespoon!

As the designer and carver of this spoon, it has been very heartening for me to see people support the inaugural Left Coast Eisteddfod through their kind donations and to personally have been the recipient of so many kind words of praise from many of you. I would, therefore, like to take this occasion to announce that I will be back with a new spoon design to support next year's edition of the Left Coast Eisteddfod!! Lots of lessons have been learned from the whole process of trying to initiate a great Welsh cultural event here in North America and although it has not been without its challenges, I believe next year's version will be bigger, better and even more widely supported than this years!

I look forward to designing next year's spoon and to showing its progress on this blog and I hope you will continue visit me and support the Left Coast Eisteddfod as well!!

So congratulations, Howard!!

Bookmark and Share

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dragon the Line

At long last, the Left Coast Eisteddfod Dragon is done! And here he is in all his 150-year -old, walnut splendor! He is a handsome chappie, I'll give him that! His abalone eyes are dazzlingly radiant and the richness of the walnut grain gives the bowls and his wings a lovely glow and shimmer. He is everything I had hoped he would be and I feel great pride in having created this lovespoon in support of the Left Coast Eisteddfod.

Now, if I were Catherine Zeta Jones, Cerys Matthews, Tom Jones, Anthony Hopkins or any of the other myriad of famous Welsh, I'd be asking myself why I don't have a stunning lovespoon like this in my house. I'd be wondering what kind of Taff would miss the opportunity to own a proper, tidy lovespoon like this one especially when supporting the Left Coast Eisteddfod means supporting a little bit of Wales overseas. I'd say. "Count me in, I want to support the Eisteddfod and win that lovely spoon!"

But I wouldn't just be thinking that if I was a famous Welshman....EVERYONE of Welsh ancestry or with any interest in Wales and its traditions has an opportunity to get involved in supporting the establishment of a wonderful Welsh cultural event here in North America. Your support is what will enable the Left Coast Eisteddfod to grow and will showcase more and more of the rich talent that the Welsh community has brought to this continent.

I hope that you have enjoyed following the creation of this spoon and that it will inspire you to become involved with the Left Coast Eisteddfod!

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sexy Spoon!

With all the carving done and the eyes inlayed, its time to make our spoon nice and sexy! A needle file gets into all the tight spots and cleans up any rough areas without leaving behind a bunch of sanding grit. This is important if I discover I need to go back to carve some more as I won't have to worry about sanding residue dulling my knife blades.

When I am absolutely certain that all the carving and filing is done, I break out the sandpaper to finish smooth areas such as the bowls. This is actually a difficult and time-consuming time in the whole spoon carving process as any scratches or bumps and lumps which get missed will show up like nobody's business when I apply the finishing oils. Thankfully, the Tour de France is raging on tv at the moment and I can take out my nervous energy doing a bit of sanding while the Schleck brothers hammer their opponents on the Alps.

And here he is!! The Left Coast Eisteddfod lovespoon is completed and is ready for the really exciting bit...the finishing finish!

I'm going to go with Deft brand clear Danish Oil as my oil finish and will give it 3 or 4 coats before following up with a nice application of beeswax polish.

Here we go! I use a cheap little pig-hair brush to really ladle out the first coat of oil. I want good coverage and for the spoon to really soak it up, so I'm not afraid to really splash it on. This is the time when any sanding errors will leap to the forefront, so I've got my fingers crossed that I found everything before now!

WOW! Get a load of this! This is what 150-plus-year-old walnut looks like when the finish treatment is applied! This spoon is going to be a stunner! Man, what I wouldn't give to get my hands on a few more pieces of this magnificent timber. Sadly, this is almost the last of my supply so there won't be too many more spoons like this! So if you want to see how this spoon looks fully 'dressed' in its new coat of oil, stay tuned for the next blog!

And please, if you enjoy quality craft, art, music and written word, please help support the Left Coast Eisteddfod with a donation today or buy your tickets to attend the events! Any and every amount is gratefully received and you can be there to participate in the drawing to win this spoon!

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eye, Eye, Captain!

I'm getting really close to finishing the dragon. I've only got the eye left to inlay and some touch up work on the head and neck and the spoon will be ready for a final 'once over'. To do an abalone inlay, I glue the piece in place with a dab of white glue and let it set for a couple of hours.

When the abalone dot feels good and firm, I run around the edge of it with a very fine razor knife to scribe the line I will use as my grounding boundary. When the scribing is done, I use a small chisel to pop the dot off the wood.

Next up is the grounding. In this phase of things, I level the surface for my dot to sit on and try to get it so that with the dot in place, a little less than a 1/16th of an inch of abalone remains proud of the surface. I do a careful dry fitting to make sure everything is in order before I commit to glueing it down. Nothing says disaster like having your abalone sticking up!

Although it gets a bit messy when the excess glue seeps out, I don't worry about it as long as everything still fits properly! While the glue is wet, I wipe off the excess so that life is a bit easier later when the glue hardens up. Having big lumps of hardened glue on the wood surface is hard on the tools and my patience.

When the glue has set, the dot gets filed down and softly domed to more resemble an eye. As I mentioned in an earlier post, abalone and mother of pearl both make very, very noxious dust when they are sanded and filed. If you are inclined to try your own abalone inlay at home, please wear a good dust mask or respirator and try to work outside where the dust stands a better chance of vacating your personal space!!

The dragon's head is now pretty much done and all that remains is to give him a good final sanding and touch up any little areas I'm not completely satisfied with.
If you've slogged it through these months of blogs, then you won't want to miss the next installment when I start applying finish to the spoon and this beautiful piece of 150 year old walnut flashes into spectacular life! Ok, so it's not a nail-biting final round of American Idol or a scintillating episode of Big Brother, but I guarantee it will be exciting in its own peculiar way!!

And please remember, time is a tickin' on the August 21 kick-off of the Left Coast Eisteddfod...the reason for this spoon's existance. Get yourself to the Left Coast Eisteddfod in Portland, Oregon and get tickets to win it at the event!

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Practicing My Scales

This week I finally got back to the Eisteddfod dragon after being away for a few weeks and then being swamped by all the "wedding season' carving which I should have done before I left!
It was a nice treat to reaquaint myself with my little walnut friend here and to work on getting him ready for the Left Coast Eisteddfod next month.

I've got some work to do on his body and want to define the scales a bit to match the front of the spoon. As with any part of the carving, the sensible thing to do is pencil out the lines and then do a shallow cut with a straight knife to ensure everything is where it should be. Because it is such a sensible thing to do, I used to ignore this phase and plunge straight into the carving. Now, with advancing years and a bit of the wisdom that years of mistake making brings, I always do my drawing before I start hacking.

Here I'm using a very short straight knife to clear away the bulk of the scale. As you'll note, I am cutting toward myself which is yet another not-very-sensible thing to do. I am, in my defence, restraining the cut considerably and only taking a very small shaving. This limits the sweep of the cut and the force I need to make it...the idea is to stop the knife from being able to reach the left hand....works most of the time!

Here's a picture showing the shaping of the scales. As I proceed up the length of the dragon's body, the repetition of the scale form will make the body look much more vibrant and lively. The trick at this point is not to make a mistake and whack a chunk off the high sections of the scale. I also want to remember to shape the roundness of the chest as I am working my way along.

Nothing works better for putting a very gentle curve into the scales than the bent knife. With the two sided blade, I can cut in two directions without moving the piece and can easily alter the radius of the curve. Curiously, the bent knife never gets the credit it deserves except among NW coastal artists who keenly understand its great value and abilities. I know I would be lost without mine!!

Well, there he is, almost done! Just some work to do on the head and another eye to inlay next week and we're almost there!

Speaking of almost there, so is the Left Coast Eisteddfod!! With only a month to go until the big days (2 of 'em!) things are getting exciting. If you haven't donated to the cause, please consider a donation today. Every dollar you donate equals one chance to win this lovespoon!!

Bookmark and Share

Monday, July 6, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, at last!

I've just got back from a couple of weeks in Europe. My wife loves to go there for the art, the scenery, the markets, the food, the vino and the history. Me, I like to go there to crawl around under church pews, to crick my neck trying to spot carvings on timber framed houses, to be the guy laying on the floor taking pictures of an ornamented chair leg while everyone else is drooling over Rembrandts and to be the fellow who barely notices the magnificent stained glass of Chartres Cathedral because I'm mesmerized by the tiny roses carved into the stone columns.
I confess, I absolutely love the wood and stone carving of the medieval and renaissance period! Whenever I start to think I am getting pretty good at what I do, a quick look at some carvings done by the artists of medieval Europe puts me well and truly back in my place and vividly illustrates the distance I have yet to travel!

But it isn't just the masterworks of the medieval church carver which inspire. The 'folk' carvings of the Barvarian and Tirolean Alps never fail to dazzle me with their exhuberance and virtuosity. Scarcely any wooden object was left unadorned and the result is an exciting legacy of chip carving which is still practiced by adherents around the globe today.

What I really like about wandering around Europe though, is that wood carving seems to show up everywhere. This picture was taken of a shop door in a Parisien fashion arcade. Although the picture doesn't do it justice, the work was exquisite. If there was some of this kind of stuff at the fashion stores here in Canada, my wife would have a fighting chance of getting me to go shopping with her once in a while!

I know that many carvers out there struggle with finding designs to inspire them and they especially find imagining their own patterns very difficult. I'm not too much different in that respect but I have found that by continually keeping my eye peeled for little gems like this, I have managed to vastly expand the repertoire of ideas I have to draw on during the design process. This simple little detail from a confessional is absolutely captivating and will definitely find its way into one of my designs some day soon. It may get altered a bit, but it is such an elegant form that I can't wait to find a way to carve it! To have this kind of inspiration available almost everywhere one looks really does make a trip to Europe more than worthwhile for a carver. And did I mention the beer? Ahhhh, the beer!

I'll conclude my little travelogue with this last picture from Chartres Cathedral (I was exaggerating for effect earlier, I did notice the stained glass!). This, for me, was the absolute highlight of my European trip! Although hard to see in this pic (as it is in real life) there is a tiny frog carved onto the stone column. His head has been broken off at some point, but his torso and limbs remain. Representing a staggering amount of extra work for the carver, this little frog was likely carved here for the sole purpose of supplying some whimsical beauty for the observant viewer. What a delight he must have been for eagle eyed children (and adults) over the years. And what a modest, quiet and yet powerful illustration of the beauty of carving!

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, June 20, 2009


As I've been compiling this little blog following the twists and turns of carving a lovespoon for the Left Coast Eisteddfod, I've received a number of emails from fellow carvers, lovespoon enthusiasts and a few people who are 'just interested' wanting to know how I got into this and what my inspirations are.

I can tell you that I basically fell into lovespoon carving. Although I have been aware of what they are since childhood, and have tinkered with carving them since my teens, the really serious obsession (or as I prefer to call it, professional interest) with lovespoons is about 10 years old now.

My main inspirations were, and still are, the lovely antique spoons housed at the National History Museum of Wales at St Fagans (near Cardiff). I always make time for a day or two at the museum studying these little gems of fervent workmanship whenever I am in Wales. A finer introduction into the craft cannot be found anywhere else (except maybe in my book The Fine Art of Lovespoon Carving- how's THAT for a shameless plug??). I encourage anyone keen on lovespoons who plans on visiting Wales to make time for this marvelous museum. Even if you could care less about lovespoons, the outdoor museum is chock-a-block with tremendous things to see.
But if I were to single out one spoon which above all others has been my greatest source of inspiration and as acted as a beacon guiding me to strive to constantly improve both my carving and my design it would be this one.

For me, this spoon epitomizes all that is great about the lovespoon. Masterfully and elegantly carved, the spoon appears deceptively simple, yet every feature is flawlessly carved and the represents the very highest level of craftsmanship. If you want a spoon that 'has it all'...this is the one. Whoever the unknown craftsman was who made this brilliant offering, I sincerely hope that he won the heart of his intended and lead a long, happy and productive life! He deserves it!

After that masterwork, this little spoon may seem like the 'ugly duckling', but what I love and find so inspiring about this spoon is the passion which seems to almost emanate from its fibres! Lofty talk, I know, but despite its rather rudamentary craftsmanship and design, this spoon has tremendous emotion. Made with the simplest of tools by someone in the deepest thrawl of love, the bowl is exquisitely formed, showing an amateur carver giving it his very best effort . For 'feeling', this spoon has always rated as one of the most inspirational for me!

The last example from the St Fagan's collection is this completely over-the-top example of woodcarving virtuosity. A riot of chainwork, balls in cages, swivels and a fiendishly difficult diagonal chain pattern, this spoon was carved by a very, very serious professional. It would have taken months and months of patient and extremely nerve-wracking carving to create this magnum opus! Whenever I think I am getting fairly good at carving, I study this spoon and realize just how far I have yet to go!

But it isn't just ancient history which inspires. Recently, I had the very good fortune to meet carver Alun Davies of Wales, whom I believe carves the most technically perfect lovespoons I have ever seen. Alun's mastery of woodcarving is so complete that his spoons are almost unbelievable in their perfection. No single aspect of them is any less than stunning. In fact, the first time I laid eyes on them, I felt like I really needed to get some carving lessons and to practice a LOT more!! Alun's spoons aren't just technically staggering though, they have a soft and elegant charm which is really the root of lovespoon carving...they have feeling!!! It was Alun who told me something which has become my lovespoon carving mantra... "A lovespoon is not a lovespoon unless it is carved with love; love for the wood, love for the tradition and love for the person who will receive it." Hang that above the workbench and you have all the inspiration you'll ever need!!

My last lovespoon inspiration has probably had the most profound influence on in my lovespoon carving as he has shown me that the possibilities for the tradition are vast, varied and exciting. Mike Davies is probably the most well known of all the Welsh lovespoon carvers and for many years has been a one-man promotion for this venerable tradition. Thousands of people around the world proudly display Mike's work on their walls and for good reason....Mike was one of the first to really realize the design possibilities for the lovespoon outside the 'antique traditional'. With dramatic Celtic designs, dramatic modern pieces and delicate foliage inspired spoons, Mike's work is always adventurous. Realizing that there were so many unexplored avenues available to the lovespoon carver was probably the greatest inspiration for me and I will always be grateful to Mike for so vividly pointing that out!

I have enjoyed great generousity, cameraderie and inspiration from many lovespoon carvers over the years and I know that like everything else, the more influences, techniques and ideas are brought to a subject, the better it gets. Hopefully, one day I will be an inspiration to a beginning carver or my designs will spark inspiration for someone to take the craft another step further and that will be a very happy day for me.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, June 13, 2009


This week I'm doing the back side of the dragon's wing. Because this particular design is kind of a 2 1/2 Dimension carving, I want to make sure that I don't just repeat the front pattern as there is a wing passing over the other. As with all the other sections of the spoon, I do a quick bit of pencilling to make sure everything is where it should be...THEN I commit to the knives.

Here I cut down a section to separate the back wing from the front wing. Visually, the back one should overlap the little visible section of the front wing just as the reverse has happened on the front of the spoon. Confusing? It can get that way if you don't sketch things out! As I'm only working to 2.5D and not a full on 3D, I will keep the wings as opposite faces of the spoon, rather than trying to separate them completely. If the spoon were a bit thicker and I wasn't concerned about it getting too delicate, I would be inclined to do separated wings. Doing that would leave me with very thin wings which would be extremely susceptible to breakage...probably not a good thing for a dragon who is going to brave the hurly burly of an Eisteddfod evening!

With the facets of the wing marked out and the front portion clearly deliniated, I can start getting set to shape each section of the wing.

I have started to clear out material to create each fold of the wing. I use the bent knife to do the bull work and then smooth things out with a straight knife or with a bent knife with a shallow curve. I like to leave the surface a bit textured as it makes the wing look a bit more lively and a bit less processed than dead smooth faces. I generally cut from the bottom fold and move up to the top of the wing. That way, if I have a knife slip and take a bit off the fold in front, it isn't as calamitous a situation as it is to whack a finished section!

And thar she be. This is far as I will take the wing for the time being. After the spoon is pretty well completed, I'll come back over any rough areas and tidy things up for the final inspection, but this is pretty good for the moment.

These two pictures show the effect I am after with the wings passing over each other. A bit more exciting than 2D but not as dangerous as 3D! But don't despair if you are like a car racing fan who has come to see the pile-ups....I may have got this far unscathed, but there are plenty of opportunities for disaster still to come! It's what makes lovespoon carving the thrilling pastime it is!!

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Knot Again!!

I'm working on cleaning up the Celtic knotwork this week. As with the front face, I plan to only go around the pattern cutting to a shallow depth until I am satisfied that all the 'overs and unders' are correctly placed. As with the vinework lower down, I have to make sure I am doing the exact opposite over under detail to the front face or it gets quiet seriously out of hand.

Once I am satisfied that all is going to plan, I commit to deeper cuts and make the over and under sections much more visible and bold. I generally like to work my way around the entire knot to make sure nothing gets forgotten before I worry too much about cleaning the cuts up too much.

With all the overs and unders cut out, I can start to smooth out the 'ramps' so that the transitions are nice and fair. I also can start putting a light chamfer on the edges to soften out the hard edge of the knot. As with the front of the spoon, I am after a nice, crisp look which isn't too hard. The light chamfer gives the knot a subtle softening but it doesn't round it over so much that the knot takes on the shoelace look.

It's a personal thing which you are quite welcome to disagree with, but I find Celtic knots which have been rounded so much that they look like string or shoelaces have kind of a hokey, 'amateur' look to them. I'm sorry to any I might offend who enjoy that lkind of look, but I always find that excessively rounded knotwork also tends to look excessively worked and to use a theatre expression, rather overwrought! For me, the result is something like I would imagine would happen if Joan Rivers played Ophelia in Hamlet.

It really only needs the subtlest of chamfers to really soften the look and to lighten up the knotwork.

In the following couple of pictures, I hope to show some approaches to carving Celtic knotwork with keep the feel of wood rather than making the spoon look like it has been laced up. In this detail, a swirling Celtic spiral opens up and becomes a series of knot interlacings. Here, I have varied the width of the various knot strands to create some tension and to break up the monotony which would occur if they were all identical width.

I often like to vary the width within an individual strand and find that making the knot a bit bulbous as it bends gives it an organic liveliness. I also find when I do my knotwork like this that it has a really nice organic feel almost like it is structured vine. The variations in line width are definitely eye-catching and vibrant!

This final knotwork picture is from a couple of lovely spoons carved by one of my lovespoon heroes, Alun Davies. Alun's knots are stunning for their even, clean line and the beautiful soft doming effect he puts on the upper face. Although the edges of his knots are only ever-so-slightly eased, the effect he achieves is a very square knot which is at the same time extremely soft and 'touchable'. I have yet to see a carver anywhere who can equal his deft touch!

Knotwork is admired and valued for its complexity of pattern, but equally important is the finish. Like so many things, it is often much better to do a simple thing really well than to do a complicated thing half-assed. I recommend to anyone wanting to try their hand at Celtic knotwork to start with some simple ones and work on getting them as clean and vibrant as possible. Once the simple ones look good, move up in difficulty a step or two at a time.

On the subject of a step or two at a time.... I am carving this spoon to raise funds in support of the Left Coast Eisteddfod, a showcase of Welsh culture to be held in Portland Oregon this August 22 weekend. Putting on an event of this calibre isn't easy and any and all support is welcome! If you have been enjoying this blog (and better yet, if you have been learning some carving/designing tricks from it) I hope that you will consider donating a few dollars to help fund what can become an exciting annual event. Every dollar you donate will give you a chance to win the finished Dragon spoon as well as to receive thanks and adoration.

Bookmark and Share