Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Spoon at The Halfway Point

I've neared the half-way point carving the front of the Left Coast Eisteddfod lovespoon. The bowls are shaped, the vines have been formed and the leaf/star section is more-or-less complete. I'm now going to move into the Celtic knotwork section which the dragon surrounds. I just realized that the pictures in the last few blogs have all been close-ups, so I think it is a good idea to include a picture of the whole spoon to show where I'm at with it.

As you can see, having the paper pattern glued directly to the workpiece makes life so much easier than messing around with pencil lines or carbon paper tracings. Although paper can be a bit hard on the tool sharpness, I find that the odd extra trip to the sharpening bench is a small price to pay for the convenience of being able to clearly see the design as I work!

So, onto the Celtic knotwork. Once the knotwork has been sawn to rough shape (which can be a long and tedious process in itself) the actual carving is not particularly difficult. What can be a problem though is getting the overs and unders wrong and messing up the flow of the knots. To overcome the possibility of an error at this stage, I make shallow cuts which barely define the knot pattern, but leave me plenty of material should I need to reverse a section. Believe me, there is nothing more annoying, frustrating and embarassing than getting to the end of the knot and discovering there are two overs or two unders in a row. If I've cut them too deep, I'm up the creek and you can guess what kind of creek it is!

This picture shows me using a small chisel to cut a straight groove of aproximately 1/16th of an inch depth where the one section of knot passes over the other.

As before, I resist the urge to cut too deep too quickly. I then use the same chisel to cut away a small wedge-shaped slice which creates a little ramp down to the bottom of my first chisel cut. If all goes well, a little chip pops out and my cuts meet at the same lowest point.

Again, getting carried away and cutting too deep at this point of the game can have dire consequences later.

Once I have repeated this procedure throughout the entire knot and am satisfied that everything is in order with the overs and unders, I commit to deeper cuts which bring the knot to vibrant life!

Next week, I'll show how to clean up the knots and get them looking nice and smart. In the meantime, I hope you will help support the Left Coast Eisteddfod's inaugural year by donating a few dollars. Each dollar you donate will give you a chance to win this spoon but even better than that, you'll be proud to know you were right there on the ground floor, helping to build a really worthwhile cultural event!

To donate, simply click on the box next to this blog, its easy, safe and spiritually fulfilling!

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Back to Work, from David

After too many weeks away from the project, its high time to get back to work on the Left Coast Eisteddfod spoon! This week I'm going to work on the maple leaf and the star.

These elements require radically different handling to make them look as they should. The leaf needs to be soft, curvaceous and 'flowing', while the star needs crisp angles and a uniform rigidity. Those with a keen political eye will note that the maple leaf is on the left and the star is on the right...I'd like to be able to take credit for a bit of a political wit with that one, but it was actually just an accident of placement. Perhaps I should have put them both in the centre (or center) to avoid any political misinterpretations!

Anyway, the key thing with the maple leaf is to make it appear 'leaf-like' which is easier said than done. While cutting the leaf on the scroll saw, I was careful to make the tips of the leaf appear to bend slightly. This creates a bit of tension, which in turn makes the leaf appear to have some movement despite being completely static. To further enhance this illusion, I exaggerate the 'hills and valleys' between each leaf tip by using a curved knife (a gouge works good too) to create a concave surface.

I've become a huge fan of curved knives for this type of work and have pretty well forgotten all about my gouges. Because I work on such a small scale, these knives are the perfect tool and are both light and fast in the hand. I'm careful with leaves to not overwork things and make the surfaces too smooth.

A bit of texturing helps give the leaf a vitality which disappears if the surface is too homogenous. There is a tricky area at the bottoms of the valleys where the wood grain changes direction which must be handled with care. Because I don't want to sand my leaves (which kills the vibrant look completely) I need to be very careful in this area. Nice shallow cuts are generally the answer, but occasionally I will fair out a rough patch with a small, curved scraper blade.

The star is a completely different kettle of fish. Here the surfaces will ultimately need to be as flat an fair as I can get them. The intersections of the angles need to be kept crisp and should be as straight as possible. I like to get a facetted look to the star with each arm having a central ridge from which the wood falls away meeting in a valley between sections. To get each arm faired properly, I take advantage of a skewed knife which allows me to cut on a bit of an angle. When the majority of the shaping is done, I go back over the star with a smaller straight knife to clean up any rough spots or fraying. I could cut the star all flat and on the same level, but I have found that facetting it in this manner makes it look a bit more regal and impressive.

Next week I'll have a go at the Celtic knotwork which is always good, dangerous fun! If the spoon is going to break anywhere, the Celtic knotwork is generally the place it happens. But that won't happen on this spoon because I'm doing it for a cause and my Karma will be good!

Please don't forget that the purpose of this spoon is to raise money for the Left Coast Eisteddfod! Without your support, it will be very difficult to get this worthwhile event off the ground. Every dollar you send in will give you a chance at winning this spoon and I very much hope that you will see your way to making a donation!

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Dydd Santes Dwynwen, Welsh Valentines' Day

January 25th is Dydd Santes Dwynwen [dith sants DOOIN-wen], the Day of Saint Dwynwen, the day of the Welsh patron saint of lovers and the broken hearted, the Welsh equivalent of Saint Valentine's Day.

One version of her story is that Dwynwen was a 5th century Welsh princess who fell in love with a prince called Maelon Dafodrill, but unfortunately her father had already arranged that she should marry someone else (in other versions she can't marry Maelon because she's going to be a nun). Dwynwen was so upset that she could not marry Maelon that she begged God to make her forget him. After falling asleep, Dwynwen was visited by an angel, who appeared carrying a sweet potion designed to erase all memory of Maelon and turn him into a block of ice. God then gave three wishes to Dwynwen. Her first wish was that Maelon be thawed; her second that God meet the hopes and dreams of true lovers; and third, that she should never marry. All three were fulfilled, and as a mark of her thanks, Dwynwen devoted herself to religious service for the rest of her life.

Dwynwen founded a convent on Ynys Llanddwyn [inniss thlan-thwyn], which means "island of Dwynwen's church", off the west coast of North Wales, where a well named after her became a place of pilgrimage after her death in 465AD. Visitors to the well believed that the sacred fish that lived in the well could foretell whether or not their relationship would be happy and whether love and happiness would be theirs. Today, Dwywen's island is part of a British national reserve, with miles of walking trails, sandy beaches and the remains of a 16th century Tudor church stand on what is believed to be the site of the original church on the island.

Saint Dwywen's prayer is "Saint Dwynwen, We beseech thee, Comfort lovers whose vision is unclear. Send mending to those with love lost. Protect our companions. In your name, we seek to do the same. In your name, we choose love first. With the love of you, of Mary, and of Jesus Christ. Amen."

People in Wales and people of Welsh descent around the world celebrate Saint Dwynwen's Day by gifting cards, candy and flowers, special dinners, parties and all the same trappings of celebrations for Valentines Day.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

David on the cover of the Lee Valley Catalog

Two of David's beautiful spoons are on the cover of the January 2009 Lee Valley Catalog. Lee Valley is "a family-owned business that has been serving users of woodworking and gardening tools since 1978," it is the largest catalog of home and garden items in David's native Canada and is also available in the USA. David's Fine Art of Lovespoons is available in the catalog. David is very happy to be on their cover, he said that this was a goal of his and that he is, "very, very thrilled to be on there!"

Image © 2009 by Lee Valley Tools Ltd. and Veritas®Tools Inc. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Home is Where The Spoons Are

I have just returned from a brief trip to Wales, during which time I managed to visit with a couple of lovespoon carvers and spent some research time at the National History Museum of Wales. The museum, which is located in the supremely scenic and romantic town of St. Fagans, just on the Western edge of Cardiff, can be easily reached by car or bus.

Primarily an outdoor museum, it consists of a large number of historic houses and buildings gathered from around Wales and reassembled on a stunning rural grounds of several hundred acres. The buildings have all been furnished to suit their time periods and enthusiastic caretakers can tell you everything you need to know about the history of Wales, its lifestyles and culture. It must rate as one of the best museums of its type in the world and should be a "must do" for anyone visiting South Wales.

For me though, the real treasure is found in nondescript cardboard boxes which are neatly stacked in the archive vaults! St. Fagans is home to the largest and most varied collection of Welsh lovespoons in the world; as a collection it is unrivalled, as a source of information and inspiration it is priceless. I have been very fortunate to enjoy terrific support from the curatorial staff at St Fagans and their help with accessing the archived collection has allowed me to learn a great deal about the lovespoon.

Unfortunately, there remains much we still do not know about the lovespoon tradition. Frustratingly little has been written about them over the many centuries of their existence and most of the information we have on them today is either the result of educated supposition or fanciful exaggeration!

It is my hope that the hundreds of spoons contained in these boxes will one day give up some of their secrets and we will be able to paint a more accurate picture of their rich history, but for the present time, most remain an elusive mystery. One day we might know if there were regional styles to spoon carving, which symbols were understood in the day and which are more modern inventions and what real significance in the courting process the lovespoon held.

I have learned one very important lesson from my rubber-gloved contact with these glorious historic marvels though, and that is lovespoons MUST be made with passion! It is my belief that If there is no feeling for the subject or the recipient, the spoon suffers and inevitably lacks a 'spark'. This is a sentiment reinforced by the unrivaled Alun Davies of Abercynon who carves the finest lovespoons I have ever been fortunate enough to see. He once told me, "A lovespoon is not a lovespoon unless it is made with love; love for the tradition, love for the wood and love for the person who will receive it." I don't think a more accurate and truthful description is possible and it is one I have embraced in my own outlook toward lovespoon carving.

This passion is found in a number of the more basic spoons found in the archives. Although they lack the technical skill of many of the more modern spoons in the collection, many of these roughly made pieces exude a certain magic; they have a warmth and a romance which is quite enchanting. More often than not, I found myself being captivated by spoons which were obviously made by the most amateur of hands but which possessed a real charm.

So if I can offer any advice at all for anyone who would like to try their hand at lovespoon carving, it would be to see it as more than just a carving exercise; let yourself become involved with the piece, don't worry about finishing it in a hurry and most important, throw yourself into is, after all, a lovespoon!!

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