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.

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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!!

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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.

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