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.