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!

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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 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!!

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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!

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