Thursday, March 29, 2012

My New Book!!!

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My new book has just gone through the final editing stage and is now scheduled to go to the printers!
It will be far-and-away the most thorough book detailing the origins, traditions and craft of the lovespoon and I am more than a little bit excited to see it reaching this stage of production!

I spent a lot of time researching lovespoons in public and private collections and quickly realized that the lovespoon tradition is a much broader one than I had originally thought. From Sweden to Romania, most European countries engaged in some form of romantic wooden spoon carving and my quest to discover historical spoons hidden in out-of-the-way places was a great adventure!!. For me, visiting the museum collections first-hand or gazing through astonshing photo collections was like being a kid turned loose in a candy store; I stuffed myself on new discoveries until I thought I was going to burst!

I can only hope that with this book, I will have done some justice to this remarkable tradition. At the very least, I hope it encourages others to undertake some research which may one day demystify more and more of the lovespoon's hidden past.
From a historical viewpoint, it is a sad thing that the lovespoon was primarily a tradition of the 'poorer' classes and so attracted precious little interest from social observers of the time. Much of the lovespoon' lore has thus been cobbled together from supposition and fanciful marketing with much of it being distinctly suspect. Hopefully, some of the discoveries and theories I mention in the book will ignite some debate among lovespoon enthusiasts and collectors and will lead to newer and more accurate observations on the lovespoon's traditions and meanings.

I know my own thoughts and beliefs about the lovespoon have changed fairly dramatically since I started researching this little book and it will be interesting to see what kind of response it generates!

But the book isn't all history. The lovespoon is an evolving tradition (like all good traditions) and it is through the work of current carvers that the art of carving them will continue and broaden. I have been extremely fortunate to enjoy the great support of many of my contemporaries who have shared photographs of their beautiful work, have debated lovespoon history and have provided me with the encouragement I often needed to press on as a lovespoon carver! Without a doubt, the 'modern' section of this new book is going to be an eye-opener for both those new to lovespoons and to those who think they have seen it all!! To see the work of carvers as diverse as Alun Davies, Mike Davies, Sion Llewellyn, Laura Jenkins Gorun, David Stanley, Adam King and Ralph Hentall all together in one place is my personal highlight of the book! I know that it will be for plenty of others too.

History of Lovespoons is published by Fox Chapel Publishing and is available for pre-order from all the very finest and most reputable book dealers!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It's In the Details

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One of the best things about lovespoons is the amount of detail which can be carved into any given spoon. There really is no limit to the symbols, decorations and intimate detailing which can go on! Sadly, this abundance of riches seems to be seldom exploited in the commercial lovespoon world and many clients are under the impression they must choose a ready-made spoon or mash-up a design from a range of 'available symbols'. That may be the case when the spoons are being mass produced using pre-programmed patterns, but for someone like me (or the other wonderful hand-carvers who produce one-of-a-kind lovespoons) the sky is the limit when it comes to inventive design.

For me, probably the most exciting part of a lovespoon commission is figuring out the design. It can certainly also be the most frustrating and always has the potential to go horribly wrong...but when things go well and the client is delighted with the results, the carving part seems to always be that much more enjoyable. Sometimes, my clients really like to get involved and they come to me with loads of ideas and great excitement. THAT'S when things are really fun. We can work through their ideas and visions for the design and chip away until we've got one that really 'speaks to them'.

Sometimes, my clients will give me some basic background information to lay the design's foundation and then well step back and leave it to me to build the rest. These commissions are a double edged sword in that they leave me loads of leeway for 'artistic freedom' but they put a heavier load on me 'getting it right' for the client. Occasionally, my vision and the client's don't align and then modifications need to be made OR even the odd trip right back to the drawing board! The most important thing is that I wind up with a design the client is happy with. After all, the spoon IS for them!

People are often surprised to hear that the design part of the commission generally takes as much time as the actual carving!
It's a tricky job and frequently those designs which are just supposed to pop out of my head decide to stay firmly lodged in the 'little grey cells' until I can pry them loose. Designing is definitely not the easiest thing I've ever had to do and like anything else worth doing; it takes effort and much practice. Even though I think I design pretty good lovespoons, I love to admire some of the work by some of my fellow lovespoon carvers and am always willing to learn from them and to expand my 'vocabulary' when ever possible. It keeps the work fresh, vibrant and exciting!

It also enables me to say that commissioning a real handmade lovespoon, whether from me or some of the other fine hand-crafters out there, is an opportunity to own a unique work of art which honestly and accurately captures the essence of your life stories in a personal and intimate way which is impossible to find in any other gift. It's all in the details!!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sometimes Less IS More!!

Occasionally, I will visit a certain well-known internet product retail website and have a read of the customer comments regarding my book, "The Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons". One comment in particular always gives me a good chuckle, even though it is a bit scathing in its condemnation of my artistic abilities. It refers to a couple of my more 'simple' pieces, generally spoons where I have let a particularly beautiful piece of wood do the talking while I stay in the background supplying only a few selective cuts and some elbow grease at polishing time. To my eye, these are some of my most beautiful spoons, to my critic, they are a failure to do something worthwhile with my carving abilities.

The picture to the left is the one that I think is responsible for the largest lashings of my critic's vitriol. As he/she describes it, "it honestly looks like a block of wood." To me it looks like one of the most beautiful pieces of figured broadleaf maple I have had the good fortune to have encountered. Now I'm a pretty good carver, but trust me, there is nothing I could have done to this wood that would have made it any more beautiful than it already is. I put an elegant bowl and a little heart on it and called it a day, content that this was one of my most beautiful lovespoons!
THIS is a perfect example of the adage "Less is more".
Unfortunately, we carvers are an odd lot and many of us are motivated by a desire to be as complicated as possible...we equate complexity and difficulty with beauty and art.

Too often, carving which is 'simple' is looked down on as it is viewed as a failing of the carver's artistic skill and his carving abilities. But it aint easy to make a really simple spoon that looks as beautiful as some of these ones you see here today. I'm not bragging or showing off, but I have to confess that making spoons like these is every bit as difficult as coming up with one of the Celtic knot eye-poppers I am more known for. These spoons are the Stompin' Tom Connor (ZZ Top for my American readers) tunes of the spoon world! They are little 3 chord beauties with a catchy hook and easy to remember lyrics that seem so simple that anyone could do it...but which very few actually can.

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Could I do this without many years of experience? Certainly not consistently. I might get the odd lucky bounce and make a good one by accident, but it has taken me long time to learn enough carving and art skills, enough self-confidence and most important, enough restraint to take spoons like this on.
Honestly, these aint no blocks of wood!