Monday, March 25, 2013

Content and Intent; an explanation

The original
Last week I posted pictures of some copies of my lovespoons carved by a gentleman in the United States.  Almost immediately, I received an email from one of my repeat clients who was pretty miffed that she had spotted 'her lovespoon', a design she and I had spent a lot of time creating in amongst the collection of 'knock-offs'.
While I was pretty upset that my design had been used without my permission (and without any type of acknowledgement of me as the designer and rightful owner of the copyright) to win a carving competition, my client was upset for a different and more important reason.
She pointed out that the spoon we had created with much thought, attention and love was, in the copy version, nothing but an empty vessel...meaningless as a lovespoon.

Over the next few days I have stumbled around trying to find a good way to explain what she meant in a way that is not too airy- fairy and philosophical.  Fortunately, a conversation with my father (who is a marvellous painter and was for many years an art teacher) gave me the straightforward answer.

He pointed out that the two key words to keep in mind when examining art are 'content' and 'intent'.

With the two spoons shown here, we can see that both share a very similar content.   Both are carved from a similar wood species, both share the same design (bar the small modification at the top of the copy spoon-which was tacked on from another one of my designs) and both have similar features within the design.  In both you can see the sweeping stem of the heart-shaped bowl, an identical layout of leaves, grapes, hearts and a star.   Both have a raven with a globe in its beak on the spoon bowl, both share a hummingbird on the stem etc., etc..  They even share a similar 'swirl' pattern.   THIS is the content of the spoon.

The copy
But it is with the INTENT of the spoon that we move into a completely different territory and the two spoons become immediately separated.   We are now exploring the WHY of the spoon; the reason the spoon was created and exists.   The original spoon is one of a trio (shown together below)  commissioned by a father for his three children as a way for him to celebrate their lives and memorialize their recently departed mother.  The spoons were designed as a unified 'piece', but one which was meant to be displayed in three different households.   Like siblings, the spoons are similar but different.   While each spoon is unique, within each appear a number of identical and carefully considered symbols.
Every leaf, grape and heart has a purpose...each symbolize a person or idea significant to the family and to each individual sibling.     Each of the three siblings is represented by a distinct animal which appears at the crown of their spoon in large form.   The animals also appear on each of the other two spoons in smaller form to indicate the family tie and the unity of the 3 children.   If an animal was missing from a spoon, the design would be ruined.  There is no area of any of the spoon which hasn't been very thoroughly thought out.

My version of the spoon is full of artistic and personal intentions and even though the spoon still makes an attractive piece without an understanding of these intentions;  knowing the reason for its existence and the meaning of its design message makes it into both a lovespoon and a work of art.

The copier, however, knows none of the reasons for these elements and why they are there and he experiences none of the emotion generated by that knowledge.  There is no art involved in the copy is simply a technical exercise...a beautiful stick.

For me as an artist and carver, the intent and content of my spoons are equally critical.  When one is missing the spoon is no longer a lovespoon.  This is one of the main reasons I always urge my students and fellow carvers to design their own spoons once they have become comfortable with the technical aspects of woodcarving.   The MEANING is what truly makes the spoon!!!

Trio celebrates 3 siblings and memorializes their mother

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I won a carving contest.....kinda

Bookmark and ShareI was recently sent this photograph taken at the Miami Valley Woodcarvers show in Middleton Ohio.  Those of you familiar with my spoons will recognize a number of my designs in this shot as well as designs from Mike Davies, Laura Jenkins Gorun, Alun Davies, Sion Llewellyn and others.   None of these spoons has been carved by me or any other of the aforementioned lovespoon carvers.
You may also note that nowhere is any credit given to any of us for our designs.   This is a big problem in the world of carving and is one that never ceases to disappoint me.  I'm flattered when someone likes one of my designs enough to try carving it....but when it is shown or sold and I am left uncredited, then my pleasure sours and I can't help but take offence.

To add insult to injury, the blue ribbon winning spoon on the back wall is also one of mine.  Now normally when you enter carvings in competitions, there is an expectation that it is your own work... and that should include the design of the piece.  Likely, the carver of this award winning spoon would argue that because he changed a detail or two at the crown, the design is now original.  I would argue that is akin to me recording ReBEL, ReBEL and arguing it is no longer David Bowie's classic hit REbel REbel because I have added my own personal emphatic touch.

I work very HARD to create my designs and as a reward for my hard work, I earn an income so modest that your average Walmart greeter would turn his nose up in disgust.  To see others presenting my work as though it were their own robs me of even enjoying the pleasure of being properly credited as the creator of a design!  It is disrespectful,  hurtful and more than a little disappointing.

Here's another picture from the same show.  As you can see, I'm everywhere yet nowhere.  It's a little bit upsetting!
But saddened as I am, I still have to laugh that I can win a woodcarving blue ribbon without even sending in my work!!

The vast majority of the time, the carving community is chock-full of welcoming, warm-hearted people who love to share their passion.  Unfortunately, there is sometimes a bit of a blurred line between sharing a passion and taking a liberty.  I really do hope that whoever has carved these spoons just doesn't understand what this kind of appropriation of designs means.   Maybe in future, I'll get acknowledged for my design work and maybe even get a share of the ribbons!!!

In case you'd like to see my humble little version of this 'award winning design', here it is below:
(And by the way, the little hummingbird at the top of the blue ribbon spoon comes from yet ANOTHER one of my designs)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Four's the Charm!

Bookmark and ShareI do the vast majority of my work to commission order, so for me, nothing is sweeter than repeat custom.   To properly carve a lovespoon necessitates a certain level of involvement with my clients and I am often privy to deeply personal details about their lives.   Considering that we seldom meet in person and I rarely even see a photo of them, it is always remarkable how well the spoons ultimately tell their stories!

So when I get a repeat customer, it is particularly exciting; both because it affirms for me that I 'got it right' the first time around and because it often gives me an opportunity to explore different aspects of their lives and relationships.

Such is the case with this beautiful stylized Orca which I carved for a wonderful couple who were back for their FOURTH (!!!!!) spoon!!  Their story could easily be the stuff of a great romantic novel and maybe one day I'll get their permission to tell it along with showing the four spoons, but for now, I'll concentrate on this most recent design.

A departure from the traditional notion of a lovespoon as messenger with its symbols telling a romantic story, this spoon is more about ideas and feelings.  There are still a number of symbolic details (such as the closed Celtic knots which symbolize eternity, the sneaky stylized heart between the whales tail fins and the fins as double bowls indicating 'we two are as one') but the idea of this spoon was to capture something of the beautiful 'feel' of the couple's romance.

Now when you get talking about something as difficult to define or pin-down as 'the feel of a romance', you can get into some deep and murky waters!   But this leaping Orca seemed to capture it somehow.
Whether it is the freedom, the raw power or the sheer beauty implied by the whale or just the way the elegant sweep of it's body enfolds the 'water' knot....something made both my clients and myself feel this design was 'right'.

Of course, we might all be kidding ourselves and its just a really nice looking whale that makes us feel good....but that's ok too.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Thor's Hammer

Bookmark and ShareIt's not every day of the week I get a commission to carve a lovespoon celebrating both Wiccan and Odinist religions and the brief which accompanied this particular order was chock-a-block with interesting and exciting ideas.  I confess, I know very little about Wicca or Odinism, so I had to do a bit of reading before I got carried away with the pencil.  It's VERY easy to make mistakes or cause inadvertent insult when designing outside a comfortable frame of reference and the very last thing I would ever want to do is be at all demeaning or insulting toward my clients.  So with that in mind, I spent a lot of time making sure that my rendition of my client's ideas would be accurate and something they would enjoy.  
Important to my client, was the idea of Thor's Hammer and due to it's rather commanding shape, we felt it would make a very dramatic bowl for our spoon with it's handle merging up into the handle section of the spoon.  I studied dozens of drawings and versions of Thor's Hammer before settling on this very cool pointed version.  With the bowl centred over top of a particularly vibrant section of spalted figure, there was no doubt it would be eye-catching!

A nice pair of Celtic knots symbolize eternity and the notion of eternal love and give some flair to what could have been an unwieldy and heavy section of the design.  The initials of family members are all rendered in a Wiccan font at the top of the hammer's handle, each in its own love heart.  I REALLY love the effect a bit of spalting can make and even though it is a bit of a nightmare to carve cleanly, I think the result is always more than worth the effort!  Overall, the hammer has a powerful presence (as a hammer belonging to Thor should!) but it is also pretty damned stylish in a masculine kind of way.

I had a great time with the middle section of the spoon.  Although it is by no means the flashiest section of the design, I had a lot of fun coming up with some runic symbols that were significant to the family and wrestling to carve the pentacle in a particularly punky section of spalted wood which threatened to crumble away on me at the slightest wrong touch!  There are little Wiccan and Odinist symbols tucked away throughout this spoon and the little one at the top of this picture was another challenge to cut cleanly in the highly figured wood.

The spoon is crowned by a raven and a dragon who form a stylized heart-shape and envelope a Celtic knotwork 'tree of life'.   I wanted the dragon to have a Nordic feel to it and for it to be evocative of the prows of Viking longboats...maybe Thor's own boat would have a dragon like this guiding the way.
I got lucky with a sweet section of spalting which appeared as I rounded the raven's shoulders.  I love the way it makes the wing look like it is moving as the spoon is moved under light.

This spoon certainly presented me with some challenges both in getting to grips with the design AND with carving through some of that spalted figure, but I am very fond of Thor's mighty hammer!!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Happy St. David's Day

Bookmark and Share Happy St. David's Day!! 

Today is the day Welshmen like myself celebrate our patron saint and all things Welsh! Although we Welsh go almost unnoticed against our more visible Scottish and Irish cousins, we do have a few things to offer the world. Not the least of these is the vibrant and beautifully romantic lovespoon. As a Welshman blessed with an ability to carve these wonderfully poignant tokens of love, I feel it my responsibility to make each and every one of my spoons a worthy champion of the tradition! Even when I carving a very simple design such as this little Welsh dragon and the Welsh word for sweetheart, 'cariad'; I believe that I have a duty to my traditions and Welsh people past, present and future to make my spoons the most elegant and lovely I can.

 I'm very proud to be Welsh and I'm even prouder that I can carve lovespoons which bring pleasure and joy to my clients!! On this day of the Welsh, I give thanks for this rich tradition and for everyone who appreciates it!