Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Painting Setup

Over the break I kept busy with some small figures and Christmas ornaments. All these small projects has helped me to hone in on a painting setup that works. Specifically, I have found a style of brush that seems to be perfect for painting carvings, a brand of paint that works well and a few little helpers.

I have been using all kinds of different brushes over the years, but during a recent trip to my local art center, I picked up a pack of 5 filbert brushes in a variety of sizes that are perfect for the size of most of my work. The filbert shape is very flexible and allows me to get into all kinds of tight corners by using the rounded tip or by tilting the brush on it's side. The set was less than $10. I supplement the filbert brushes with a size 0 detail brush. This is great for eyes and other tiny areas. For the cornea and pupils of tiny eyes, I have taken to using customized toothpicks. I use two sizes, the standard round and the larger model intended for serving appetizers. I use a very sharp exacto knife to trim the tip to a small flat surface and clean up any little dangling fibers. Depending on how much I take off the tip, I can get a variety of sizes. The technique I use is to dab the tip in the paint, getting only a very slight amount of paint on it and then dab the tip on the carving. For eyes, I use a tip smaller than the area I want to coat and dab in a circular pattern to make a small circle. The pupil is usually one small dab. I also use an even smaller tip tip add white highlights. I find this method offers a lot more control than using eve the smallest brush.

For many years, I only painted my carvings with Testors Enamel model paints, but stopped using them when they switched to acrylic. Recently, I started using Folk Art brand, which does the job, but for the way I paint, almost always needs to be thinned to get the right consistency. Then I decided to try Golden brand. It seems more the consistency I like right out of the bottle. While Folk Art is different in thickness from color to color, making it impossible to measure paint by drops, the Golden is the same from bottle to bottle. I can drop out equal size drops which allows for consistent color mixing. I use less paint, too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stubby Guys

I posted these a while back in the Diversions post. They were finished but not painted. Here they are after a coat of paint. They're each about 3 1/2" tall and headed for my Etsy shop.

With the next few days being devoted to getting food ready for a family feast, I won't be posting until the end of the week. I hope you will be spending some
quality time with yours.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Improved Carvers Lap Table - Tutorial Part 2

In Part 1, I said you would need 18 lengths of PVC. You will actually only need 16. So while your table is clamped, go ahead and cut 16 pieces of 3/4" X 3 3/4" PVC. Sand the sharp edges smooth. To insure a tight pressure fit for the tubes, wrap  7-8 turns of 3/8" electricians tape around each PVC tube.

It's time to move on to the back curve. Cut to the layout line. Make a mark on either side, from the back edge about 2 1/2". Clamp the 6" X 18" ledge blank aligning it with the two marks. Flip the board over and draw along the curved edge onto the ledge piece.  Cut this carefully, just leaving the line.

Mark a line parallel to the curve with a combination square or compass set to 2".  Now set the tool to 1" and mark another line. This will be the center line for the  PVC  holes. Cut to the 2" line. Using the sanding drum, sand the inside (concave) edge, but leave the outside curve.

Starting from the midpoint of the centerline make a mark to one side at 3/4". Layout your centers for the PVC section at 1 1/2" on center. This should give you enough for 16 tools.

By starting from the center and working toward the, you will be more likely to have an even space on either end. This just looks better!

Drill the holes with a 1 1/8" bit. It's best to do this on a drill press to assure vertical holes. Use a backer board to help minimize tear out. Sand the bottom of this piece. Using just a small amount of glue to avoid filling the holes with squeeze out, clamp the ledge strip to the deck, taking care to align the side and back.

Once  the  glue has dried, sand the back, curved edges flush. This need to stay vertical, so use a sander with a 90 degree table. I use a sanding disk mounted in my table saw. Cut the back and side strips. Leave each a little long. Measure across the back of the deck and mark the center on the bottom.

On the back strip, mark the center. The back strip gets glued and screwed, starting from the center and working out t the sides. Carefully drill pilot holes so the 1/2" plywood doesn't split. The end screws will not be enough to hold the last 1" tight to the deck, so add a couple clamps.

When you apply the side strips, they will help keep he back strip from springing.

When the back is cured,  use a hand saw to cut off the excess strip. Sand or file flush to the side. Glue and clamp the side strips on. Once this is cure, add a couple screw to be sure the edge doesn't get popped off. Sand whatever part of the side strips that overhangs the front or back.

Lastly, round and sand all edges and corners that might poke into you while using the table. Apply a couple of coats of finish to help you avoid splinters when you wipe across the top to move chips.

To protect sharp tools, I used a scrap of very dense foam mat for the inserts of the PVC tool holders. To cut the foam for a perfect fit, I made a little cutter from a scrap of PVC using a belt sander and a utility knife to cut the "teeth". Just twist back and forth an apply a little pressure to cut the foam.

This project is a bit of  work and  does  take some carpentry skills. But it's worth the effort. If you don't think you're up for it, but would like one of these, I accept commissions. Let me know. Good luck!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Improved Carvers Lap Table - Tutorial Part 1

My working prototype
I like to be mobile with my carving activities. So when I came across plans for a carver's lapboard on the WCI web site, I knew this would be perfect for me. With my woodworking background I knew I could make it even better for my own use. I used the WCI plan as my starting point and added a few things. The front lip was the first area I focused on. Instead of the little blocks cut on angle to form the inside radius, I opted to use a thin, bendable strip. Lighter, easier to produce and, well, just better looking. Second, I didn't like the trays for tools. I want my tools kept away from my hands and each other when they are not in use. I have seen PVC used for this purpose so I went with that. I wanted each tool to be the same distance from me, so I decided to round the back and the tool ledge. I consider my lap table a prototype and will most likely improve it a little each time I make another. All I can say is this thing has changed my life. I carve almost every day and to clean up my work area, I just move the whole table from wherever I'm carving to my shop.

All sizes are suggested, though the top was based on my body size. You need room for your arms on either side of the front radius. Since I have a working wood shop, finding the materials for this was a matter of diverting a few scraps headed for the trash bin. Of course, you could buy all the materials from a home center and I'm sure it won't cost much, though I haven't priced it out. I used 1/2" plywood too keep it light, but use whatever you like.

Here's what you'll need:
1 - 18" X 24" X 1/2 plywood (Home Depot sells 24" X 24" pieces pre-cut.)
1 - 6" X 18" X 1/2" plywood for the tool ledge.
18 pcs - 3/4" PVC X 3 3/4"
1 - 1 1/8" X 1/8" strip for front radius lip
2" X 1/4"  strips for side and back edges
foam padding - whatever you have lying around. I used old interlocking floor mat
Electricians tape
any kind of protective finish

Start by cutting the deck to 18" X 24". Layout the back radius (about 17 3/4" radius). Do not cut this yet. Mark a point back from the front edge about 3". Mark  either side about 5" in from the edge. At this mark, layout a 45 degree angle in toward the center. We are going to layout the actual curve according to our body size. We want this to fit right up against the belly. The picture to the right shows how this lip will look when we're done.

The next part can be done alone, but a helper would be very useful. We're relying on the wood to bend naturally to a smooth curve by putting tension on the ends. Don't make any sudden moves and the 1/8" thick strip should bend to this radius without cracking. Maple or poplar is a good choice.

With the deck on a bench in front of you, clamp two small blocks to the 45 degree lines. Hold the strip against your belly to form the radius. With an even tension, move the strip to the deck and mark the radius. Clamp the strip to one block (left one if you are a righty). Put enough tension to bend the strip to the center 3" marl and against the right hand block. With a pencil, mark both sides of the strip.

Remove the clamps and block and cut out the inside radius. This cut needs to be done very carefully and to both lines. This space will be equal to the thickness of the front strip. The cutoff piece will help put pressure on the strip when clamping. If you make a good cut, you might only need one clamp. Add more clamps if you need them. That's why we didn't cut the back radius yet, a mistake I made on the prototype.

I cut it this way to show the gap. In reality, you will cut all of one line, then the other. You can use a sanding drum or the front cylinder of a belt sander to smooth out the inside radius so the strip fits without big gaps.

Finally we dry clamp the strip. I let it sit like this for a while so it gets use to the bend. If the fit looks good. You can go ahead and glue and re-clamp the strip. Check that the edge is even and nearly flush on the bottom.

This needs to cure over night so the edge is sure to stay in place when you take off the clamps.
Go carve something! We'll continue in Part 2.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Little Diversion

I have several projects going, besides carving, so it's a busy time, as it is for most around this time of year. As much as I want to finish my "big santa", I decided to do a couple "quickies" as a diversion. So all I have for today is a photo of these two little, big-bearded guys and a shot of the state of big santa, with his body details finished. Now I just have to focus on getting the hair details done on his head and he'll be ready for paint.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Building Momentum

There's a tipping point on any carving project. A point where you know you're going to get a certain result. And, assuming you're happy with that, a certain momentum takes over and all you can think about is working on that carving until it's done. I had to make a few important decisions first. And a few corrections. With the time to glue up the arms pressing, I wanted to be sure and do as much on the figure as possible, while still leaving enough material to blend the arms to the body. As it stands right now, it looks like Santa's been hitting the gym. That's good - I can take some  wood away after they're attached to the body. I had some concerns about the fabric folds for the pants and boots. I got to work softening them a bit by taking off the sharp peaks I had created. I added a tiny buckle and burned in the diagonal lines on the vest to make painting it a little easier. I think the vest is really going to make this carving special. Lastly, I noticed one hand looked a little bigger than the other so I went ahead and corrected that - much easier when the arms are still loose. All that has been done and the arms are glued in place and I have begun to carve the details on the fur (usually the last detail before painting). The grain is tricky in places, so adding the fur with a tiny 2mm micro gouge will require patience and caution. Next step is finishing up  the head. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Into The Folds

I'm back to working on Big Santa. I have made progress on the vest with buttons, the folds in the pants and boots and the draping folds on the robe. I found the robe folds to be very easy and enjoyable. It was a simple matter of sketching the curves at the bottom of the robe and bringing those curves up the robe. Various sizes of u-gouges helped make variation a breeze. The buttons gave me a little trouble. Two popped off and had to be glued back on. The fabric folds in the pants are coming along nicely, though not as soft as velvet santa pants might be. The boots are still giving me trouble. Getting those folds are tricky for me, but I'm starting to run out of material, so I might have to live with them on this piece and try to refine them on the next carving. I'm getting very close to being ready to glue the arms on. Next decision- will he be holding a walking staff or a lantern?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Organic Color Mixing

I just finished a little Santa Gnome hybrid figure. In a number of ways it was an experiment. I carved him from some cottonwood I bought at auction years ago. Many carvers work in cottonwood bark, but this is the tree itself. Something you don't see much of on the carving wood market. It looks a lot like aspen or basswood. It is harder than both, but with sharp  tools, leave a very nice surface and it paints well. The second aspect of this experiment was that I just started carving it without any pattern or design, just a few proportion markings. Hence the odd look. Not really round enough to  be a true Santa figure and too tall and slender to be a gnome or elf. So i call him Santa Gnome. The third level of experimentation had to do with how I arrived at the colors. I used only red, green, blue, yellow and white. In other words, primary color (except for the white). I mixed blue and red for a purple seen on the cap. I added some yellow to that to get a brownish color for the boot bottoms. I added water to create more of a wash and used that for the boot tops. I added to that more yellow and got a kind of dark olive color for the shirt. I added a bit of white to that for the gloves. I found this progressive color mixing to result in a very organic palette of "cousin" colors. This is not a new concept for painters, but it's something different from painting a carving using colors straight from the bottle. We don't really need so many bottles.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Little Paint Test

In the course of trying to improve my carving, I am equally interested in finding ways to improve my painting. Most everyone I have come across uses acrylic craft paints on their carvings and I'm no exception.  I have noticed that, without exception, everyone seems to say, "always start with the white parts." My approach to learning involves first trying what everyone seems to recommend, but then experiment to see why it is so. I generally work with paints only slightly thinned, as opposed to using a diluted "wash" that many carvers prefer and however careful I try to be, I  always seem to get paint where it's not supposed to go, so even if I start with white, I'll get some red on it and then I have to try to touch up white over red.  My experience has been that it doesn't seem to matter which paint goes on first but I  thought maybe I would try a little coverage experiment. It's "Santa Season" so I chose red and white, since those color end up next to each other quite often. For this test, I used Folk Art brand paints:  Titanium White and Cardinal Red on basswood samples. I did not wet the wood first. I applied both colors full strength (1/4), slightly diluted (2/5) and heavily diluted wash (3/6). Then I allowed the samples to dry thoroughly. Next, I applied the overlay colors full, 50/50 and wash, left to right, respectively. Not surprisingly, both red and white seemed to cover each other well when applied full strength, especially over the wash. Both the wash dilution and the slightly diluted paint leave a "shadow" of color showing from beneath. The wash, as expected also allowed the base color to show through. In fact, both the  diluted mixed showed up looking about the same. The white  is an opaque color and the red is not, so if you use a wash coat technique, and/or wet the wood first, you have to be especially careful because it will be  very hard to go over the red with another wash coat, especially if it is a color that is not  opaque. Bottom line -  it really didn't seem to make much difference whether I applied red first or white. I find when I paint on a lot of white parts first, I tend to have to go back and do more touch-up work because the first coat gets messy in the course of completing the rest of the paint work. Final conclusion, the style of painting you do and the actual colors involved my determine which you apply first, but I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference. Want to be a better painter? Maybe switching to decaf might help!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Putting Yourself Out There

Just in case anyone forgot, the theme of this blog is finding ways to become a better carver. There are lots of ways to challenge yourself.  For me, that entails taking stock of what I've done and where my skills are compared to some time in the past and compared to other carvers whose skills and work I admire. I knew at some point I would have to come out of the closet and put myself out there. Out there being the commercial market. It's all well and good to say, "oh, I just carve for my own pleasure" or "I just give my stuff away". Okay. I agree with the pleasure part. And it is nice to gift our work. But how do we know how good we are. Besides seeing if you can win a ribbon at a local carving competition, selling is the only real barometer. Friends and family will always smile and graciously accept a gift you made with your own hands. And fellow carvers will find something nice to say about your work - hey, carvers are very nice people! But for a total stranger to open his or her wallet and fork over some hard-earned cash for something you made ... well, that's the ultimate compliment. I have earned money lots of different ways, but none as gratifying as the first $25 I made for selling a simple Santa carving. What is most important about offering up a carving for sale is that I had to complete something.  I have a big box of unfinished projects and, at some point, I decided I needed to finish something to where I could call it good enough to ask money for. It has made a big difference to the overall quality of my work. It's not about getting rich carving Christmas ornaments and if I don't sell everything in my Etsy shop, that's perfectly alright Those carvings will look good on my mantle - or I will give them away. But before I could list them for sale, they had to be finished. They had to meet good-enough-to-sell standards. And that has made me a better carver. Name of the game!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bad Hat Day

Bad Head
Better Head

I suppose every carver has something he doesn't like to work on and puts it off as long as possible. For me it's boots. I honestly can't say why, but I had planned on finishing the boots next but decided to work on the head some more. Something about it doesn't look right. Lately, my Santas have been looking more like Wise Men. I think it's in the proportions ... or the beard ... or the eyes. I'm going  for a more "jolly"  Santa, but I think the width of the blank for the head was too narrow at 1 3/4". 2" maybe even 2 1/4" would have allowed me room to make a wider beard and a rounder face. But let's see if I can lighten this guy up a little and give his head a little more character. First, that hat has to come up above the eyebrows and the front needs to be a bit more rounded, not straight across. Next, I took a lot of material off the hat itself to give it less of a "cone head" look. Next, I'll re-carve those eyes I carved off. And do some work on the beard, hoping to make it a little less symmetrical. Much better. There's still some facial work to go and I need to finish the hair and mustache, but I'm liking his look a lot more. NOW to the boots - ugh!