Monday, September 26, 2011

Two Giraffes

It's a great feeling to sell your work and also to make gifts of you work, but when your work ends up as part of someone's special occasion it's the best! My daughter's childhood friend, who I've seen grow up and become a lovely woman recently got married. She requested my daughter and I collaborate on the design and carving of a topper for her wedding cake. Her favorite animals are giraffes and she wanted two giraffes kissing to be the feature. I was a little nervous because she has been carefully planning her special day for several years and a lot of people I know were going to be part of the occasion. Add to that the fact that I have not carved a lot of animals and never giraffes. And I haven't carved anything that would be something to put atop a wedding cake. But that was her wish and we did our best to make her wish come true. Before it was all over, some cursing took place, but only in the privacy of my shop. I chose a piece of spruce I had lying around. I got this from a carving club meeting and, honestly, did not now what to use it for. I have an aversion to carving softwoods in general. I knew my daughter would insist on having it sanded smooth for painting - also not my style. You can see where the cursing will come from. But in the end it all worked out. My daughter did a wonderful job on the painting and her friend was more than happy. It was my gift to her. Better than a blender in my opinion!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hurricane Spoons part 1

Yesterday I was about to gather up the last of the Ginkgo tree that fell during Hurricane Irene. All together I was able to collect some ash, ginkgo, silver maple and sassafras, all suitable woods for spoon making. I got a little obsessed with the ginko tree because I know there won't be an opportunity like that any time soon. Unfortunately, the neighbors got to the pile of cut wood before me and all that was left was four HUGE pieces of the trunk. But I went after it with three wedges and was able to break it down to piece I could load in the van and bring home. The the left side of the photo shows just one piece split apart! I now have a much greater appreciation of the power of the wedge as a tool.
7 Maple spoons and 1 Sassafras spoon
5 Ginkgo spoons
I have to say, carving ginkgo is quite enjoyable. It has a creamy feel and sands well. I have yet to complete the ginkgo spoons I carved, so I don't know how they'll take to finish. I have finished several spoons of maple and there one sassafras spoon in the photo. I also enjoyed carving that one. I have ween working hard to get a few batches of these done for a local craft fair coming up soon. They seen to be a popular item, so for now, that's how I'll be spending my carving energies. As for my designs - I work intuitively and work to create organic shapes that fit nicely in my hand. When I make one I really like, I turn it into a cardboard pattern and routinely interchange handle and bowl designs based on the size and shape of the blank I'm working with. I like working with small pieces split off of large pieces rather than cutting blanks from branches. That way I can work more freely and with green wood. After I rough out the shape and carve the bowl, I hang them up for a few days. They go from 25% moisture to 7-8% in a couple days without splitting. I'm pretty happy with that deal. I'm sill experimenting with finishes, but getting close to my own "ideal". I'll discuss that in a later post.

P.S. I added the Ginkgo spoons after writing this post. They sand and finish beautifully!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Comic Book Art to Simplify Carving Humans

If you carve any kind of human form, whether it be realistic, semi-realistic or caricature you will eventually have to carve hands and , assuming your figure is clothed, cloth folds and wrinkles. I mention these two things specifically because they are the two things I have fold most challenging. Not so much with regard to being able to actually carve these things, but to be able to visualize them.  Both hands and fabric folds change drastically with even the slightest change in body position and gesture, so there is no way to just memorize a few techniques like you can with ears or noses. Even if you use the simplest couple of v-cuts to indicate folds, you still need to know where to put them and which direction they go. If you carve mostly Santas, you can actually get away with all your hands being mittens. But eventually, you need to learn about how to make fingers. The only way to learn to carve any part of a human is to study it and use some reference photos or drawings. I have found that all but the most realistic carvings are more like simple comic book art that photos. Check out these two videos by comic book artist Mark Crilley: How to Draw Clothing Wrinkles and Folds and How to Draw Hands, Two Ways. They are very simple and clear tutorials that might help us to better sketch and then carve hands and fabric folds. There are other videos and art blogs that show similar techniques and can further help us to understand how to visualize details we need for better carvings. I hope they are as useful to you as they are to me.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cache of Spoons

Maple spoon blanks hang to dry.
Since the hurricane that hit last week, I have been gathering pieces of fallen trees and branches. One special find was a beautiful maple tree that has light, clear wood perfect for the kitchen spoons I make. I found by cutting them out while green I could avoid losing a lot of wood to splitting. Once cut to shape, they dry very quickly. Most have gone from 20+% to 7-10% in one day without checking.

During the five days we were without electricity on my block, we got to know our neighbors a little better. Each morning we'd meet at the end of the driveway of one friend and share coffee and our hopes of being back to normal. I thought I might make a spoon for each of them to commemorate those beautiful summer mornings together. The rest will go in my Etsy shop!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Blog of the Week - Mary May [again]

Back in May, I posted a link to a video of an episode of The Woodwrights Shop with Mary May demonstrating her Old World carving skills. She has since started a blog... Mary May - Woodcarver. Even if you are not carving in this architectural style, there's still a lot to be learned from her blog. Check it out.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricane Activity - follow up

Yes, Irene hit us. Not really that hard, but in a way that left hundreds of thousand on Long Island with out power, cable, phone or internet. Five days for my neighborhood. The damage was mostly downed trees taking out power lines. considering how many were flooded as well, I feel pretty lucky. I was able to get a fair amount of carving done and collected tons of wood for walking sticks, spoons and other carvings. Today I found a huge ginko tree down. i met the poor homeowner, whose car was crushed by the tree. He said I could come back and cut as much of the wood as I wanted. I took home a sample and it carves pretty well, at least green. So I might grab what I can because it's a pretty rare find. most of what fell was oak trees ans locust. Neither are my choice of good carving wood. But I did get some birch and sassafras and lots of sticks for canes and walking sticks. I hope all the rest of you out there got off as easy as I did.