Notes from Windward: #67
Tree to Owl
Meg's Adventures in Wood Sculpting
How do you begin a new project? This is a frequently asked question. The first step involves evaluating your materials and tools. It is important to establish what are your limitations and possibilities. I was attracted to Windward because of the opportunities for available wood as well as the accessibility of tools and work space.
For my most recent project, I was alerted to a fallen fir tree. Upon investigation of said tree, I asked Walt to assist in the sectioning of manageable logs. In the largest of the sections, I discovered that there was a significant portion of the sapwood that had been exposed to the elements causing rot and damage. Despite this damage to the sapwood, it appeared that the heartwood was largely intact providing an ideal substance to work with.
Meg selects a block of fir to work with
I am now in the process of removing the spoiled material to uncover the heartwood. For the majority of this step I have used a hatchet. This could perhaps be done faster with the aid of electronically powered tools, yet it is my opinion that for my purposes such tools are neither necessary nor in line with my creative process.
At the same time I have been removing the outer surface of the log, I created a number of sketches. These act as a design for the initial shape of the sculpture. My intention is for this piece to resemble an owl. I made several sketches of different owls in a number of poses. They are studies of possible forms for the wood to take. They do not act as a blueprint so much as an exercise to become comfortable with the owl's general qualities.
taking off the sap wood
Once I have removed all the undesirable sapwood I will have to work within the constraints of the wood. This means creating a design that takes into consideration the materials size and existing shape in connection with the grain of the wood and any residual damage left by insects and/or worms. I look forward to providing more insight as the project gains more dimensions.
Upon the suggestion of a fellow craftsperson, I attempted to learn how to chip carve. Chip carving is a style of wood carving in which one removes small chips of wood from the surface of the board. Chip carvings have two planes: the wood surface and the point beneath the surface where the cuts intersect. In most cases they are done as decoration to furniture or wooden boxes.
In order to achieve this skill, I consulted the book Small Woodworking Projects which has a detailed description of the process including photographic examples. While the section gives a wide variety of information ranging from how to hold the knife to different methods, I found it difficult to work from a handbook.
Due to the lack of first hand observation I became frustrated with the techniques explained in the book so I opted to experiment with my own techniques with mixed results. I began working in the manner described with knives specific to chip carving, but the tools felt foreign to me so I decided to switch to a set of push tools. Being more comfortable with the tools gave me better control. While the push tools felt less awkward to me I noticed that they required more exertion to create the cuts. At this point I decided to introduce a mallet into my technique which resulted in an unintended break in part of the design. I now believe that if I had made the cuts less deep it I would have been more successful using just the push tools.
The examples in the book show completed pieces exclusively using the chip carving technique. I preferred in this piece to mix techniques and put a relief carving at its center. I knew that I wanted the center image to be dynamic to counter the rigidity of the bordering pattern. I chose the salmon because its curves and suggested motion would work to balance the piece.
To begin I sketched the salmon from a website that had an illustration of a salmon to get its basic form. After creating a drawing, I sketched it on the plank of basswood and began removing material around the fish in order to make the fish stand out. Once there was a clear delineation of the fish and the recessed background I began adding detail and creating volume in the fish. This was all done using push tools and sandpaper was used for the finishing surface texture on the underbelly and fins of the salmon.
While I appreciated attempting a new technique, I enjoyed the freedom that the relief carving provided. I felt more fulfilled and in control carving from my own design. If the chip carving had gone smoother I would have liked the decorative element that it added. I hope to apply the knowledge I gained from this project in my next.
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67