Friday, March 30, 2012

My first carving class

Well, I know I've been  neglecting my blog for a few weeks now, but that's mostly because I'm working on commissions I'm not ready to publicize yet, and I've also been working on a complete re-write of my website (which has me learning new languages and all sorts of fun stuff, but not even a little interesting from a carving perspective, so I figured there was no point in writing about that here, either).

You may recall that I mentioned having felt a little strange being asked to do that workshop a few weeks back, when I'd never even taken a carving class myself, apart from one quick Santa carving thing at a local club. So I didn't have a whole lot of idea of how a class should really go. Still, that one I did seemed to have gone ok. But, then, last  night, I finally attended my first real, full-fledged carving class! It's Celtic relief carving, with a very nice fellow named Wayne Cruze, who has been doing Celtic relief carvings very successfully for many years. We're making a lazy Susan with some Celtic knotwork relief-carved into the top.

I've been meaning to take this class for quite a while, but it seems like I'm always out of town or something when it's offered. I'd seen Wayne's carvings since I started carving, and always admired them and wondered some things about his process. Then, people had referred me to him early on, when they learned that I was making lovespoons, since there's often a lot of Celtic knotwork there, too. Around here, he's "the guy" for Celtic carvings. :) I did get to meet him a couple times, and I've always really enjoyed talking with Wayne, so was even more looking forward to eventually taking this class. Anyway, I finally made it this year, so I am quite excited about that. I was wondering about how he got such a nice-looking finish, among other things. Well - the main answer seems to be that he carves very nice & cleanly. Me, not so much. I'm a little spoiled by lovespoon carving, which usually involves extensive sanding. However, I have been trying to get better about carving cleanly, as even when you're going to sand, it takes away a lot of extra work if you carve cleanly to begin with.

So.... I'm carving away on my stop cuts, and he comes by and is looking a little puzzled at me, surprised that I'm making my stop cuts with my double-beveled skew. I said, well, I forgot my chip carving knife (I actually do have one). But I do like my skew. :) So, when I got home, I got out my chip carving knife, and started trying to drag it through the wood to make more of the stop cuts... sure seemed a lot harder than it was with the skew (though, I'll admit, the hold was more comfortable). And then it slipped a few times, and even resulted in a couple nicks into some of my "over" ribbons - which made me say "Grrrrr." And then I switched back to my skew to finish off the stop cuts. Yep... I guess I'm just not a knife person! Oh well. More power to all you knife carvers out there - I guess I'm not among you. :(

Anyway, now I'm through the stop cuts, and getting into all the little negative spaces (apparently, in next week's class - it's a 2-part class - we'll work on the over/unders, and then the finishing, which is another part that really interests me). Some of my stop cuts are a little wobbly-looking (mostly ones I did with that stupid knife),  but I suppose they're ok. Also, I was a little surprised to find that it was acceptable to make stop cuts that would be deeper than what I cut away next to them. Still - as I started into my first negative space, it's not clean - so I take it a little deeper.... still not clean. A little deeper..... ok, I guess this is good enough... and then Wayne comes by - gee - that's pretty deep. It's hard to get tools all the way into those corners like that. Again, I laughed at myself, and said, yeah, I suppose you're right about that. On the other hand, I suppose I'm not too afraid of getting tools into little corners... but more importantly - I just had to go that deep in order to get a clean cut. So now I have to do that the whole way across the piece. Creating more work for myself - yeah, that sounds about right. :)

Then, I had a revelation about something: I guess I've always thought the side (?) cut had to meet the bottom depth of the stop cut. But, then, I realize, it really doesn't - and thinking it through, in relief carving, it doesn't seem like that would always matter. I think it matters a little more in lovespoons, just because they are something between relief and in-the-round, and strength can become an issue - not to mention, if I made a deeper stop cut, you'd probably see it from the side. But you wouldn't in this relief carving, so - I felt like that was a really good revelation, and took a lot of pressure off. I mean, I still don't want to make huge crevasses, but  cuts at the bases of the ribbons would actually do nothing negative, and would probably add something to the shadow.

So, here is where I am - as far as I got before I went to the eye doctor and had my eyes dilated today (now I can't see up close). I am finding I really am getting a lot cleaner, the more I practice, which is great - didn't expect it to improve that quickly. And if I'd only been that way from the start, I wouldn't have to carve so deep, which, of course, is actually  making it more DIFFICULT to carve cleanly, since it IS harder to get the tools in there. Still - that particular thing isn't so strange for me - just takes longer. So, I don't know - I think I'm getting there. I have always liked the look of chip carving, but have been afraid of it. To me, this feels like a looser version of chip carving, and I quite like that, so I'm really having fun with it! And next week, we'll do the over-unders, and I'll get to learn something about stain, too. (stain has always very much intimidated me, so I'm really looking forward to learning about that, too.)

So - Carving class is GOOD! I quite like it! Maybe some day I'll get brave and actually try a chip carving class, too. Hmm... we'll see. :)

Edit: Bob, your comment reminded me, I meant to say - flat plane carving was exactly what came to mind as I started cutting into those negative spaces. I still don't know how clean I am cutting, but I'm definitely improving. And David - I share your apprehension of kohlrosing and chip carving - I really think this is a good compromise to both, and I am also very happy with the idea of having a nice lazy Susan. Very practical, this stuff. And, it is also surprising me a little how quickly it's going - but, then again, it's basswood... ;) We'll see if I ruin it with stain, though....

Anyway, thought it might be helpful to show a bit closer picture so you can maybe see better how I've got that flat plane thing in mind.  Then, we'll see if I destroy it by next week....

Friday, March 9, 2012

A busy week...

It's been an unusually productive week, with St David's Day events, finishing up some projects, starting some others, and finally, my very first attempt at giving a lovespoon workshop!

I was recently invited to speak about Welsh Lovespoons at the near-by Radnor Heritage Society's St David's Day luncheon. Radnor is a little Welsh-settled town about an hour North of Columbus. Many of the people there had seen Welsh Lovespoons, but may not have been familiar with the history and tradition behind them. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to share with them a bit of what I've learned. I also brought along some examples of finished spoons, and a couple works in process, too. That included the teeny tiny spoons I was just finishing, that were made from some walnut from that very same town (Radnor). The group seemed to enjoy my little presentation, and hopefully the talk contributed a little towards perpetuating the lovespoon tradition, too. It was a very nice day (including a delicious lunch with yummy leek soup and locally raised lamb), and I hope they enjoyed me as much as I enjoyed them! What a nice group of people!
And, by the way, a couple days later, after the oil had dried, I did finish the final coat of wax on those tiny spoons. I will admit: buffing off that final coat of wax on those little spoons was indeed the scariest part of making them. I felt like they were in more danger of breaking then, than at any other point. BUT, I was careful, and they did survive! Here they are, all finished up. The pictures are a little bright, but you can still see how pretty the wood is.

Tuesday morning, I was able to meet the woman who brought me this wood from her old family house in Radnor, and she seemed to really like them, and said she planned to put them in a picture box framed with more of the same walnut, so they have a pretty and sentimental remembrance of their old home. It's very gratifying to be able to play my part in a family's history like this. And, I also asked her to remind me how old the wood actually was, and she said the house was built in 1852, so it was at least that old. I'm told that a lot of houses in Radnor used walnut, because there were lots of walnut trees growing there.

Then, between Saturday and Tuesday, I did a little designing for a commission that I'm sure will eventually show up here, and also made some final preparations for my very first Lovespoon carving workshop on Tuesday evening! The workshop was for the "Land of Legends Woodcarvers" in Newark, Ohio, who meet right "down the street" from me (well, a few towns away down the street, anyway).

This was my very first attempt at doing something like this, so I was a little nervous.
I arrived as early as they told me I could, to allow for traffic (kinda far, and it was rush hour), and so I could lay out some visual aids (including the finished examples I've been describing in excruciating detail the past few weeks!) and get settled. I was surprised to find several carvers already there, since the start time was still an hour and a half away. I had no trouble using that extra time, though.

Now, my main hesitation when I was first asked to do this was that I really didn't want to cut out so many blanks. But they offered to do that for me - I just provided the pattern, and told them the thickness of the stock I wanted them to use. So that was fantastic, and I happily agreed! When I saw that box of blanks, I was just so  happy I didn't have to cut them all! Another thought I've had while planning for this was that while I can certainly tell people and demonstrate what I like to do, that doesn't mean it's right. It's just how I do it. I hope I never came across as though I knew the best way.

Once we started, I talked for a bit about the history of the tradition, a few key details of the spoon that I hoped they'd consider and try, barked at a heckler (a friend from my Tuesday morning carving group who was in the room), and through all that, probably went off on lots of tangents. I'll definitely try to clean that up next time. Then we got started carving.
I talked with pretty much everyone, and got lots of questions and we all shared theories about things, which is always fun. I also went around & showed them my bent knife and how to use it, because it's a really handy tool to have for spoons! 
It was interesting to see how far anyone actually got, and what tools they liked to use. I did see a lot of knives, which I expected. I wonder if the whole thing was more educational for me than it was for them, even.
Thinking back over it, there are several things I'll probably do differently when I do this for another carving group in May (especially talk less at the beginning), but overall, I felt like it was well-received and it seemed to go well. I certainly enjoyed it, and I hope they all did, too. I was especially glad that I had made those sample spoons, because most people got to pick them up and handle them, hold them up to the light to see how thin some parts were (yet still plenty strong and stable), see and feel the actual final finish, see the tools and sandpapers I use, etc.. You lose so much of that stuff when you just look at pictures, especially pictures from my silly little camera. :)

In any case, THANK YOU, Land of Legends woodcarvers, for inviting me out there, being guinea-pigs, and listening to me talk a whole lot! I hope I was able to encourage some more people to try carving (and maybe even designing) some lovespoons! Happy carving!