Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | December 15, 2013

Carving with Ian Norbury

This is likely the longest blog that I will ever write.

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Ian Norbury is clearly one of the preeminent woodcarvers of our time.  I became aware of Norbury sometime in the early 1980’s when I discovered his book, Techniques of Creative Woodcarving.  Prior to that time, there were few woodcarving books available and finding this book was a big deal for me.  I copied his workbench that he featured in the book and also did the falcon project.  In 1985 and 1987, respectively, Norbury published two additional books.  Projects for Creative Woodcarving and Relief Woodcarving and Lettering.  Each of these books were “top of their class” for the time and it was easy to tell that our Mr. Norbury was truly a gifted artist and master carver.  I had only two other books that I valued as much… Wood Sculpture by Ronald Cartmell and Holz-schnitzen und Holzbildhauen by Friedrich Frutschi.  The later was written in German and I was unable to read more than a few a words but the photos seemed enough for me.

Over the years, I learned more about Ian Norbury and continue to marvel at his talent to this day.  Without question, he has been a great influence on my carving.  In early 2000, I learned that Norbury wou;d be coming to the U.S. on a tour and that Woodcraft Supply was to feature him in several stores with a 3-day workshop.  I immediately called the local Woodcraft store and signed up for a December, 2000 workshop.  He was offering 5 projects to work and I chose a female torso.  It was a wonderful weekend.  I met Ian in the flesh and enjoyed him very much.  But this article is about Ian’s most recent visit to the U.S.

Ian has a great web site and blog ( www.iannorbury.com ) and I have religiously followed him over the years.  In early 2013… probably January, I learned that Ian was returning to the U.S. for another tour and series of workshops.  This time Ian was offering two projects… a similar torso to the one I had done in 2000 and a female head and face.  I chose the head and face.  Truth be known, I was intimidated by the idea of this project as carving females has never been easy for me.  Once again, I was fortunate enough to register for the workshop which occurred in early November of this year at the Seattle Woodcraft store… 13 years after my first experience with Ian in Portland, Oregon.

All did not start out well.  Woodcraft Seattle was totally unprepared for the workshop and nothing seemed to be set-up or planned for.  I first thought it was going to be a disaster.  Each of Ian’s sponsoring sites, as part of his agreement with them, was to prepare sawn blanks and a suitable vice for each attendee.  Well, I do not believe Woodcraft Seattle had a carver’s vice in the entire store and certainly none for attendees to use.  Fortunately, I and a few others had brought our own vices.  Others had to work with traditional woodworking and general purpose vices.While nothing could be done about Woodcraft’s lack of preparation, Betty Norbury quickly ensured that all else would be better executed in the balance of the workshop.  I must say that the Woodcraft store associates did get their act together, once Betty re-aligned their thinking.  Betty is a “peach.”

It was late but the carving did began!  Nine folks were in attendance and 7 were doing the head and 2 chose the torso.  As Ian’s work is generally not for beginners, most carvers in the group were quite skilled and all were great folks.  As with my first experience in a Norbury workshop, there was a high energy that seems to swirl up and my carving went much quicker and with greater ease than I had expected.  Frankly, I had not expected to finish my project in the workshop.

The first day was roughing out…  the face, neck and hair.  Each chunk of wood that fell from the carving revealed a better glimpse of what was coming in the end.  Ian has a great eye and could simply glance at my work and tell me that the hair line on the left side of my girls head was closer to the eye than it was on the right.

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The photo above is into the second day when things were taking shape

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Above, Ian is working with John

Day two was taking the rough-out to a reasonably nice looking woman.  The end of day 2, Ian hurled a knife (metaphorically) into my chest.  He told me my woman looked pretty rough and that I needed to get to sanding her.  Yikes, I had never sanded a carving in my life and did not want to start now.  But, I also realized that if anything required a fine finish, it is a woman’s skin.  So, my ENTIRE day 3 was fine detail, touch-up and SANDING, sanding, and sanding.  Even me, with a history of being critical of sanding, has to admit that sanding made a very positive difference in my lady.

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Beyond his skills as an artist, Ian Norbury has a great sense of humor and is fun to talk with.  If Ian has an ego, I did not see it.  He takes his talents pretty much in stride.  I suspect Ian has positively influenced thousands of carvers in his career and when I asked him how he felt about that, he said: “I don’t really know, I have never thought about it.”

Rather than me try to describe Ian, I would like to paraphrase quotes from accomplished carvers and of collectors that participated in the Forward to Ian’s great book; The Art of Ian Norbury.

Simon Channing-Williams
“Ian Norbury was introduced to me when I was looking for someone to do some carvings of birds for a film I was producing. We had a thoroughly enjoyable meeting, shared a glass or two of wine and Ian lit a pipe. It’s been like that now for almost 20 years, the only deviation seems to include good food and strong coffee!

“Ian of course turned down my offer of work; he was too busy…, an exhibition was planned…, he needed to travel… The truth was simply that if he had accepted he would have had to compromise, do someone else’s bidding, be a hired hand, and that is not what Ian Norbury is about.

“Over the years I have commissioned two pieces from Ian and am the lucky owner of a number more, and I know that Ian has to be given the freedom to explore in order to deliver a creation in an organic way. He has a voracious appetite for ideas, he’s a great listener, a formidable raconteur, but you can’t buy him; feed him information and detail and the result will inevitably excite and inspire.

“Ian is of course technically brilliant but technical in terms of art and creation can sometimes be boring, and that he is not. He is an artist of our time; drawing on the past, but creating and delivering work both for and of the present, as well as the future in a totally uncompromising way. He is able to combine the eye of a cartoonist with the mind of a sharp political commentator.

“Like all great artists, Ian invites us to look beyond what we actually see, urging us to open our eyes. To really look, perhaps even to glimpse beyond his own horizons.

“Unsurprisingly, Ian Norbury is a complex man – idiosyncratic, charismatic, iconoclastic – a great debunker of pomp, and wonderfully politically incorrect, he is a powerful presence and at times perhaps satanic. He is also a passionate and caring man, a man of passion. He has the delicate and sensual hands of a trusted lover who encourages us to expose his subjects further. His eye is truthful, he sees the beauty but he also sees the pain and doubt; that same unerring eye also reminds us of our responsibilities to this earth and of our own mortality.

“It is no wonder to me that Ian Norbury should work with wood, a raw material that is so tactile, warm and sensual. It can also be hard and unforgiving, but with Ian this is a true union of man and material, the one complementing the other to the greatest possible effect.”

Ray Gonzales
“Whenever I think of Ian Norbury’s work, I think not only of his sculptures, but of his books, courses and exhibitions, as an entire package, a kind of Ian Norbuy machine that is kept in good running order by Betty, who provides the dedicated promotion that Ian needs, leaving him free to perform his magic.”

Gonzales, in referring to Ian’s work goes on… “this type of work was a shock to many traditionalists who remain stuck in the groove of classical decorative woodcarving and slaves to tradition.”

Fred Cogelow
“He is furthermore a brave soul, this Ian.  Many a mediocre artist indulges “Multimedia” as an easy fix, a means of achieving originality simply through new combinations of old tricks from separate spheres. The results are often so void of esthetic merit that they can hardly be called advances.  The pitfalls snare them, and their works smack more of novelty than novel.  Against the principle of medium, the added ingredients appear intrusive and extraneous and seem contrived and supplementary rather than complimentary.”

“Ian’s skill, intelligence and wit would place his works at the top of his genre…”

In looking over Ian’s work, it is most clear that he never takes the easy way out.  He carves free standing ribbons, inlays woods, and is not afraid of the most minute detail in his work.  The man is a master in its truest definition… and I feel fortunate to have spent time with him.  He advises that he will never return to Seattle but is working on a Canadian tour that will include a stop in Greater Vancouver… hope so… I’ll be there.

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If you have an interest in carving either a female head or torso, I highly recommend Ian’s latest book, Sculpting the Female Face and Figure in Wood.  It is a beauty.

Ian and Betty reside in the countryside of Ireland.

Thanks for reading and stay sharp!

Please visit my website at www.MichaelKellerWoodcarving.com

Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | April 10, 2013

Japanese Professional Woodcarving Gouges

I just found this blog posting in my draft folder on my WordPress site.  Apparently, I forgot it was sitting there and it was never published.  So we are a little late with it….

Depending upon how old you are, you might remember when Japanese branding was not considered to be the greatest particularly when it came to tools.  Well, times long ago changed but one area where Japanese manufacturing has always been excellent is that of cutlery.  There are legends about the samurai swords and they are not unfounded.

Some years ago, I discovered Japanese Professional gouges.  Initially, I knew little about them other than they were danged sharp, comfortable to use and quite attractive and a little expensive.  Since then, I learned from Fred Damsen, the original owner of the Japan Woodworker that the specific tools that I was purchasing were hand made by a Japanese couple named Tanaka.  The Tanakas resided (and may still reside) in the 1300 year old Miki City, known for its legendary blacksmiths.  It also became obvious that these tools would soon become scarce as in 2006, when I made inquiry of Mr. Damsen, the Tanakas were in their seventies.  Today, the Japan Woodworker appears to have removed Tanaka tools from their catalog.  I recently inquired about them with the new Japan Woodworker (Woodcraft Supply) but they did not respond.  I can find nothing on the Internet about Tanaka tools.

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Professional Japanese Gouges are hand forged from high-quality, high-carbon white steel (Shirogami Hagane) and forge welded to wrought iron.  Each tool is individually tempered to Rc64-65.  By comparison, most gouge steel is hardened to Rc58 or so.  A few, considered to be hard, are about Rc62.

These tools tempered to Rc64-65 hold a razor sharp edge for a long period of time. Normally, a tool tempered to Rc64 would be highly fragile and subject to fracture.  The process of laminating the high-carbon, white steel to wrought iron provides great strength.  Although, having said that, as the tools are so very hard, it is imperative that one never pries with them as they can chip.  I have found that on the more aggressive sweeps, it helps to place a micro-bevel on the inside of the edge.

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The Tanaka tools are a medium-sized tool at about eight inches and comes with a beautiful and tough Japanese Red Oak (Akagashi) palm-shaped handle combined with a bolstered shank.  The shape of the handle make them a joy to hold for hand work and the bolster provides serious strength.  I see it as a perfect set up and consider them to be the finest carving gouges available.  I only wish that the Tanaka family or others made small palm gouges.  If you are into fine hand tools, you will want to hold one of these gouges and feel the magic that emanates from them.  Some where early on, I learned that the comfortable pear shaped handle was actually made for violin makers.  The pear shaped handle was designed for comfort in the hand and was not intended for mallet use.  However, I have used a light weight (12 oz) urethane mallet with them for years and have experienced no ill affects.  And, as I have aged, a comfortable handle has become important to me.

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As I mentioned previously, Tanaka tools seem to have disappeared in the past few years.  There are other good brands available but I have found only one with that wonderful shaped handle.  These that I am referring to are Maru Nomi Gouges carried in the U.S. by Howard Core Company, a violin supplies wholesaler.  While they are wholesale, they will sell gouges retail.  Only one drawback here and that is that they import these tools from Germany.  So, they are made in Japan, shipped to and distributed through Germany, each with a stronger currency than the U.S. so the end price is pretty hefty.  The other thing to be aware of here is that the Howard Core write up of these gouges incorrectly states that the handles are unvarnished pear wood soaked in linseed oil when they are, in fact, Japanese Red Oak with a varnish finish… at least the ones I have purchased have been Red Oak… gorgeous too.

Japan Woodworker continues to offer a line of straight handled gouges (Takahashi) that seem to be of high quality but they lack that incredible pear shaped handle.  Many carvers feel that even these tools are too high priced.  Japan Woodworker does an excellent job of discussing Japanese  woodworking tools in their catalog and I think you would enjoy reading their write-up.

Japanese Professional gouges are danged expensive as compared to others but if you are a professional and love having the best, then I would argue that they are well worth the money.  They are my “go to” gouge.

The sweeps on Japanese Professional tools pretty much line up with the Swiss made tools.  However sweeps of 8 and 9 on the Japanese chart are more of a 7 and 8 on the Swiss chart.

Thanks for visiting, Stay sharp and be “Carveful!”

Please visit my website at www.MichaelKellerWoodcarving.com

Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | November 10, 2012

A New Folding Whittling Knife

Flexcut has introduced their new Tri-Jack Pro and it is a “Home Run”.  It is a 3 blade folding whittling knife that meets most requirements for a good whittling knife.  It has a large blade for “hogging” that Flexcut calls a “roughing knife”, a mid sized blade that is titled a “detail blade.”  The third blade is a extra small blade that Flexcut has referred to as a “mini cutting knife.”

Tri-Jack Pro w/3 blades open

Let us take a closer look…

The Tri-Jack Pro, like its sibling the Whittlin’ Jack, is ultra sharp right out of the package.  In fact, I would argue that you will not be able to find a sharper knife with a factory edge.  And, like all Flexcut knives, it holds an edge exceptionally well.  In fact these knives are the only knives I have experienced that hold an edge as well as a fine hand forged knife.

The handle shape is as good as it gets for a folding knife.  While it is not as comfortable as a fixed handle knife, it is large enough to fit the hand of a male adult, unlike most other folding knives, yet it also will fit a smaller hand.  Because it is virtually all metal, it is a bit heavy but I don’t see that as a “deal breaker.”

It does not look like a traditional pocket (whittling) knife but it is an attractive knife and has a rich look to it with dark anodized metal framing surrounding an attractive hardwood veneer in-set.  The blades mesh with the handle very well.  Unlike its predecessor, the Whittlin’ Jack, ones fingers are not drawn to the heal of the blades for nicking.  And, another nice feature is the fact that these blades lock.  There will be no accidental closing of the blades.

What would I Change?

There really is not much I would change but there are two small “tweaks.”  Since Flexcut’s knife blades are stamped out and they are relatively thin, the back of their blades have abrupt, uncomfortable edges.  I find them hard on the opposing thumb as I push on the back of the blade when carving.  The longer I whittle, the less comfortable they are.  Hard wood makes it even worse.  Of course, the problem is solved with a thumb guard but I also found that, for myself, very lightly grinding off the back corners was a tremendous help… just a tiny bit is all that is needed.  If you do it, do not use a grinding wheel; use a stone or a slow moving abrasive belt.

IMPORTANT NOTE OF CAUTION: Any tampering with the knife will likely void any warranty on the thing.  So think twice about doing any modifications to the knife.

The second change I would make is putting a detail point on the mini blade.  Doing so would result in a perfect combination of three blades, in my opinion.

The Bottom Line

If I could have only one whittling knife, this would be it.  In fact, If I lived on a sailboat or in a motor home and had to keep my whittling tools to an absolute minimum, I think the Tri-Jack Pro and both the right and left handed versions of the Carvin’ Jack would set me up well for whittling or whittle carving.*

Comparing the Tri-Jack Pro to the pocket knife with the “X’s” on it that grandpa supposedly used is like comparing a Porche 918 to a Ford Pinto.  At this point, one wonders if Flexcut can come up with yet another better folding whittling knife… maybe a titanium body perhaps.

Sources

Like all Flexcut tools, the Tri-Jack Pro is available from many Internet suppliers and carving stores.  I bought my knife from Greg Dorrance Company and paid $78.88.  I found the Dorrance price to be well less than anyone else and he has a $7.50 flat rate shipping charge.  My knife was shipped from Massachusetts on a Friday and I had it on the following Monday in my little town in North Central Washington State via USPS Priority mail.  I have bought several knives from Greg Dorrance and his service is un-matched (friendliness, efficiency, shipping costs, etc.).

Related Postings

When Flexcut came out with the Whittlin’ Jack a year ago, I was impressed.  You might take a look at my blog posting of December 2011 to see my comments on the Whittlin’ Jack,. ( https://whiteeaglestudios.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=943&action=edit&message=1 ) .

Another posting covering whittling knives can be found at:

https://whiteeaglestudios.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/the-truth-about-whittling-knives/

Go Forth and Whittle!

Thanks for reading.  Please see my web site at: www.MichaelKellerWoodCarving.com .

Stay sharp and Happy Carving!

*”Whittle Carving” is a term learned from Don Mertz where a whittler also incorporates select palm gouges in his or her hand held carving project.

Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | November 2, 2012

Carving a Wine Barrel

Recently, I took on a project for the Chamber of Commerce for a fund raiser in support of a local charity organization.  The project… carving a wine barrel.  The project was offered to members of the Lake Chelan Artist Alliance as well as a few non-member local artists.  The instructions allowed us to do anything to a wine barrel that we wanted to.  Most are being painted.  One was even cut up and a piece of furniture was made from it.  Mine, of course, was carved.  The barrels will be used and displayed for a period of time and then auctioned off.  Initially, the auction was to be at approximately the time of a local wine and chocolate event around Valentines Day.

When I picked up my barrel, I quickly discovered how very heavy they are.  I mean seriously heavy.  With help, I managed to get it loaded in my truck and off I went.  With the obvious link to both Chelan’s wine industry and Valentines Day, I proceeded to lay out a design that I believed would fit the occasion.  After my project was well underway the date of the auction was moved forward so my Valentine’s theme became just “Love Wine.”

First a word about oak.  Oak is hard, heavy and grainy. Oak wine barrel staves are about an inch thick.  Oak would not be my first choice to carve.  It is difficult.   Then, couple that with this barrel being an older, used barrel, I am sure it got harder and heavier.  Ha!  Oak is also a wood that produces lethal slivers.  Slivers that seem to hurt more than any other wood and they seem to be prone to infecting well more than other woods.

Then, there is the barrel shape.  It is a shape that is not easy to position for carving nor is it easy to work on.  I ended up laying mine on its side on the floor in a cradle of sand bags.  I carved 90% of it by sitting on it.  But barrel oak is slick and the closer my fanny got to the barrel ends, the easier I would begin to slide off.  Next time, I will use one of those carpet pads to sit on.  And, if I were to do very many more barrels, I would build a cradle that allowed me to position the barrel on a 45 degree (or so) angle and raise it to be off the floor about a foot to 18 inches.

All in all, it was a fun project but it was not without it’s challenges as noted above.

Since oak is hard, one must give your gouges a serious whopping with a mallet to cut very deeply… and then the whopping needs to be repeated a couple of more times to achieve the depth needed for lettering.  Once all the carving was roughed in and looking reasonable, I applied Howard Feed’n Wax… which I put on everything.  In addition to helping with the finish and appearance, the orange oil in the product permeated the wood and I could go back and more easily tidy up my cuts with hand work (little or no mallet).

So, here’s my barrel.  You can double and triple click on images for a closer look.

Wine Barrel – Full

A wine barrel stands to be just over 3 feet.  It is about 28 inches in diameter at the widest point.

Wine Barrel Center

My wine barrel had a red stain from a wine which ended up being just about where my wine glass was positioned.  The vines and the “Love Wine” were roughed out with a Auto-mach carver and then finished with palm gouges and knives.  “Love Wine” are 2 1/2″ letters.

Wine Barrel Upper Portion

Wine Barrel Top Detail

The ” Discover Great Wines” are 1 1/2″ letters.  They are quite deep as I wanted them to stand out well.  As a result, they took a lot of mallet work.  Once roughed in, I went back with No. 2 palm sized gouges and knives to clean up the corners.

Wine Barrel Left Detail

Wine Barrel Right Detail

The only finishes on the barrel are Howard Feed’n Wax on the carved areas and the entire barrel was then sealed with Daly’s SeaFin to give it lasting weather resistance.

Thanks for reading.  Please visit my web site at www.MichaelKellerWoodcarving.com .

Stay sharp and happy carving!

Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | September 24, 2012

How to Wood Carve

The quick answer as to how to wood carve is to quote Nike, “just do it.”

The only way any of us becomes proficient at wood carving is by doing it.  Clearly, hanging around other woodcarvers helps, reading woodcarving books provides help, taking classes helps, and lots of other things help but the bottom line is spending time behind the knife and gouge… lots of time.

When I first carved, I was pre-school and I recall taking the corners of a small length of construction 2X4 and thinking it was a dang fine looking car.  Over the years, I have moved on to different and more complicated subjects but that car was particularly challenging to me.  Many first attempts have wound up in the fire place.  Now some 60 years later some first attempts are still ending up in the fire place.  But the point is that practice will be your best teacher.  Like I said above, you definitely want input but practice, alone, will be your greatest teacher and get you to where you want to be.

There is an interesting thing you will discover along the way.  No matter to what level skill we achieve, we will always find that there are those more skilled than we are as well as those less skilled.  That is just the way it is.  We should appreciate those more skilled than we are as they will be our motivation as we go forward.  We can appreciate those less skilled as we can help them on their carving journey.  By the way, I am convinced that helping others helps us improve our own skills by leaps and bounds.

I kind of get a kick out of books that are titled something similar to “How to Carve Wood.”  Of course the book helps but it can not possible teach us how to carve wood.  We must do that our selves by practice, trial and error.

If you are starting out carving wood, I do have a few tips to help you in your woodcarving pursuits.

1.  Remember, I said above, hang around with other carvers.  One great way to do that is to join a carving group and to listen to all the experiences offered by members… and if their work impresses you, ask them about their techniques, their tools, and anything else you can think of.  The same applies to carving shows; take some in and speak to the carvers you will find there.

2.  Invest in good tools.  If you do not know good tools, ask some who does know.  I wasted a lot of money on disappointing tools.  Good tools are a must.

3.  Keep your knives and gouges sharp.  Sharp is GOOD.  Dull is BAD!  You simply will never do good work with dull tools.

4.  Start out with wood that is easy to carve like basswood.  Picking up a piece of fir and trying to carve it will be disappointing.   If you carve a hard wood like fruit wood, best carve it green as it gets almost too hard for hand tools.

5.  Make an appointment with yourself to carve.  Make your time commitment realistic.  Don’t schedule a daily session if you can’t realistically do that… schedule it weekly.  But what ever you do practice as often as possible.  Whenever I take the car in for service or get stuck on the highway, I make sure I have a whittling knife and a stick to keep me busy.

6.  Be safe.  Let’s face it woodcarving tools are a bit more dangerous than some of the other tools found around so we need to use them safely.  Certainly a sharp knife is not like a run-away chainsaw but we do not want to place anything in front of an edge that we do not intend to cut… as I have said many times…. think hands and fingers.

7.  Look at good publications.  There are a few magazines out there for carvers and there are countless books.  You sure don’t need them all but picking up a few good books and a great magazine will be beneficial.   One of my favorite carving book authors is Ian Norbury because his work is so diversified and he is an incredible carver.  Others include writer/carvers from the UK .  My favorite magazines are Wood Carving Magazine form the UK and Wood Carving Illustrated.   Woodcarving Illustrated is a great magazine for beginners.  Wood Carving Magazine features more skilled projects and information.

In addition to books and magazines, there are a number of great carver’s Internet sites out there.  One such site of great “how tos” and good photography is www.woodbeecarver.com.  The guy behind the site is Don Mertz and great guy and a great carver and teacher.  And, check out the 65 or so articles on this site.  The earlier articles tend to be more technical and cover tools, techniques, etc.

8.  And, most importantly… Practice.  Practice and be proud of your work.  Do not become disappointed if something does not turn out like it was done by a master carver.  Carving success takes time for most of us.  You may or may not end up as a master carver and whether you do or do not, you will have a great time on your journey.

The list above could go on for ever but I will end it here.  Do enjoy the carving experience.  It is a wonderful one.

Thanks for reading.

Please visit my web site at www.MichaelKellerWoodcarving.com .

Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | August 8, 2012

Bringing Emotion to your Woodcarving

One thing I have learned in being an artist woodcarver is how technical ability and emotion are both critical to be successful in your work.  One without the other is not enough for creating really good art.

There are lots of discussion and a myriad of resources to help us to develop the technical part of carving.  There are unlimited classes and books.  Practice is, of course, also a necessity.

The emotional aspect is not so obvious and does not get much attention.  So, how do we foster emotion in our art?

What follows are a few methods that work for me in ensuring emotion is in my work.  And, yes, practice is also important here as well.

1. Spend Some Time in Contemplation – Think of it as relationship building.  The more time you spend in thought, the more reward your thought will give you in return.  Spend time creating in your mind.  Make it a routine.

2. Spend Time With Your Subject – Get to know your subject well.  If you carve from nature, spend a lot of time in nature (or with whatever your subject is).  Walk slowly. Observe, feel, and respond. Smell the air.  Smell the pines and sage.  Explore. Contemplate.  Discover the underlying rhythms of nature.  Meditate.  Build a relationship with your subject.  In doing so, you will strengthen your feelings about it.

3. Create Art with Your Subject in Front of you – Create from life as much as possible.  If you want to carve a cougar and can not bring it into your studio, take some good photos or find some good pictures in reference books.

4. Get Clear through Sketches and Photos – Before you begin your woodcarving, draw several sketches or collect several photos to look over.  In doing so, you will dig deeper into yourself and into your subject.  You will become more aware of what you are goals are.

5. Do Some Writing – I find it helpful to write a few words or a paragraph while doing my sketches or collecting my pictures.  I have also written my thoughts, feelings, and impressions while meditating.
6. Create a title for your Work Before You Begin – Sometimes simply giving your piece a title before you begin carving helps you stay clearly focused on what you want to portray.

7. Develop Your Memory – Since most of us can not bring the cougar into our studio, we need to work from memory…. when reference photos are not exactly what we are striving for.  Superficial details are forgotten and our impressions and emotions are retained through memory.  We let memory guide our work, and as a result we will have more emotion in our work.

8. Create a Studio Setting Favorable to Getting You into the Zone – Create a safe haven in your studio free of distractions.  Fill the space with things that promote reflection, creativity, memory, happiness, etc.

9. Identify Emotional Triggers – Find things that bring you back to meaningful memories or strong emotions.  Such things could include music, smells, images, tastes, etc.  Make sure they are present in your studio.

10. Use rituals, emotional triggers, arrangement of your tools, placement of bench(es), other routines, etc. to get you into the zone.  Do this each time you create.

11. Meditate – Yes, spending time to meditate on the bigger questions in life, on family, on spirituality, etc. is also important.  Our choice of subject and how we respond to it is in direct relation to who we are as individuals.  Our beliefs, philosophies, personality, relationships, etc. all play an important role in shaping us.  Pondering on these issues, though not directly related to our art, will strengthen our inner-self.  Our art will benefit greatly.  Our creative juices come from who we are holistically.

Let us spend time developing our emotional side along with our technical development.  And, when we do our work will have much greater meaning.

Thanks for joining me.

Please visit my website at http://www.WhiteEagleStudios.com.

Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | June 9, 2012

Sharing Your Passion of Woodcarving

As a wood carver you are a pretty special person.  You are special because you get to work with what I consider the most wonderful medium on the planet – wood.

Wood is beautiful;

Wood feels good to touch;

Wood often smells good;

Wood is warm;

Wood is natural;

Wood holds a wonderful energy;

Wood can convey who you are through sharing what it is you do with wood and how you do it.

I believe that it is important to share your wood carving experience with anyone and everyone interested.

First, you are sharing your talent with your community and the world.

You may share with art enthusiasts or other woodcarvers… or maybe more importantly… with someone who is wishing to carve wood for the first time… perhaps a young person.

If your art is sincere and you are true to your own inner voice, then you are also sharing something from within yourself…  Something from you heart and soul.  You are sharing your thoughts, feelings, likes, philosophies, character, sensitivities, etc.  You are sharing a piece of yourself.  You are sharing your heart.

Your art awakens responses, thoughts, emotions, feelings, etc. in the viewers.  They may be different than yours.  Perhaps they will kindle wonderful memories in the observer.  But, your gift is giving them an opportunity to see and feel and experience something within themselves.  Perhaps your gift will be the gift of inspiration to another carver or student.  Perhaps your art will ignite something from the deep past.

When you are lucky enough to visit with someone who responds to your art, whether it be your art itself or your skills and processes, there is a mutual sharing as you build a relationship.  You are connecting personally with them.

If done right, your woodcarving, your art should be about sharing.  I urge you to share your story.  Share you passion. Share your motivation.  Share your anecdotes. Etc.

Art is sharing. On many levels.

Thank you for visiting.  Keep sharp and stay true.

Please visit my website at www.WhiteEagleStudios.com .

Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | April 14, 2012

A Dozen Things I Tell My Woodcarving Students

For this posting, I have picked a dozen things I tell my woodcarving students.  But in reality, there are really a lot more than a dozen but lets stick to twelve today.  They are:

1. There is no substitute for the time you spend with a knife or chisel.  You can only learn to carve or whittle by carving and whittling (hereafter referred to as “carving”).  Nothing teaches like experience.  You can learn about carving by listening to others, reading books and magazines, and by watching teaching DVDs and You Tubes, but it is only actually doing the carving where you will learn to carve.  Actually doing it is the best instructor.  Carve …and then carve some more.

2. Give yourself permission to fail.  And, give yourself permission to succeed, to experiment, to enjoy the process of carving as much as what the end result might be.  What is important is to “do it.”  Watch your self talk.  Give yourself a ‘good’ talking to.  Don’t be one of those people who say they want to learn to carve and then continually tell themselves they can’t, or berate themselves because they’re not carving masterpieces immediately.  Affirm to yourself that you are a skilled, great, master, carver… or what have you.  I promise you that with practice, you will be a skilled carver.

3. Better quality materials will give you better quality results.  Buy accordingly.  It’s tough enough to get a good result when you are learning to carve without giving yourself a further handicap by using inferior tools or crappy wood.  Buying cheap is often a false economy and is likely to set you up for frustration and disappointment.

4. Keep sharp.  Keep your knives and tools as sharp as you are capable of making them.  Strop often.  Like using cheap tools, a dull tool makes carving well more difficult.  If you don’t know how to sharpen, get someone that does to show you how.   Personally, I don’t think a book can help with this one.  By the by, it is difficult to keep a good edge on a cheap tool.

5. You don’t know what you don’t know.  Do workshops with different instructors. There is no right or wrong way to carve, there are only results.  With the countless techniques and different ways of working there are, no one person can show you or teach you all that’s possible.  Every workshop is worthwhile practice and who knows what you might learn that will be useful?  And, you won’t only learn from an instructor; you will also learn from fellow participants.

6. You have an artistic license.  Yes… a woodcarver is an artist so use your artistic license.  An artistic license means you do not have to limit your options to what is before you or to what is “real.”  Use reference material, but remember your carving is your creation.  You can change the style, change the position, emphasize, minimize, simplify, or add or leave out elements to make it a better representation of what you want.

7. Variety is what creates and maintains interest in carving.  So aim for variety in all things: in subjects, in sizes and shapes, in woods and in style.  Vary your carving technique.  Carve what you want and what interests you.

8. Asymmetrical designs can be much more interesting than symmetrical ones.  So place the main point of interest off center.  Whether you are doing an abstract, a figurative work or a landscape, principles of design are still relevant if you want to create a pleasing image.  The ‘rule’ of thirds is one such principle.

9.  Learn to squint and turn things up side down.  Squinting at or looking at your piece upside down is a great way to check your work.  Doing so will present you with different perspectives.

10.  Depth in a relief carving is an illusion.  A good relief carving is a wonderful illusion that invites the viewer to ‘enter’ the picture.  Simple techniques you can use to create a sense of distance is the use of undercutting, more detail with closer objects and less with objects in back, and differing tones in staining.  Overlapping shapes and linear perspective using foreshortening and converging lines along with repeated shapes of diminishing size all add to the sense of depth in a carving.

11.  Employ safety.  Work safely in all areas of carving.  Avoid breathing wood dust; only put things in front of your blade that you intend to cut; being intoxicated or tired do not mix with carving.  Think first… are you working safely?

12.  Do what is comfortable and feels right to you.  No one else’s opinion is any match for your own instincts and intuition.  Consider what others may tell you but remember, you are your own artist.

Stay Sharp and Happy Carving!

Please visit my website at: www.WhiteEagleStudios.com.

Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | April 3, 2012

Rattle Snake and Dragon Walking Sticks

Recently, I completed 2 of several walking sticks that I will be doing before the summer.  Both are carved from aged Alaska Yellow Cedar and are approximately 67 inches high.
Aged Yellow Cedar is quite a bit harder than newer wood and so these are particularly stout.

One thing we have all experienced in carving walking sticks is holding the things so we can get tough with wood removal. This was a particular issue with it being hard wood.  Of several holding methods, I think the best that I have experienced is the Rockwell Jawhorse.  It is stout as heck and has hard rubber jaws.  In the very earliest stages of wood removal, I secured the sticks between the bench dogs on my carving table which works well.  The negative with that is that, I am bent over and it gets old.

When carving walking sticks, I don’t like adding head pieces… I would rather have the stick be all one piece.  Not only does it look better but it also makes a stronger stick.

These sticks are treated only with Howard Feed’n Wax which produces a nice patina on the Yellow Cedar.

Well Confucius is credited with saying “a picture is worth 10,000 words” so this blog is a bit of a photo essay rather than text.

First, the Dragon…

Dragon 1

Dragon 2

Dragon 3

Dragon 4

And, the Rattler…

Rattler 1

Rattler 2

Rattler 3

One cautionary note about carving rattle snakes;  they are a feisty critter so carve the head last so as not go get bitten.

Thanks for the visit and please also visit my web site at www.WhiteEagleStudios.com.

Stay sharp and happy carving!

Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | February 12, 2012

Carving Walking Sticks, Revisited

Back in 2009, I posted an article about carving walking sticks and it remains one of my most looked at postings today.  After all, carving walking sticks has almost become a freestanding art form.  Of course there are differing degrees of carving but almost everyone has done some degree of carving on a walking stick even if it was to simply carve their initials in it or peel off bark.  Who has not found a stick in the woods and carried it while walking?  Perhaps you even brought it home from a camping trip with you.  I firmly believe that one of the reasons walking sticks carry so much fascination has to do with the magic in them.  Okay, a lot of you reading this just said to yourself… “Hurrumpff, there is no such thing as magic.”   Well, I beg to differ… magic may be found wherever we look for it or place it.  And, what better place than a fine personally selected, personally carved walking stick.

In my life, I must have carved something in the neighborhood of 100 walking sticks… some were pretty detailed and some were fairly plain.  There are really no rules about what one does to create a walking stick.  If it is to be a gift, I suggest carving something on it that is identified with the recipient… something that makes it meaningful to them.  Of course, if it is a commission, the subject matter is going to be whatever the buyer is asking for.  Walking sticks can be carved from just about any wood but I suggest that it be a hard wood.  If you select a softer wood, in order to provide strength, you may have to go to a larger diameter stick.  Another consideration is that softer woods dent too.

Personally, I like to find sticks in the woods that have character such as small burls, crooks, outgrowths and anything that makes them interesting.  Diamond Willow is a classic example of what I am talking about…. my absolute favorite.  I prefer to carve whatever subject that I have selected right into my stick.  I don’t really like adding things to sticks.  If you do choose to add a headpiece, I suggest that it be carved from a harder wood as well as you don’t want it dented or broken from dropping it on a rock or from fighting off a charging lion.  Headpieces can easily be added by using a short piece of screw rod.  Seams can be covered up with a leather collar.  You can also cut a recess into the headpiece so that the stick fits into the headpiece and the seam is hidden.

An added benefit to me in selecting a natural piece of wood is the adventure of looking for it.  I love being in the woods and it is so exciting to find a fine stick.  I have many times come across a straight, small tree.  I have dug down around the roots to explore what the root feels like.  If it is simply a straight root (like a carrot), I leave it and cover up my diggings best I can.  I don’t want to up root a tree just to throw it aside.  If, however, it feels like it has an interesting root clump that would lend itself to something cool, I will harvest it.  If it is mainly the root that will be carved, it will likely take saws and grinders as roots are made of tuff, hard, and twisting wood.  Some roots are gorgeous simply finished naturally.  You might recall Gandalf the Grey’s staff (vs. Gandalf the White).  It was natural root stock with a crystal in it.

Unless you take care in curing green wood, it will surely split.  I make sure that I place curing sticks out of direct sun and out of any extreme dryness.  And, every 30 days or so, I turn the sticks so that any warpage is minimalized and the stick stays straight.  If I am going to carve a stick with a knife and palm gouges, I try to do so prior to the stick getting completely dry and hard.  As you probably know, it is pretty hard to whittle on a piece of dry fruit wood or the like.  If you will be using power, I find that it is best to wait until it is “hard hard.”

In addition to the procedure described above, if I am concerned about the root ball splitting, I paint the thing with log sealer.  Latex paint will work as well, in a pinch.  I use a log sealer sold by www.baileysonline.com.  The only issue there is that you need to buy a 5 gallon bucket.  I bought 5 gallons about 6 years ago and I still have about half of it… and I use it a lot.

Once I have carved the stick, I slather it down with Howard Feed-n-Wax.  I use Feed-N-Wax on everything and if I want color, I just add tint.  I love it.

For final touches, you can add a leather lanyard or a medallion.  Treeline offers a huge selection of medallions for walking sticks.  Personally, if I can’t carve the item into the stick, I leave it off.  But, I can also see where military personnel may want a military medallion on his or her stick.  Treeline also has a selection of “feet” for sticks.

I believe walking sticks should be made to be used and therefore should not be so delicate that they can be easily broken if dropped.  A couple of years ago, I was commissioned by a woman from near Sydney, Australia to carve a walking stick depicting some North Coast Indian symbols from her native British Columbia.  In the process of ordering it, she told me that she loved to be in the woods and since guns are illegal in Australia, she wanted a comfortable, hard stick that could be used to fend of snakes or anything else that she might come across that proved to be unfriendly.

Good luck with your stick carving.

Stay sharp and be “carveful.”

Please visit my web site at www.WhiteEagleStudios.com.

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