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 Woodcarvings by Maura

So, You really want to be a woodcarver?

The State of Woodcarving in America Today

 

 

Chapter 14

 Gallery of stories

 

There is always a story behind every carving.  In the hours, days or weeks between conception and completion so many things can happen.  Things go wrong, things go unexpectedly right.  Things just go, sometimes in any direction they want.  When I began carving, someone said to me that I would have to wait until the wood started talking to me.  So of course, there I sat, at my workbench, day after day, like an idiot with a chunk of wood in front of me waiting for it to say something to me.  There must have been something wrong with that wood because I never heard a sound out of it.  But now a few years later,  I can be working intently on something, when I move my head to stretch my neck and out of the corner of my eye I see that piece of wood across the room that’s been sitting for two years.  It just starts screaming at me.  All of the sudden I just know what it is going to be. 

There are days when I try so hard to get something to work right, never seeming to have much success, days when I attempt to do something and the tool I’m using breaks and sends me off on a two hour tangent.  Days when the wood absolutely refuses to cooperate.  Days when things that I think will take 40 minutes, take the next two days to deal with.  And then…………., there are those wonderful days when the tools just fly through the wood with a mind of their own.  Some days things come together perfectly.  Some days I hack off the nose after having gotten the eyes perfect.  It is often not the finished carving that I see when I look at something I’ve made, it is the series of mistakes and successes that I see.

 

MY STORIES

 

Celtic Cabinet Bridge

   

                  This is a Celtic cabinet bridge that I designed and carved for my home.  It is 96” long and carved out of a construction grade piece of 1”x3” yellow pine.  The claddagh symbol repeats 5 times. Why did I decide to make this? Because there was a mark on the ceiling from where the old cabinets were that needed to be covered.  Instead of fixing the ceiling, which would have taken a day or two, I decided to do a carving which took a week or three. This is also the piece that sent a chisel through my hand because I wasn’t holding my chisel correctly and I wasn’t paying attention to where my other hand was.  One slip and there I stood with the blade of the chisel through my palm.  The handle was twitching to the beat of my pulse.  Now of course I’ve heard that you should never pull something out if you have impaled yourself on it.  It could be the only thing that is stopping you from bleeding to death.  But, of course my carving was waiting and I needed the chisel so I pulled it out and watched as the blood ran down my arm and landed in big splashes on the floor.  Lots of blood just meant I would need a bigger band-aid.  Right?  Ten minutes later, there I was.  All fixed up and carving away again.  In reality I should have gone to the emergency room, it would have taken at least 10 stitches.  The cut was so bad that it opened up everyday for about a week after it happened, each time bleeding almost as badly as when the injury happened.  But eventually it healed and the carving was completed.  I thought it turned out magnificently. And my hand is fine. 

 

The Red Sneakers

 

 

                  These were carved as a joke for my uncles 60th Birthday.  From the time I was little I can remember him wearing his red Chuck Taylors.  So when the opportunity came to carve him a gift, I could think of no better subject.  I was going to do a cool pose with them, perhaps one on top of the other, slightly catty-corner to the other but I wanted to carve them almost life-sized and put them into a sneaker box.  I was limited by the size of the shoe box so they had to be carved side by side.  I worked for days on these sneakers, trying to get them just right.   Got the carving finished and then sanded the white pine carving down down.  I needed to get all the sanding dust off of them before I started painting them.  I took them up to the kitchen sink (sssh….don’t tell anyone) and I used the sprayer to get all the dust off.  The hollowed out part of the sneakers filled up with water and I guess a lot of it soaked in to the raw wood because when I went to see if they were dry an hour later, They had developed terrible cracks and splits all over. Some as wide as ¼”.  It was two in the morning, the package had to be mailed in a couple of days or it wouldn’t get there for his surprise party.   It still had to be painted and sealed.  I wanted to cry.  I had ruined the sneakers and I was disgusted, I went off to bed very upset with myself.  In the morning when I woke up, I went down to find the sneakers completely dried and all of the cracks closed up.  I couldn’t believe it.  I finished them up that day and sent them off into the mail shortly thereafter and they made it in time to give my uncle a laugh.

   

The Naturewoods Sign

   

 

                  This carving was one of my first more complex carvings.  It required choosing my wood carefully.  I settled on Oak, knowing that this sign would be displayed inside a store, rather than exposed to the elements.  I chose Oak because I thought the tone of the wood was wonderful and that when finished the grain pattern would enhance the beauty of the sign.  It was my first large design and I needed to learn about laminating and the durability and strength of glues.  I needed to learn clamping techniques.  I also needed to create an area in my shop large enough to be able to work the piece which when finished measured 38” x 24”.  I learned about layout and design and making something pleasing to the eye. I mastered using a router on this carving and routed out all the areas around the lettering, edging and treescape. I also learned that unconventional techniques sometimes worked in ways that traditional methods might not be able to achieve.  While I was busy top carving the lettering and rounding over the edges my mind would wander to thinking about just how I was going to create the foliage of the tree.  I began doing research on carved foliage and learned many different styles and techniques.  I could have used any one of the techniques with a bit of practice but my son steered this carving in a different direction.  He was standing over my shoulder watching me carve when he remarked that the wood shavings that were accumulating on top of the uncarved tree looked like leaves to him.  I couldn’t get the idea out of my head and shortly thereafter commenced to gluing up layers of woodchips until I had the desired effect.  Although I think that the overall carving turned out beautifully, the foliage has drawn the most attention and comments from others.

  

The Spanish Galleon

      

 

               This Spanish Galleon deep relief came about because a fellow carver once gave me a beautiful slab of paduak.  The wood sat in my shop for over a year until I decided to see how it carved.  I knew that it was a piece which deserved to have a classical type of carving to show off its qualities.  Having a soft spot for nautical images, I searched until I found an image of a ship which I thought would do the wood justice.  Had it been a simple sailboat it would not have come to life as this many-masted ship did.  The fact that the ship is angling away from the viewer truly made it interesting and that the waves were lapping up over the deck railing.  The reason that I chose to relieve it so deeply was simply because someone told me that I would never be able to carve it in a wood that is perceived to be so difficult to carve.   I hate it when someone tells me I can not do something yet at the same time I love being told that because the challenge can consume me and something that would normally take weeks to complete can be done in the course of just a few days.  This was one of those carvings that was just magic.  It carved itself and came alive in such a way that it is one of my proudest carving achievements.  

 

The Indian Woodburning

 

This wood burning was my third attempt and my first burning using anything more than a soldering tool.  I only had two burning pens for my burner, neither of which was a shading tool.  It seemed effortless as if I was truly drawing on wood.  I didn’t pay attention to the grain of the Baltic birch plywood when I began this but I loved the cloud and sun effect that developed when a finish was applied to it.  I could not have chosen a better grain pattern if I tried.

The Floral Swag

 

This is another one of those pieces that somebody told me I shouldn’t attempt.  It is a pierced floral relief approx. 36” x 9”.  It is made from ½” poplar. It is completely unsupported and was carved unsupported except for laying flat on my bench.   This is an example of how a piece can be created to fit into a particular area.  It is arched because it is over an arch and it is a swag to compliment the swags of the wallpaper.  I spent 4 hours at the scroll saw getting this ready for carving.  It was such a complex carving that I thought it would be a good project for my first tutorial.

Santa’s Little Helper

 

I had heard that one of the best ways to make original designs for woodcarving was to model it in clay first.  I played with the clay one night while watching television and came up with this Santa with an antlered mouse which I called ‘Santa’s little helper’.  Even though it was late when I finished and I was tired, I went down to my shop and glued up some wood in preparation for this carving. I began the carving the next day and worked from the top down.  I shortly realized that I had not paid attention when gluing up the wood and realized that the area of the face would be end-grain. End grain is one of the hardest parts of carving to master but I certainly learned a valuable lesson by completing this carving.  The face turned out beautifully and I will know how to carve end-grain the next time around.  I will also pay more attention when laminating my woods.  This carving was completed by going out in the yard to search for antler-like twigs.  I drilled holes and glued the antlers into the mouse head.  The antlers drew the most attention proving, once again that it is the uniqueness of a carving that stands out.

 

The Greyhound

 

This greyhound was a commission carving and was a lesson in using pictures for references and patterns.  The greyhound has a unique physique, and while similar, is unlike the proportions of other dogs.  As I was unfamiliar with their form, I used more than 10 pictures of greyhounds from all different angles.  I began by choosing a side view and traced that onto my wood, cut around it and used all my other pictures to carve the details of the dog.

The Courting Gnome

 

This little gnome was one of my earlier carvings when I was still just whittling.  I picked up a piece of wood that was sitting in a pile of trash.  It had been a deck spindle.  When I finished the carving, I placed it out in my garden knowing that the treated stock would ensure its endurance.  It was only later that I learned that preserved wood is treated with arsenic and that I should have taken full precautions against being poisoned while carving it.  Luckily, both the carving and I have survived.

 

The Walleye Memorial Plaque

 

This walleye Memorial plaque will always have a special meaning to me.  It is my first carving that will be in a foreign country.  The story behind it is as interesting as the project was.  My uncle went fishing up in the wilds of Canada each year with a bunch of his friends.  One of the guys wives complained that he never took her anywhere. The man trying to keep peace in the family arranged a trip for he and his wife to Aruba.  While on his vacation, laying on the beach enjoying himself, a palm tree snapped in half and killed the man on the spot.  I’m not exactly sure what the moral of this story is but my uncle and his friends asked if I could make a memorial plaque in the shape of a walleye.  After the plaque was completed, it was shown to the unfortunate mans family and then taken with the rest of the guys on their annual fishing trip.  It is now affixed to a tree up in the snowy wilds of Canada in the mans favorite fishing spot.

 

The Benedictine Jubilee Medal

 

My father requested that I reproduce his small religious medal in a wood carved version.  I had no doubt that I could recreate this medal but the two different sides created a display dilemma.  This project turned out to more of a woodworking project.  Once the carving was completed, I had to design a way to display it properly.  I asked for suggestions and was offered mirror and motorized solutions but they just didn’t seem appropriate.  I did come up with a design eventually.  I drilled completely through the carvings diameter and inserted a dowel. I attached a knob to the end of the dowel and then inserted it into a round frame.  I attached feet to the bottom of the frame for stability.  My dad says that everyone who comes near it starts playing with it. It is my most requested carving.

 

Indian with Rattlesnake

 

 

This Indian was an instructor-assisted early carving.  The instructor was Chris Howard.  While it was started in his class I later added my own elements to it.  Most carving instructors will have a model for you to study to refer to while you are carving.  Initially when I walked into his classroom, I saw his model out of the corner of my eye and just thought it was so cool the way the rattlesnake wound up and around the base.  My 40 year old eyes must have played tricks on me because as I got closer to the carving, I realized that it was not a snake at all but a winding stylish design.  I just couldn’t get the image of the snake out of my head, though.  I learned the value of good research on this project.  I first had to find out where this Indian came from, his tribe and the part of the country he lived in.  I next, being very unfamiliar with snakes, had to learn about snake species, anatomy, scales and coloring.  I was very happy with the way that this carving came out. Chris Howard complimented me on how well the snake and the coloring complimented the Indian. It will always remind me that there is much more involved in any carving than the actual carving time.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13     /     Chapter 15

 

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©2005 Carvin' in NYC

 

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Maura Macaluso
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