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Jon Shaw

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About Jon Shaw

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    Bristol, UK
  1. Recycling!

    Hi Janel, Wow! So many questions. You're right though, there are infinite variations, techniques and materials involved in the final process of finishing. Many of these are of course completely subjective and dependant on the desired appearance, cost/time and final use of the piece. If I were finishing a piece of furniture with a stain then I would certainly wet the surface with hot water to raise the grain, allow to dry and re-sand before applying it. However, in the case of boxwood carvings I find that its grain is so compact that I don't do this, and indeed if using uki bori anywhere it could even be detrimental to the effect having its maximum impact. with uki bori I personally sand right up to 8000 after shaving the indentations back flush, then after applying the hot water I simply burnish with a brush on my foredom to retain maximum detail. Then again it depends on the type of stain. I am not familiar with the technique you mention of combined alcohol/water mixes. Normally one has a choice between water or alcohol/spirit based stains which behave in different ways. Alcohol/spirit stains tend not to raise the grain and dry much quicker, but they are less truly transparent than water based and more difficult to apply evenly. I read on the site of those like Tom, who maintain that boxwood, being so dense, doesn't absorb stains and oils too easily. Whilst I would agree with this in principle, again I feel it boils down to what the final intended use of the piece is. For example, if it were heavy use furniture requiring a subtle sheen oiled finish, then I might dilute raw liseed oil 50/50 with white spirit so that it is much more easily absorbed. This proccess is repeated over many days, gradually reducing the dilution until, some weeks later, the final coats are applied just neat. As you can see it takes a long time, but you do achieve a total saturation long term use finish which is also aesthtically very pleasing. However, in the case of my miniature work I wouldn't dare boil it in oil (not that it doesn't work very well for Tom), or soak it for any length of time in a liquid for fear of possible structural complications in the wood. I simply lightly dampen it with a large sable hair paint brush and follow up immediatly with the stain so that an even tone can be achieved before any drying occurs. If using Danish oil, then unlike the finish with linseed I describe above, it contains varnishes as well as oils. Yes, there is of course some penetration with perhaps the first 2 coats, but once the varnish dries it forms a barrier and all subsequent coats are simply adhering through molecular attraction to the previous one on the surface. I find this to be more than adequate for carvings, and indeed do not want any real build up of finish on the surface at all in order to maintain maximum detail. Janel, your experience in these techniques is probably similar to mine, and your work certainly demonstrates great expertise, but you're right, there is always something more to learn. I hope the above has furthered that aim. Best wishes, Jon
  2. Recycling!

    Hi Janel, No, the stain was applied uniformly overall. To ensure a seamless appearance I used the watercolour painters technique of dampening the entire piece with water first before applying the stain, thus avoiding nasty rings and blotches of concentrated colour. The reason for the colour variation is actually the result of the way in which wood absorbs stain. I made a decision at the outset to have the grain running north to south. Consequently the top and bottom of the piece are all end grain. This, needless to say, absorbs more stain than long grain, hence the colour variation. Once I'm at this stage, I don't do any further sanding with any grade lower than 4000 Micromesh (finishing with 12,000), though I see no reason why, with care, one couldn't use a courser grade to work through the stain to achieve colour variation, though you would need to excercise great care to ensure smooth transitions between tones. I am personally no fan of those who attempt to simulate an antique finish on their work, (even though some do it very well) believing that contemporary work should portray just that and utilise contemporary finishing techniques that reflect the age we live in. However, I must admit that I love the colour of boxwood that's had a fair exposure to ultraviolet for a few years. Quite accidentally, my application of this dilute stain resulted in a perfect match to examples of older boxwood objects that I possess, so it's an approach I may well adopt again. This is not the same as trying to fake age by simulating dirt build up in all the nooks and crannies of the piece. Given a piece of flawless coloured boxwood, I would be inclined to leave it totally natural. Hope this is useful. Jon
  3. Recycling!

    That's some compliment Mike, cheers. Glad you liked it. Jon
  4. Recycling!

    Thanks Magnus Jon
  5. Recycling!

    Hi Doug, Thanks for the kind words and yes, I was extremely fortunate in learning that a photographer friend had artist neighbours who owned a real skull that he had borrowed to shoot some still life pictures. I too had wanted to tackle one for a while but I couldn't have learned all the intricacies intimately enough to have pulled it off successfully without the real thing (or very good medical model) to study. They really are the most fascinating objects of considerable complexity when observed in the hand. Personally I find much that is aesthetically very pleasing in it's form, as well as the mystery of appreciating that you are holding the skull of what used to be a sentient being, but I have observed feelings of revulsion and disgust in some to whom I offered the real thing, so I'm not sure how popular a subject it will be in terms of sales! It's surprising just how deep the eye and nasal cavities go if one is aiming for reality. I normally never use the Fordom for any final carving at all, prefering hand tools, but in this case I did simply use spherical diamond burrs and scraped smooth the final finish. Close observation also shows that the surface texture varies over different areas but, as usual, it's a question of assessing just when to stop before the surface becomes overworked, which is not totally objective. Personally I found the creation of the suture joint markings around the skull to be the most technically demanding. They are extremely fine and must appear to flow smoothly in an intricate line. Experimentation indicated that V gouges were out and my finest diamond point burr was out before I hit upon simply using a sharp metal workers scribe. Admitedly it is only really scratching , not cutting, but by proceeding with a light touch and repeating until the groove was deep enough, it worked in boxwood. Needless to say this is one of the final touches after hours of work. The point can easily wander its own way in the grain if permitted and one slip with real pressure applied could cause big problems. Conesequently whilst the exercise was successful, I lost the feeling in the end joint of my thumb for 3 days afterwards through holding the tool so tightly! I wish you luck in your endevours and look forward to seeing the results. Jon
  6. Recycling!

    Hi Janel, It's nice to be back, and thanks for your comments. Actually, the beetle is not far off life size (25mm), it's the skull that's small! Jon
  7. Recycling!

    The other pics didn't upload (my own fault I'm sure!) so I'll try again.
  8. Recycling!

    Hi Folks, It's been a while since I posted anything because I've been busy making this! The concept was simply a reflection on the cycle of life and death (another cheerful subject!) but I like the composition and play with scale, and it sits well in the hand. For the techies out there, it's made of boxwood with buffalo horn eyes, and measures 46mm H x 37mm W x 45mm D. It is stained to disguise some of the typical grey markings that can emerge in boxwood with a very weak solution of Van Dyke crystals (walnut shells) and finished in Danish oil. It took 120 hours to produce. (The crab claw - Oct '07 - took 48). Best wishes to all, Jon
  9. Technical ability and its influence on your work

    I couldn't agree more. Beautifully expressed, and thanks for this Karl. I lived in what was then West Berlin as a musician in the seventies, so have some knowledge of both your language and culture. In fact my closest friend still lives there and I return every year. Meanwhile, I am familiar with this red Ford, and must admit I am easily seduced by big, fat powerful, in your face reds! Whilst not a great fan of your native Pinotage, I have drunk some superb South African reds courtesy of a very wealthy former South African client, and if you fancy a decent white, your Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc is well worth checking out. I feel that your own thoughts concerning craftsman versus artist are very similar to mine, and it would indeed have been pleasurable to have shared a bottle or two were you still living down the road in Chippenham. Who knows, it could still happen. Your analysis of the "problem of defined style" is one with which I would also be inclined to totally agree. I can remember students constantly worrying about how to produce original work when doing my degree, and striving in usually the most contrived fashion to achieve these ends. Ultimately, of course, your own voice develops quite naturally through a process of informed analytical and critical thinking combined with your own development, provided you have the correct aptitude. Time for bed! Jon
  10. Technical ability and its influence on your work

    Hi Mark, I sympathise with your wishing to relieve yourself of the pressures that come from having to deliver quality within a given time frame. In my experience the only people I have ever come across who have achieved this successfully are those whose fame and reputation ensure that they can dictate their own terms to clients, or who have an alternative source of income. The rest of us, meanwhile, are rarely ever able to say no to any commission that comes our way, and estimating time and cost, no matter how experienced, are never an exact science. On this front, in view of the much smaller timescale involved in small scale carving, I don't see this as such a problem, though as you say, the research involved can often be an unknown and very time consuming episode. Having said that, I have no contacts in this field professionally here in England with whom I can chew the fat, so to speak, regarding their pricing, marketing and general approach to clients in this field. Incidentally, I thought your rabbits captured the very essence of rabbit! Great work. Jon
  11. Technical ability and its influence on your work

    Hi Mike, Your thoughts on this topic make interesting reading, for which I thank you. Hi everyone else! Please forgive me, but I don't know how the more computer literate amongst you out there manage to select the relevant quote you wish to respond to in a reply, so I hope you don't mind if I adopt a kind of blanket response! I wrote the original piece late at night after an excellent bottle of red (cheers Ford!) and should perhaps have indicated that my thoughts were focussed primarily on professional practice. I was a practicing professional for nearly 25 years, albeit in the field of predominantly one-off furniture to commission, so I am more than familiar with your reference, Mark, to starvation making for excellent motivation! In addition, I would of course wholeheartedly agree that you will never develop and improve as a designer if unable to confont failure every now and then. I too have taken on commissions worth thousands, never having tackled a similar project before, and yes, these creative challenges are what make it all worthwhile. Technical mastery is for me simply a means to an end - no big deal - the realisation of the design is actually my raison d'etre. I worked at the highest end of the market, where perfection in a piece, no matter from where it was viewed, was the standard. It had to be so because it was expected by the clients, and the slightest flaw could give grounds for questioning the invoice, which in turn could have disastrous consequences for the business. For reasons of professional pride,I wouldn't accept anything less either. Needless to say, working under these conditions places severe restrictions on how often you can afford to fail, which prompted my initial question. These days I am in the priviledged position of not being the major breadwinner in the family, but producing carvings is my sole source of income even though my output is small, as I also run the whole house and take care of our 9 year old son. I opened the topic in an attempt to learn what your views would be concerning an artist who, for example, produced an excellent stylised rendition of a human face, as opposed to a true likeness. Would those views be any different if you learnt that the artist was actually incapable of carving a true likeness? Indeed, if you yourself are in this position, do you think you are somehow diminished as an artist, or curse your lack of ability? I actually don't think you should, not least because it's unlikely others will ever discover the full range of your abilities, but I find the issue of interest, hence my curiosity! I have certainly come across furniture designers before now, who because of their inability to produce high quality drawings of curvilinear work for clients, tended to produce only rectilinear designs which I felt severely limited their creative potential. I suppose I belong to the old school of thinking whereby in order to innovate one was expected to have first achieved a sound command and understanding of the basic skills and history e.g. Picasso's early mastery of the traditional, prior to his journey to the heights of abstraction. On the other hand, for the past 2 decades at least, many art college tutors have slammed the notion of acquiring traditional skills, e.g. painting, as totally uncool, encouraging instead a move into "conceptual art" where the supposed quality of the thinking seemingly outweighs the often appalling quality of the construction. Maybe this is all becoming too intellectualised, so I think I'll just go and open another bottle of red! Cheers, Jon
  12. Hi Folks, Reflecting on the response to my crab claw, I thought it could be interesting to open a discussion on how you choose a subject to carve when confronted with the limitations of your own technical abilities, and indeed, do you feel this has any bearing on your own standing as an artist? There are, of course, a few extremely gifted artists out there for whom this question would be irrelevant, insofar as they have the technical ability to produce whatever it is they want to achieve. On the other hand, I am only too aware myself that the crab claw was only the third piece I have carved after a 24 year gap, and that there are many subjects that I can visualize and wish to execute, but would shy away from, at present, for lack of confidence in perfecting their execution to my own high standards. Every now and then I see a website of someone's work and amongst some truly impressive pieces, they may have, for example, carved a figure with a very weak face which lets it down and reveals their lack of technical ability in that area. Be honest, do you play safe within your own limitations and refuse commissions, or are you happy to attempt it with a degree of confidence in your abilities on a subject you may never have aproached before? Jon
  13. More wood!

    Hi Phil, My apologies for not responding sooner to your kind words, but thank you. Hi all who responded to the discussion, Regarding the general discussions on both this and The Way site, I am astonished that my piece provoked such an interesting response. As Mark said, there have been many examples of representational work on this site before, so what happened? I thought I might just conclude with a couple of further illustrations as to where I was coming from. Pretension is another affliction that I deduce in certain artistic circles, and of which I am again wary. Conceptual artists seem to be particularly affected by it, insofar as I sometimes feel that descriptions of their art come across as little more than egocentric, verbose and pretentious drivel, whose sole purpose is to take us all for a ride. Personally, I can see no reason how someone of sound, enquiring and intelligent mind can possibly conclude that there is a God, and consequently consider any notion of a life in the hereafter to be a seriously flawed concept, constructed solely to maintain control over populations. Therefore to me, my life is, as they say, the real thing and not the dress rehearsal. When I stumble upon an object such as the crab claw, I am very much reminded of my own mortality (not that I dwell on it too much. I'm still a spring chicken of 55!) and cannot help but wonder how the crab came to meet its demise. Leon was therefore correct in that I could easliy have entitled it Momento Mori, but chose not to, partly because I like to allow people to think for themselves and partly out of a fear of being thought pretentious. Would it have made any difference to the debate I wonder? If at the end of this I have suceeded in some small way in making people think about the piece in a different way, then I feel I can refer to myself as an artist after all. Cheers, Jon
  14. More wood!

    Hi Leon, Your compliments are flattering, but more importantly you understand where I was coming from in my thinking. You may wish to read my response to Ford and join the debate! Jon
  15. More wood!

    Hi Ford, We have not corresponded before, so can I firstly just say how much I have enjoyed reading your erudite and amusing contributions to this forum over the past year. So, down to business. Janel may well be correct in wanting to move the broader debate around this subject to The Way, but I am very happy to respond to your observations of my work here, not least because you raise issues about which I myself often wrestle. Maintaining brevity when faced with the scope of this topic is a challenge, but one I shall endevour to tackle! I have long been very wary of the word "artist". I believe I understand your observations exactly, and would certainly agree with your implication that a true artist should have something to say, as a prime objective of the work. To my mind, simply producing, e.g. a "chocolate box" style landscape painting may illustrate the fact that you are accomplished with paint and brushes, but it doesn't necessarilly make you an artist. I could really throw the cat amongst the pigeons here by suggesting that to my eye, the great Cornel Schneider's polychrome lizzards, whilst examples of supreme virtuosity in execution, don't speak to me at all. Whereas the monkeys of, say, Hozan, Seiko and Tetsuro (in the Prince Takamado Collection), not to mention Nick Lamb's examples, are bursting with "meaning" and "expression" as well as breathtaking in the skill of their execution. On the other hand, if you look at Guy Shaw's (no relation) work, it ranges from stunning but totally realistic renditions of fungi, through to the imaginitive fantasy of Baku-kurai. Now which is the most valid artistically, and by what criteria are you making a judgement? We are all contemporary netsuke/miniature carvers, yet here in the West we do not have the centuries old cultural traditions for subject material that the Japanese practitioners utilize. So where do we look for inspiration and how do we incorporate "meaning" and "expression" into our chosen subject? Personally, I am new to this genre and see little point in churning out yet another rat or monkey unless I really have something to say with it, not to mention not even daring to compete with the above artists! I am drawn to the more contemporary subject elements of say, Michael Birch or David Carlin, but have yet to explore whether I have even the beginings of their talent. Nature has obviously played a hugely influencial role in inspiring artists from many fields over many generations, and it was to this that I turned for the crab claw. Despite Clive informing me that he produced one some years back, I have personally never seen an example and felt it would make an intruiging and original subject, (and one that woud sit very well in the hand) as opposed to the entire crab. A crab's claw is, of course, an inanimate object. It is difficult to introduce elements of the emotional into the subject itself beyond those of the judgement, expression and execution of the carver/artist. Personally, if the piece when seen and held conveyed nothing more than an excersise in technical wizzardry (of which I still have much to learn), then I would feel I had failed as an artist. All I can say is that my observations indicate it has kindled both desire and delight amongst those who have handled it, so I can only remain hopeful that I have achieved something approaching the artistically valid! I hope this makes sense, but I am now apprehensive as to the can of worms we may have unleashed! Regards, Jon
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