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Janel

Small Sculpture From Boxwood

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With pleasure and excitement, I have begun a "big" (for me) small sculpture (about 6.5 inches tall). This is the second in a series that uses boxwood from Virginia that has been drying since 2008.

 

In the first pair of images, the pencil lines reveal the placement of the subjects. The features of this particular piece of boxwood were taken into consideration. I am hopeful that surprises in the wood are not major or plentiful. I have already found some hairline cracks inside that did not show up at the surface under the bark. I remain hopeful that the wood will be solid enough for this project. The first of this series was from the same boxwood source, but from a different branch, and there were no visible hidden cracks from drying in it.

 

In between pieces, I think that I should draw the idea on paper, but when faced with wood that has so many different idiosyncrasies, I have kept with the habit of drawing right onto the wood. Sometimes ideas are worked out on paper, but not this time. The final placement came after many iterations of leaf, frog and acorn placements. Much scritching and scratching over many hours, over a few days. I chose to use a marker to boldly outline the pencil lines this time, since the pencil was smudging and becoming indistinct.

 

Next, I used a rotary tool to remove gross waste material, leaving all positive features at full depth while excavating the negative spaces. I am careful to leave a bit of extra around each shape, and to not get into detail consideration yet.

 

The second set of images shows this step, and of the first use of hand tools. This is very hard wood, and it takes a lot of hand strength to remove the wood. Also, the orientation of working on a whole "log", with its various branches, bumps and grooves, is an exercise in determining which way the grain is running where ever my tools need to be to cut the wood. Cutting with the grain is important, since the wood fibers will chip or tear when going against the grain of the wood. Going from outside to inside on the "log" is also different for some reason. I have to "listen" to the carving sound, and to the feel of the tool as it is introduced to the cuts. Keeping the tools very sharp is very important.

 

This stage of roughing-in the shapes will take a while. Many decisions about how deep to go, how one form relates to another and where the ultimate bark of the tree begins behind the positive features. I must hold back from carving too much at this point, preferring to leave ample wood for tweaking, and later for the final details.

 

It is exciting to be working on larger pieces again. I will try to post updates as this progresses. The previous piece took several weeks to carve, and so too will this one. Actually, the previous piece is still not quite done, I am waiting for the eyes' iris coloration to cure in the lenses before gluing them into place. When that is done I will then put the finish treatment on the wood, and wait for that to settle in before photos are taken.

 

More later.

 

Janel

 

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Nice to see some exciting progress shots, I look forward to seeing the completed piece. Also very nice to hear from you Janel, Happy New Year your larger piece is looking great!

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Thanks for the progress shots especially cutting the outline, I am new to carving and still struggling with the best way to mark up and start a carving, especially through the initial 'mess' stage I seem to get into.

 

David

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Thank you all,

 

The tough work now is two-fold. The wood is quite hard so my hands get weary. They strengthen through out this part of the carving (there was too long of a break over the show month and holidays!). The other difficult part is to translate a drawing on the surface of the wood to a convincing three dimensional expression.

 

The frog is the challenge of the moment. I want a fully dimensional, animated looking and believable frog. The position on the cylinder does not offer the same opportunity as the earlier piece where the head of the frog was in branch that jutted out from the main stem of wood. I knew that I would have to dig in to the wood to give depth to the background and avail the frog some room to be animated in. Tough going, both for my hands and for my wishes of what I want to see revealed. My hands gave up at 2.75 hours last evening. No photos with this post, sorry.

 

The adrenalin flowed yesterday though before the carving began. Earlier in the day, the first "big" piece was meticulously treated with the oil product that I chose to use. (Woodsheen by MinWax-no color added) Is it the right choice, or the only ultimate choice? I don't know. What I like about it is that it is faster drying, and feels good when it has cured. It does not make the hardest surface on the wood, as in it could be marred by water, but the small sculpture should not be likely to meet water. For some pieces that I use this oil on I will follow up with Renaissance Wax, but in this instance, I want to retain the more and less shiny contrasts from the raised and recessed surfaces rather than to see an overall shininess. The oiling process, plus touch-up fine sanding of fine scratches revealed by the surface treatment, took three hours. Ever recess and corner that carved parts meet needed to be relieved of the excess oil. I used cotton swabs with fine points to reach into these places, a cotton cloth and small non-linty paper napkins for the remainder. Tedious, meticulous work, but so was the process of carving the piece. Again, no photos yet. Photography is the next step.

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As life's interruptions punctuate the work flow, original decisions tend to recede. I lost the first position of the frog's head to the parameter of making the frog more engaging. That is the struggle now, to try to turn the head so there is one outward looking eye, rather than upward with both.

 

I find that the mass of wood is being diminished, as I knew it would to make room for the frog's fullness. This changes the drawing on the cylinder of wood to 3-D, and is a perpetual mental challenge to see ahead of the removal of material. This thought occurs often as I work, "this is a conversation, or a symphony, between wood and steel". What ever is in my mind is part of the flow of movements. Is this a meditation, some have asked. I don't know. I do get lost, and come up for air every hour or so.

 

Throughout the process from cylinder to finished sculpture, any minute along the way, there is change and potential. I am a fascinated observer of these many points in time. The drawing stage has much potential. The roughing-in is rough and challenging, but as limbs appear, leaves become shapely planes and branches describe angles, the symphonic conversation changes from cacophony to a focused melody.

 

In the new photo, the acorn and frog areas have more depth. The frog form is developing. During this stage, I have to constantly refrain from bringing any part too close to the completed surface until all components are about at the same point. The parts need to be far enough along to know that they will work before refining and detail work begins.

 

I am learning how to move the tools safely, having nicked myself twice yesterday. Working on a cylinder of really hard wood is tricky with all of the directions the cuts are made in, and with substantial pressure. Keeping the tools sharp is very helpful.

 

(A disclaimer: I am using my iPad to take these photos. The iPad's camera is not a very good one, but it is handy, and makes the images available easily when I want a quick reference.)

 

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On with the day!

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Again many interruptions and days of lost of carving time so not much progress was made. Today's work focused on getting a third acorn to sit correctly. This was not planned, but because of a split in the wood (to the left of the bottom acorn) I chose to carve the wood more deeply to see if the split has a bottom. Not yet, so it will be worked in to an aging/damaged area such as trees develop over the decades. The first leaf is being pared down from the cylinder's surface and the background level, which will be the bark, is being established. The positioning of the acorns and the frog will be the starting points for deciding where the background surface will be.

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Excavating around the acorns has been slow going. The tree trunk level is being sought and balanced, nearly there, maybe, but it is always being evaluated and altered as the leaves are pared down and shaped. This is hard work, most of the wood removal is being done by hand and the wood is very dense and hard.

 

Messy bench, with the often reached for tools. Someone mentioned using a leather bag as a way to hold the piece while carving. Thank you for reminding me! It really helps to steady the oddly shaped piece.

 

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Since the last post, the leaf edges were defined a little more, and given some contouring. The challenging work for the past two days has been working on the "torso" of the tree. Much effort is put into making all appearances of the tree bark layer look as though it was carved first and then the leaves were laid onto it. I try to see the line that should stretch under the leaves from one opening to another, so lots of turning and changing of viewpoints occurs. I also have taken time to consider and shape the trunk to give it an interesting form that will help to lead the eyes around the piece, rather than being the solid straight branch that was the form of the raw material.

 

I have retained the wood character at the burly/branchy area by carefully removing the soft boxwood bark. This natural feature will be interesting to look at and to incorporate in the detail design.

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Five hours spent opening behind about two inches of the little branches, with great hand exhaustion. I found myself at 45 minutes into each work hour, looking to the clock wanting to take a break, but stuck with it until the hour was reached before giving the hand a rest.

 

Tools that I rarely use were found to try to reach under, behind and in between the branches and acorns. I had a similar day yesterday sculpting deeper behind the acorns to give them more light and shadow.

 

This area is the beginning of the next round of refinement. I try to not bring much detail into play yet, but undercutting the branches and establishing their position and shape needs to be done to make sense where they send off the leaves.

 

I could use more tools for the work I was doing today!

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Yesterday and today, the leaves began to dance a little bit. Taken from flat and blocky to curvy and more animated. The edges are still thick, there is still a lot of work to do before the edges are refined. As the leaves were contoured, the bark layer was tweaked to make its layer appear to be its own, all one surface under the leaves.

 

The frog finally received some attention, shaping the toes and legs, and beginning to make it more frog-like than a blocky shape. The hours today were easier on my hands. The hours of the days before this were quite tiresome, needing some time between hours of carving.

 

I will be away for a few days and look forward to returning to this piece soon.

 

Janel

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Hello Janel,

 

Remember it has been said we carvers are compared to surgeons when it comes to the fine details . one thing that is messed up and we will lose our patient so to speak in our case we will lose our project . you are doing a beautiful job with this project Bless you for taking your time to photograph it and share it with us . I know after a long day of working in my left brain the last thing I really want to do is think about being on the computer much less chatting or taking photos so a special thank you for running the site and sharing your work .

 

Bless You Janel and Have a Good Day

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The frog has been brought into more focus with its head and eyes, and body and legs, and more clarity for where the toes will go. The leaves all over have been cleaned up more and veins have been placed, though the leaves are not done yet.

 

Today I was going to undercut the leaves, but quickly realized that overlapping leaves needed to be customized, and then realized that the acorns needed to be detailed before the leaves were thinned and undercut. An opening was added under a leaf stem, and the hollows behind the leaf and around the acorns were worked on as well. So, I made very little visible progress, but was busy doing it!

 

Thank you Lachlan. When the boxwood has branchy, burly or bud features, I enjoy trying to incorporate them into the design. Otherwise they might become an irregularity or unwelcome blemish for those who wish to see or work on perfect pieces of wood. I often end up making tree parts for the main body of a design because of the presence of the branches.

 

Once the leaves are undercut, after the acorns are done, the bark texture will be attacked. That will be fun! I am going to post elsewhere the piece prior to this one, so you can see what lies ahead, but with a little different pattern for the bark.

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Acorn caps. What a challenge it has been to try to make tools work in between and behind the acorns. At some point later on, I will gently remove wood from the nut area to make a cleaner surface and edge between the nut and cap fringe of scales.

 

Now I think that I can move forward with undercutting the leaves, tweaking the frog more and then the bark texture. Certainly not all in the next day, but that is the gist of what lies ahead.

 

I have not done any color correction on any of these photos. The boxwood color is difficult to reproduce digitally, and at the end of the carving days, I don't want to do any more work to take better color images. I am using a daylight full spectrum fluorescent twist bulb in the lamp at my bench, and have only used that light source for the images.

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Fabulous progression Janel and your reflections on the process are really helpful. i usually carry my carving around with me when it is in progress so I can look at it in many different lighting situations and at different times in an attempt to really see what needs to be done. I really admire those who can just carve, even simple shapes are hard for me.

 

David

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Difficult decisions are being made. The safety net of extra material is being pared away, so each decision needs to be thoughtfully considered. What has been concerning me from early on are the curled up tips of the leaves which could be vulnerable to breaking off if too extreme. That is what the tips were set up for, until yesterday and today. While I was undercutting the first vulnerable tip, it simply fell off with out much pressure. I cannot describe the leaf tip orientation to the wood grain, but you can see where ... the top leaf the left most tip pointing left. The grain goes up and down the branch and the tip split along the grain, too easily for me to trust the other lively tips.

 

The earlier active shapes of the leaves with curled tips have been subdued and refined out of concern for the possibility that a tip might break off when it is no longer with me, and that would be very disconcerting for the owner. Perhaps it might not be such a concern if the piece were bigger, where there would be more wood and strength for the tips.

 

So, I have been paring down and recurving the leaves prior to undercutting. Two and a half leaves have been undercut, more to do tomorrow. These shallower leaves are less prominent, but I think that it will be fine when the background bark texture is added.

 

Yesterday I sharpened one tool that I use a lot, and the shape changed enough to annoy me. I have tried reshaping it towards the way it was, but it is still not the way I want it to be. The change is not big, but the tool works less well now. Harrumph. I'll make a new one tomorrow.

 

Janel

 

PS: Thank you David. This seems to be becoming a kind of public journal, though you all get to read a fraction of what is really going on here as I carve this piece.

 

I tend to carry the piece in progress in my head and think about it in the background. Sometimes I am not good company because of that when the complexity of the piece demands more attention, or it is in the early stages when all the parts are still not solidly in place.

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I have been carving, but the changes are not photogenic, as in the changes are not very apparent. There will be more to show soon. I have begun the texturing of the bark and am just working out the look and technique for it. Again, not enough to show photos of.

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So much thought goes into working out the way that the bark textures will be carved. Things that are considered are: depth, texture contrast, light and shadow, edge treatments, no vertical or horizontal strong lines, a balance between open space and active areas, directional flow, among many other things.

 

This has been very slow work, relative to the initial removal of wood stages. The photographs do not tell as much as holding and turning the piece does, yet it is the only way to share what is going on.

 

I have begun to wear white cotton gloves, and have covered the top portion of the piece with another glove, in an attempt to reduce the discoloration as I handle the wood now that the final surfaces are beginning to be revealed. I've cut the tips off of the thumb and index glove fingers for my tool holding hand.

 

I am trying to create a reasonable abstraction and carvable interpretation of the bark of a pin oak tree. The true bark is cracked deeply, but it is being carved shallowly, with reference to the depth by the contrast between the smoother bark and the roughened cracks. The edges of the cracks are also begin modified and I am trying to preserve and incorporate the natural branch/burly inclusions.

 

The left photo is the area in progress at the end of this day. The photo on the right was yesterday's endpoint, after making test cuts in a different piece of wood. As I look at the photos, and at the piece itself, I am wondering if the round exposed burl is too much of a circle. A circle is a strong shape especially when all of the other elements are asymmetrical. I will look at it with fresh eyes tomorrow.

 

Doing this work is like holding a conversation without words, between myself, the tools, the wood, and what the piece is becoming. While immersed in the work, I think of many things that I could write about, but at this end of the day, those thoughts are gone for now.

 

Life goes on as well, I've wrangled snow three big times this week, and dealt with unrelenting desk work of one sort or another. Finally getting to the carving bench is the best part of the day and evening.

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The work in this burly area has proven to be very slow going and very challenging. Many, many decisions with each feature. Very little bits of wood are moved in all of the hours, but that bit of removal creates a different visual image out of a flat plane. This is the period in which I must exercise my patient nature and just keep moving forward, carefully.

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