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Janel

Carve or Sculpt

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In an earlier volley of email messages with Skip, we started discussion about this topic of sculpting and carving. What is the difference between the two. And then consider the size we work in, does that have an impact on whether we sculpt or carve?

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Well, to side step our earlier discussion Janel :lol: and add another twist, Michelangelo was called a "sculptor" although he carved stone. I guess whether the terms "carve" and "sculpt" are used as nowns or verbs makes a subtle difference. I think of sculpting when artists work with reformable mediums like wax and clay. You can create the sculpture by adding and taking away. Carving is less forgiving in that you can only take away. Carving is akin to water color painting in the 2 dimensional art form, where the artists must work more carefully with extensive planning, to leave areas of light because they can only add tone to the paper and not easily take it away later.

 

Michelangelo (although he worked in large size and wouldn't qualify to join this forum) (laughing) carved (verb) stone to produce sculpture (nown). Janel, you and all your acomplished wood carving netsuke artist friends, carve wood, bone, horn and other materials to produce miniature sculptures. As verbs, carving and sculpting are different, because again, in one technique material can be added, making the method more forgiving! I did not look in a dictionary for definitions of "carve" or "sculpt" and perhaps no distinction is made there?

 

I hope this satisfies your itch for discussion on this topic, for the time being (laughing again). I'll get into some of the other areas we exchanged notes on previously, in another string!

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Hello Skip!

 

I simply missed this one! I am sooo sorry about that because I am interested in what you have to say about the topic! Sometimes I get interrupted by family or things, and the new-unread entries are changed to read by the counter in cyber space and I miss out. Sometimes two topics are unread, but when the first is clicked to be read at the last entry on at the main page, the other is not called attention to. When I click on the topic, I am rewarded sometimes with multiple entries made the same day to different topics. What ever. I caught this one by being methodical this quiet morning.

 

Very interesting presentation. I typed in define sculpture in Google and got an interesting response to that. The definitions are easy to see using the Princeton WordNet site.

http://www.cogsci.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/we...&word=sculpture

 

I copy and pasted the results for both sculpture and carve/carving and the information was quite a lot for this message, so I recommend that you and other readers use the link and look on the Princeton WordNet site. It is very interesting!

 

Your presentation of the differences is right on. The definitions on the Princeton site shows some overlap, but is essentially backing up what you said. Words are so interesting when one starts asking questions and learning about them. It goes to show ya that: Everything is interesting when looked at carefully!!!

 

Thanks for writing, and I look forward to more. Sorry again for dropping the ball on this one.

 

Janel

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Well it seems to me that anytime a carver inserts eyes, that's additive work. Does this make a carving something else? Many people here take it further than that in some of their pieces, and if I'm not mistaken there is a particular style of netsuke which emphasizes inlay... Shibayama or something like that, I think?

 

"Carving" used to refer primarily to work in wood or other materials soft enough to be worked with edged tools, but many people who consider themselves wood carvers now work primarily with rotary handpieces, bits and burs. What they are really doing, by the standard of the old definition, is grinding, not carving. It's got more in common with working in very hard stone than in the kind of woodcarving Grinling Gibbons did, for example in the superlative work of Gerd Dreher, who calls himself a carver--

 

Dreher Carvings

 

I prefer to call myself a sculptor, since I work both subtractively and additively, and to be frank-- "sculpture" has more cachet than "carving" in the public mind, unless the work is of a type traditionally called carving, like netsuke or gem carving. Anything for an edge when it comes to getting a higher price for my stuff, even if I don't use edged tools much.

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Musket- thanks for the link to the Dreher carvings. Nice work!

While not referring to Mr. Dreher, I have to admit I have a small bone to pick with people who use rotary tools and call their finished pieces 'carvings'. I realize that using the old Dremel can save time with a few steps, but people- especially realistic bird and fish 'carving' enthusiasts- need to call a spade a spade. Most of it nowadays is an assemblage of feather and fins from separately constructed parts created by power tools. The challenge of working with a single piece of wood and the intricacies of grain isn't there.

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Musket- thanks for the link to the Dreher carvings. Nice work!

While not referring to Mr. Dreher, I have to admit I have a small bone to pick with people who use rotary tools and call their finished pieces 'carvings'. I realize that using the old Dremel can save time with a few steps, but people- especially realistic bird and fish 'carving' enthusiasts- need to call a spade a spade. Most of it nowadays is an assemblage of feather and fins from separately constructed parts created by power tools. The challenge of working with a single piece of wood and the intricacies of grain isn't there.

 

For fish carvers I can't speak, and I've gone too far out on a limb to fit into the decorative bird carving world for any of this to matter to me, but these days decorative bird carvers minimize inserted feathers as much as possible, and some refuse to do any additive work at all with the exception of eyes. The era of hundreds of inserted feathers has been over for a good quarter of a century (as an art form, decorative bird carving is only about forty years old, unlike decoy carving).

 

Of course, no one carves a large bird in flight out of one piece. Waste aside, the grain orientation makes that impossible. But even for large raptors in full flight, each wing is now almost universally carved as a unit and then attached to the body.

 

Several of the very top guns do miniature carvings of astounding intricacy in which the bird and all its surroundings-- branches, fallen leaves, acorns and so on-- are all wrought from one piece of wood, with extremely deep undercutting.

 

The requisite anatomical accuracy makes metal inserts of some type unavoidable with certain species. You can't fashion the rictal bristles of a chuck will's widow out of wood and expect them to hold up. They're just too delicate.

 

Decorative bird carvings are by definition painted. There would be no point in using attractively grained or nicely colored wood. Its all either basswood or tupelo. The basswood guys tend to use edge tools for the most part. Basswood cuts well with edges but tends to fuzz up with bits and burs. The tupelo guys don't, because tupelo doesn't cut well with edges but responds wonderfully well to bits and burs. A major advantage of tupelo is the availability of large billets by comparsion to basswood. To do a lifesize eagle in basswood, even with the wings folded, you'd have to piece it up. Not in tupelo.

 

Power tools don't create anything all by themselves, anymore than hand tools do. A tool is a tool is a tool. It takes just as much skill to use one as the other, though the nature of the skill may be different. This is an old controversy and I'm sure it will continue to be discussed not only among people who carve or sculpt, but painters as well. It's now well known that Vermeer and many other old masters used the camera obscura and other optical devices, which would be anathema to many contemporary representational painters.

 

The best elucidation of this I've seen is a chapter in the late David Pye's "The Nature and Art of Workmanship." In a very mild sense, using a bit or bur to carve is actually closer to what he calls "the workmanship of risk" than using a gouge or chisel, because gouges and chisels are both self-jigging to some degree. A bit or bur is not.

 

Like I said, I consider myself a sculptor. But many people wouldn't cotton to that definition, not least because I paint or gild my stuff. They apparently are unaware that the original Greek marbles were all painted! The taste for unadorned marble is much younger. There is a fine discussion of a variation of this phenomenon, as it applies to Medieval versus modern taste in color, in Daniel V. Thompson's wonderful little book "Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting."

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Hi Musket - great link to the Dreher work. Wow! I'm impressed...

 

Me too. Whew, this guy is scary.

 

Interesting that in the article about his history, the terms for what he does are all a mishmosh-- at one point it's said he is a specialist in "engraving animal sculptures" and the works themselves are refered to as "engraved carvings." Perhaps that's a matter of translation?

 

I can certainly see Doug's point of view. But it seems the definition of "carving," either as an activity or an object, has gotten pretty vague. I think, in the case of decorative bird carving, it was really just a carry-over from decoys, which are often carved in the sense Doug means-- allmost 100% subtractive work done with knives and other edges, with minimal or even no use of power tools.

 

In your excellent e-book (thank you for that!), you make liberal use of pyrography in some of your pieces. I do in some of mine too, of course. There's really not much difference between the way you created that saw whet owl and the way I would do it. Even less so with a guy like Ernie Muehlmatt, who is well known for carving everything out of one piece-- no insertions except for eyes, no separate bird mounted on a separate branch or rock or whatever.

 

Ernie is also well known for doing groups of young birds out of one block. He did a group of seven young burrowing owls once. All one piece, as are several other groups of birds here (the image quality is pretty bad but you get the idea).

 

Muehlmatt Burrowing Owls

 

(Oops, just checked the link, it will only take you to his overall gallery page so just scroll down to the burrowing owls).

 

It's just a matter of scale and materials, and of course the lack of any need to suit the piece to the functional requirements of netsuke far as form goes.

 

Pyrography is taken for granted now as part and parcel of decorative bird carving (the term "decorative" simply means the piece has no function other than to sit there and look pretty, unlike a working decoy). It wasn't always so. The use of pyrography in bird carving was pioneered by the felicitously named Reverend Jack Drake, in the late 50s I think. He used a homemade rig based on a soldering iron. This set off a virtual revolution in the art form. Prior to that, feather detail was all painted, and there is still a category for "slicks" as they are called in bird carving competitions.

 

Was pyrography was ever used by netsuke-shi in Japan? Is burning a form of carving? Got me.

 

The techniques and tools may change, but the name remains the same.

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This morning's information is an educational opportunity! Thank you for introducing us to excellent work of the Drehers and Ernie Muehlmatt. Did anyone else take a look at the studio of Ernie Muehlmatt? You've got to like the guy for his choice for its location.

 

What excellent work to start the day with. Thank you!

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Thanks Musket, for widening my understanding of contemporary bird carving. I understand the limitations of grain in relation to what needs to be conveyed by a bird in flight, etc. For me, the material should be foremost- it's strengths, weaknesses, color and texture, even spirit should show through in the best of work.

 

I guess it comes down to a divergence in the artform. Decoy vs. decorative. What is it we want to accomplish? An extremely life-like reproduction of a living creature- if that is the case, then I can understand how any means necessary is used. Maybe the goal is to elevate wood or stone to a level showing its intrinsic beauty? Maybe it is about using edge tools and elbow grease....

 

Thanks for the link to the Muehlmatt works. The burrowing owls are impressive.

 

I read an article somewhere about a Korean artform using pyrography- they heat up iron rods with different profiles in a fire and then use them for 2-D works on wood, but I can't recall reading anything about Japanese using the method for netsuke.

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I got into it by a much more complicated route, but I think most bird carvers are motivated simply by a love of birds, and an artistic mindset that is very detail oriented. Usually what gets somebody into it is just going to a show and being blown away by the realism.

 

Oooo, it looks like real feathers!

 

I actually get somewhat upset when the first thing folks do when they see my stuff is say that. To me, the paramount thing is expression. That's what I love about netsuke, and for that matter about Dreher's work... the technique, fantastic as it may be, is subordinated to expression and animation.

 

This piece is way too large to qualify as a miniature, she's lifesize at about eleven inches long. But she illustrates what I mean. Doing all that burning and painting would have been a waste of time had I not managed to capture the glaring, almost insanely focused look that sharp-shinned hawks and all the other accipiters have. These are my favorite raptors. I know them very well indeed. The stretching of the neck is also typical of these guys-- everything about them is jumpy and jittery. They're hardwired to react instantly to any motion at all. They move before they even know it. A falling leaf is enough to trigger their attack reflex.

 

post-333-1161094028.jpg

 

For me this is the big kick, whether I'm doing a crazed accip, a droll pygmy kingfisher, or a dispassionate falcon. The details are just icing on the cake and I've been steadily minimizing them in my gilded pieces. Of course it's all anthropomorphization, but that's what separates bird carving from bird taxidermy.

 

Anyway I'm here to learn and I'm learning a lot, so if I can return the favor about bird carving I'm happy to be able to do so.

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You've done a beautiful job with the hawk! At a place of employment a few years back, one of the chores when there was little else to do was to clean carcasses of birds and small mammals that had been putrifying in jars for several years in a fridge. There were quite a few of the smaller raptors and owls and it was just amazing to hold the skull and sense the power in the eyes, beak and brain.

Sometimes I wish I had that bone collection available to me- you clean a shrew and wind up with 100+ bones, it makes for a good study of anatomy- when trying to figure out a carving's form.

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Some of the work I have seen on the referenced pages is literally jaw dropping. The detail and expressions on the faces of the animals make them come to life, like you can almost tell what they are thinking.

 

Somewhere, there are people with much bigger brains than I working out the meaning of words like carving and sculpting; grinding and cutting. Art to me is that the finished results have the desired effect of invoking an emotional response from the viewers. If I look at two wooden birds that invoke equal appreciation and awe in me, and then I find out that one of them was made by a blind person using just a sharpened nail; while the other one was made by a person using all kinds of tools; I can still enjoy the final results equally while respecting the effort of the person with limited resources.

 

Take care

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Beautiful Hawk Musket. It certainly conveys the intensity of the life energy present in a live bird. Rodin spoke of a sculptor he knew who only sculpted animals - his work was in Rodin's mind as profound as any human figurative work - Rodin understood it is all about energy transforming objects. Sculpture, Carvings, Art - - - just words.

I love this site! Thanks to all who contribute.

Magnus

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Thanks for the kind comments about Bela (as I call her for the red eyes, even if Lugosi was a guy and she's not), Doug and magnus.

 

Doug, are you familiar with Skulls Unlimited?

 

Skulls Unlimited

 

Magnus, I agree that it's just words, and with JCA425's contention that it's the final product that matters, but I also agree with some of Doug's points (contradiction is my middle name).

 

There are things I can get away with, since my stuff has an opaque covering regardless of what I use as a substrate, that carvers who work "au natural" cannot. If I screw up, I can graft a new piece of wood in, or even fill out the the messed up area with epoxy putty. I try to avoid this as much as possible but if push comes to shove I'll do it, rather than chuck the entire piece and start over. For all anybody knows, what's under the paint or gold leaf might not be wood at all unless some of the grain shows through (which it almost always does in less than perfect tupelo, which almost all tupelo is these days, and both paint and leaf are very thin).

 

Especially in larger carvings or sculptures or whatever you want to call them of birds and animals, very small differences in the turn or elevation of the head make a huge difference in attitude. Though I have never done so, many bird carvers do not hesitate to carve the head separately from the body and then glue it on (many duck carvers consider this par for the course).

 

It's personal brownie points not to have to resort to such tactics, but after all, it's painted (or gilded, in my case) and no one will know. So a whole bunch of constraints under which netsuke carvers must work are absent from the kind of work I do.

 

Of course, a bird carver who does not know how to get expression into a piece can graft or fill until doomsday and it still won't result in an effective portrayal, but in this sense I do consider netsuke carving, gem carving, or any other type in which the final effect depends in part on the surface qualities of the material itself, and in which you can't cover up mistakes or change things around at will, a "higher" art form than bird carving.

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Thanks Musket,

 

I must agree with you about carving in stone or raw wood or ivory, etc. - it has a different feeling about it as you work, knowing that any removal is final and any damage can end the process unfinished - it's pretty fascinating and does seem to add another dimension to fine art produced this way.

Magnus

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