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What's on your bench as we head towards summer?


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Hi all,


What do you have in progress on your carving benches today? Photos are fun to see, at any stage of the carving, and how you use your space as you work is always interesting to me. Time for show and tell as we head into summer.


I am working on a small kagami buta, or nearly that. A kagami buta is a mirror-lidded bowl netsuke, but the lid is not made of metal. It is a small bowl made of pernambuco (rather dark orange) wood with a lid of mammoth tusk. I am carving in relief, a theme that I used long ago when carving porcelain. A small peeper (tree frog) on a grass stem. Presently, I am skritching away, revealing the negative relief background stem and refining the frog. This is fun to do it in the tusk instead of porcelain. The clay was easier to carve, but the tusk is beautiful all the time I am working on it. Nice material! The lid is just 1 1/8 inches in diameter. Both pieces were turned on the lathe back in the winter, and have waited until now to be worked on.







The pernambuco bowl is in the upper left corner of this photo.



What are you working on?



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I've two pieces: one a tagua netsuke of a wasp's nest on a tree that's going very slowly; the other a piece of checked boxwood that fell off a log I was sawing, reminded me of Benin bronzes and is intriguing for its polishing and inlay possibilities. As the wood's further checked, though, it'll remain a practice piece. For the rest, I've been alternating with some kumihimo and friends have requested some for jewellery; I'd been wanting to keep it going just for netsuke, but there you go!


I'll submit some photos when I've time to take them.

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Tom, that is most impressive. Your father will be very proud of that I am sure.


As for my workbench -- I still can't find it - the spring cleaning hasn't happened yet.

But then I do not work in miniature, perhaps if I did the past winters debris would not be as bad.


I love the little fish that is done.


The frog looks terrific. It appears so tiny.


Janel -- please forgive my noseyness -- but is that a time counter on your bench ? And if so -- do you accurately record your time on each of your projects?

For that matter -- does evryone accurately record time ?

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Hi Woodworm,


Time counter? Yup. It helps me zone in on a price. Some pieces from earlier years have taken up to two months to carve, not every day or even all day, but the time mounts up. This way I know if the work was 200+ hours or 75 or 30. Quite a range of time between pieces, so having knowledge about it is helpful. I do try to make a living with this, being self-employed.


There are as many ways of coming up with a price as there are people. Some will not count the time and just use a price that folks are willing to pay. Perhaps if I made a hundred or more pieces a year, that might work for me, but I am lucky to make under 15 a year on really good years, so each piece must earn my living for me. Very unpleasant subject, pricing, but necessary.




PS I write the time into a little notebook kept in one of the drawers to the right. I have created a decimal equivalent for the minutes, which makes it easier to sum up. I round to the nearest ._5 for sake of ease for adding. I also draw a line under the end of the day's time amount, in case I have worked and recorded the number and then later returned for another session. This is just extra info, letting me know how many days I actually worked on the pieces.


05 - .08

10 - .16

15 - .25

20 - .33

25 - .42

30 - .50

35 - .58

40 - .67

45 - .75

50 - .83

55 - .92

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Hi Janel!

Your frog is very fine and wonderful! I like it very much! Especially I'm so glad that You've found time for your works! ;) My congratulations!

Thank You for your rose! I'll boast in some days! :)

My best wishes to You all!

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Lovely piece, Janel!


I saw a piece of this wood at our local exotic wood sore last week, and was tempted to buy, but turned my nose up at it, only because I was there fore something else. I will have to go back now, I think.


I am working on 4 panel carvings, in white oak, which depict the emblems of the Canadian Army, Navy, Air Force, and the emblem of the Canadian Forces. Sorry, can't post any photos until they are finished and installed. Still busy tool-making, tool refurbishing, and studio reorganization at home. I did build myself a new bench for doing small work, though. I'll post a photo, once it is cleared off.



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Hello Janel and my fellow carvers.


I have just had an extremely successful few days and would like to share the experience with you. The very first carving I ever made was a small Hei Matau (fish hook pendant). I wanted to make it like a functional hook, as the tradition came from the successful Maori fishermen who would wear their prized hooks when not employing them. Since that first carving I have made several hooks, with Myhre's book, and greater patience, my results became worthy gifts for my loved ones. My friend Bones gave me some whale bone to work with, as my skill increased, and I took great care to make a piece worthy of such a valuable material (I posted a picture of the triple koru I made for my wife in the Carver Canuck thread). Since then I have made many more friends around the islands and met another Maori bone carver named Ben. Ben and I met a few times as I frequented his shop for inspiration and advice talking carving for hours. I mentioned my interest in sourcing whale bone to make a hook for my father and he said I might be in luck as he had a fairly reliable source, who would often commission work and provide material. A week later Ben had wrangled me a beautiful piece of whale jaw bone, I couldn't believe my luck.


This was definitely not a piece I was going to take lightly or rush into. I understand and appreciate the belief surrounding the source of whale bone, having washed ashore being a gift, or being whaled having been tainted. Not knowing the ultimate circumstance of the whale's demise, I decided that I would sleep with the piece of bone under my pillow, and not touch it until I had a vision of what I was to reveal from within it, a carving worthy of a whale's spirit. Weeks went by and ideas began to flow but nothing really stuck out, until I traced the bone on paper to see how I might conserve bone and make multiple pieces. As I held the bone in one hand and looked at the shape on the paper I began to draw a stylized hook that became a Mania. It was perfect, exactly what I was waiting for. The design also left lots of bone for another carving, then lightening struck twice. I had planned one hook for my father, for him to wear and gather his Mana, to become a family heirloom. But if I made two, I could also give one to my brother, who after a year would trade hooks with my father and then each of us would be left with a whale bone hook our father wore, sweet.




Then the most unexpected thing happened as I began to carve the hooks. As well as a few small pieces I used for making toggles, there was a third piece large enough for another carving, brilliant! But how to use this third irregular shape, surprisingly it came to me straight away as I saw the profile of a Tiki face in it. As it took shape there were other images incorporated into it (there are a few, what can you see?). The left over piece, the shape I didn't intend, became the greatest piece of all, this piece was for me, and it was most certainly a gift. I leave New Zealand in 5 days after a most incredible year, I could not have imagined a more suitable memento.


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Great stuff Steve.


Interesting method for deciding your carving design – I like it. Nice to see you making the most of such a wonderful medium.


Good luck, brother.


Is your reliable source of whalebone in NZ or Canada?


I always enjoy reading your posts and actually feed of your enthusiasm. Keep it up.



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Steve, Your work and guidance story shares with us your excitement with what you are doing. It is fun to watch and read about it. I think that you are "hooked" with carving! The whale bone hooks are lovely and the lashing is done so well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.


I have enjoyed getting back to carving and working in the studio for hours on end. I had a while where I was not even home for weeks at a time, and missed this sort of connection to my time at the bench. These days, I am trying to blend some turning with carving, and aiming for the netsuke convention later next week. Here is a quick snap of the one finished today. This is from a beautiful piece of boxwood, from Pennsylvania, I believe. Hard, dense, well colored and beautiful endgrain. Carving on the end grain was different for me, and presented some challenges, but I persevered. One goal is to be able to do simpler netsuke designs, so that I will have one or two pieces at least for the carver's night when we show our work as a group to the collectors as a group. (It really is disappointing to go with photographs only. ) So here is the little piece, about 1 1/4 inches or 3.5 cm. (I forgot to measure it yet)




The mammoth tusk plug in the center is the means for cord attachment. The inside end has a hole through it, and a doubled cord exits the back of the manju netsuke through a single hole in the back. I used Renaissance Wax only, and hope that it will have been the correct choice. How to finish, and what to use still perplexes me.


I turned a piece of pernambuco this afternoon, you can see the dark orange wood in the background, for a persimmon shaped manju netsuke. The plug again is of mammoth tusk. It is fun to be working and carving!



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  • 6 months later...

Thank you Nelson and Mike,


The darker leaf technique is related to the way I carved porcelain imagery with foreground, middle ground and background, or multiple layers that resulted in a sense of depth when the celadon, or blue, glaze flowed into the deeper parts of the carved surface, making the raised areas lighter and the lower areas darker. For example:




This is not exactly the same as the tree frog and grass, but the fish is below the water's rippling surface. You can see the lighter and darker areas of the pale blue glaze, having flowed away from the raised areas to pool in the deeper areas. The glaze was applied by dipping so was an even coating to begin with. Porcelain carved while damp is much easier to carve than what I am using these days for carving.




PS. Sorry that the image is so small, I am at home and the upload hardly works for images of any file size with the soda straw internet connection.

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  • 3 years later...

PRICE... Janel, for me and for selling, time is irrelevant... talent and artistry sets the price. Just because someone spends a lot of time on a piece it does not mean one gets more $$ or that it is stunning...


I just sold a piece I spent half the time than on other pieces and it was not my favorite. I buy art only if I like it, whether it took 2h or 200h.


What i find infuriating, is that in the case of netsuke, dead carvers get huge $$!! Contemporary carvers do exquisite work and THEY DONT GET PAYED any thing close to what they deserve!! It is a shame that buyers dont remunerate genius artists commensurate to their awe inspiring creations! It is also humiliating for such artists to have to negotiate, something they dont do very well and buyers take advantage...

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Going into summer, I'm looking forward to work with Fire Agate. Getting to the stage now, where (while not proficient), chasing colors is getting boring and I'm looking forward to integrate colors while utilizing the chalcedony to convey an overall meaning.


Janell you continue to inspire with your designs and beautyful executions. I adore the way you combine relif with intaglio carving. Thats something I got to learn and practice and will be on my resolution list for next year. Same for the gift of simplicity. Your boxes and usually Jims work, overwhelm with simplicity, creating perfect harmony between subject and material. Thats something where I see myself aspiring too in the future, once I got the basics of carving down.


Tom: I'm not into knives or any form of weapons of any kind for that matter, but your knive is fantastic. Wonderful creation. Your father must have been very happy receiving such a work of art.

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eggs, emu and duck, some drift wood some river rocks, OH HEY LOOKIE THERE! I thought i lost this!! emeralds a few more lose gems all in this cute little box...oh and some sea shells...plant food? so all in all on my bench is alittle bit of this and a little bit of that and of course most if not all of my tools.

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