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Introduction from California


GaryR

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Hello everyone. My name is Gary Robinson. I have been drawn to working with wood for a long time. Thanks to my discovery of this forum, I have taken inspiration and applied what I have learned from the writings in this forum to wood carving smaller pieces. I am attaching some photos of my octopus carving I completed last September. For me, this was my most ambitious project. I started with a piece of toyon wood, which is a native shrub of the chapparral of coastal California. My piece came from some landscape pruning. I worked from a sketch, but since it was of only one side, I soon found myself completely lost in this piece, especially when I tried to get to the underside. I had to shelve the project several times just to give me and the piece a rest.

 

Thanks to this forum, I tried the ukibori technique to get the raised bumps. That was a real thrill when it worked. Another thing that I tried was bleaching parts of the carving to lighten the wood in the area of the barnacles, or the eroded pecten shell or the clam. After some experimentation and my wife's wonderful suggestion, we tried two part peroxide hair bleach and painted that on the areas to lighten and then washed the bleach away.

 

The eyes are made of a sandwich of buffalo horn and tagua nut, filed to shape and glued in place.

 

My education in marine biology helped me decide how I wanted this to look, but I have to admit, that my octopus came out with one less arm than it should have. If anyone that holds the piece tells me of this flaw, I just say a moray eel bit it off.

 

Besides these carvings, I usually make wooden spoons. I collect more wood from garden projects or blown over trees than I have time to fashion into something. For me, the pleasure is just the doing and creating something in wood. Not everything turns out well in the end, sometimes, yes, and I simply enjoy the creative process.

 

I am looking forward to whatever contribution I can make to TCP members and I hope to share some photos of my other carvings, spoons included, in the future.

 

While I have the opportunity here, I wanted to comment that Ron Scupham's squid carving in cow bone was equisite. The choice of material and the fluid motion of the tentacles made me feel as if it were pulled wriggling from the net.

 

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Hello Gary, and welcome to the forum!

 

You have made a challenging piece with this octopus. I am enjoying looking at it. The way you have added color to it is pleasing, with the shading from lighter to darker. What did you decide to use for the coloration? Is the color a result of using the bleach? Did you make tests of the ukibori before committing the octopus to it? What is the size of this piece? Always questions!

 

Janel

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Thanks for the welcome Don and Janel.

 

In response to your questions I have added some additional photos that may help to explain how the coloration of the octopus carving, which I called Tidepool Toreador for the way the octopus was using the pecten shell as a foil, was completely accidentally achieved, with the exception of areas that I applied the bleach directly to. I hope members will not mind my adding more pictures of this piece.

 

First, toyon wood has a subtle banding pattern between spring and winter wood I imagine, that you can see when you look directly down on the top of the carving. From this view you will see it is half of a branch about 10 cm in diameter. The blotchy area on the octopus body just happened because the wood had this dark stained area, which I think comes from the reaction of the live wood to water that seeps into it from a decayed branch pocket where the water collects and "ages". I think the darker areas above the eyes are from being near the oxidized cut ends of the branch, or could be just the oils from my hand as I held the piece during carving. I worked on this piece over 4 months, so it had plenty of time acquire a patina from my handling it. So in short, I can't take credit for the shading, it just happened, which is one of the reasons I like working in wood.

 

In order to control the bleaching to a specific area, I first applied melted beeswax to areas I did not want to bleach and then later scraped it away after rinsing. I was a bit messy on this and did not control the bleed over as much as I would like in retrospect.

 

The final finish was walnut oil sanded in with fine wet/dray sandpaper and later an application of carnuba wax after the excess oil was toweled off and allowed to dry for a few days.

 

I did try the ukibori technique on a scrap of toyon to see if it would work. I think I need a great deal more practice. The bumps around the octopus are a bit too regular in distribution, and grade to a more reticulated pattern lower down as I got more secure in handling the tool (a rounded nail head stuck into wooden palm sized handle).post-2813-1298149035.jpgpost-2813-1298149047.jpgpost-2813-1298149055.jpgpost-2813-1298149072.jpg

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Hi Gary,

 

Thank you so much for the additional photos! (They could actually be bigger in pixel dimensions.) I am intrigued by this toyon wood, how it seems to color itself in such a warm color. Is it dense or hard? Have you tried boxwood? I am wondering how it compares to hardness to other woods.

 

For a different sort of resist instead of wax, try some tests with clear nail polish or nail lacquer. It might scrape off more easily, and I think more completely, than the wax application. Tests of both side by side would be an interesting experiment.

 

Seeing Tidepool Toreador in your hand gives the whole piece more dimensionality, and helps with an understanding of scale.

 

What is next for you?

 

Janel

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Thanks Janel for suggesting the use of nail polish as a resist for the next time I try bleaching wood.

 

I want to try an answer your question about how toyon wood compares to boxwood. I have never held or seen a raw piece of boxwood, so I really don't have any experience on which to compare it to toyon. But I did look up specific gravity for various US trees and shrubs and found a number of 0.935 for toyon wood. I googled specific gravity for boxwood and found numbers of 0.95 to 1.1. So I would guess that toyon is somewhat softer, but, frankly, I was surprised that it was not too different. The wood is a pleasure to work with. It scrapes very well and has these odd little darker spots and rays that run through it. It is a very strong wood. The native Chumash indians that live on the west coast formerly used toyon to fashion a number of tools including digging sticks.

 

Toyon is known as California Holly for the bright red berries that appear around Christmas time. It is a very important food plant for many kinds of birds. As such, it is actually protected and there are laws against harvesting the berries from the wild. It is also extensively used in landscaping. All of the toyon wood that I have collected comes from branches that have been cut by the gardener where I work. In shaded situations toyon bushes get kind of lanky and reach for the sun. Large shrubs may reach a diameter of about 10 or 14 inches at the trunk.

 

So to end, if toyon behaves similarly to boxwood, I can just imagine what an experienced and artistic wood carver could do with it. Therefore, if you are interested in receiving a piece I would be more than happy to send you a nice sample.

 

My next project is to complete a spoon that has been on the back shelf for a few months. I will post images to the new work section soon. I find the problem with making spoons is that I give them away just as fast as I complete them. Nevertheless, I have managed to hang on to a few which I will show to others at this forum.

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Hmmm, you make an interesting offer, I am always curious about what different woods are like. Lets email about it.

 

The wood characteristics sound very interesting, and it is good to know about the specific gravity of the wood is somewhat similar to boxwood. Thank you for the description.

 

Janel

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