Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Project 5: Asymptote of Affection

For this carving, I wanted to do something specifically for a friend.  I have a friend who is quite the mathematician and who would appreciate something to do with numbers, symbols, and theories moreso than an animal.

Gift-giving is perhaps more revealing than we think it might be.  There are always the comical yet slightly indicative gift-giving habits: those who give gifts to you as if you were them, the acquaintance-becoming-friend who doesn't quite know you well enough to give something appropriate and so buys something expensive, the relative who perhaps wishes you were more of this or more of that and so buys you something to facilitate your miraculous pending personality change, those who used to give you gifts but, due to separation or falling-away, do not any longer (for which they should not be blamed), those sweethearts who, piece by delicate piece, build castles and ramparts as gifts out of toothpicks and popsicle sticks; a castle in the sky.

I hope to have enough time to carve many or most of my gifts.  I wanted to carve a meaningful math symbol.  The infinity symbol came to mind quickly.  For some reason, it seems like infinity symbols would naturally be made of some metal: aluminum, steel, copper.  I really like the softness that the wood lends to the symbol and metaphorical implications that go along with it.  The hard, cold, math symbol of infinity mixed with the materials from a tree - a plant that often takes the role of an adored or longed-for permanence.

Carved, ready to be sanded.

After sanding.

This project was quite a bit of fun.  Carving the holes was particularly stimulating.  I used my curved detail knife - it worked very well.  I started with an appropriately small block of wood and so didn't have to shave off piece after piece to get down to the detailing.  Perhaps the most difficult part was getting the intersection of the curves to look natural.  I discovered a few things about how the eye works to put images together.  The curved bands look like they meet their partners on the other side of the intersection, but if one were to draw a line, I am confident that they would be fairly off.  I think that I perhaps also discovered this 15 years ago while reading the back of a box of Lucky Charms.

The carving took 5-6 hours.  It is about 2 3/4 inches long and is made out of Butternut, a cranky but multi-toned wood.

Monday, June 15, 2009


New shipment of basswood in today.  Such large blocks!  I am a bit intimidated by them...

Any suggestions for what I could make from these?  They're 3x3x6.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Project 4: Squid

During the revealing of my fourth carving, a good deal of the work was done at the lake.  What an appropriate place for carving!  The place demands that one is comfortable with his mind - there is simply nowhere to hide.

Typical lake sunset.

And so trips to the lake invariably focus on activity, games, and good conversation, which are all somehow hard to come by when not there.  The world is stripped of its extraneous parts, just as my carving is whittled down while sitting at the gazebo, near the waves.

Each visit, one is reminded (or informed for the first time) of what actually makes him happy; which activity or game he prefers and how he can fill his social interactions with vigor and magnanimity, as he must spend many, many more hours with those present.

Also, the lake is a place where woodchip cleanup is never necessary.

During the 4 hour car trip, I was frequently tempted to carve.  Though it took some cleanup, I'm glad that I did it, as it was great for passing the time.

Here is a photo of the preliminary shaping stages with prop assistance from the dashboard.

For this carving, I decided to make a squid.  I wanted to make another aquatic critter that was smooth - the sanded basswood is just too attractive for me to get away from.

The hardest part of the squid might appear to be his thin and delicate tentacle bundle, (which I anticipated being the hardest) but in fact it was getting his proportions right.  As one of my friends and I discussed, squid are "formless, shapeless blobs."  This lack of features made it difficult to navigate his revealing, just as it would be to make one's way using a map with few details, street names, etc.

After carving him and recarving him, he started to become quite miniscule, so much so that I decided to simply stop making him smaller, proportions be damned.  I ended up with a slightly chunky squid with a runty tail, but something that looked like a squid nonetheless.  

It was fun carving the details on his tentacle bundle.  It was a moment when I felt creative in his design.

Overall, I am happy with him.  He is made of basswood, is about 3 inches long, and took about 8 hours.  He is sanded - first with course sandpaper and then superfine paper.  He is about a 1:1.5 scale.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Project 3: Snakebit

For this project, I wanted to really challenge myself.  A snake seemed appropriate, being so small and breakable.  It started off a little rough.  I got quite frustrated while trying to get the shape right.  In my consternation, I cut myself big-time.  Don't worry - I'm fine, still carving, etc., though may have a little scar.  

I know it's pretty gory, and I debated putting this photo up, but decided that I must.  As I carve, I become more and more convinced of the importance of process - its intrinsic value and also its relationship to the grand scheme.  I'm not about to leave out the painful or sad part of the story.  It's important - Brave New World's "a gramme is better than a damn!" seems to me an apt criticism of the sterilization and sequestration of pain.  

And how interesting it is that the snake (that poor, accused creature) has so far caused my largest wound!  I love him anyway.

The knife that was involved with this scandal was my large, curve-edged knife: good for long, rounding cuts.  I found the knife invaluable for this project - cutting against the grain for the snake's twists, the curved blade made the strokes easier, allowing me to proceed faster and with more detail.  I think that it is also quite pretty.  It has a certain draw or elegance.  At the start of a project, it is always the knife that I want to reach for first, despite it not being the knife for preliminary cutting.  It is the only blade that I have to sharpen in portions (the curvature is enough so that one type of sharpening stroke will not cover it.)  

The beautiful culprit

After cleaning myself up, I decided to draw an outline for the general shape of the snake.  In this photo, you can see half of the drawn portion; the other half I have started to carve off.  It served as a nice guide, but I eventually found it to be a nuisance and wanted to follow my own model.  The progression follows in the next 3 photos:

Starting to remove the outline.

Pre-curvature snake (blocky.)

Post-curvature snake (rounded,) almost ready to be sanded.

By far the most difficult aspect of the snake turned out to be capturing his posture.  I kept finding myself thinking that he looked posed, rigid, or blocky.  He always needed more of this, more of that.  After quite a bit of thinking, attempting, and bungling, I think I finally achieved something that doesn't look too forced.  I was perhaps hoping for something with larger curves, but am mainly happy that I didn't break his tail, etc.  Here is the finished product:

It was also a challenge deciding exactly what texture I wanted on him.  I was used to a smooth surface, but decided that I wanted scales.  Here is a detail of what I came up with:

The snake is made of butternut - a darker, more splinter-y wood.  It is generally more fitful than basswood or tupelo, but has a lively color spectrum.  All together, he took me 7-8 hours.  His underside is sanded smooth and I modeled his head after a copperhead snake.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Project 2: Whale

For this carving, I wanted a smooth subject.  I recently added sandpaper to my arsenal ($8 total) and wanted to try it out.  

The sperm whale was intended to be my first project.  Elegant, simple, and smooth, he is prime for my sandy mood.  I'm also attached to whales in general - their great size, their woodwind mood, their alien calls.  They make us proud to call ourselves mammals.

He is about 5 inches long; 1:160 scale.  Real sperm whales can reach 67 feet.

He is made of basswood, coincidentally a white wood, he is not intended to be Moby Dick.  He seems a bit too calm for that unfortunate whale... maybe it's Moby before he met Ahab.  It was a fun challenge getting all of his proportions right - I'm still not sure everything is where it should be.  But oh well, you get the sense... I think.

Pre-Ahab Moby took about 7 hours.  Especially time-consuming was his tail.  The underside arc must be carved against the grain of the wood and therefore requires more force and awkward knife strokes.  I must say that I did not avoid cutting myself during this project, though it was minor.  Sanding took about an hour total: medium-grain and then superfine-grain.  

I am pleased with him.  The sanding made him extremely smooth.  Though the robed figure had a stimulating, jarring look, the whale perhaps looks like a more finished work because of his smoothness.  What do you think?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Starting Out

Welcome to The Sharpening Stone!  I have chosen this title because part of the mission of this blog is to sharpen, or refine, thoughts on carving (and revealing processes in general) and their ramifications.  If something in this blog rubs you to respond, please do, as I encourage comments.

There has been a grain of something in my mind for quite a while now - the urge to create something that takes up physical space.  Carving seems to be filling this niche, though I would say that it surely does more than that as I've always had an attraction to carving; its aesthetics, methods, metaphors.  Carving, ancient and rugged, seemed like an activity that Thoreau would constantly be doing - some outdoors-y, creative, meditative art.  My mind (without my permission) has applied this generalization to all carvings throughout history.  The Rosetta Stone, the Sphinx, the Pieta have all - as their forms were exposed - also revealed the Thoreau within the carver.  

Yet carving, like Thoreau, wants to get at some form.  Thoreau states that he went to the woods to get at life, to trap it in a corner (however mean it may be), to get down to the bottom of it.  And while someone carves, though they have something in mind for the final product, they are at some level simply revealing the figure waiting to be brought out of the wood.  

I wonder if Thoreau had something in mind, some pre-conceived notion, during his search for a common denominator of life?  I imagine that he would argue against that postulation.  I like to think not.  But that is perhaps because I am now a carver as well.

Wait... was he a carver? :)

And so, in accordance with this Everyman Thoreau within me, I will begin my odyssey with a list and the cost of the items.

Flexcut Carving Knives (4 set): $55
Woodcarving Guide Book: $18
Rasp and additional fine-grain attachment: $19
Medium and fine sharpening stones: $49
Finger and thumb guards: $4
Ace Hardware saw: $13
Sharpening strop: $24
Small basswood, butternut, and tupelo blocks: $2 each
Large basswood block: $23
Shipping for all items: $23

Total: $234

For my first project, I decided to attempt to replicate an item that I saw recently at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  It was a small robed figure of ancient Chinese origin, standing about 3 inches tall.  I picked up a tupelo block, sawed off a segment, and began carving.  I promptly cut myself.

The carving took about 5 hours total.  I decided to leave him rough (with the chip-marks still showing) because I thought it befit the clothing.  Here is the final product.

He came out a little more dark/gothic than I had intended, but still achieved some sort of balance and character.  Had I the right tools, I might have hollowed out the inside of his cowl.  This may be a model that I return to when I'm a bit better and have more physical and mental tools.