Feeding Frenzy

Monday 9 July 2018

A rampaging horde of king salmon boil up out of the sea grass off Waadah Island at Neah Bay. They chase terror-stricken herring that ball up in a tight protective wad. Overshooting, they encounter a school of mackerel which streak to the surface of the waves and fly out thinking they're free at last, only to fall back into the waiting maw below… salmon have lunch.

The story comes out of my childhood memories of fishing salmon on Puget Sound. All art starts with an idea, not a piece of wood or a technique. Design and drawing follow, then the craftsmanship, painting, and detailing resulting in the final physical accomplishment. The manual labour and the design process are subservient to that initial idea. Turning techniques, painting, carving are but slaves. Allegory is paramount in my favourite works. The idea foretells the story and if you can transmit it all in 20 visual seconds, you've accomplished the main goal. If additionally it is attractive, warm, loving, exciting, or in other ways evocative of an emotion desired, you may have a winner.This work is 229 x 1,320mm. I decided to use a lathe-turned totem shape that would lend itself to the spiraling cascade of figures that I hoped would show a turbulent, swirling motion. I used plenty of 'windows' – pierced hollows to support the sense of depth and scale one would see in the clear empty spaces of ocean. The 'totem' rotates freely on a central shaft in the grassy base. The scene is carved in 360° so that one may rotate it for a completely different, fresh view.

I used paper birch (Betula papyrufera), fully lathe-turned and hollowed in tenoned sections, then re-glued, then carved. For strength, wall thickness was maintained at 6mm. Drawings were done on graph paper and then freehanded onto the birch body. Outlines were pyrographed and undercut for bas-relief. The Foredom and Micro-pro handpieces were used with carbide and diamond burrs supplemented with hand tooling. Sanding was done mostly with a 25mm disc on a 10mm 90° variable speed cheepo drill. After final sanding to 220, fish and waves were painted with airbrush and brushed acrylics. A sealer of shellac and then several coats of sprayed lacquer left a satin coat with just a little lustre buffed lightly.