Monday 9 July 2018
When you have a good idea for a carving it should never go to waste. This dove started life as a little sketch made when my partner, Sue, and I were brainstorming to find a design suitable for a Christmas tree decoration. This one involved too much detail for 'serial production', but I liked the idea. Having languished in a sketchbook for a decade it re-emerged when I needed a simple beginners' project that could be made starting from an easily-available blank.
Many beginners find the initial, bulk removal of wood to be hard, unrewarding work, particularly if there aren't any power tools available to lighten the load. I tried to bear this in mind when designing the dove.
Before you start
Look at my finished carving carefully – it is just my interpretation. If there are bits of it that don't work for you, decide now and modify the design. Draw it out again and change it if necessary until you are happy with the result. Until recently this is mostly how art has developed; it is still a valid process and one that I believe will keep your carving fresh and keep art moving on.
Transferring the design
Having chosen a suitable blank and scaled the design up or down, guidelines can be transferred to the wood in various ways. In this case I used carbon paper, then strengthened the lines with ballpoint pen. I often re-size designs on the computer and then simply stick a printout to the wood with contact adhesive or PVA glue.
Before carving can commence you need to remove the two piercings and cut the outline to shape. I used an electric scrollsaw, but it can be perfectly well tackled by hand with a coping saw or hand fretsaw. I always shade the parts to be removed; it is all too easy to follow the wrong line when concentrating on cutting! For similar reasons I often mark in felt pen the side of the lines to be lowered when setting in. If you spend five minutes marking at this stage, it can save a lot of heartache later.
Securing the piece for carving should present few problems. I clamped it in the dogs of a Workmate, but you will probably prefer something higher, and wedges would be as good as dogs. Alternatively you could grip it with a G-clamp or holdfast, moving it around as you work on different areas. Another solution is to screw or glue a stout block to the back and clamp this somehow at a convenient height.
This offers security and easy access to the whole of the front, however you will have poor access to the back of the carving and will have to remove the fixing later.
Equipment and personal preference will influence your decision. I have come to realise that my initial efforts at carving were hampered by 'workpiece mobility' and have noticed that many beginners suffer a similar complaint.
Once the whole piece was cleaned up with gouge and knife I sanded the chest, neck, head with 180grit until even, then down the grades to worn 300grit. The feathers and leaves, which were pretty smooth anyway, were left with their faint tool facets, receiving, along with the leaves, just a once over with the worn 300grit. Although I took care not to round the arises off I still needed to 'refresh' some edges with my knife.
To tint or not to tint?
This is a matter of personal preference. If you decide to tint the olive twig you can use wood stain, artists oil paint or permanent ink as I did. I find it best to sanding seal first, then rub down lightly, before applying the colour. This seems to give a more even colour and prevent colour bleeding along the grain. I then apply a thinned coat of sanding sealer before rubbing down again very lightly and waxing with the rest of the carving. Whatever method you use, above all else, try it out on a scrap of the same wood to make sure you are going to get the effect and colour you want.
Apart from the redesign of the head there are several ways in which I would approach a repeat of this design in a different way.
Having not modelled the design in 3D beforehand I was necessarily feeling my way as to how the feathers should be stacked, removing a little depth at a time to see what would look right. Having found what I consider to be a satisfactory solution I would, if I were to repeat the exercise, very likely remove a good deal of depth over the whole wing area, then redraw the design on the lowered 'plateau'. If you feel confident you may want to take this approach. 'Feeling your way' can, however, have its own benefits, and it will commit you less to my solution.