Flotsam and Jetsam

Monday 9 July 2018

I have always been impressed by the regular yet varied, ridges in the sand left by the retreating tide. Looking at this pattern one day, I was struck by the way in which pebbles were embedded, sometimes with a water-scoured channel around them. Other, lighter objects just rested on the surface. As the sinking sun highlighted the patterns, I took a few snaps for future reference.

I envisaged this carving as a way of depicting the sand patterns that so intrigued me, adding a few small items to focus interest and give context. Incorporating a starfish as the flotsam and a pebble as the embedded jetsam seemed the right way to go, then I realised it would make an excellent piece on which to practice creating the illusion of embedded and resting objects. In this case, the pebble has a channel around it that emphasises the effect. It must be remembered that often a 'buried' object simply meets the surface without any such channel. It pays to look carefully at such things before picking up tools and starting.

It is how we carve the edges where objects meet, that 'tells' the viewer whether one object rests upon another, or is embedded in it. Of course, it's a trick based on the brain's tendency to fill in what it cannot see, but nevertheless it convinces if done carefully. Having carved the pebble, the illusion simply does not work for me, but several non-carving friends have asked if it is a separate piece of wood, so I guess that's good enough.

Pick and mix

Before you start, decide whether you really like the objects I have chosen to depict. If you prefer seaweed go for what excites you! If you can't get to the seashore, there are plenty of excellent guidebooks that will provide you with a range of illustrations.

Transferring the cetre

There is no point in drawing the whole design onto the board. Everything but starfish and pebble will be lowered, so initially all we need is an outline on which to saw to, and the edges of the starfish and pebble.

Only when the sand has been lowered is it time to draw on the position of the troughs between the sand bars. I transferred the lines by taking a copy of the drawing, and first cutting out the pebble and starfish with a scalpel. Once the back of the lines on the drawing have been blackened with a soft pencil, the drawing can be dropped over the carving and the lines drawn over with a hard point, then strengthened with a ballpoint pen.


Once you are happy with the shape and all the carving is completed, sand the whole of the surface except the starfish with abrasive; 120grit, then 180 and finally 240 should do it. Try to avoid the step edges altogether; they must not be rounded.

Now you have to make a decision. I decided to leave everything except the pebble as bare wood, as I wanted it to look like sand, with an obviously different pebble. You may want a more 'sculpturesque' finish, in which case sand more finely (I didn't want to lose the matte surface) and sanding seal and wax. If you do this you could texture the pebble with a nail point for contrast. Or perhaps you would prefer to seal everything, tint the starfish and pebble and then apply wax. I carefully sealed just the pebble, then waxed and polished it.