How to Carve a Leaping Trout

Monday 9 July 2018

In designing this carving, I was trying to capture some of the excitement and surprise felt by a fly fisherman when a trout being 'played' suddenly appears from the depths in an explosion of spray.

I didn't feel that I could suggest the chaotic detail of the water or its sparkle with an opaque medium like wood, so decided to create the splash with a two-part clear resin.

I also wanted to suggest that the splash was taking place within a large expanse of water; instead of trying to carve this, I leave it to the imagination of the viewer by concentrating all their attention on the fish and the splash.

Another aim was to suggest that the fish was emerging from deep water by lifting the carving from the surface on which it sits.

The brown trout was carved from jelutong (Dyer costulata) approx 200 x 750 x 750mm, with separate fins attached by small mortise and tenon joints glued into place. Colourless, clear glass taxidermy fish eyes were used, coloured on their rear surfaces with metallic gold enamel paint.

I used a combination of knives and rotary power tools, sanding with 400 grit sandpaper prior to securing the fins, with a smear of 5-minute epoxy adhesive. All the wood was then coated with a lacquer based sanding sealer.

Creating the scales

For a fish such as a roach or perch, I would carve or impress the scale pattern on the surface but as the scales are subtler on the trout, I opted to use the 'veil method'. The most difficult part of the process for me was to buck up enough courage to go into a bridal wear shop and ask for 2m of wedding veil!

The method is straightforward: the area to be scaled is painted with black acrylic gesso and a rectangle of veil stretched very tightly over it, then airbrushing white paint through it.

When the veil is removed, a white surface covered with a regular black pattern of scales is produced. After applying the various coloured washes, the spots were painted on and the rear edge of each scale tipped with a tiny blob of Liberon gilt cream suspended in white spirit. A couple of coats of a water-based polyurethane gloss varnish completed the job.

Creating the splash

To create the splash, two-part resin was used. To begin with, I separated small batches of the mixture (approx 50ml each), stirring each one until it had the consistency of syrup. Each batch was carefully poured onto a large sheet of clean, heavy-duty polythene in comma shaped blobs about the size of an egg.

A piece of plywood, like a lollipop stick, was used to drag out the edges of each blob into an irregular shape, effectively tapering its edges. In the early stages, the resin would flow back to regain its shape but, as it set, the tapered shape remained for longer, until the resin became too viscous to work easily.

At this point, the 'splashlets' were covered with an upturned cardboard box to keep out dust, and left overnight to set. When set, these leaf like splashlets were carefully peeled off the polythene and stored in a box.

The side splashes (the ones like spouts) were made on a framework of nylon fishing line of about 10lb breaking strain. A length of about 150mm was looped at one end and knots tied along it, together with further short lengths of knotted nylon to produce a branched twig shape.

Holding the loop, the nylon was dipped in successive batches of setting resin, hanging it via the loop to harden between dippings.

The splash was created by gluing the 'splashlets' concentrically around the fish with plastic cement or colourless hot melt glue, like seeds around a pinecone. The side splashes were then stuck on and another mix of resin carefully poured on to fill any gaps.

One of my home tied flies and a short length of nylon completed the composition.

Creating the support

The base was formed from a rectangle of MDF. This was painted black to suggest, when viewed from above, the darkness of deep water. The height of the surface of the water was fixed with a pillar 80mm long of 20mm diameter, colourless acrylic rod, which was sunk into a hole drilled in the MDF.

The support for the splash area was made from a sheet of 1mm clear polystyrene cut into an irregular shape; the template for this was cut from cardboard and traced onto the polystyrene with marking pen. To reduce edge damage during bandsawing, PVC tape was stuck to the back surface of the marked area before cutting.

After smoothing the sawn edge with a rotary burr, a hole was drilled through the sheet and it was fixed to the top of the acrylic rod via a dowel of stainless steel rod (5mm dia). The other end of the dowel was then glued into a hole in the base of the carved trout.