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This blog features the current woodcraft, Art and Graphic work of David Stanley.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Horse Pyrography Underway – A Small High relief Carving Begun and A Simpler Welsh Lovespoon Design

This pyrography piece is well underway now. It is from a photo I took around this time last year in Petra ( Jordan ).
Once the details have been completed I intend to add a very dark background on most of the right hand side and up from the bottom edge about five eighths of the way. I always find it a bit of a challenge to achieve an even tone in large dark areas with out adding unwanted texture, engraving itself into the timber surface. It is this engraved line effect however that makes pyrography such a suitable medium for the portrayal of animal fur and feathers.

I have returned to using hoop pine again for this piece partly because it is readily available here and it has no open grain that would lead to more than just a little bit of extra work to render those expansive dark areas that I intend to add. Much of the pyrography work that I have done so far has been reliant on the building of tones and textures with short layered strokes with a modified fine writing point and 'brushed' on passages with a shading tip in the larger darker areas. This technique works well enough for fairly realistic renderings and the portrayal of detail in fantasy pictures but I am thinking of using just line, or mostly line, together with water colour or gouache for some pieces more decorative in style and possibly more enduring from an archival point of view.

Most of my pyrography work has been for entry in competitions that I am eager to support as there is generally little participation in wood crafts in my country unfortunately. This leads to doing work that displays as great a range of tonal and line marks on the timber as best represents a thorough going application of the craft being represented rather than what makes a pleasing picture or decorative object.

It has been interesting in this piece attempting to represent the texture in the woven bands around the horse's muzzle without trying to replicate the patterned texture of the woven bands exactly. There are two reasons for not trying to represent the pattern exactly but instead trying for the 'appearance' of detail through a more achievable method. I've used an 'impressionistic' layering of short engraved lines dots and hatchings to arrive at what might, I hope, sort of appear as if it where accurately drawn.
The first reason for not attempting an exact representation is .., I simply couldn't be bothered, even if I had the skill and concentration to do it. The second reason is that the real texture that I am after here is a combination of the mathematically precise pattern of the weaving being bent around the hardware in slow and fast curves and all the while being made up of fibres pulled and abraded according to the 'fuzzy logic' of the passage of time. These contradictory attributes of the "threadbare-precise' or the 'unravelling-intricate' are a fascinating challenge to render convincingly and I'm not sure If I succeeded or not.

Perhaps much of the success of a realistic drawing depends upon having a 'good audience' like a stand-up comedian wishes for. The audience has to allow themselves to be tricked (willingly) into seeing detail that really isn't there, just looks as if it is. A drawing of an intricate subject needs to look as if it is intricate rather than actually being intricate.

The longer strands of hair in the horses mane are going to pose similar problems as it's the forms of, whole locks of hair, that I want to show the modelling of, in the strong light from the left. The locks will need to have their own substantial presence while still appearing to be composed of thousands of individual hairs, some light against dark and some composing the shadowed recesses of the locks, all the while flowing in slow and sinuous curves across the short hair on the forehead and neck.

I am getting this pyrography piece ready for the Sydney, Timber and Working with Wood Show in June and had hoped to include an entry this year in the carving section.

Pierced Relief Carving Of a Small Dragon

The Carving is a high relief pierced carving on a small panel of mahogany. The subject is a dragon again as will be the theme on my next love spoon. It's not that I'm obsessed with dragons as a subject but they just seem to have cropped up in my work lately. I do enjoy doing dragons though, mainly because in drawing them you are left completely free from any discipline like getting proportions, details and aspects of anatomy correct. They just have to look good and you can add any detail you think would look interesting.

I've just finished illustrating a children's book featuring marine animals and although the animals were a bit stylised I still had to take care to get things right more or less. Way back when I was a biological illustrator I worked with the absolute requirement to get these things right. So as much as I enjoy accuracy, fantasy allows the enjoyment of just getting things to look interesting, without the shear hard work of showing the interesting aspects of the real, truthfully.

The dragon that I'm hoping to carve in this small panel is meant to be in a sort of 'sinuous-gothic' style with the curves in the composition continually interrupted by little brakes and pointed intrusions and extrusions.

Line in a sense will be an important aspect of this carving.

I have always enjoyed the line work in the exquisite penmanship displayed by Arthur Rackham's illustrations and they do seem to blend an 'art nouveau' style with a gothic flavour. I also love the shapes that William Heath Robinson produced in his work, shapes enclosed by a careful and deliberate but clever line that insinuates solidity inside the shape it encloses. It is the ragged energy of Arthur Rackham's illustrations that I want bring into this carving however.

The design has been Attached to the Mahogany blank and I have pierced out the openings on the scroll saw. My original intention was to carve a relief that could be viewed from both sides but to have any chance of finishing it by june I decided to carve from just one side. This is going to create its own problems to solve I'm sure. I'm just about as sure I'm just kidding myself I can finish it by June while giving priority to the above pyrography, but I can only try.

The dragon in this carving is represented about 'life-size' hiding in the foliage of a generic sort of bush about a mile from a medieval castle, as late Victorians would have imagined it. You see I don't take my dragons all that seriously.

Having cut out all the openings on the scroll saw and launched into the carving I can see that there will be a lot of re-drawing of what in the final analysis is really a three dimension illustration rendered in or into a single piece of timber. Where exactly every thing is to be located in that third dimension is going to be a puzzle and I'm thinking at this stage that the carving is going to require fine finishing. Achieving a fine finish might be difficult way inside the carving but I might be able to resort to removal and re-attachment of some elements of the work if it doesn't permanently interfere with the integrity of the piece or make it vulnerable to fragility.

Re-attachment of parts or even using separate pieces isn't something I've tried before in a carving as opposed to a model and of course in the carving of a love spoon it would be a total betrayal of the very essence of what a lovespoon is, by breaking the one defining rule apart from actually being a spoon.

Nevertheless this relief carving isn't a lovespoon. If I manage to finish this relief carving well, I can tell that it won't quite be the same to me as the carver, as carving a lovespoon. It would be pleasant and interesting enough work, together with its own daunting difficulties along the way..,
someone will end up with it and I hope they gain pleasure in having it but somehow lovespoon carving is more a work of service, the recipient is more in view, even if they are as yet unknown.

I can't give a logical account of why this may be the case with the carving of lovespoons it just seems that way.

Its only a practical, logistic consideration but having to construct a clamping board to hold this relief carving reminds me of how much I prefer being able to hold the work in my hand most of the time as I work. Tools are used differently in different types of carving I'm also finding that though I use small chisels and gouges extensively in the carving of lovespoons, I am in fact using them as if they were each, a special kind of knife.

There are ways of using knives in miniature carving such as lovespoon carving that can be inherently safe to the other clamping hand, as the natural arcs of hand movements and the breaking imposed by the natural limits of joint movement, keep the cutting edge only where it should be.

Celtic Dragon Lovespoon Design

As a beginning of a number of simpler lovespoon designs I've drawn up a rendering in Photoshop of a spoon that I intend to carve in a very hard yellowish Queensland timber called 'Saffron Heart' I'm going to see how this design looks carved in the hard timber as finely as possible but without the obliteration of the tool marks by finishing with abrasives. So far I have used abrasives extensively in the finishing of lovespoons and I think that this is usually necessary to achieve the look that I prefer. However I would like to have a go at a different Kind of finish if it seems that it will be effective in the end.

So I have a number of projects at various stages and will endeavour to post regular progress on each asa time goes on.


  1. You suceeded! The horse has the realistic appearance through suggested realism. I love your style.

  2. Thank you for your kind comment Laurisa.

  3. Incredibly beautyfull...
    Iwona (Poland)