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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Big Dragon Lovespoon WIP

The Big Dragon Lovespoon has been restarted in curly cherry, finished and posted to its destination. The setback led to a concentrated effort, that together with other regular commitments, left no time for the blog posts that I had hoped to keep up with.

Montage of finished 'Big Dragon Lovespoon'

What follows in the next few posts will be a step by step account of the carving and finishing of this lovespoon using the progress photos I was able to take. I will begin with the carving of the chain links at the top of the love spoon that I recorded during the failed NSW rosewood version. Then I will continue with a step by step showing of the final cherry version. 

Plan view of links marked out

The plan view of the love spoon’s chain links, is generally set out on the original design pattern as shown here. Or it can be added to the top hanging loop on the spoon later, if the carving blank is long enough to accommodate this feature. 

The main reason I have for adding chain links is often because useable timber ‘is simply there to use’… And, to be honest.., I think I have an irrational, almost-surfacing, but largely subconscious, feeling, that lovespoons have to include something in the nature of; chains, swivels or caged balls – They don’t! And some of the best designs will stand boldly apart ‘sans-tricks’, having beauty consisting in an essential integrity of design as their only credential. 

However chains etc are often requested, I have a deliberate, conscious, child-like fascination for them (just kind of like the look of them), and they usually do no harm to a design. Be warned however lest chain links, swivels and cages fetter you, the carver, to a bondage and self-conscious manoeuvring conformity that, just has to, render payment due, to self-invented rules! 

The plan view of the links is laid out to accommodate removal of the waste with as much room as you can get for the tools you will use. The size and shape of the links will determine this and the thickness of the timber blank will in turn determine limits for the shape, proportion and wall thickness of the links. 

This particular carving blank was a generous, one inch plus thickness and you will see a difference in the final finished lovespoon, carved from the thinner three quarter inch cherry blank.

Interior cuts made

The interior spaces are then next to attend and are sawn out if you are using a scroll saw or fret saw or cut away gradually, if chisel or knife is used. The advantage of a scrollsaw over a hand held fret saw is a more readily made vertical cut. In this thickness of timber I think cutting a deep mortise all the way through in careful increments with a knife or chisel, would be the safer, though time consuming, option apart from using a scroll saw. Because a wandering-from-vertical fret saw cut, could cost you in terms of wall thickness. Even with the scroll saw I have cut just outside the line, to keep as much material as possible for finishing finely at the end.

Horizontal links wall thickness and surrounding waste marked out

Now that the top view of the links have been cut, the centre line and thickness of the horizontal links can be marked in. The waste is indicated with hatched lines before removal after which the marking out of the joining links' shape and thickness can be done .

Waste cut away

Here the waste has been removed, revealing the solid rectangles of timber that will be the joining links when their interior spaces are ‘mortised’ out. Mark the wall thickness from the outside edge on these links, leaving as much material as possible, while still allowing tool access between the inner wall face of these links and the outer face of the horizontal links. These joining links will be shaped to fit within the rectangles of timber. 

The original thickness of the timber blank and the wall thickness of the links will determine how far from rectangle to circle or eclipse you can go when shaping the links. The closer to round, the thinner the walls must be. There are gains and losses to be had in the decisions made about the various chain-link attributes. Thin walls mean you can go ‘rounder’ and you have more tool-room to manoeuvre within. But with thin walls the links will be more delicate, have more short grain areas in need of delicate, careful working and they have a greater risk of breakage. 

This more delicate love spoon design has thinner walled links but the joining links are still fairly rectangular

Some Timbers will be strong enough to enable delicate design and delicacy could be a feature worth striving for, but I have opted for, as robust a design as can be had, in this instance and that means difficulties will tend toward getting sufficient tool access and the joining links will be rounded rectangles in shape. Having limited tool access can also ironically, end in thinner walled links, as the walls are in risk of being scarified by tools plied in tight recesses and they have to be cleaned up by removing material, making them thinner. So it is a matter of walking a carefully considered path around; visual design, mechanical design, material, tools and ease of working.

Remaining waste being removed

When there is not much room to move with your regular tools it is often necessary to fashion your own purpose made tools to make the job easier. I have written up the simple process for making such tools from cheap materials like music wire, in earlier posts. With whatever small chisels, knives and scalpels will get the work done remove all the waste carefully and gradually, trying to leave as thick an unmarred wall on the links as possible.

The joining remnants of waste material should be left strategically as you fashion the links, to keep them steady and more easily worked upon, until the last moment before they are released. Choose according to your working sequence when you will cut the final connecting fibres right through to leave a freely moving piece which is difficult to work on. 

It is tempting to get the links free as soon as possible but a long game is best for getting to smooth, fair shaped, nicely finished links that aren’ a pain to keep effective hold of. For this reason also avoid snapping the last fibres at each final separation aiming instead at cleanly cutting each link free.

Shaped links

When all the waste has been removed the links can be refined in shape with needle files and abrasives until a smooth fair shape and surface is ready for preparatory and final finishing.

The work shown here was carried out on the NSW Rosewood version of the lovespoon carving before a large unsound portion of the carving blank meant starting again. The next posts will continue with the final curly cherry version of this Lovespoon.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Carving the Big Dragon Lovespoon 2

Carving lovespoons has its risks. The lovespoon art form has one rule that makes for danger throughout the carving process. The ‘carved from a single piece’ rule means that breakages require re-design or starting over. I have had a fair share ( though it never feels fair ) of these re-starts due to breakages. 

This time while carving the Dragon Lovespoon from a nice, thicker than usual piece of New South Wales Rosewood and having added some chain links to the design because the timber blank was long enough to allow their inclusion. And why waste it?..

You are probably guessing where I am going with this.

The carver’s ‘trick’ of carving chain links adds to the risk when carving a lovespoon because of the necessary presence of short grain at the top and bottom of each link making breakage an ever present danger. For this reason carving chain links needs special care and cannot be rushed. There isn’t that much of a trick to it really, it just means slow, careful working.

I usually carve the ‘risky’ elements first when carving a lovespoon and in this case I did carve the links first. The thickness of the blank facilitated the process and all went well. 

The successfully carved chain links

New South Wales Rosewood is a timber I have become quite familiar with and moving down to hollowing out the bowl the timber carved crisply, even at the very bottom of the bowl’s inside curve, where some tear out often needs to be dealt with by deft slicing cuts slightly across the grain. This particular piece of timber also had an attractive colour variation running through the left hand third of the blank, some subtle yellowish streaks.

Sound Timber to carve inside the bowl
After roughing out quite a bit of the design and establishing some levels with the dragon. Then trying some details on the dragon head l began to reduce the level of material on the left of the blank across to the location of the initials. 

Some detail on the dragon head begun

The chain links carved , the bowl mostly shaped inside and out and some progress on the dragon

Only gradually did I notice a shift in the timber’s composition, increasing in softness across the blank. Only gradually did I feel there might be a problem. As I continued to work finding the softness turn to flakey, crumbling regions right through the whole timber thickness. Only gradually did it become apparent that a re-start would be necessary. There was no sickening crack that spelled disaster this time, just a slow realisation.

The flakey crumbling portion

I know that timber can be effectively stabilised with CA glue impregnating but this would require huge amounts and could affect the finish in an adverse way. So I now have a thinner blank cut on the scroll saw ready for carving. The addition of chain links to the original design has been retained and this time from a piece of American curly cherry which I am fairly certain is sound through out.

Outline of new carving blank cut on scroll saw from American curly cherry

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Carving the ‘Big-Dragon Lovespoon’ A Step by Step Series: 1 Drawing Dragons, The Design for The Big Dragon Lovespoon

This series of posts on the design and carving of, what I am calling the ‘Big Dragon Lovespoon’ is going to proceed with a few digressions along the way. In these digressions I will be presenting topics that hopefully will be relevant to anyone interested in the design and carving of lovespoons and art/craft in general, especially wood art.

My intention is to return to these topics more fully later, relating them to various other projects or as discrete presentations. Eventually with a view of offering instructional PDF eBooks with specific step by step projects to work from, for those interested.

Drawing and Carving - Seamlessly Related Tasks with Seperate Outcomes

Drawing and carving are to my way of thinking so closely related as to be almost the same thing. I know that many carvers claim they can’t draw, but without gain-saying that perception, it is from my view, just a matter of semantics, and they are drawing in a sense, as they go about their carving. This is one of those topics that might be returned to advantageously later if it can result in a clearer vision in our mind, of exactly what is happening, at the literal cutting edge, of imagination and working. 

With me, every carving starts with a drawing on paper. A small sketch to begin with. Often just a series of tiny thumb-nail sketches in a small pocket size sketch book, around A5 or A6 size or scattered all over a sheet of A4 photocopy paper.

From these thumbnail sketches ideas are able to be developed a little further, then scanned and enlarged until a finished drawing/design can be traced thoughtfully from a print made from the initial rough sketch. I find it much easier to design from a tiny sketch, through incremental stages, toward something more substantial, than trying to develop a full size pattern straight off. Besides, tracing and re-tracing parts of the design allows you to repositiothem quickly, multiple times, to try different relationships and orientations within the overall design.

Because drawing on paper is such a familiar process for me, and also a process that benefits from constant practise. I might almost lavish as much effort on a drawing, intended just as a pattern, as I might on a finished drawing in its own right. I say almost, because I am also aware that it isn’t really a finished work in its own right, only a pattern and the time could be better spent on actual carving.

Or is it only a pattern? And is the extra time and effort wasted? We can fool ourselves with regard to our reasons for doing things often. And maybe the ‘working’ images of processes along the way can have an audience too. Personally I like to see behind the scenes, when I see work that I admire. I like seeing 'the whole body of work' when I can. And that sometimes even includes the workspace. I think this is a common enough thing and explains why the rough and raw aesthetic of 4b pencil drawings, drawn by animators, just as part of a process, we’re often liked by them, more than the finished work. 

In fact all the still art from animated films is valued now, for being framed and displayed, and especially the first drawings, before the, also collected and displayed, clean-up artists’ work, or the painted cells at the end of the production line. Whereas the actual animated films, though revered in memory, lie out of sight in a DVD case or a Netflix list. In a similar way ‘merchandise’ after the event has eager buyers. 

So there could be good reason to invest care and attention in your pattern design drawings and visual diary work, as it adds a chapter or two to the backstory of your finished work together with a facilitating of the actual carving work later.

I found this backstory fascination myself when I bought a copy of ‘Disney Animation - the Illusion of Life’. Though I have never been a real Disney fan. I was an instant fan of all the behind the scenes art, especially the initial pencil drawings and the background art. I have often thought, some films, notable for their special effects, would be even better if you could high-res, freeze-frame the scenes. Sometimes a picture book of the concept art that went into its making, would suit me better than the actual film. 

The patterns I have drawn for carvings have often been, more rendered than they need to be, just for a pattern, and yet they are still a bit half-heartedly finished as serious drawings, because I have reasoned that they are only patterns. 

Perhaps moving toward a more conscious development of the drawings as seperate works, when time allows, can be justified both as valuable drawing practise and experiment, together with service as a helping conceptual-hand in the subsequent carving work. Because surfaces were beginning to be planned during the careful rendering done at the drawing stage. In addition, some potential pitfalls are also likely discovered, and a lingering over the design can suggest some new possibilities. Non-drawing ( so they perceive) carvers are doing this very thing as they carve – but with the removal of material there is no turning back.

Drawing Dragons

I have drawn and carved quite a few dragons now and as I think about it, there seem to be only a few reasons why they keep cropping up in my work. First and most obvious is – When you think of lovespoons you think of Wales ( that is unless you have become more knowledgeable on the broader cultural history of mankind’s lovespoon carving, by reading David Western’s books on the subject ). Completing the thought, when you think Wales you think Y Ddraig Goch

It wasn’t lovespoon carving however that led to my drawing of dragons so often, because I had drawn The Red  Dragon well before I had even heard of lovespoons.The Red Dragon of Welsh legend and emblem on the Welsh Flag was probably the first dragon I ever drew. I think it was back in the very early 1970’s. Drawn on my father’s request for printing on the programme/menu for the annual Cymmrodorian Society Dinner. 

The dragon below is a slightly later version printed by offset litho. As I remember, this one  was pretty much a copy of the letterpress version I drew first. Looking at it now, even this ‘first’ dragon seems to have something of the flavour common to most of the dragons I have drawn. He has a kindly Harry Secombe-humorous-twinkle in his eye and kind of looks more like a tenor in a male-voice choir reaching for a high note, than he does a fierce guardian. This hasn’t been intentional, but there it is.

My father was the president of this society for several decades and the pen and ink drawing he requested was used to produce a metal letterpress die, in the first instance, and later the disposable photolithography plates, which the printer used to print the programmes. The printer was a man who owned a shop and had no need of a USB connection. You just took the metal die back to him each year and he assembled it with movable type to print the new menu.

There was an attractive substance and solidity to the letterpress die. It was a ‘keeper’ residing in wooden drawers for miscellaneous kept things, until the wooden drawers themselves passed out of sight and memory, regrettably with their contents. The solidity of that metal die, coming from an ink drawing, brings to mind the several ‘flag dragons’ I have carved by request on lovespoons in much later days, solid and dimensional versions of the drawing.

However just as in the case with that first dragon drawing, there isn’t much room for creative interpretation where this, most requested emblem, is concerned, because, handsome as he is, passant and in stately profile, he must be. In order to be recognised. 

The second dragon I ever drew was more from imagination. They are all from imagination of course, except for the real ones ( Agamidae ), but this time it was from my own imagination. My imagination also happened to be inspired, all imaginations are of course and influenced, again as all imaginations are, at the time by, in my particular case, a memory of Wayne Anderson’s illustrations of dragons, in ‘The Flight of Dragons’. The usefulness of dragons for predominantly decorative - stylised - extravagantly detailed and yet - insinuatingly-realistic graphic work, with a serious overlay of tongue-in-cheek humour, made an impression that I was keen to utilise.

My youngest daughter owns this ‘first dragon’ drawing (below). But most of the freelance drawings and paintings I did, before photoshop came on the scene, were done when publishers owned and gave away the whole of what was produced at their request. When this ceased to be the case, my illustration work was then digital, with just piles of component graphite drawings and gigabytes of graphics files. 

Portfolio Dragon Piece- Black ink line and coloured pencil on Ivory board

I had been working at The Correspondence School Sydney as a teacher/illustrator, illustrating distance education learning materials for a couple of years and was wanting to break into the publishing world for some additional freelance work, simply in order to work in colour in addition to my regular pen and ink work. For this reason I needed a quick illustration of something in colour for my portfolio. So then, here came another reason for drawing a dragon, because with dragons you can just make them up, without needing much in the way of reference, just make them fit whatever size and shape is available to make a picture.

Portfolio Dragon Piece - Detail - Black ink line and coloured pencil on Ivory board

I still had the impression in my mind of Wayne Anderson’s dragons and I liked the aesthetic of his work. With this inspiration together with other stronger influences like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Heath Robinson I had the idea of a graphic work in colour that I could add to my portfolio. I had long outgrown an adolescent penchant for fierce, macabre, muscular and malevolent creatures, designed to impress like a despot’s military parade. So the only very mildly fierce, whimsical and faintly humorous nature of Wayne Anderson’s dragons, was a ‘feel’ I could work from in my own accustomed pen and ink drawing style. 

Portfolio Dragon Piece - Detail - Black ink line and coloured pencil on Ivory board

This second dragon drawing was firstly a pen and ink drawing on ‘ivory board’, a very smooth, white drawing paper, even smoother than hot-pressed watercolour paper. It was the same drawing paper that I had used exclusively for the years I spent as a biological illustrator, drawing and rendering zoological specimens, with a super fine stippling technique. This ink drawing which now consisted of line work, rather than stippling, was coloured with coloured pencils, very painstakingly layering one colour over another, lifting colour off with an eraser and re-applying colour.  This was probably the only way to work with coloured pencil on this slick surface. 

I didn’t know of coloured pencil layering as a proven technique, back in the early 1980’s but it was a way of getting similar colour texture and broken colour effects to those that I had admired in the illustrations of Edmund Dulac, onto the ink drawing. I was also inadvertently blending the colour with the white rubber eraser in the process, a little similar to the proven  techniques coloured pencil artists often use these days. This dragon picture was very over rendered at the inking stage but the colouring overcame that well enough to get the supplementary freelance work I was after, though nothing in the way of colour commissions came for a couple of years. 

Portfolio Dragon Piece - Detail - Black ink line and coloured pencil on Ivory board

I have drawn many dragons since then, mostly on request, but sometimes a dragon is just the thing, simply because they require no reference, can be always very different in style and yet are easily recognised. They are a good stand-by subject, together with dinosaurs (made-up ones like wingless dragons}, when you need a quick drawing for kids to colour in. The styles of dragon I have come to use have been predominantly decorative, sometimes stately, where love spoons are involved, but mostly comic.

The red and the white dragons in combat below were part of a poster on myth and legend. This poster was painted in acrylic with additional black ink line work added.

Legend and Mythology Poster (detail) Acrylic with Black Line

The Red Dragon is of course Y Ddraig Goch, pre my carving days by many years.

Legend and Mythology Poster (detail) Acrylic with Black Line

The more comic dragon below, was also drawn with pen and ink, but the ‘painting’ and texture are digital this time. This dragon (the real one) has just won first prize at a fancy-dress contest for his ‘costume’. He’s fairly benign but confident enough in his dragon attributes to stare down any protest.

Fancy-dress Contest Winner Dragon  - Black ink line work and digital painting

Imaginative dragons are compliant to any drawing whim but real dragons do require reference material. However they do also make interesting subjects for realistic work. Below is an eastern water dragon pyrography work, also owned by my youngest daughter. This particular pyrography work hasn’t faired as badly with fading as other pyrography I have done, possibly due to the stipple like technique that suited the rendering of this subject.

Standing Still - pyrography on hoop pine ply

Standing Still - pyrography on hoop pine ply (detail)

I have given up on pyrography as medium in its own right, due to the fading, especially with subtle lighter tones. Pyrography with coloured pencil seems to stand up better and I have had reports about pyrography-with-coloured-pencil works that I have sold, that they are still just fine after a number of years. I did all I could to warn buyers about the possible fading, so this was some good news offered in response to my dire warnings. Ordinary pyrography works that I still have and were on display are now useless after just a few years. Lovespoons don’t fade however, but with reasonable care can be passed on through many generations.

Coloured pencil on timber does work well and watercolour / gouache is a proven technique for use on timber, from as far back as Victorian times at least. Pyrography has a useful place with this kind of graphic work on timber. In an earlier post, years ago, I wrote up a step by step description of a pyrography-with-coloured-pencil work, that was also published in ’Pyrography Magazine’. In this article and series of posts, I described using the pyrography line to eliminate bleeding of wet pigment along the wood grain and how the use of a low heat seemed to blend the pencil colour deep into the timber surface, burnishing the timber surface attractively at the same time. Here is a link to that archived page.

The supremely accomplished coloured pencil artist Karen Hull has some instructional PDF offerings on her site describing her slightly different technique of coloured pencil on wood rendering and some brilliantly realistic coloured pyrography tutorials. 

Some of these coloured pencil and pyrography techniques could be applied to a decorative treatment on lovespoons and other wood art, probably with a similar effect to kohlrosing.

Young Dragon Hiding pyrography and coloured pencil on kauri pine ply

The Big-Dragon Lovespoon  Design and Drawing.

Back to dragons on lovespoons. On this lovespoon which I am calling ‘Big ‘Dragon Lovespoon’ to distinguish it from all the other dragon named lovespoons, the dragon is to be the main feature, full bodied, not in relief. So this dragon can be of the more imaginative type and I am intending him to be just fierce enough to be a dragon but not a malevolent presence, more a guardian, like the passant ‘Y Ddraig Goch’.

Big Dragon Lovespoon - Various Black Coloured Pencils 
on Strathmore Drawing Pad Paper

Big Dragon Lovespoon - Various Black Coloured Pencils 
on Strathmore Drawing Pad Paper

After completing the black pencil drawing. I decided to experiment with the drawing as a grisaille under-painting but the result was the same as with the Hobbit Hole Painting, essentially ruining the drawing. As a pattern after a levels adjustment in photoshop it will serve its main purpose.

 Big Dragon Lovespoon - Various Black Coloured Pencils and watercolour
on Strathmore Drawing Pad Paper - detail

Big Dragon Lovespoon - Various Black Coloured Pencils and watercolour
on Strathmore Drawing Pad Paper - detail

This lovespoon contains eight hearts in the design, representing the sons and daughters of the recipient’s extended family. A heart bounded, simple Celtic knot is at the top, and all is tied together with plant and floral sections which will also engineer some extra strength into the design. The love spoon will be carved from New South Wales Scented Rosewood an attractive native Australian timber with an a deep reddish hue.

In subsequent posts I will feature a step by step account of the carving and finishing of this love spoon.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Rendered Lettering for The Black and White Graphics Title Page (on www.whimsicalwood.com website)

Partly as a test to see if the formatting, layout and font problems have gone away as I use Blogger   (they are beyond me to solve) I am posting this WIP of some graphic lettering rendered in various types and brands of carbon, charcoal and black coloured pencils. The Graphic is intended as one of the title pages on my website when I get round to updating it. 

It is also an experimental exercise in using these new materials and media thus learning how they handle. Then I can describe any subsequent graphic work that I do with them in a systematic and usefully instructive ( I always hope ) way.

Graphite pencil drawing has always been a stand by for me and though I am generally thinking of coloured work as the main goal, I do find black, white and grey work appealing in its own right. The problem with graphite to my taste is the sheen that inevitably appears in dark passages however deftly it is applied. 

Carbon, Charcoal and black coloured pencils seem to solve this problem with deep rich matt blacks and lighter areas, admittedly not as delicate as harder graphite can produce but with an inner sparkle reminiscent of very fine pen and ink stippling.

The experimenting and learning as I intermittently work on these rendered lettering projects is a bit too piece-meal to describe meaningfully and usefully in an instructional sense at the moment but I do intend to do some larger woks in this medium that I will write up as step by step descriptions of the design and working processes. 

The next post will be part of step by step series of posts on the carving of the ‘large Dragon’ Lovespoon interspersed with some other ongoing project progress.