Whimsical Wood Blog Pages

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

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Gnome Character for the Whimsical Wood Automata. Why he came to be there.

The gnome character has the appearance of controlling all the cyclical grind of the automata, albeit in joyless resignation. This character has been carved from jelutong, painted with acrylics, given some additional colouring with coloured pencil and a little watercolour wash for shading.

The gnome character is the most animated character in the scene and because it is a human-like character he is the hero, or more probably the anti-hero of the automata’s story. He is there to be identified with, as the automata’s little narrative unwinds.

However there is not much going on in this automata’s story really, just a repetitive turning and to-ing and fro-ing until - it - slows - and - stops. A lot of action - but nothing really happening. 'A show about nothing'...

Or as Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 reads...

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?

And as it goes in Don McLean's lyrics for 'Dreidel'

And as you grow, each thread of life that you leave
Will spin around your deeds and dictate your needs
as you sell your soul and you sow your seeds
and you wound yourself and your loved one bleeds
And your habits grow, and your conscience feeds 
on all that you thought you should be
I never thought this could happen to me

Don McLean - 'Dreidel'

Gnome seems to desire more than his toilsome bondage to cranking provides. Even the decorative repairs to his worn coverings attest to the meagre aspirations he projects beyond his immediate experience. Unwilling compliance shapes his demeanour in a demonstration of 'Jagger-esque' dis-s-satisfaction.

Gno-me is so absorbed by his toil – or the circumstance of it, that he is oblivious to what surrounds him:

The faithful dog happily focused on his master.
The chameleon happily doing what he ought to, wanting nothing more.
And so too the bird.
Only the cat strays from kind virtue – Observing him with supercilious derision.

Empires come and empires go.
Civilisations come and civilisations go.
We come and we go - in ‘this present evil age’- 'under the sun'.
Christmas has now come and Christmas has now gone.
A year is going and a new year coming.
An age is passing and a new age coming.

As much as this passing ‘festive season’ is constructed by us and cranked around by us, in pursuit of our meagre aspirations, it arises from a more substantial narrative. A true Narrative that beckons, invites, promises and provides – Purpose, meaning and life. In the words of the Messiah (Christ), Son of David, King in the Heavenly Jerusalem;
 Come to meall of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Matthew 11:28

The real Christ-celebration (Christ-mass) is the whole history of humankind from expulsion to reconciliation. From rejecting faithful focus on our maker - being self-absorbed with the toil of meagre aspiration, perchance to escape dis-satisfaction. Doing what we ought not do and by straying from kind virtue - We needed rescue from ‘this present evil age’, and.., then...

'pleased as man with men to dwell - Jesus our Emmanuel... Came... Risen with healing in His wings'.

The Rescuer, Jesus, has come - Lived and did all things well - Died and killed death - Rose and  brought life - He sent - He left and sent and still remained - And will yet come.

This narrative, the oldest narrative, is His-story and the invitation for us to belong to Him. Finding ourselves purchased by Him for our everlasting-meaningful-pleasure in eternal enjoyment of
our Creator, for His Glory.

Yes, I know I have appropriated this automata and its elements as an illustration of the Redemptive History Narrative – 'after the fact'. But not entirely. It is a true story that we who believe it have not authored.

Instead we have become ambassadors of The King of Kings and as such have no business doing less, when we pass on His terms of peace and invitation,  than assert His words.
Part of the invitation is to 'believe that you may understand' (credo ut intelligam) and by believing, belong.

Paring back layers of added meaning  now, we get to the bare wood, the shavings and chips and some of the more mundane reasons for making a gnome the chief character.

Firstly what else comes to mind so easily, that could be attached to a gear train and appear to make it go? A steam engine perhaps? No, that implies some kind of 'real life' imitation of actual industry. A armed and legged puppet – A little man! Yes! He has to be little for some reason and has to be a bit ridiculous to go with the nonsense of this whole machine.

So the whole design has proceeded from carved lettering to automata. To ridiculous little man in automata – A decorative ridiculous little man. A Mr Punch like, decorative ridiculous little man is what he ends up looking like, because my 'go-to' compositional device, is the relating of fast and slow curves. His resultant cresent-moon shaped head compliments the circular gear wheels and his hunched gait and motion will do so too. Thus he looks a bit like Mr Punch – A very, very bad character.

Too bad a character for the part however. No one identifies with a smiling psychopath (I hope) but the personal calligraphy of related curves turns his mouth glumly down. He'll be a 'bad' character still, but likably safe – because he loses, always loses. He will be like a George Castanza, a Basil Fawlty, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, a Wiley Coyote.

It isn't far for the designing-as-you-go mind to wander from here, to the human condition and your own participation in it. And an allegory builds around whims and that which lies ready at hand, as hours pass – shaping, carving, designing, drawing and thinking. Thinking about how and thinking about when. But very often thinking about why.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Carving the Chameleon for the Whimsical Wood Automata

The chameleon character has been carved from Holly and eventually coloured with water colour and coloured pencil on an acrylic base with a final wax finish. The action of the chameleon consists of the body rotating to expose the length of tongue that extends into a hole in the mouth and into the hollowed body. This gives the impression, barely, of the tongue extending albeit in a lethargic manner. I would have preferred a snappy movement but it was beyond me at this stage to accommodate a suitable mechanism for this into an already crowded series of accumulated mechanical devices.

The chameleon carving was roughed out as a high relief profile, first with the scroll saw and then with knives and gouges. The hidden side was carved out for the tongue to slide in and out of through the mouth hole at the front of the head.
After refining and sanding to 400 and 600 grit the process for 'carving' the raised bumps on the chameleon's body could be commenced.

To produce the raised bumps on the chameleon I used a technique outlined in an earlier post on carving 'The Desolation of Smug' dragon. The process is a Japanese carving technique which begins with the actual punching of concave depressions wherever a raised bump is to be. An ordinary nail makes a suitable punch when it is shaped, smoothed and polished, pretty much to the size and form of the desired bump you want to produce.

With the work safely secured, the punching of depressions, sometimes deeper and sometimes more shallow, was strategically applied over the surface to be textured. I am mostly holding the work in one hand while carving with knives and palm gouges but this technique requires both hands to hold the punch and strike with the mallet. I used both a jig with holes and holding cams to clamp the work and also some soft cushioning material to seat the work securely upon. Whichever method held the work still enough for the process without running any risk of crushing or breakage.

I varied the size of the depressions both by mallet force and by using different size punches. When the body had been textured with these depressions the next stage of the process could be commenced.

The next stage for 'carving' the raised bumps requires the 'removal' of what has been done so far. But not everything is as it seems. By gently carving, scraping or sanding with as little compressive force as possible on the work surface, all of the pitting work done so far is sanded, scraped or carved away just down to the bottom of the deepest depression.

Having continued this part of the process until back to a smooth body again - texture given and then taken away - The final part of the process would at last, advance everything to the final desired result.

Sponged or poured, hotish water brings to the surface the raised bumps that had been punched 'in' earlier. This is a useful technique which seems to work with most timbers and will at a pinch produce any raised shape corresponding to the footprint shape of the punch making it.
The water of course re-swells the compressed fibres up above the now removed un-compressed ones, thus producing the effect.

To colourise the chameleon. I first coated the front of the carving with Golden's absorbent medium, so I could paint and lift watercolour pigment, until a variety of greens and orange, broken colour was produced. Coloured pencil continued this slow addition and modification of colour which was finally finished with 'Traditional Wax' to a n appropriate varied sheen.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Whimsical Wood Title Automata Carving and Construction

With most of the decorative gears cut for the automata the next stage would be housing them in some sort of framing structure and then finding something for them to do. The carved lettering had a planned purpose, simply to be the graphic banner title on my website. The idea of using it as part of an automata was also a simple one, just to add an interesting kinetic element and to try out a dormant interest in automata.

The finished automata, I thought, could also attract some interest at shows and get a gig on YouTube a few times, providing me with with a bit of elementary video making experience. I have been hoping to use video to provide learning material for small scale woodcarving, using knives and Palm tools, particularly in the context of lovespoon carving.
From this point on in the automata project, simple ideas were collected. They were then fashioned, mostly from wood, into material form. And then a searched-for place was sought for them, somewhere in the growing train of mechanical devices.

The objects that found their way into the assemblage were: 
 Movevements I thought interesting to watch - and makeable. 
A resigned, slightly resentful human-like and character to do the winding drudgery. 
A Cheshire Cat, mildly mocking everything. A contented chameleon, an attentive, interested dog and an intruding but industrious spider.

A beetle intended to be the chameleon's main interest couldn't be animated efficiently and I couldn't devise a rapid movement for the chameleon's tongue. So the project reached the finishing, assembly and tweaking stage, facilitated by the one bit of thoughtful design on my part; all removeable screwed and bolted components, with adjustable slightly slotted holes.

I will show and describe the carving and finishing of some of the individual elements of the automata in some following posts.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Carving the Gears on the Whimsical Wood Automata

Firstly I had cut the gear wheels and other mechanical devices from 6mm ply, in order to test a 'mock-up' assembly of the automata. Later the final, much thicker gears needed to be cut and shaped for the final assembly of the automata. The highly decorative look that I wanted for the gear wheels meant using thick blanks, 20mm to 25mm in thickness.

There would be a couple of problems that the material used would have to avoid if the gears were to function well. This would be particularly critical because the gear train was to be so long that accumulative errors would literally cause a grinding halt. The first problem was cutting a close enough to vertical line when cutting the gear shapes on the scroll saw and the second was wood movement after the cutting if plywood wasn't used.

Plywood would solve the wood movement problem well enough, but it doesn't carve very well. One solution was to 'veneer' both faces of some existing ply with around the same thickness of suitable timber for carving. Another was to make some relatively thick homemade three-ply from desired timber.

Blanks of gear carving ply were prepared and as coarse a blade as still able to negotiate the cutting line was chosen to cut that vertical cut mentioned before. I found a # 5 modified geometry blade able to do this reasonably well even in oak and jarra."

After cutting the teeth with a careful vertical cut, the inside cuts for the decorative spokes were cut with the table tilted various amounts for effect. Theffect produced with a slanted cut sometimes allows a slender, light look to the spokes on the viewable face but backed up with plenty of substance at the back.

After cutting on the scroll saw the thick 'veneers' of the ply were carved, sanded and finished with the same wipe on polyurethane finishing process that I used on the carved lettering. Some parts were cut from solid timber where wood movement seemed unlikely to be problematic.
In this way the more decorative gears and other parts were cut and carved while other smaller gears were, sometimes decoratively fretted, or cut unadorned from regular plywood. Many of the sculpturally decorative moving parts of this automata are hidden from view, deep within, what is admittedly an overdone redundancy-ridden whole. However one purpose of this project was always to be experiment and consequent learning.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Designing the Whimsical Wood Automata

Like a lot of people, I am fascinated by the sight uof the pre-digital, the pre-miniaturised-electrical-hidden-mechanism, devices in action. My comprehension of 'what makes them tick' is slight enough to allow mystery to enhance the experience.

When I was young steam trains still ran. They had moving parts that were not just wheels. They had visible moving parts. Lots of visible moving parts. They had many turning bits and linkages, choreographed to the exuberance of their exhilarating sounds. Riveted rhinoceros hiss-thundered past and then into the enveloping, billowing and dissipating doppler-effected past, they quickly went, while Into the wake of their memory, followed the slick, the smooth, the concealed and the 'less is more'. And in their wake we began to mourn the loss of mystery and wonder, their performance evoked.

The sealed unit might be more mysterious in one sense, without visible locomotion, but it's movement is easily taken for granted, it just goes. Visible mechanisms that achieve by complicated means captivate because work fascinates us.., we can sit and watch it for hours.

Perhaps mechanically minded people are just as fascinated with the visible workings of early machine age constructions because they can see and understand what they are doing and could be made to do. I can only see what they are doing already as a visual experience, an aesthetic rather than an understanding of the physics. I just like the way machines look.

So so back to the digital age. Mechanically minded people have made animations of the mechanical devices from the Industrial Age and there are sites that can generate gears to be printed, cut and used in a functioning machine. For a whimsical automata such as I envisaged for Whimsical Wood. I only needed to see what each mechanical element was already doing and if it looked nice and looked interesting it was a candidate for participating in the final construction. Plenty of time to figure out what it might do when it's finished.., so long as it looks good.

So with with a supply of print-outs that could be cut and assembled I mocked up a working pattern to begin the automata. My lack of mechanical ability meant simply assembling a chain of mechanical events with some characters tacked on here and there. The characters would include an elf-like character to drudgingly do the winding, a Cheshire Cat, an attentive dog meant to contrast with the disaffected elf, a chameleon and whatever else could be made to work.

Not a lot in the way of add-on characters could be made to work in this long chain-of-events whimsical automata I found. So I have kept it to its purpose as a complex looking simple automata useful for generating visual interest with movement both on the web and at shows. It's other purpose is to learn a bit about automata construction through experiment and perhaps design and build simpler more narrative based automata in the future.

From the beginning of this project I realised that any automata I built would depend on visual appeal rather than mechanical ingenuity. So I decided to make the larger gear wheels and pinions with heavily carved decorative spokes and to complete the whole construction with a high finish.

In the next post I will describe the process of cutting the decorative but still functional gears and other mechanisms for this automata.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Finishing and Colouring the Carved Lettering

After the completion of the carving, mostly with the hooked knives, the work has been sanded up to 800 grit on the more accessible surfaces ready for a wipe-on polyurethane finish. When the thinned polyurethane has been wiped off I prefer to have it ready for a final wax polish and or tinting with colour, in a single session without waiting for drying.

To accomplish this a very fine dusting with some rotten stone on the 'wipe-off rag', is used to further, dry and thin, the oil finish to a dry lustre. An old tooth brush also dipped in a little rotten stone powder works the same effect into all the recesses.

The carved lettering now has the thinnest of polyurethane coatings, virtually invisible except for the enhancement of colour and grain. This surface is the sympathetic to coloured pencil and artist's oils for colouring. I have used water soluble oil paint and coloured pencil to colour parts of the carving.

Using oil paint means there is time to put on applications of paint washes and remove some, until the desired effect appears.

The lettering, carved, finished and coloured is ready to be photographed for title graphics on the whimsical wood website and for fitting to the whimsical wood automata. The Automata, being a kinetic sculpture, is intended to attract interest at shows with its animation and likewise useful as video linked to the website.

My my main carving interest is Lovespoons but I find mechanical movements to be fascinating to watch and though I have not much native mechanical ability or understanding I intend to make some simple automata with carved elements.