Thursday, July 30, 2009

Using Progressive Models: Carving Simple Sam the Owl

I've been using simple progressive carving models for many years in my carving classes with kids. I've got them for carving a woodspirit, a totem pole, ball-in-the-cage, wooden chain, a pinewood derby car, etc. Most kids are very visual and if they're able to actually see the progressing steps of a carving then I've learned that they have a MUCH greater rate of success. They are also great fun and practice for adults too.

That's why I was so inspired by Tom's recent posting of just such a step by step set up in carving a simple owl. Thank's so much for this neat little project Tom! I've been working on it for a couple of days now whenever I could squeeze in a few extra minutes. I decided to add an extra step to mine with the #7 as pictured above. I just thought that it would be a little more appealing in my classes if it included an example of the finished carving, or at least an example to spark some additional inspiration from the kids to make it uniquely theirs. I also rounded out the breast a little more, separated the feet, and carved some BIG round owl eyes if the aspiring carver wants to take it to the next level. Also since taking the picutures above I have put on a very shiny finish which really makes it stand out.

Oh yeah, like most of my pets (and I do love my little owl) I have given it a name. "Simple Sam" the owl is now looking forward to a long career of modeling for many a new carver and I'm glad to add him to my class. Happy carving and welcome home Sam!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

WIP- Part 1b: Carving a Totem Stick

WIP= "Work in Progress"

Although I've already posted an entry on using totem sticks in my afternoon woodcarving classes I decided to let y'all follow the progress on my own latest creation. The earlier entry showed some of the beginning carving but now I've got it ready for painting. After completing the carving I seem to have begun adding a new touch to a lot of my carvings by highlighting the deeper areas with my Detail Master IV woodburner. I originally picked up on this idea by studying some of the magnificent caricatures that Lynn Doughty of Jay, Oklahoma produces and he seems to always do the same thing to his carvings before applying the final finish. For some reason I really like the effect that it has, if for no other reason than the powerful contrasting of dark on light that made the pictures above so striking.

Tulip Poplar 2Image by cadd48 via Flickr
This little totem stick stands right at 10" high with a wingspread at 6-1/4" wide. The best part is that I used a dry found tulip poplar limb (See picture to the right>>)to carve the entire project and this wood produces a creamy white surface prime for painting that is equal to basswood in my opinion. This proved to be one sweet piece of carving wood!

The entire pole is a new creation and my current mission is to come up with a story to go with the pole. Upon close examination you'll see some seemingly "strange" things in this pole that I'll attempt to explain with the next entry but first I've got to figure out what's going on in my head :) . Now it's on to the finishing process which will include the painting and hopefully a sensible story to go along with it. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Totem Pole Is Finally Retired... but not forgotten (RIP:1997-2009)

Gone but not forgotten is all that I can come up with eleven years later after I carved this 12' totem pole for our mountain camp near Hendersonville, North Carolina. During Thanksgiving of 1997 I was asked to carve a totem pole that would overlook a huge mountain top lake about 100 yards forward. I used a nice pine pole that we had hauled more than half way across the state from Vance county just north of Raleigh so I was careful to get all the carving right the first time around.

The camp director wanted to have a thunderbird on top followed by a frog, an owl, then a bear on the bottom. Their staff came up with an interesting story about their camp that went along with these characters but I personally have since forgotten. Working on the porch of the dining hall I spent about a week carving the pole, then at least another week constructing the wings from laminated pressure treated lumber. Finally the time came to get the tractor and lift it into its resting spot with a long piece of 4" galvanized pipe attached to the rear side, then sunk into about 4' of concrete.

Unfortunately this camp closed it's doors on July 1st and they shipped those magnificent wings back to me as that was the only part of the totem pole that survived the test of time. I suppose that pressure treated lumber has its advantages. The pine pole itself had finally deteriorated far beyond the point of saving but those wings appear to have many years of service left in them so perhaps there will be another life for them some day.

Anyhow, I thought that I'd post some pictures of this grand pole during its hey-day in glory several years ago. Yes it is gone, but not forgotten.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Carving Totem Sticks

Lately, carving backscratchers and spoons have been very popular with the kids during my afternoon classes. Last week while I was sawing another load of rough-outs from fallen poplar limbs I discovered a new way of "packaging" my little mini totem poles.

As the pictures above show I first cut out a square block for the body of the totem pole. At this point I would stress exercising maximum safety precautions when sawing round limbs from trees on the bandsaw. I strongly recommend that you first hand plane one flat side so that the limb doesn't roll on you when sawing. With that said and since kids like lots of choices, I cut out these square mini totem bodies at several different lengths and thicknesses ranging from about 6 to 8 inches long on average.

I then rough out a small set of wings about 1/4" thick and approximately 5 to 6 inches long. Using the wing piece for measurement I cut out a slot where they will fit on the rear side of the pole. The only thing that I sketch out on the pole is the bird on top which the carver can decide just what kind of bird that it will be as I try to encourage their imagination. After I guide them through carving out the top bird then they can decide what other animals, beasts, characters, or symbols will occupy the rest of the mini totem under the bird. I always have a couple of finished mini totems on hand and/or lots of reference pictures which help spawn their own ideas.
Totem Poles at Stanley Park, VancouverImage via Wikipedia

I tape the wings to the pole that it fits and then it is ready to carve in a nice and neat little package. Perhaps their little mini totem won't be a masterpiece on the first try but I have a very high success rate using this project in my carving classes.

Heck, maybe after carving one of these neat little projects they will some day be inspired to carve a larger totem pole like the natives of the Pacific northwest coast of Canada and Alaska. During the 1980's I spent many months studying the art of these talented people and especially so in Ketchikan, Alaska which has one of the largest collections of totem poles in the world.

So, if you're looking for a fantastic carving project for kids (and adults too!) then I would strongly suggest that you can't go wrong with this little project that I refer to as "totem sticks". Grab a dried fallen poplar limb like I do or any suitable wood that is available to you, then get started and have some fun.

July 20, 1969- 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Today

This is one of the best videos I’ve seen of Apollo 11’s historic moonshot and I keep watching it over and over. It is breathtaking ultra-high resolution photos of their journey from earth, on the moon, and the return trip. Nothing inspired my imagination as a child more than America's drive to land men on the moon and today it brings back many fond memories of that almost magical era in space travel.

I remember exactly where I was 40 years ago today on a Sunday afternoon during the moon landing. I was pouting about something in my treehouse and missed sharing that actual moment with Walter Cronkite. At least I remember where I was 40 years ago this afternoon. I suppose that kids will be kids.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rhododendron or Laurel?

As mentioned in my July 12th posting I have recently been re-learning something that I knew first hand at one point in my woodcarving life a couple of decades ago. What I'm taking about is understanding the difference between two of my favorite carving woods found in abundance in the acidic mountain soils of the southern Appalachians. That would be rhododendron and mountain laurel. Both species are part of the Ericaceae family so perhaps that explains some of my confusion over the years.
RhododendronImage by Gertrud K. via Flickr

One of my fondest memories of hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine was a place in Grayson Highlands State Park in southwest Virginia appropriately called Rhododendron Pass. As the photo on the right so brilliantly shows how an entire mountain side can come ablaze with this magnificent flowering plant. The flowering only lasts a few weeks in the spring so you have to be there at the right time.

Just recently while on a hike at Stone Mountain State Park in northwest North Carolina a friend was generous enough to remind me of the difference between these two magnificent plants. As you can see best from the picture that I posted on the top of this article, rhododendron has a much smoother bark and longer, thicker, and a deeper green color than does the mountain laurel. The mountain laurel in my area has a more 'flakey' bark and tends to be dwarfed by the usually larger rhododendron plants.

In the past I'm sure that I unfortunately mis-stated my some of my carvings by refering to the wood as laurel when they were really rhododendron. I'm glad now that I've taken the time to re-learn the differences because they are obvious when given a little study time.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

July 20, 1969- 'Lewis & Clark' of the 20th Century

July 20th is only about a day away now. That will be the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that first landed man on the moon. I was only a toddler when President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act but I was born at a perfect time in history to grow up during the age of space exploration. I think that being a first hand witness during such an inspiring era had a lot to do with my own need to explore and travel during the years that followed. But most of all I think that it was a catalyst for helping me to put meaningful priorities to the forefront in my own life.

I clearly remember watching all of the rocket launches from Cape Canaveral on our black & white TV from Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. I saved and still have all of the front page newspaper headlines of the space program milestones and especially those from all the moon landings. The space program fascinated me as a kid and it still does just as strongly today as it did in the 1960's. There's just something about space exploration that helps define the deepest mysteries of what it means to be human. Despite the debates I believe that there is no stopping of civilization when it comes to exploring the stars for as long as man inhabits this planet. To better understand the mysteries of life and to see what lies around the "next bend in the river" is at the core of what it means to be human. It's a huge part of what defines us.

Godspeed to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and the thousands of other people that it took to first put man on the moon and to all those who will put us on Mars during the next couple of decades.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Carving on the Trail

For the second time in a week I was fortunate enough to help lead a group of 8 kids on the 4.5 mile Stone Mountain loop trail at Stone Mountain State Park in the beautiful northwest North Carolina. The hike is listed as "strenuous" and it's the kind of trail that you want to run as much energy out of the kids as you can. That way they get to sleep on time and sleep hard that night... and that's very important in the life of a child.

We found a secret lunch spot back off the trail a bit that is like something out of Middle Earth with short rock caverns and a sweet rock crevice that the kids can follow around in a fun to explore maze. It's almost a magical place and we love introducing the kids to it about half way through the hike. This is also the spot where we have our first opportunity to do a little carving on the wood found along the trail.

Today Chief Davie, another counselor on the hike, was working on a spoon that he's been carving on carefully just a little bit at a time for a month now. I continued my tradition of carving a very simple woodspirit in found wood to give to a total stranger as a random act of kindness. This is always a great opportunity to teach the kids a good lesson about selfless giving and by choosing a total stranger the life lesson is magnified X 10.

After lunch I found a 6 or 7 year old boy swimming in the cool pool of water at the base of the 200 foot waterfall along the trail. He was thrilled when I offered him my woodspirit stick but he didn't immediately take time to study the carving since most of his attention at the moment was to create as many waves as possible. That's what little kids do.

Our students were full with energy today and we got done with the hike early so we decided to spend about a half hour at the trail head for another carving period as we drank our cola drinks and snacks. In addition to Chief Davie I had 4 of the kids join me for a lesson on how to carve the woodspirit face in the dead found wood they had picked up along the way. During this period I also had time to carve two more woodspirit faces and the kids had a good time too.

My lesson in selflessness paid huge dividends today when at the end of the carving period I set my woodspirits up to be easily found by a stranger on the park bench in the parking area. One of our students, Taylor then had a great idea and asked me if he could personally present them to two elderly ladies who were chatting on a nearby bench. I gave permission and he politely presented them to the ladies. These two ladies were even more thrilled than the children that I had chosen randomly before. These two ladies held them in the air for a close inspection admiring the art and making sure that Taylor received the due respect that he deserved.

Some of our successes today included completing a strenuous 4.5 mile mountain hike, observing and discussing wildlife observations of crawdads, a water snake, frogs, hawks, etc. but my biggest success of the day was when Taylor took the lead and offered his own hand in a random act of kindness. These kind of life lessons are just as important to success as reading, writing , and arithmetic but teaching values seems to be almost forgotten in today's classrooms. We will all sleep well tonight!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Backscratcher Carving Class Today

Most afternoons I arrange to have a Boy Scout class with a group and today I had 5 students join me and most everyone was working on backscratchers except for Russell who wanted to work on his walking stick. It seems that the popularity of backscratchers just won't die and this is another carving project that is proving to be VERY popular with the kids. They continually request them so I'd have to highly recommend this to be an exceedingly good project for kids.

As explained in earlier postings I just gather the fallen limbs from tulip poplar trees then rough out the basic shape of the scratcher with the bandsaw. Sharpen up the carving knives, grab a hand full of safety gloves and head for any group of kids where you are almost guaranteed success!

As the pictures above show some of my favorite designs for today's backscratchers was the one that Anthony carved a snake head into the end of the handle. Alex decided that he wanted to make a long handled ladle out of his rough out so he carved the bowl deep but it still scratches very good. Another one had the bowl carved into the shape of BigFoot. I thought that these were some pretty good ideas and I was very proud of today's class. These boys will have something good to dream about tonight! But most of all they'll have another nice craft that they made with their own hands to share with their families on next home visit!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

WIP-Part 2: Carving a Mini Greenman

WIP= "Work In Progress"

I have just finished up the little greenman and he's most definitely turned out to be one happy little fellow that I hope will bring many a grin and smile to a lot of observers from the nick-nak shelf. First I must make a BIG correction because I said in my last posting that the wood used for this project was laurel. Not so... It's rhododendron. On a day hike to Stone Mountain State Park this week a friend reminded me of what I knew at one point in my life but I let my knowledge of plants slide to the far side of my brain for several years. I went on another long forest hike yesterday and I'm currently editing the pictures, but when done I will elaborate on the difference between the mountain laurel and rhododendron that's found in my region of the southern Appalachians. Perhaps it will stick with me this time!

Anyhow this has been another fun project and the latest addition to my collection of walking stick scrap characters. This particular greenman has probably been the most detailed of them all which can be credited to those shiny smiling pearly whites. This is also one of the first carving projects where I used my new Flexcut Pelican knives (both the mini and regular sizes) that I discovered and purchased after some research on the Woodcarving Illustrated Message Board. They came in really handy on the hollowed out areas such as in and out of the leave contours. These are two blades that I'm really glad to now have as part of my carving arsenal and they will be called upon on a regular basis now I'm sure.

Okay, it's on to my next project which I'm thinking will be a slingshot. If you look back to my posting on July 3rd I have been re-inspired by Rufus to make my own slingshot. I made several of them about 7 or 8 years ago but unfortunately I didn't take any pictures but I think that I can pull it off fairly easy. I've already ordered the rubber and it arrived this week. This is gonna be one fun project and I can't hardly wait to get started so let me get going........

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Buzz of a Bee

Consider this video an intermission from the woodcarving norm. Today I had a nice break from the woodshop and went on a great hiking day trip with 12 boys from camp to Stone Mountain State Park, in North Carolina of course. We took the 'strenuous' 4.5 mile Stone Mountain loop trail to the summit, then on to a 200 foot waterfall. Along the way one of the kids spotted a bee on a yellow flower so I quickly got a pretty nice video of it hovering overhead like a helicopter.

Also, not pictured, I carved a woodspirit in a piece of found wood and kept my tradition of giving it to a total stranger as an act of random kindness. Sometimes I like to just leave my carving somewhere that it can be found but today I gave it to a little boy about 8 or 9 years old walking the trail with his mom and dad. It brought a big smile when I said, "Would you like this woodspirit stick?" and of course I got a big "Yes" and a "Thank you".

Sunday, July 5, 2009

WIP-Part 1: Carving a Mini Greenman

WIP= "Work In Progress"

Finally I'm back to working on a new or better yet, a semi-new project since I started it a while back then put it down for almost a year. I make these little faces from the scrap pieces of wood that I cut off of my walking sticks and you can find a whole variety of them that I posted on the Wood Carving Illustrated message board at: Mini-Greenman from walking stick scraps

When completed this little greenman will stand about 4" tall and I'm carving it from a piece of laurel that I cut off one of my walking sticks some time back. So far I've got the face mostly roughed out but there's still going to be a lot of smoothing up those initial cuts but I'll get to that after the enclosing oak leaves are roughed in. Right now I've got the bottom two leaves roughed out and will begin on the top two leaves next. I decided that this little fellow would have a little expression with some teeth to boot. These little carvings are a lot of fun but like anything that is small there must be a lot of attention to the detail and this is the type of carving that I do best when there aren't any distractions around but that's a hard thing to come by in my busy life so this little fellow might take a while to finish up.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Profile: The Slingshot Man

I've been away for a week taking care of personal business and didn't have time to update the blog but I'm back for now. Thanks for all the comments and I'll answer them ASAP and I'll post my latest carving project soon.

Meantime I wanted to post this link to one of the most amazing old timers that I've ever seen and he lives only about a two hour drive from me in North Carolina. His name is Rufus, he lives with no telephone or TV, and he's made over 4,156 slingshots since 1952. As the video shows, Rufus is the best there is when it comes to hitting a target. Absolutely amazing!