Sunday, June 28, 2009

Long, Tall Santy -- A Rescue

This is a rescue project. I started Long, Tall Santy about a year ago, and gave up on him because his eyes were too shallow, and wonky besides. He had a tassell on his hat that . . . well, words fail me. His mouth was lopsided, and I had no idea what I was going to do with his beard.

He started out as a 2"x2"x12" block of basswood. He came real close to being firewood!

Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of what he looked like before I started the rescue work. Or maybe it's not so unfortunate. It was pretty bad.

Santy here is a take-off on an Old-World Santa. You can tell by the monkish attire and the super-long beard. Most Old-World Santas are rather sober old so-and-sos, hardly a smile to be had among them.

I like happy Santas. He should be happy and mischievous. Since LTS here already had a lopsided mouth, I decided to make him wink, thus the raised moustache on his left side.

To correct the eyes, I simply scooped them out with one of my bent knives and started over. To do a wink you need to scrunch up the face on the side of the winking eye. Still haven't quite got it yet, but it's not bad.

I wanted to narrow the beard a bit to show the front of his arms.

I don't know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I regretted it though. Trying to get a knife into that narrow space to clean up the cuts was almost impossible. There simply was no room to roll the knife blade.

Yeah, yeah, I know: use a gouge. Well, I did, but I wasn't happy about it.

It just seems like cheating, somehow. I didn't even use a gouge to do the texturing on the fur trim of his robe and cap. I just used a rolling/slicing cut with my new Carl Johnson blade. Worked out very nicely, I think.

So here he is in all his glory!

The painting isn't my favorite thing to do. It's not as much fun as carving, but it really does make this type of sculpture stand out.

At this point I have no idea what I'm going to talk about next time. Maybe a flute. Hah! Bet you didn't expect that one! But maybe not.

Until next time, let the chips fly!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Eagle Lovespoon Finished -- At Last

Finally I got up the gumption to finish the Eagle Lovespoon. Took long enough!

For those of you, like me, who have forgotten what the earlier photos looked like, you can go here and here.

So, when we last saw this spoon, about all I had left to do was to finish the kissing cranes, clean up the back and do a general cleanup overall. Carving the cranes went amazingly well. I was working on the very last piercing and had not broken anything! I was thinking, "By golly, I'm going to get through this whole spoon without a single break! Whereupon I broke it.

Aaarrgh! The knife slipped, went right through the neck and twisted breaking the neck in multiple pieces. Small pieces. My wife stopped me from head-butting the wall before I put a dent in it -- the wall, not my head. I was able to find enough of the pieces to put it back together with "The Carver's Best Friend", superglue.

After that, things went swimmingly.

As you can see, the only carving I did on the back of the spoon was on the clover leaves/hearts. The rest I just smoothed out with my knife and champfered the edges to give it a finished look. As with all my work I stayed well away from the devil's paper. The finish is straight from the knife. The "finish" was a coating of Williamsville Wax worked into the nooks and crannys with a toothbrush and a soft cloth.

So there you have it. It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be due in large part to the knives made by my friend Carl Johnson, the Carver/Tuner From Nowhere.

Since I don't use a scroll saw to do the piercings, using only knives, my ability to do the knotwork like in the cranes necks would be severely limited if not impossible without these "micro" detail knives. So a big thanks to Carl.

Until next time, let the chips fly!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Rat-Tail Joe Explains Why Mesquite Is Hard

Suddenly one day last week I got the urge to carve a Pueblo-style bear fetish from mesquite wood.

Yeah, I know, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Here is a photo of the finished piece along with the knife I used and some representative shavings that I produced while carving this fetish.

Those of you with a sharp eye and a good memory (neither of which I possess) may note that the heart line of the fetish is backwards. The reason for this is so that if this ever leaves my possession any knowledgeable collector will know it was carved by a non-Indian.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! (Hope that doesn't mean a curse or something!)

Moving right along! As you can see from the size of the chips, mesquite is a very hard wood. This wood has been seasoned for at least two decades, but even green, mesquite is nothing to take lightly. For my money, there's not a nickel's worth of difference between mesquite and rock maple. Mesquite is as hard as a spurned woman's heart.

Which leads me to the story of why mesquite is so hard.

I grew up in a small town of 5,000 people in the geographic heart of Texas. I've carried a knife daily since I was about 7 years old. Every day since then I've awakened in the morning, put on my pants and stuck a knife in my pocket, as did every boy I grew up with. We all brought our knives to school, and we never tried to hurt another living being with them.

A boy with a knife whittles. That's a fact of life. And the most abundant whittling wood in central Texas is mesquite. Even us kids, not noticing the blinding sun, the sweltering heat, or the gritty sandstorms noticed that mesquite was hard.

Being a curious sort, I asked every adult I knew, "Why is mesquite hard?" Most of the farmers and ranchers attributed the hardness, along with it's abundance and nuisance factor, to the Devil's sense of humor. Most other folk just shrugged their shoulders.

One day when I was about 8 or 9, in the late 1950s, I thought to ask the fount of all knowledge natural: Rat-Tail Joe. Rat-Tail Joe was an Indian, a full-blood Comanche, and he looked it. Round face, craggy features, prominant nose, dark skin. He was an oil-field worker when he worked, which was about six months out of the year. During the winter, he wasn't around. Some said he went to visit relatives on the reservation up north of Lawton, Oklahoma. Most of us kids speculated that he was down in Mexico, raiding small settlements.

He was called Rat-Tail Joe because he wore his hair in a tightly woven braided pony-tail that reached down below his shoulder blades. Now, you've gotta remember the time and place. Any man who wore his hair in a pony-tail would have been subjected to constant harrassment and would have been called names a lot less flattering than Rat-Tail. Nobody bothered Rat-Tail Joe. Nobody even called him Rat-Tail to his face. As far as I know, he never caused any trouble, but no one messed with him.

When he was in town, he'd go to the drug store (it had a fountain, like every other drugstore at the time), have an ice-cream float, then sit out on the side walk and whittle for an hour or so. He'd carve small animals, always out of mesquite.

One day, I screwed my courage to the sticking point (that took some doing, let me tell you) and walked up to him. "Mr. Joe," I said, "do you know why mesquite is so hard?"

He looked at me with those obsidian eyes for so long I was about to either wet my pants or take off running. Or both. Finally he nodded to the sidewalk beside him. I sat down. He rummaged around in his pocket and handed me a small piece of mesquite cut from a limb. I got out my pocket knife and started cutting on the wood. He started talking.

It happened a long time ago, he said, long before the coming of the White Man, not long after The People came to this land. There was a woman called Slender Tree. She was the most beautiful woman of The People. All the young warriors trailed along after her like puppies, yipping and nipping at each other, trying to attract her attention. She would occasionally favor one of the young men with her attentions, but not for long.

It seems that she was not a nice person. Slender Tree recognized her beauty and let it go to her head. She was demanding, ill-tempered and capricious. She used the young warriors to feed her pride and then discarded them. This went on for many years until she was older than all the warriors in the puppy-pack that followed her. All the men her own age had finally recognized her for what she was and had gone on to take wives and have children.

Slender Tree saw her youth slipping away from her. Her father was getting impatient. She needed to find a husband and settle down, or he'd be saddled with her for the rest of his life. For her part, she was no more anxious to spend the rest of her life in her father's tipi than he was. So she began casting around for a husband. Unfortunately for her, all the desirable men in her band of The People knew her for what she was. (Later on in life, I discovered her like in a character named Kate in a play by some guy called Shakespeare.)

One day a council of all the neighboring bands of The People was called. Suddenly Slender Tree's camp was filled with with hundreds of young men. These were warriors who had proven themselves and had many ponies. Most important of all, they didn't know Slender Tree. So she began to hunt in earnest. This might be her last chance to marry well.

Among the visitors was a man named Standing Bear. He was young, but in spite of his youth he was known as a great warrior. He had led many raids against the Kiowa in which he had stolen many ponies and taken several captives. He was also being trained to be a medicine man and would have a seat with the Elders in the council. It was said that the Great Spirit had spoken to him and told him he was to be a powerful man who would lead his people to greatness.

He was perfect!

Slender Tree focused all her attention on Standing Bear. Such attention from such a beautiful woman is a heady thing. Standing Bear was swept off his feet. It only took a few days for Slender Tree to become confident that she had hooked and landed the biggest fish of her life.

Unfortunately for her, not only was Standing Bear a great warrior, he was also an intelligent and perceptive man. About the time Slender Tree was becoming confident she had him hooked, he was becoming attracted to another maiden in the camp, Wind Song.

Being a decent sort, Standing Bear told Slender Tree that she was not the light of his life, and he hoped she would find a suitable match. Soon.

Slender Tree flew into a rage. No one treated her that way! She ranted and raved. Being an Indian male, Standing Bear ignored her and walked away.

Slender Tree was desperate. The council was almost over. In a couple of days, Standing Bear would leave the camp. It didn't help any that her father beat her for failing to capture Standing Bear's heart. That would have been a real feather in his cap, so to speak.

For a while, Slender Tree fumed and sputtered. Then a plan formed in her mind. She would visit Standing Bear's tipi in the night. She would seduce him. Once she had made love to him, he would be hers forever.

So, late that night, after the moon had set, Slender Tree left her father's tipi and slipped through the sleeping camp to where Standing Bear had pitched his tent. She slipped through the flap, but instead of finding Standing Bear alone, she saw him asleep with his arm around Wind Song.

That was the last straw. Humiliated, Slender Tree drew her knife, jumped upon Standing Bear and stabbed him in the heart. She then turned to the screaming Wind Song and slit her throat. By this time the camp was aroused, but deep in confusion. She cut a slit in the back of the tent and slipped out into the darkness, intending to circle the camp and pretend to be as horrified as everyone else.

While making her way through the black night, Slender Tree turned her ankle on a fallen branch and plummeted into a small ravine, hitting her head on a rock. In her semi-conscious state the Great Spirit came and spoke to her.

"You have angered me greatly, Daughter," said the Great Spirit. "Standing Bear would have made your people the most powerful in the land. Now he is dead, at your hand. You must be punished."

"But you are the Great Spirit. Can you not make another warrior to take his place?"

"No, Daughter. The tree has many branches, and now your people must follow a different path. As must you. From this day on your spirit will inhabit the most abundant tree in the land. It's wood will be beautiful, and all men will desire it. But it's heart will be hard, too hard for men to bend to their will. It will seduce the cattle to eat from it instead of the life-giving grass. It will grow so thickly that it will impede The People in their travels and their hunting. It will be good for nothing but burning."

And thus the Great Spirit made it so. From that day on, the mesquite tree has been the bane of those who would live in the land of The People.

And so you have it. The true story of the mesquite tree and why it's wood is hard. Or not.

Enough rambling for one day! Until next time, let the chips fly!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Another Face -- Elves on the Loose! Part 2

OK, now where was I?

Oh, yeah. Now I remember. Eyes and stuff.

Here I've done the other eye mound, just like I did the first, cut down from about the center line of where you want the eye mound to be, then cut up from the cheek. I've done a little more rounding of the face and narrowing of the head above the cheeks. I've also evened up the jaw line and started hollowing below the cheek "bone". I haven't yet started putting any detail into the ears.

And, here we have a profile view of this stage. You can clearly see the curve of the cheek here. If you run your finger alongside your nose from the nostril up to your eye you can feel the rise up to the cheek bone and down into the eye socket. You can also feel that there is a valley between the side of your nose and the peak of the cheek bone. If you look below the nose you can see where I goofed here. Put your finger up under your nose where its septum meets the upper lip. No, not in your nose, under your nose. Didn't your mother teach you anything?

Ahem, now run your finger along your upper lip until you reach the end of your nose wing, either one. Feel how your upper lip curves into your face. That's called the dental mound. In a profile view your upper lip reaches your nasal septum about half the distance between the tip of your nose and the end of the nose wing. I didn't make my dental mound round enough which means I didn't make my smile lines deep enough. Remember how I warned you about that? Do as I say, not as I do!

Here I have drawn in pencil the lines for the smiley squint and the smiling mouth.

And here I have cut them in with v-cuts using the tip of my knife. I've also reduced the height of the chin (something I should have done earlier) and defined the lower lip by using a rolling-slicing cut with the tip of my knife.

And here's a slightly different view.

Voila! The finished product. Yes, Ethan, I know. I didn't show progress photos of the ears. Sorry, pard. I just got carried away as I got closer to finishing. But, as I've been saying, the ears are pretty trivial. Compare the photo above to this one. All I did was make two small stop cuts forming a triangle into the ear at the midpoint of the ear where it joins the side of the face. I put the point of my knife at the bottom of the bottom stop cut where it joins the face, slanted my knife until the cutting edge was a little bit (I love precise, technical terms!) above the bottom of the ear, then swung my knife around cutting a dish into the ear and leaving a consistent border around the edge until I reached the top. By this time the point of my knife was at the apex of the triangle at the center of the ear. I repositioned the blade so that I could cut down to the face and maintain the pointed ear and cut, removing the chip that gave me the interior of the ear. It sounds harder than it is.

I've also put some wrinkles in the cap using rolling-slicing motions with my knife. No gouges were used in the making of this ornament. Some carvers, some very, very good carvers, use a v-tool to texture hair and beards. I don't. (What a surprise, huh?) They're a lot faster at the job, but I don't feel they leave enough of a shadow. I cut straight down into the wood and then finish the "v" by cutting at an angle to meet the bottom of the first cut. I vary the side of the first cut that I make the angle cut so that no matter where the light is coming from, you will still see some shadows.

Compare this profile shot with the one above. I've reduced the brow to a more reasonable profile. You can also see how I lowered the tip of the chin. The dental mound is there, just not as pronounced as it should be. I probably should have either dished out the area between the tip of the chin and the lower lip more or reduced the height of the chin more, but, ce la vie! There is room for improvement, but, all in all, not a bad result.

Feel free to criticize or give me tips for improvement. I'm always looking for ways to improve.

So, until next time, let the chips fly!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Another Face -- Elves on the Loose!

Sean wanted to see more step-by-step photos of the way I do a face, so, since I am trying to build up inventory at the store that sells my ornaments, I decided to do my second elf ever. I gotta tell ya, taking all these photos was tough! Just as I'd get started good and get into the groove, crap! Gotta stop and take a photo. Very disruptive! But, anything for my peeps!

The first thing I do is sketch out the face on a block of wood. This began as a 1.5"x1.5"x6" piece of basswood. As you can tell more clearly from the second photo I ripped the block down a diagonal to come out with two triangular pieces of wood. I do this on anything over 1" that will be hanging on a tree to save weight. You don't want the ornament to tip the tree over! You can click on the photos to get a full-sized view. I've labeled the brow, the cheek and the bottom of the nose.

Here I've trimmed down the the main outline with my knife and started establishing the depth of the main features of the face. I left all that wood below the chin for the beard. At this point I haven't decided what it will look like.

Here's the profile view.

Here I've established the position of the eyes by plunging my knife down alongside the nose and cut up. Where the nose changes into the brow I moved the handle of my knife down to fix the slope from the brow down to the eye. I next cut up along the cheek line to meet the bottom of the nose/brow cut. You'll notice that there really isn't enough room between the cheek cut and the brow cut to place the eyes. The reason for that is that the top of the cheek cut will form the top of the eye mound. I've also made a small v-cut along the jaw line with my knife. I don't make this too deep because I may want to change it later as the rest of the face develops.

I've also started working on the ears. I try to move around on the face and not work too long on any one feature. I find that if I stop working on one feature to work on another, when I go back to the first feature my perspective is refreshed, and I can see things I might not have seen otherwise. As you can see, the ears are pretty simple. They are just one letter "C" after another.

Here you can see I've started defining the nostrils and the smile line. The smile line is important, because if it's not deep enough, the lower face will be flat. I've also started rounding the upper part of the face by carving wood away in front of the ear.

Here I've defined both nose wings and both smile lines. I've also defined the left eye mound. You can see by looking at the right side of the face that the top of the eye mound is the top of the cheek cut. I come down about half the distance I want to be the height of the eye mound, then cut down toward the cheek and up from the cheek toward the bottom of the eye. I've also started hollowing out below the cheek bone, and, if you'll compare the left side of the chin to the right side, you'll see that I've been refining the jaw line from where I originally drew it. That's why I didn't cut that line too deeply to begin with.

I have done all this carving with just my Harley knife, the knife pictured alongside the other elf in the previous post. Of course you could do this just as well, or maybe better, with a handful of chisels and gouges, but the knife is my preferred tool. Call it a quirk.

Well, this post has gotten awfully photo-heavy, so in the interest of keeping load times down, I'm going to break off here and continue in the next post, which, with any luck, will be within the next couple of days.

So, until then, let the chips fly!