Before I explain the title of this blog let me stress that my wife, Diane, is the definite artist of the family. She has spent most of her life as a figurative oil painter, been represented by several top galleries, and her work has received many awards. Name an artistic and creative endeavor and she will conquer and excel at it! As for me, I’ll come up with ideas and with her input and advice will be able to achieve “something”. I suppose my strength is more in the practical construction of things rather than the artistic creation of them. That brings me to the picture at the left, one of my favorite shirts ruined by the curse of the leaking pen!
Lately, I’ve been experimenting with carving basswood to make it appear to be cloth. You may of seen that in this recent blog of mine. This free form style of woodwork is pretty relaxing compared to the precision required when cutting joinery, measuring, marking, and making sure everything fits together as designed. I thoroughly enjoy that entire process but this gives me another avenue to explore. I’ve found that with carving having a model of what I’m trying to transform the wood into is something I need. There are folks out there that have the experience and knowledge that when you ask them to draw or carve an object can just pull it out of their mind and do it — not me! I cut the main part of my ruined shirt out and diluted some expired glue and water to soak it in. Next project I’ll need to actually buy some starch, I’m all out of expired glue. A glued up piece of Basswood dictated the size of the carving here is the beginnings of the project:
At this point the main features have been added and as you can see, it’s not a line for line or crease for crease representation of the cloth. According to Diane, as an artist you need to distill what you’re trying to represent to a simpler form and have the viewers’ mind fill in the details. I recall that she never thought it to be a compliment if someone told her: “your painting looks just like a photograph”; that isn’t her interpretation of art. My goal was to recreate the way the collar flips over and emphasize the area where the shirt is buttoned.
Here is my work area set up for this project. The shirt is so stiff that it’ll stand up on it’s own with the aid of some clamps! I absolutely love having my portable bench, not having to be hunched over the bench at my age allows me to work at a more comfortable level for my back plus I can see (pretty much) what I’m trying to carve. Lighting and being able to hold the wood in any position is important as well.
Something that’s always difficult is knowing when to stop! I can’t tell you how many times I’d tell myself “okay, just a little off here, a little deeper there” but 40 minutes later find myself still laboring over the same area. Stopping and comparing the wood to the shirt was how I tried to develop my eye and see what’s going.
Doing this “artistic style” of woodwork is a new experience and I’m learning as I go. I subscribe to the theory that once you begin to use sandpaper on a piece of wood you should never use a cutting tool again. Abrasives imbedded in the wood could damage the tool so I put away the cutting tools and began the process of sanding the left side smooth. Diane pointed out that dividing objects into thirds is an almost natural inclination but to make things look more random, something to avoid. Unfortunately, there is a series of sap pockets that throw your eye off on the right side of the shirt but that’s beyond my control. Where the two pieces of Basswood were joined together is also obvious, again; beyond my control but something to keep in mind for future projects. So things are progressing nicely in my opinion.
Buttons are a small detail that will be important. So far they’re only drawn in. One thought was to use a forstner bit to create a flat bottomed hole so that an actual button could be glued in. That just didn’t seem natural so decided carving one was the right thing to do. I asked my carving mentor, Randy, for advice and he suggested carving a circle and then undercutting it which would make it appear as an actual button. Well, to outline a circle with a knife and have it be symmetrical is a challenge to say the least! I found that a small, #8 sweep gouge could be used to outline a circle that was 7/16″ in diameter. Next, a #4 gouge can undercut that circle being very careful not to chip the sides of it. Four small punches with a scratch awl completes the button and now it looks pretty authentic. The sample piece below has also been waxed which is the finish I intend to use.
How much time has all this taken? Don’t even want to know but it has provided lots of good shop time and after all — isn’t that what it’s all about?