Monday, January 10, 2011

Carving 3. The torso. Working with spalded wood.

This grey, semi-rotten chunk of wood looks to be a doubtful prospect for a carving, but I start to trim away the softened grey surface layers to see what lies within. This was once a crotch of a maple branch, and I discover that in the years of lying in the open it has begun to spald: a complex and beautiful rot pattern sweeps diagonally across the form. Whatever I do with this wood will have to showcase this beautiful pattern, and the two stumps of ‘legs’ of what were once branches gives me the clue. There is no forcing my ideas on the wood, the direction this carving will take is obvious.

How accurate to a real female body do I need to be? The wood has already been chainsawed off at the back so a full three-dimensional form is not possible and anyway my purpose is to make a reference to reality rather than a copy. The wood and its patterning takes priority here. I begin to carve with the circlet cutter but soon switch to the belt sander which will shape the gently rounded form more safely. The wood is still hard in most places but I would hate to gouge it accidently by hitting a soft area with the rapidly whirling blade.

Final sanding takes a long time as usual, but eventually I paint on the first coat of Swedish oil. At last I can see what the finished piece will look like! The sanded wood soaks up the oil and the contrast between the light blond of the solid maple and the dark spalded pattern is spectacular. I follow this up later with two coats of spar varnish to harden the surface, sand again, and then spray on several coats of satin urethane varnish. The oil, and all those layers of varnish bring out the depth and beauty of the wood.

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