Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A New Journey - "Cooling His Heels"

I thought it might be fun to take you along on a creative journey with me.  I hope you will join me as I begin with simple inspiration and see it through, until that idea is realized in a finished carving worthy of a special place on the mantel.  In doing so, I hope to share the creative process that I go through as I start with an idea and develop it into a concept.  Once the concept is understood, you will observe how it evolves and develops as creativity and, on occasion, serendipity, take over.  I’ll share with you the successes and the mistakes, for there are sure to be many, that I have along the way.  You’ll likely see how I struggle to rise above obstacles and perhaps how ingenuity and utter tenacity can overcome almost anything.
I hope this will inspire some of you to move away from the cookie-cutter patterns available out there in books or on the web, and carve something truly original, something you can claim as your own.  Now, please don’t misunderstand.  Carving someone else’s pattern or following a tutorial is a great way to learn technique and practice your carving skills.  But, there is nothing more satisfying than coming up with an original idea and seeing it through to a completed work.  The whole process is euphoric and all consuming.   Let’s get started.
The inspiration for this carving concept came to me as I attended my first carving show over the summer in Provo, Utah.  There was a beautiful piece on display depicting an animal walking in a steam of water.  The water was so realistic and well done, that it inspired me to make an attempt at incorporating water into a scene with one of my caricatures.  The vision of a cowboy sitting alongside a stream, dangling his feet into the water to cool his heels, began to take shape.  Thus, inspiration struck and a concept began to take form.  Ideas can come from anywhere.  You simply have to be open to new possibilities.
The Idea:  “Cooling His Heels”
The Concept:  A caricature cowboy, lounging on the bank of a stream with is feet dangling in the water and a look of ecstasy on his face.  His hat and boots will be cast haphazardly on the side of the bank.  Great care and attention will be given to the landscape to make it as detailed and realistic as possible.  Some other fun elements will be incorporated as inspiration continues to come.
With a solid idea and a concept to work from, it’s time to give the mind a bit of a rest and put the hands to work.  I’m not one for fancy patterns and detailed drawings.  For one thing, I’m not good at pencil sketches.  For me, a simple pattern that I will use to cut out my carving blank will suffice.  Ideas for the details will come from my imagination, personal observations, and research photographs as necessary.  As I stated before, my cowboy will be relining back on the bank of a stream.  After deciding that my figure would be around nine inches tall if he were standing up straight, I sketched out the following pattern.

As you can see from the photo, my pattern is a simple outline which I will use to cut out my blank.  The figure will be made up of four parts: the head, two arms, and the body/legs.  I prefer to carve heads and arms separate from the body.  Carving them separate gives me the flexibility to get the positioning of the limbs correct and the tilt and angle of the head just right.  You will see what I mean as the creative process continues.

After a trip to my workshop and the wonderful aroma of basswood sawdust, I returned with my blanks cut out.  You can see in the above photographs that I have left an excessive amount of wood for the hands, feet, and shoulders.  The extra wood at the hands and feet will give me the opportunity to get the shape and angle that I need to make the figure look natural.  The extra wood at the shoulders will also allow me to attach the arms at the correct angle for the position of the body.
Tip from the Stump:  When cutting out blanks, always leave yourself “extra” wood.  This excess wood can be removed easily as you refine the shape of the object, but adding wood onto a piece if you run out is a much more difficult process.
With the parts cut out, it’s time to put steel to wood and begin the carving process.  The following two photographs show the progress of my carving.

Take note that I have only “Blocked Out” the carving.  Don’t rush the details!  I know that the fine detail carving is what most of us carvers live for, but you must first get the basic shapes correct before beginning detail work.  If you are not patient, you may find yourself carving off premature details as the carving takes form, wasting valuable time and effort.  Take things slow and allow the general shapes to form before moving on to the fun part.
Thank you for joining me on the first leg of my journey.  I hope you will come back often to follow along with me.

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