Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chainsaw carving!

I have discovered the joy of chainsaw carving!  Most of us immediately think of formulaic creations of bears or eagles landing on stumps....wings swept directly upward as demanded by the fact that they are carved from a tree with very limited dimensions. charming as that is...I am talking about the joy of discovering a new set of tools and the creative possibilities that open as a result.

Most of us wish to have our lives structured so that we can't wait to leap out of bed each morning with excitement to get to our work.  And even though I have been an artist and entrepreneur for over 20 years has not been that way most of the time.   But these days....thanks to my recent commission to carve several trees in someone's yard.....I am happy to say that I am indeed living that way now.

The chainsaw is a powerful tool for removing material quickly.  Since the blade is fixed and wide it has serious limitations.  It can cut in straight lines only and leaves aggressive chaw marks and rough surfaces.  These can be assets of course but can also create problems if they are in the wrong place.  One can also use the chainsaw to remove smaller amounts of material by delicately using the nose of the blade to do some blunt hollowing.  It can also do outside curves where there is no material to block the curving motion of the blade.

Another great tool is the angle grinder.  This is a powerful handheld rotary tool used mostly in finishing concrete after forms have been removed.  Most of us have seen someone using this tool to take the rough edges off a sidewalk or wall that has recently been formed or repaired.   It is possible to replace the concrete grinding wheel with a sand flap for grinding and sanding wood.  It is very aggressive and removes material very quickly.  I have discovered how to use this tool as an actual shaping tool.  It is particularly useful with material that is too grainy or too week for chisels.    One can also reach around the form with the tool while looking across the profile from a right angle.  This is simply not possible with a hammer and chisel.

And then of course I used hammer and chisels.  These are the tried and true tools for creating the actual forms.  It is an elegant process of left and right hand energy.  Here is where the magic happens.  When the chisel is placed properly and the bulk material has been removed with prudence and restraint, the chisel reveals the tight skin of form.  It appears as though the figure was in the wood before I even started.  The operative word is that it appears... it is revealed through physical action to my sight and from there into my imagination.  This is the sensual and immediate set of transformations that happen in so many aspects of life....but rarely so quickly and with such instantaneous results.  I have often wondered...."what is spirit?"  The old notions of some magical unseen world are not satisfying.  But the idea of something we create through actions like this....the combination of physical action with thought guided by principle.....makes a quality of being.....that is spirit or maybe that is worship.

To be sure...sometimes the bang bang bang of the chisel seems painfully slow as an elbow is first revealed and then the forearm and eventually the upper arm and shoulder come out.   But compared to so many other activities it is lightening fast and all the more tangible as a result. The angle grinder is fast and smooth and definitely helps in this regard.  But it is not rhythmic nor does it use the left and right hand in an intelligent balance of giving and taking the way the hammer and chisel do....similar to the pallet and brush in painting.

Finally, I use sandpaper and rasps and rifflers to finish.  Sanding and rasping is more than just rubbing it smooth.  And I think this is all the more delicate with wood due to the grain and the nature of wood to be irregular. in hardness from one area to the next.  Not only does smoothness allow us to perceive form over surface texture (that's why bodybuilders shave their body hair) but it is in the sanding and rasping where you can create the small but important aspects of the body....eyelids, finger nails, the little flap of skin over the belly button just to name a few.  These parts undergo their own magical seeming unveiling and create the sensation of revelation just as the larger parts do.

One of my goals with this sculpture was to give the impression that it was simply carved .....not that it was carved from a tree.  I wanted it to look free from the confines of the stump.  I feel I succeeded to some extent but in hindsight I am wish I would have done better.  And I am certain that I will next time.

Here are some pictures of the work.
As soon as I can get some more wood....I will be working to improve my skills.

It has been roughly 500 years since Michelangelo carved his David out of marble.  With the pedestal he is 14' tall.  Big but not huge.  To my knowledge there has not been a heroic female nude carved more or less that size to be David's match.  David is the ancestor of Christ and as such the stories about him reveal a kind of leadership that portends the compassion and focus on the spirit realm that were to be the hall marks of Christ's teachings.  It would seem to me that a female figure would be an apt expression of these concerns and forces as women come into their power just as David was coming into his power as a young man willing to put himself in harms way for the benefit of his tribe and the Jews were coming into their power as a tribe focused on moral principles such as self sacrifice and restraint as well as an understanding of the role of spirit  as opposed to greed and short term satisfactions.  When Michelangelo finished David and presented him, the towns people of Florence were shocked and outraged by the flagrant display of nudity and what they saw as swollen pride in his individual unabashed form....apparently free from the guilt of original sin. And they attacked and broke the arm off.  And I imagine that a 14' nude female that is proud and unabashed would be equally shocking to our neighbors for all kinds of reasons.

So if anybody has a 14' tall by 4' diameter chunk of wood lying around let me know....I will soon be ready to get to work.

These photographs were taken with my Iphone.  The first image shows the sculpture from street level.  I held my phone as high as I could to get as close as I could while still including the whole figure.  She is about 90 percent done in this photo.
The second photo was taken from the scaffolding and does not show the whole figure.  You can also see a chunk missing from her left leg.  There was a lot of rot in the tree which showed up where her leg needed to be.  So I removed that part and then bolted a chunk of wood from the same tree on to her leg.  Then shaped it to look like it does in the first picture.  About 70 percent done here.
When I get a nice camera I will take some pictures of her now that she is finished.

She is holding her hands in this position because she will be holding a chain that is the leash for the dragon I carved last summer and is just outside the frame of these photos.

The owner and I are hosting a little unveiling/tailgate party October 7, 2012 from 1-5 PM to celebrate her completion.

See my facebook page for more details.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

3 Ladies

I am currently working on 3 paintings that each happen to focus on the image of a single female form.

The first is a painting of my daughter's American girl doll. My daughter thought of this painting. She thought it would be fun to see her dad do a life-size portrait of her doll done in the same way and manner that he paints people.

So we staged a photo shoot. Lulu was the art director making decisions about lighting, clothing, hair, pose etc. She definitely styled the image. I have also had the benefit of having her doll here at the studio for an extended visit so I have been able to paint from life as well.

When the painting is complete, my son Sam is going to sell it for us on ebay. Of course he has negotiated his portion of the proceeds for his effort.


The second painting features Olivia. She is the youngest of 3 daughters of my friend, Kaili. Kaili has commissioned a portrait of each of her daughters from me and this is the first. The original idea was to have all 3 daughters in the same painting. However, we had so much trouble getting them all in the same room at the same time that we decided to paint then separately. Now that the decision has been made to separate them, I am going to paint each of the daughters in their own "style".

I am very pleased with the quiet refined quality that this piece has become. I have always been inspired by artists like Ingre who can communicate so much psychological presence with rich sensitivity and quality of the edges of things.


The third painting is Mother Teresa. This is probably the 8th or 9th painting of Mather Teresa that I painted. This was completed and installed in a nearby store for religious supplies.  Each time I paint her I seem to be able to add new techniques to my repetoir.  Most of these nuances of painting are too subtle to be seen on an image here.  It is very satisfying to be able to develop my technique even after 30  years of painting.   They are very please with the results and have asked me to paint a portrait of Jesus. And so I have but that is a subject for a different blog entry.