Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Nice to know...

Burke Sharpener
...was pleasantly surprised when I attended the 2018 Charlotte Woodcarvers show to find Ms. Nancy Burke in attendance showing and promoting her wares.  The Burke sharpener is key to my carving happiness as it allows me to quickly and accurately sharpen my tools which allows me more carving time with measurably better results.
As most of you know Nancy’s husband John passed away in recent times leaving me wondering about the state of the business.  As Nancy told me she spent many years working with John to assemble the various models and together they were able to keep things moving. I am happy to report that Nancy is continuing the tradition and it was truly nice to see her.
The success and happiness of a carver truly lies in being able to identify and maintain a sharp edge.  Nothing like a dull tool will dull a carvers interest.  More than 30 years ago my stepfather gave me a really nice pocket knife and taught me how to keep it sharp.  He was a butcher and taught me on water stones using the standard “dime” method that many of us know.  The key piece of information he imparted to me was that how the placement of a bevel can create a blade that remains sharp when being worked hard.  In addition he taught me that if I could look at the cutting edge of my tools I would see that it is made up of many microscopic teeth like you would see on a handsaw.  When these teeth get bent over they leave white scratches behind requiring us to strop our blades.  To supplement this information about 15 years ago I was fortunate to listen to a talk being given by Marv Kaisersatt who imparted his blade shape preference which eliminates the bevel completely.  I adopted this teardrop cross-section shape which has brought me the type of results I desire with tools that are “slick” in their cutting and remain “scary” sharp.  
Prior to my Burke purchase I used a set of arkansas stones, then graduated to an Ultimate Sharpener, then finally my Burke.  I am protective of my knives as they are my primary tool and when I need to reshape them I will utilize diamond stones and cards in combination with the machine.  This ensures I have the desired shape prior to sharpening and finishing of the cutting edge.  An example of this is that the spine of my knives are rounded which allows me to roll out of a cut.  Square spines are not bad and are preferred on my “hogging” knives as the maintain a rigid  and strong blade that can take  a beating.
So why a Burke when I have an ultimate sharpener?  Before I answer this I need to provide you a little background...while I am mechanically inclined I am not a machinist nor an engineer.  I know what a C&C machine is but have never operated anything but a mainframe computer.  So to put it nicely my machining skills are amateurish.  I do not want to spend my time sharpening but rather carving and my carving budget is at the higher end.  Given that I chose to have the Burke at my side as it operates at a much slower speed (so I don’t fry many tools temper) and the wheels on the lower spindle spin slightly faster and allow me to polish the channels of my gouges.  While many debate the need to polish your gouges channels in my experience my tools become even “slicker” (less resistance) which allows me to quickly effectively cut myself...er..the wood.
I have owned this model for around 10 years and I use a green oil based rouge and could not be happier.  An investment in my happiness that I will never regret.
One other note is that prior to traveling I can run through all the tools in my box in very little time with the cutting edge I desire.  It should also be noted that learning to use the machine and sharpen a variety of tools takes time and practice so Be patient and make sure you put in the effort.
It’s a warm day here in NY and I will be carving...will you????

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Hats off to Charlotte...

Carving by Peter Ortel - Best of Show, Charlotte Woodcarvers 2017
 ...for another outstanding show.  Woodcarving competitions can be fickle things that when tweaked they can either improve dramatically or head in the other direction.  The Charlotte Woodcarvers got this right.  It's truly amazing what they did with the weather too,  for the most of it it was sunny and warm (~ 70 degrees).
   All kidding aside, I left last years show bewildered as to the judging that took place.  As someone who serves as a competition judge for my clubs show I take judging very seriously as I like to have the playing field as level as possible prior to the actual judging taking place.  The item that I noted last year was in a category I competed in (I was not in the running for a ribbon),  however one competitor flaunted the rules in his submission in the he was allowed to enter a carving that clearly was not defined by the category in which it was entered.  The carving was very well done but clearly had an advantage over the other carvings in the category.  Even knowing I did not have a chance at a ribbon I was disturbed that the entry was allowed to compete in the particular category.  Given this,  I took a moment and spoke with the director of the competition and expressed my concerns regarding the rules and like has happened in other competitions I assumed that this might not be addressed other than a cursory fashion.  Boy was I wrong...the club had the intestinal fortitude to listen to my comments (and most likely comments from others) regarding this issue and corrected the issue through rule changes.  Dang skippy, it appears their competition committee really took it to heart and made the necessary clarification in the competition categories, as well as adding a new Caricature category for strictly roughouts...and their is not a complaint to be had.  This year's competition was stiff as the quality of the entries really ramped up.  On the caricature side of things I had my butt handed to me by Pete Ortel in the Roughout category but I am really trying to figure out how bad placing 2nd to Peter is (he-he).
  I am proud to say the boys from Western NY did a fine job in the competition this year, as we all had winners.  I appreciate Jim and Rob keeping me in line for a weekend filled with 12 hours drives.
  Kudos also go out to Bill and Judy Dominick for inviting us to their place for a special gathering.  It was truly a special evening and for their welcoming spirit we are eternally grateful.  Part of the evening circled around Peter Ortel putting on display his 2000 Best of Show winner (Congress) - "Love".  This piece is one that I am sure has inspired many a carver and I was fortunate to see it in person.  Rumor has it that he was taking the carving to a professional photo shoot and the result of the shoot will be an upcoming article - stay tuned for that as their is a lot to learn from that piece.
D. Stetson carvings
  Another note from the competition weekend was the ever increasing attendance by members of the CCA,  I counted 9 (Wolfe, Stetson, Ortel, Cartledge, Hajny, Boone, Brown, Dowdy, Hiser).  I appreciate the time I got to spend with Dave Stetson as I absorbed quite a bit in the few moments we spoke and really enjoyed seeing the quality in his work.  What was amazing was to see how wide of a net he cast in his subject matter,  it seems he like Mitch has no fear of carving whatever comes to mind.  Dave like myself leans to the artist side of things so we have in common with our approach to carving.
  Thanks also go out to Tom Wolfe and Mitchell for hosting the whittling competition again this year,  and Page for keeping it all straight.  I am not a speedy carver but I somewhat survived and did not totally embarrass myself and for that I am grateful.
A shout also needs to go to my competitors and vendors who travelled from far and wide...Prince Arnold and his entourage from my future home state of Georgia (try the cake),  Big Dave and his wonderful family, Blake(my brother from another mother) and others from the great state of Tennessee,  crazy old Maurice and the knot-hole gang from Virginia (great group of guys), Jim and crew (Conewago carvers) from the keystone state of PA, Dylan and his new bride from the UP in Michigan.
  When visiting such events, as quick as the time goes by, I make every effort to learn what I can.  On this trip I had a few moments to talk with Michelle Parsons (a vendor at this event and an extremely talented pyrographer).  Michelle had a wide array of burning equipment for sale, and through conversation I was able to learn more about the differences between the differing brands and models.  It is not as clear cut as it seems and there is a lot one can learn from these folks that might be useful in our world.  Thanks Michelle for taking a few moments to speak with me.
  I am sure I am forgetting something, but it will come back to me I am sure long after I publish this article...

  In recap, Charlotte Woodcarvers you are setting the competition/show standard for the region...we who are about to carve salute you!!

  Winter is struggling to hang on here in Western NY which in a way is fine with me as it gives me time to relax and whittle.  I hope this writing finds you with a sharp knife in one hand and a fine piece of Northern Wisconsin basswood in da other...carve well and often!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A mighty fine example...

J. Butlin the model
Yup still here...thanks for asking.

...a long time ago in a carving world far, far away I took classes from my friends (and yours) Phil & Vicki Bishop.  As part of the roughout classes I took were all the many lessons reaffirmed by the likes of Gary Falin and others.  A particular lesson that I learned that is vital is that before we can truly create a great caricature carving we need to understand some measure of anatomy and what is "normal".  This teaching came up on a recent visit to our family in NC (Mitch and Page) when Jim was beginning to work on one of his first full figure carvings.  He had experience with roughouts which allowed him to work on the general anatomical layout which also allowed him to start carving hands.  Through minimal guidance he was able to generate some fine hands in many positions.  The challenge came as he advanced through to generating his original ideas in carvings of his own design.  One in particular was a barefoot banjo player, "T. Wang" as I understand he was named but his far better half.  The design of a instrument playing figure did pose challenges for general hand and finger placements but also represented his first time carving a bare foot.  While the picture may seem funny and while we did have some safety concerns (we wanted that knife on a leash) the fact is he was able to generate a mighty fine resemblance of a foot by using himself as a model.
  I remember Vicki often stating that we are our best model and I have to say many years later that this is a lesson I have retained and continue to utilize today.  If you have ever spent much time around caricature carvers we spend a lot of time in front of a camera trying to capture a pose,   in front of a mirror creating a visual memory, or just like Jim trying to remember how to count to 5...this simple method should be used often as it pays dividends and results in much finer carvings.

  Well, I don't much pay attention to that critter in PA,as it is beginning to look a lot like spring is just around the corner...so now is the time to carve before the spring chores arrive and our cutting time is whittled away.
  I am spending the day with my carving thoughts...how about you? 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Dayton...errr...Wilmington 2016 Artistry in Wood

Ryan Olsen-cast of Caricatures
 Another road trip...this time to Wilmington Ohio for the 2016 Artistry in Wood show.  I wasn't sure what to expect but the CCA organization was in attendance and couldn't pass on seeing the gang and talking carving.
This year's show was a challenge as most folks know...the old venue near the Dayton Airport was sold and closed which left the club seeking a venue worthy of attendance.  They found one in the guise of the Roberts Centre just down the road in Wilmington.  Of course the standard November date was not available so they had to go with what they could achieve which turned out to be Labor Day weekend.  While all of the normal attendees could not make it due to the date change a large number did (Heinecke, Woodcarving Illustrated, The Woodcraft shop...to name a few).  The quality of the pieces on display were worth the trip with the CCA Members displaying some of their wares joined by carvers of the likes Terry Brasher (Aerosmith carving was outstanding!),  Dylan Goodson (some great chain mail carved on a knight), Fred Zavadil (amazing relief carving that makes you drool), Al Jordan (hey he's from my club!!!...with his outstanding display of birds), Gary Falin (wow, he has stepped up his carving game fer sure) and many more.
Now, I only attend this show around every 4 years (usually timing it with CCA visits) the show is truly a must-see.  All caricature carvers should attend at least once in their carving lifetime as it exposes you to a wide array of talent and vendors. 
Hmm, now on to the venue...the Roberts Centre is conveniently located right off exit # 50 off Route 71 (Wilmington is SE of Dayton).  The venue includes a hotel (Holiday Inn-currently being renovated),  a restaraunt (standard american fare), and the Centre.  The show venue is truly a step up from the old location (appears to be a recent build) with ample bathrooms and space to accomodate the show.  As far as accomodations,  like most folks we were unable to acquire a room at the hotel as it was booked by the time we decided to go.  We did stay 2 exits up the road near a Tanger Outlet and others stayed at a nearby Holiday Inn Express,  no complaints here however room prices are higher than what we experienced in Dayton and that is a concern for a large number of folks.
Overall my hat goes off to Dayton Carvers Guild...they did an excellent job of adapting to change and from the lines waiting to get in it appeared attendance was not too far off.  I know that the club is seeking to return to their old dates, but as far as venue goes I think they have a good one.  Great job!

Yes, it's a holiday and that means I get to carve...are you carving? 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

This is what mentoring is all about...

Best In Class Carving by Rob Lucci (2016)
...another wonderful month of carving for sure! 
  Me and the gentlemen I "encourage" took to the Erie County Fair that is held each year outside of Buffalo, NY.  The Fair, if Wikipedia is to be believed, is the largest in New York State and the 3rd largest in the US.
  Rob, Jim, and myself packed up some carvings and threw in with the Buffalo crowd for a good old competition and as you can see from the picture we had a measure of success.  (Rob having the greatest success)  Each of us was able to walk away with shiny new ribbons and also some extra carving money as well!   
  As you probably know if you are a regular reader of this blog I started mentoring these gents a few years back and man has it payed back in spades.  I enjoy seeing their success and watching them grow in the art. 
  This year I estimate I will have been carving for ~ 25 years now,  and through the years one thing I have noticed is the sense of family we Caricature Carvers share.  As we all know times are changing with many interests trending towards the electronic age.  Knowing this it is up to us to share our art and encourage others to join us.  Who knows, you might get the same enjoyment I am getting while growing our family.
  It's another hot one here in Western NY,  sunny and dry...a perfect reason to sit in the AC and get some carving done.  I hope you are doing the same!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Toto we're not in Kansas anymore...

Scarecrow handcarved by Jim Hiser (2016)
...true but we were in East Berlin, PA!!!

Just got back from a weekend hosted by Jim Hiser and the Conewago Carvers with renowned instructor Chris Hammack.  Me and the Rochester gang took his 2-day Caricature class that was held in the East Berlin Community Center.

It was our first visit to this venue and I could tell from our host that this would be worth the almost 6 hour drive.  Jim does a great job of facilitating and supporting the instructor and students with ample communication and direction.  Jim is also a recent inductee into the Caricature Carvers of America(CCA) organization.  A well deserved honor (see his 2nd Best of Show carving in the CCA competition in 2015).

Jim has carved himself a little niche with his wonderful scarecrows that utilize a Chris Lubkemannesque technique for generating the required straw (see image).  These whimsical scarecrows are a great demonstration of movement and you can see the pride and skill in each piece.

As for the class,  Mr. Hammack has, as expected, outdone himself as his varied and constantly changing roughouts provide an elevated challenge for the caricature carver and as demonstrated by his Barflies great interest has followed.  Chris is a patient and knowledgable instructor and should you get the chance to spend time with him,  it is money well spent.  Chris and the whole flock of CCA members will be attending this year's Artistry in Wood show that will be held Labor Day in Wilmington, Oh.  Each of the members will be displaying some of their works. 

As far as future classes in East Berlin go...Jim states that he will have a handle on 2017 classes in early November.  To register you can either keep on eye on copies of Chip Chats or visit http://www.conewagocarvers.com/  (Note: the facility is well lit and ample power is provided...overall a perfect setting for letting the chips fly)

Well this class has got my carving juices flowing...what are you doing to keep the chips flying?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The littlest details...

Pirate "go-by" by C. Hammack

...have the greatest impact!

Ok, so your carving and you have done everything to make sure your figure has the proper appearance (i.e. no 3rd leg) and you're done right?? 
It has been my experience carving and collecting others works I have noticed that while ensuring your figure has the proper appearance (e.g. bone joints are in their proper locations) the carvings having the most visual impact have some of the  greatest details through some of the smallest cuts.  These cuts were created by knives some by V-gouges and yet others by veiners or u-gouges.
These cuts can have a great impact but only when done properly.  Some of the best carvings I have seen have many tiny triangle cuts and small cuts,  these must be practiced to ensure the proper result. 
Ok so what do I mean...well...there are two things that jump to mind the first of which is something all good carvers know...your tools must be at their sharpest (not just sharp but really really sharp)...the tool should glide through the wood.  The second item is the the cut should result in the proper planes being generated that will display the proper highlight or shadow.  Essentially all cuts we make create highlights and shadows which in turn gives the appearance of depth.  The use of a wide V-tool will open the resulting cut to more light than a narrow V-tool...this is why the vendors sell us multiple angle varieties of v-tools as there are uses for both styles depending on what the carver is trying to achieve.
A good example is to examine the image provided and look to the scar Chris cut on the nose of the pirate...he created steep, narrow and deep cuts to ensure when he added the strong paint tone that the scar would jump out at you (good composition).  Also note the bag under the eye and the cuts made there. 
If you move on to the mustache it has been enhanced with what appears to be a veiner/u-gouge result in a hint towards the hairs that reside there. 
Of course if you examine the image you will find other examples of this.  Having these examples for you to examine can be quite helpful in advancing your abilities and result in carvings that have a greater impact.
Just something to think about while your whittling by the camp fire or at that park.

I'm carving, are you??