Saturday, February 7, 2015

Carving to Cut Out - Making the Mindset Switch

Mastering a new technique takes patience and tenacity. With this current project, even clarifying the vision has become an exercise in shifting my mindset from carving to cut out. I'm not only changing style, I'm changing mediums. And my first draft drawing is glaring evidence that I'm only half way there with the shift.

My aesthetic senses pique on each extreme of the continuum between simple elegance all the way over to complex to the nth degree.

This draft is halfway in between. Well, not quite. It's elegant lines trying to be complex.

The lines are thick. Every limb and branch has a definite start and end point. And there are no weaknesses in them, meaning little variation in thickness. They all taper in a uniform way.

Each of the limbs has plenty of negative space. Each forked branch has plenty of room to make clean drill holes and turns for the blade.

In other words, each tree is a great beginner carver project.

That's not what I was after.

Don't Throw Out the Baby

But, the draft does have value. If I decide to do a book for Fox Chapel Publishing, I'll need lots of patterns at all levels. So, this one can go in the intermediate project section as is, or each tree can be a standalone beginner project.

I'm particularly proud of the moon in this draft. (Not shown in the picture because it's still a work in progress.)

The clouds that run across it will be negative space. I'm still working out how to anchor it to the border of the frame. And, I'll want to cut it out last so I can practice using the waste wood from the negative space of the tree cut outs.

Shift in Medium

I know where I went wrong with this project. I'm still drawing from a carving mindset and leaving in as much large wood as possible to keep a solid wood blank from exploding.

That requires leaving the whole trunk of the tree in the picture - anchoring it's roots at the base and its branches to at least three sides of the border.

And, I gave no consideration to the new material I'll be working in, which is plywood. That lifts the requirement for so much bulk wood structures in the picture. And the branches no longer need  more than one anchor. It also means that the majority of the branches can float freely, without having their ends touch the border.

In other words, it's not a delicate piece. The art of it can be more bold and daring. I don't have to worry about it exploding, or keeping things apart enough to get a carving tool in between at funny angles.

I can have a cut in the wood as thin as the blade itself. And I can have a teeny tiny branch sticking out in the air all by itself, with only one anchor point. But, the most important part, I don't need a trunk to give the piece girth.

Shift to Branches

The complexity I crave has nothing to do with the trunk. It's in the limbs and branches.

Last evening I went down a rabbit hole on Pinterest, looking at art where limbs come into the frame from no obvious source. It's gorgeous. And it's inviting. Our minds naturally fill in the phantom tree. In turn, that extends the art beyond the frame.

I live in an established neighborhood where the developers where kind enough to leave as much old growth as possible. In any direction I turn I can count 20 mature trees that are at least 3 stories tall.

There are woods behind the houses on each side of the street with groves of spindly trees punctuated by a huge anchor tree. The little ones make for a pleasant and interesting backdrop. Perfect for the layered piece I'm planning.

It was in the low 60s today, which is unseasonably warm for February. My iPad and I took a short walk around the yard and up the street a bit, snapping images all along the way.

For each shot I tilted the camera up or zoomed in to focus more on the branches than the trunk. I'm only after pieces of the tree. And, it should be fun cropping them even more on the computer to capture just the right framing.

These shots will serve as my inspiration for the next set of drafts. Should be fun to mix different tree frames for each tier of the piece. Right now I'm aiming for three layers. One for a big limb and its branches in the foreground. Then a grove of thin trees in the middle layer. And perhaps the moon and an even smaller, less detailed grove of trees for the bottom layer. Or, perhaps the moon and another limb and branches.

We'll see.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Zen and the Art of Tracing

I do a lot of tracing as I create carving patterns. There’s a peacefulness to the process that requires keeping the integrity of a mood. And, there’s a little time travel involved, and a little music too. See what I mean.

Pattern Formation

I start my patterns from an idea of the overall shape and mood I want to carve.
Yes, tree shapes have a mood.

At least they do to me.

This gnarly tree has hard turns and crooks in the branches.

Where this limb has many gently curved branches. It has a flow.

Making the pattern for it was a series of long flowing lines. Whereas with the gnarly tree, each line was short, with frequent turns.

Devil in the Details

When first drawing a full draft, it’s easy to forget the mood of the tree. It could start with flowing branches and end up with lots of interesting crooks.

That’s where tracing comes in.

I trace parts of the pattern that hold the right mood consistently.

Sometimes those are on opposite areas of the paper.

Sometimes it’s just a perfect limb.

Light Table


My little light table is the workhorse of this process.

I can stack a few layers of perfect pattern parts together and try different configurations. That’s a lot faster than drawing them all out.

Flipping the paper to start a mirror image on the opposite side of the tree is a neat trick. Really helps keep the tree in balance.

When I have an interesting fit, I slip a clean sheet on top and trace the new grouping.

Tracing Time Travel

Michael Hedges is one of my favorite musicians. In fact, he is the only musician I’ve ever seen live in concert that made me want to become a roadie and travel to every city on the rest of his tour. (Since I’m a published composer myself and professionally ran sound for a lot of folks in those days, that’s saying a lot.)

His presence is so peaceful and yet so powerful. Like a big creek.

I remember watching a Wyndham Hill video where he was featured. They had a little quip from him before he went on stage.

He said you can listen to the sound you just made, the sound you’re making, or the sound you’re about to make.

Tracing is like that.

It’s a Matter of Focus

I wrote a little about this in Zen and the Art of Scrollsaw Maintenance.

There’s a type of focus where you become one with the line, the blade, and the shadow of the blade. It’s all one thing and you’re one with it.

But tracing is a softer focus. You can think about the line you just made, the line you’re making, or where you want to take the line next.

And that may not be an exact replica of the line being traced if it doesn't feel right.

Like Drawing Chinese Calligraphy

Often I notice that I’m drawing with my elbow and wrist locked in a certain position. My shoulder is moving the pencil around the page when I trace. Have you ever seen someone paint Chinese characters? It’s a little like that.

Naturally, drawing from the shoulder affects the flow of the line. It’s a broader stroke than I can make with my wrist.

So, when the flow of a line during the trace feels like it should go a different direction, my shoulder is where that feeling resides.

It’s a little like playing guitar. My elbow does most of the playing. My wrist only gets involved for finesse on a strum or when picking. (If you watch a flamenco guitarist, you’ll only see their fingers move except for the occasional hard strum.)

Erase and Trace

I go through erasers like crazy. And because I draw such bold lines, after a while I can hardly see if the new lines have the right flow.

Tracing a new draft is a great way to get a fresh start. There are no distractions and I can clearly see any line that breaks the mood.

New Eyes

I’m finished with the first draft of my new carving. I need to walk away for a day or two so I can see it cold. I’ll be looking for anything that is out of character with the integrity of the mood of each element. (There are three in this carving.)

Tracing the Cut

Once I’m satisfied with the aesthetics, then I’ll switch brain sides and look at it from an engineering viewpoint. Since these new carving will be made from plywood, strength is not as much a concern as it is on my single ply carvings. I have to design those so they won’t explode.

Then I’ll be tracing the lines with a blade in my mind, to determine where the access drill holes will be and to ensure that the blade can make each change of direction.

In other words, I stop looking at the carving, and start looking at all the negative space that will eventually become waste wood.

But that’s a focus we’ll save for another day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Carvings and Site on the Way

Four years! It’s hard to believe that’s how long it’s been since my last post here. I’m back, and taking my carvings and this site in a new direction. The focus is still trees, but going 3D in a different way. See what I’ve been up to for the last four years and what’s in store for the carvings.


In 2010 I was happily carving along and learning to play cello. I even had a book deal in the works with Fox Chapel Publishing. They’re the folks who own most of the carving magazines that featured me. 

And then a shoulder injury sidelined me. Seems I had a little too much bone in there and it was hitting in places it shouldn’t, causing injury. The surgery was pretty minor. The recovery took about two months.

New Business Launch

Well, not really a launch, more like a final push. In 2010 I was at the beginning of a serious three year push to make BlogAid my full-time work, and leave a 30 year career as an electronics engineer. (I now help non-geeks have successful sites with WordPress, SEO, content, conversion, security, and performance. I teach, train, consult, test, build, and document and I LOVE IT!!!!!)

During my shoulder recovery the business finally started catching fire and I had to drop all of my hobbies and social life to start working two full time jobs, seven days a week.

It worked!

I left my day job in the corporate world in March 2013.

Getting My Life Back

Part of the change meant switching the carving room and my office. I wanted the bigger room for the office so I could have comfy furniture for taking breaks.

But more importantly, I wanted a window with a view from my desk. It overlooks the back yard and woods. And the other window across the room is all tree!! I watched it bloom this past spring. What a joy.

My day is filled with trees and sky and critters any time I look up from the computer monitor. That’s just good for the soul.

And necessary.

For the last 15 years of that old day job I was on the road. I had an office with a view. The last thing I wanted was to feel cooped up working my new job.

New Desk Lead to New Carvings

I had my desk situated in the corner of my old office. It’s just not the right shape for the new office.
I also found that I grew weary of sitting all day. 

I wanted a sit/stand desk.

In my previous career, I was a bench tech for about 10 years. I already knew that I’d be happy with a standing desk.

Wow, they’re expensive!!

So, I decided to put my current desk up on stilts while designing and building a new desk.

Desk Plans

You can find just about anything online these days. Found plenty of DIY plans and videos for L shaped desks, which is what I want.

I probably stayed on that site for two hours – visiting all of the blogs of folks who had made their own desks using products from SimplifiedBuilding
And I have to say, as a content marketer, I was totally impressed with how they involved the community and made it so easy to get a custom design. Heck, they even have all of their supplies available for free CAD programs too.

Carved Panels

The backside of my new desk will face out into the room. All of those cables and the PC and other office equipment and stuff under the desk is going to look messy. We can’t have that in my nice new office.

I was inspired by one example I saw where a partial wood panel was hanging from the top of the desk. It was clipped from behind to the horizontal stabilizer pipes.

That was it!!

Carved wood panels!! 

Some nice colored cloth behind them and no one would ever see the underside of the desk. 


Going Bigger Meant No Carving

Design ideas were floating through my head every day. 

But working big means working in plywood. And that means no carving.

These would be cutouts only.

Okay, stencils can be very complex and interesting. But they leave me flat. (haha)

I craved dimension.

Panel Stack

It took a while, but I finally found a way to have my cutout and dimension too.

The new carvings will be a serious of stacked panels. Each is a carving by itself. And then spacers will be added between each layer, to give it added dimension.

I’ve already got the first draft of the drawings finished. Working out the details now.

More on the Way

It’s good to be back, both with carving and on the blog.

A new website is on the way too. Much has changed in the four years I’ve been absent from this site. 

A new design and full integration is already in the works.

Can’t wait to share it all with you!!!

This is just the blog part. Click here to see the site and my previous carvings.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Subtractive Art

Most of my creative endeavors, including composing music and writing books, are considered additive art forms. Painting would also be included in this class because each of them builds one thing on another to create a whole.

Carving is the only truly subtractive art form I practice. It has taught me how to be a better writer, both of music and text. To create a carving from a solid piece of wood, I remove everything that is not the art.

There is a quote floating around about being an author. I don’t know who originated it, but it goes something like this: Being a writer is easy. You just stare at a blank page until you begin to sweat blood from your brow.

Once I’m past that hurdle, I allow words to flow as they will until the muse is exhausted and then I begin the editing process. That’s where the carving experience comes into play. I begin chipping away at anything that distracts attention from the focal point of the piece.

The main tool I have been honing lately is clarity. I began that process while researching the material that five years later became a book titled The Sage Age – Blending Science with Intuitive Wisdom. At the time, I had not entertained the idea of writing a book. I simply wanted to be clear on a few concepts that had surfaced in pop culture that attempted to marry ideas from quantum physics with New Age thought.

Since then, I’ve combined clarity with the razor-sharp tool I seemed to have brought into this world with me, which was focus. Together they make an amazing pair at chipping away the superfluous and helping me get to the root of the mystery.

I’ve only been carving for a few years. I’m still learning and exploring, but I can already tell that this is a fine choice of hobby for me because of how it has already enriched the quality of my life. And, it’s kind of cool to walk down the hall and see the tangible representation of those lessons hanging on the wall. I can’t do that with a book or a song.