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.