As well as this blog, I also have a website with lots more images of my work as well as a few more stories.
If you like woodcarvings, you'll want to have a look.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Bristol street art 2016-2017


When I'm out and about, pedalling around Bristol on my bike, there's always a lot of great street art to see. Here's a few pieces that I've seen fairly recently and particularly liked. Some go back a while and have long been painted over. I hope that you enjoy seeing them too!



These artworks (including the one above) were painted as part of the 'Upfest 2016' street art festival in Southville, Bristol. The next one is happening at the end of this month, when many of the bigger pieces will be covered over by other work.

This amazing painting was done by the Spanish duo Pichi and Avo.


bristol street art upfest

Dale Grimshaw, who painted this, was originally from Lancashire but is now based in London.


bristol upfest street art

I cycle past this one, by Gamma Gallery, all the time when going to and from my workshop. The billboard sometimes changes and the different adverts seem to make the whole piece next to them read differently.



This one is near to the Gamma Gallery artwork above:




Not all of the bits of street art that caught my eye were the big, impressive ones though...


bristol graffiti

There are also pieces popping up all the time in hidden corners, like under bridges.


Or even in hollow trees, like this one in Ashton Court:


I liked this, painted last Hallowe'en near the M32. It's been covered over by other stuff for a long time now.

bristol funny graffiti

There are also nice pieces in Easton, on the other side of Bristol. This one is by Sepr, a local artist:

sepr street art

And this lovebird is by Kid 30 (aka Smallkid), who is based in the Midlands:

kid 30 street art bristol

These last two were done with the permission of the people living in the houses. They really brighten up a dingy alleyway/road as well.

Friday, 23 June 2017

One-handed woodcarving - a few thoughts about tools and techniques that could help people with the use of one hand only

Recently, someone contacted me with a very interesting question. This person had suffered a stroke a year ago and was now confined to a wheelchair, having also lost the use of their left hand. They were previously right-handed. 

The question was simple: did I think that a person with the use of only one hand could carve?

I sent a reply and, after some thought, realised that it may also be of interest to others who are temporarily or permanently in a similar situation. Although I currently have the use of both hands, I have experienced periods when injury has brought such considerations to mind.

The answer that I emailed back is reproduced in this post, with some alterations, extra images and information:

Can someone with the use of only one hand carve? My answer is a very definite yes!

I'd say that the question might be: what would you like to carve and which tools and techniques will enable you to do it?

Some techniques could be more difficult (such as using a gouge and mallet) but many tools are traditionally used one-handed anyway. Carvers in many parts of the world (including Africa and the North-West Pacific Coast of the US and Canada) have been creating huge, stunning pieces such as totem poles for many centuries by using adzes swung with one hand to do much of the work. Two types of adze used by First Nations carvers in Canada are shown here, to the right and also above the stone tool.


First nations wood carving tools from Canada



Adzes require a bit of practise to wield accurately and can be quite hard work to carve with for long periods of time if you aren't used to using one. However, they are fundamental tools for carvers all over the world and were also a vital piece of kit for most carvers and other woodworkers in Europe for many centuries.

Reciprocating (aka power) carvers are available that can be used one-handed. They are a bit like an electric bread knife that a gouge or chisel blade fits into the end of, which then moves back and forth very quickly to enable easy cutting. 

Bosch power carver
Image from: http://www.woodworkersinstitute.com/wood-carving/kit-tools/power-tools/power-carvers/bosch-pse-180e/


I have one made by Bosch and I believe that Wecheer, Axminster and Proxxon also make them. They would be very useful for large and medium sized carvings. Blades made by Flexcut can be used with some of them by utilising adapters - some people find the range of Flexcut blades a bit more delicate and useful for carving with. If these tools are of interest to you, I'd really recommend buying an anti-vibration glove at the same time, as the vibrations when using these power carvers can be quite strong and could lead to 'white finger' nerve damage over time. 

For smaller scale work, I'd investigate rotary tools such as a Dremel or Foredom tools. They are like small drills that can be fitted with various shapes of cutter, including diamond ones for working on metal and stone. They can also be fitted with long, flexible shafts to enable more delicate handling of the cutters. 

As with any power carving tool, buy eye protection and ear defenders at the same time if you don't already have them. If using these tools, particularly with certain woods and stones, you'll also need to consider wearing a dust mask and using dust extraction (a Henry vacuum cleaner has been known to work well - maybe with some kind of mesh over the nozzle to stop small workpieces disappearing inside!)

Another range of tools worth looking at would be palm gouges and chisels. They have rounded handles that sit comfortably in the palm of one hand and aren't used with a mallet, so could be ideal. Very good ones are made by the Swiss company Pfeil. They aren't cheap, but they are usually excellent quality and are available in Britain.  

Some tools are also sold with a choice of either traditional handles or palm handles, such as the 'Ray Gonzales hook skew' made by Ashley Iles which is one of my go-to tools for many fine carving cuts.


ray gonzalez hook skew
Image from: http://www.ashleyiles.co.uk/ray_gonzalez_tool.html

One question that will need thinking about is how work pieces will be held. As long as the workpiece is securely held all kinds of tools can be used on it, even a simple pocket knife. To be honest, it's the same question that any carver faces regularly when working on fiddly or awkwardly-shaped pieces! 

I'd suggest having a range of clamps, vices, wooden blocks and simple home-made frames that can be used in different combinations to hold work. 

One-handed 'quick' clamps similar to this one would be useful. They can be used relatively easily with one hand, but can easily work loose with repeated vibration from carving work so might need regular retightening.
Image from: http://www.irwin.co.uk/tools/clamps/quick-grip-medium-duty-one-handed-bar-clamps

G-shaped cramps (a cramp works with a screw mechanism, a clamp doesn't) hold work more securely, but could perhaps be more fiddly to fit on when only using one hand. 

G cramp
Image from: http://wsdt.wellingboroughschool.org/resources/dtoncd1/school/cramps.html

An interesting, simple method for holding sticks to be whittled is shown on this blog. What you need will depend entirely on what you're making, so perhaps start trying to make things with an experimental and adaptable mindset and evolve methods to hold your work as you go along. 

One place not to hold work is on your lap - slipping with the blade and hitting one of the arteries running inside your thigh wouldn't be a great way to finish your carving! 

Another place to get further info might be through the local occupational therapy unit. They may well have ideas for techniques and devices that could be adapted or repurposed to enable easier carving.

I hope that this information is useful to you and encourages you to give carving a go if you are considering trying it and have the use of one hand only. 


If you have experienced carving one-handed and would like to comment or add to what has been written here, please do. I'd be very interested to hear other thoughts and ideas. 

If you do decide to have a go at carving and make something that you feel happy to share, please feel free to send me an image. I'd love to see what you create! 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Carving the 'Jackie Collins Inspirational Woman of the Year' award 2017

carved wooden bowl for penny brohn uk



Last year, I was commissioned to make this award for the Penny Brohn UK cancer charity. It was a real pleasure to be asked to do the same this year.

The award was to be presented to Jo Malone MBE, who is well-known for creating perfumes and fragrances. I used timber from a cedar tree that was cut down in the grounds of the charity's offices in Bristol, which was an off-cut left over after making the 2016 award.



The award was designed to be the kind of thing that Jo would like to have. Apparently she is a very practical person, so it made sense to produce an award that would have a practical use. A bowl seemed ideal, as it can be both beautiful and useful.

The shape was inspired by the leaf of a pomelo, which is the key scent note in Jo's new line of 'Jo Loves' fragrances. These leaves are quite distinctive, having secondary leaflets coming off the petiole (the stem of the leaf).


Image from: http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/moorea/dicots2.html

It seemed appropriate to use cedar wood to make the bowl for a person who works with scents, as the wood has such a distinctive smell of its own.

Most of the shaping was done with power tools, for speed and also because I find that power tools often give a better result when working with softwoods such as cedar.



The words carved onto the bowl - 'Passion, Resilience and Creativity' - were chosen by someone who works closely with Jo, as they were felt to be particularly important to her.


The bowl was finished with a good-quality finishing oil and was presented to Jo at the end of May 2017.




Sunday, 28 May 2017

Seventeenth century carvings, filming locations and stories of ghosts at Chavenage house in Gloucestershire

Chavenage House

Chavenage House is situated near Tetbury in the Cotswolds. It may seem familiar to some readers, as it's been used as a filming location for many films and television series, including being Trenwith house in the most recent adaptations of Winston Graham's Poldark novels.

The house has only been owned by two families since the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The approach that you can see above is very much as it was left by Edward Stephens in 1576.

Edward's grandson was Colonel Nathaniel Stephens, who was Member of Parliament for Gloucestershire during the English Civil War. He was a somewhat reluctant party to the execution of Charles the First and Oliver Cromwell is said to have stayed in the tapestry-lined bedroom which can be seen on the first floor in the wing on the left in the photo above.


Cromwell's bedroom at Chavenage House

The picture of Cromwell on the wall staring down at the bed is more than a little creepy, as is the tiepin on display set with two clear crystals that cover pieces of the hair of Charles the First, which were cut from his head after it had been chopped from his body.



The adjoining bedroom is named after Cromwell's general and son-in-law Henry Ireton. It is also lined with tapestries and is full of Civil War weapons and armour, including these firearms:


civil war firearms

There is also a leather hat cover hanging on a wall, over what looks to be an Elizabethan or early Stuart carved over mantle:



A chair in the corner of the Ireton room is said to have been sat in by Nathaniel Stephens himself.

civil war chair

The house, and the Cromwell room especially, have many ghost stories attached to them.  On the website for Chavenage, one can read the well-known tale of the curse of the Stephens family:

'After the cessation of hostilities whilst Charles I was imprisoned, it became apparent to Cromwell that the King would have to be executed in order to stop any form of Royalist uprisings. To this end he sent Ireton to Chavenage, to try to persuade Colonel Stephens to add his support to the regicide. Ireton arrived whilst Colonel Stephens was keeping the festival of Christmas in 1648. Stephens, known as a mild man, had shown much irresolution in deciding upon sacrificing the life of King Charles I and was on the verge of wavering when Ireton reached his destination. It is said that they sat up all night and eventually Ireton obtained from Stephens his very reluctant acquiescence. 

Shortly after his daughter Abigail returned from having passed the New Year elsewhere, she, in a fit of horror and anger, laid a curse on her father for bringing the name Stephens into such disrepute. The story goes that the Colonel was soon taken terminally ill and never rose from his bed again. When the Lord of the Manor died and all were assembled for his funeral, a hearse drew up at the door of the manor house driven by a headless man, and the Colonel was seen to rise from his coffin and enter the hearse after a profound reverence to the headless personage, who as he drove away assumed the shape of the martyr King, Charles I - this being regarded as retribution for the Colonel's disloyalty to the King. Thereafter until the line became extinct, whenever the head of the family died, the same ghost of the King appeared to carry him off.' 

The Cromwell room has even been exorcised on the orders of the present owner's grandmother. Did I see anything there? I'm afraid not, although I would say that that room felt noticeably colder than the rest of the house (but that could just be due to it being at the end of a wing).

More carvings can be seen in the Oak Room, which dates to Elizabethan times and has carved panelling that is often dated at 1590. However, it clearly shows the date 1627, which was during the reign of Charles the First.  

I think that the representations of the musicians and dancers are some of the most beautiful carvings that I have seen from this period.


wood carving charles the first

More seventeenth century carvings can be seen in the Great Hall, which was also originally Elizabethan but was modified during the Stuart period.


stuart wood carving


There are some fine character heads on the wall of the chapel that is attached to the house. Apparently, this tower was built as a folly in the seventeenth century before being turned into the chapel.

stone carved face


Another folly can also be seen to the left of the driveway, hidden in the trees.


folly

I was lucky enough to be shown around on this visit by a friend who has visited the house many times as a locations manager on productions such as Wolf Hall, New Worlds and Poldark. Thanks to Leon and also to Caroline Lowsley-Williams, the current manager who very kindly gave us access to see the fascinating history and carvings of Chavenage.





chavenage house

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Carving or painting? The emblem of the Hull City Tigers made using woodcarving techniques, wood bleach and stain

hull city tigers

This piece was commissioned as a surprise gift for some fans of the Hull City football (or soccer for readers in the US!) team.

At first, I considered carving the emblem in relief but felt that it would lose something if made too different from the two-dimensional version. The tiger was carved with a Dremel rotary tool and some traditional gouges instead. 

The Dremel gave texture to the fur and more definition to areas like the mouth.



It still didn't jump out enough, so I decided to use stain and bleach to 'paint' the design too. This would hopefully allow the oak timber to show through without covering it over, in the way that paint often can.

The stain was Colron dark oak. This is suitable for indoor use - many exterior dark oak stains such as 'Rustins quick dry' can be very thick and obscure wood grain details. I particularly liked the way that this stain could be painted over to give a deeper tone - similar to watercolour paints.

Next, the bleaching. There are several kinds of wood bleach on the market. Some (such as Liberon wood bleacher) are oxalic acid and are good for removing iron stain and watermarks from wood, but they don't actually lighten it much (if at all). 

Chlorine bleaches (as in domestic bleach) don't seem to do much to oak timber either.

I used Rustin's two part bleach. The two chemicals that are mixed in it are caustic soda and hydrogen peroxide - neither of them particularly friendly. If you use this stuff, read the advice on the label carefully and follow it! 

It certainly did lighten the wood nicely and didn't spread out too much either. If you'd like to try bleaching wood, there's some useful tips on the ukworkshop forum.


hull city emblem

A few coats of Danish oil to complete it and the plaque was finished!



Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Ancient and modern woodworking on the Somerset Levels

Somerset Levels Avalon Marshes

The Avalon Marshes are three nature reserves (Shapwick Heath, Westhay Moor and Ham Wall) on the Somerset Levels, not far from Glastonbury. The wetlands are formed from the remains of peat workings that have since filled with water to form a valuable habitat for many kinds of birds.


westhay moor


As part of new work at Westhay Moor, the Somerset Wildlife Trust had commissioned me to carve designs drawn by children at a local school onto two larch boards, each about 3 metres (8 feet) long.

First, I enlarged the drawings and reproduced them onto the boards using a grid.



Next, the designs were carved using a Dremel, a small drill which had a burr-shaped cutter mounted onto it. I have found that carving into some softwoods (like larch) using power tools can sometimes give a better result than using traditional hand tools, no matter how well-sharpened they are.



The designs were then painted in with durable black gloss paint and finished with a finishing oil.

Somerset woodcarving

While out at the site to deliver the boards to the Trust, we took the chance to explore a bit. 

Westhay Moor

The marshes were beautiful and quiet, with only a few dedicated bird watchers about. We heard a Cetti's warbler and saw a reed bunting; so we got in some birdwatching too. There were several carvings dotted about the marshes that were also interesting to see.





The sculpture shown below refers to the murmurations of starlings, which the reserves are famous for. In winter, millions of starlings roost here and on clear, cold evenings they swoop and swirl in great clouds over the reeds.


Starling murmuratio

While visiting Westhay Moor, I couldn't miss going to see a new bird hide that was designed and built by my friend Tom Redfern and his colleagues at Roundwood Design.


The two-storey hide is reached via a causeway and gives a great view out over a pool that is very popular with many different kinds of birds.


When you go inside, the roundwood framing that Tom specialises in becomes visible. I think you will agree that it looks great.

round wood timber framing

round wood design

Here's two photos taken by Tom showing how the hide looks with my boards fixed to it:




This area has also turned up many pieces of very important archaeology. The marshy, peaty ground preserves wooden artefacts well as the lack of oxygen prevents decomposition. 

The second oldest walkway ever discovered in Northern Europe was found very nearby - the 'Sweet Track'. 


Image by E. Mortalmans from http://avalonmarshes.org/the-avalon-marshes/heritage/sweet-track/

Found in 1970 and named after its discoverer, Ray Sweet, the 2 kilometre (1.24 miles) long track was constructed in either 3807 or 3808 BCE along the course of an older walkway, known as the 'Post Track'. It was only in use for about 10 years before being abandoned but many finds have been made around it, including an unused jadeite axe head that was created from rock which originated in the Alps.


sweet rack axehead
Image from http://www.somersetheritage.org.uk/record/11000
Many wooden artefacts were also found, including pins made from yew timber, a throwing axe, four paddles and a small wooden doll that could have been a child's toy or a votive offering. They are preserved in different museums now but most of the Sweet Track is still where it was found, although not visible to the public. It is buried again, with a system in place to ensure constant immersion in water so that it doesn't dry out and start to decay.