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

Monday 31 December 2012

'Cornucopia' at the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster

I've been invited to show in this exhibition in February

The exhibition has been co-curated by Will Stevens, who organises a life drawing class in Bristol that I go to. Some of the other people showing work are quite well-known Bristol makers and there are about 30 exhibitors, so it should be a good 'un!
Here's the website for the life drawing class as well:

I've just posted about one of the pieces that I'll be showing in 'Cornucopia'. It's at

Hope you like it!

Triodos Bank's 'Cornerstone' project- YouTube video

Here are a couple of videos that are on YouTube as part of Triodos Bank's 'Cornerstone' project, with a me talking about why I carved what I did on the stone. Thanks to Faye for inviting me!

You can find out more about the project here:

For the more health and safety conscious, I know that I'm not wearing goggles and there's no extraction etc. The position of the stone was adjusted and extraction put on just after this film was shot when the serious carving began, honest!!

Saturday 29 December 2012

Carved Oak plaque for Bristol's Castle Lodge freemasons

I completed a carved oak plaque a few weeks ago for someone who wished to commemorate his grandfather, who was an important freemason in Bristol. The plaque is made from recycled oak and was carved freehand, using a Dremel hand drill for the lettering and traditional hand tools to carve the square and compasses (the traditional symbol of the freemasons).

The lettering was in a font which I haven't carved before and so was an interesting challenge. Designing the square and compasses symbol was too. Symbolism is very important to masons and I had to do some careful research so as not to include, or leave out, anything in the design that would make it incorrect.

The plaque will be displayed in the Castle Lodge on Park Street in the centre of Bristol. It's interesting putting my name and mark on the back of a plaque going to somewhere like this lodge. The plaque may still be there long after I'm gone and, when it is next taken down from the wall, I wonder what legacy of it's maker will still remain?

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Recycling in a 17th century Bristol building-a peek at post-civil war carpentry and pit sawing

File:King Street, Bristol (June2010).jpg

A friend of mine has recently bought a building on King Street in Bristol. This cobbled street has a row of buildings on it which were built not long after the end of the English Civil War in about 1665. A group of us woodies went over to have a look around at Nigel's invitation.

It was very interesting seeing how the grade II listed building was put together and changed over time- the bays at the front sheared off and the frontage flattened in line with Victorian fashion, the peaks of the gabled roof at the front pushed back so that the frontage has a flat top in line with Georgian trends etc. The rear of the building shown above has the loading hatch put in when it was a Victorian warehouse.

One of the most interesting parts was seeing where some of the lathwork and plastering on internal walls had been stripped away, so that the original seventeenth century studding (the supporting timber framework) could be seen.

Bristol was devastated during the English Civil War in the 17th century, with sieges and high taxes bringing the city to it's knees. When these buildings were constructed it made sense to re-use building materials left about the place after years of war, rather than expensive new materials. The bits of wood in this photo show this. Some have been cut with saws in a sawpit*, but others have been hewn into shape with axes, and still show the marks. Some, like the bit top left, are strange shapes. This is because they came from much older damaged buildings or ships and were brought here to be cut into shape then fitted. They are still here centuries later.

'Make do and mend' indeed!

*When someone is in charge, we call them 'top dog'. When they have no power or little chance of success (e.g. in sporting events) we call them the 'underdog'. Ever wondered why?
These terms come from the old way of sawing logs into timber. One person would stand in a pit across which the log to be cut would be laid. The other, more experienced, person would stand on top of the log and direct the cutting . Each would be holding a handle at an opposite end of a big two-handled saw. The man on top (or 'top dog') didn't have to work the saw as hard and stayed out of the mud and dust, whereas the 'underdog' in the pit would work much harder pushing and pulling the saw upwards, whilst being covered in sawdust and mud. Here's an image of one type of pit saw in use:

image from

Monday 24 December 2012

Josef Dobner- 'Der Gaukler'

I just wanted to put a couple of images  of this carving on my blog, because I think it's great.
It is 51cm (20") tall and was carved using lime wood in 1926, by a man named Josef Dobner. He died in 1972.

'Der Gaukler' means something like 'the entertainer' or 'the joker' when translated from German into English. I wonder if it is a self-portrait?

The carving is kept at the Belvedere museum in Vienna, which is part of the Austrian State Museum and is well worth a visit.  The copyrights on both of these images are owned by them.

April 2020

Sonia Williams has contacted me and very kindly sent a photograph that she took in Hallstatt, Austria about 1962. It shows Josef Dobner (on the right) standing with his brother Thomas who was an architect.

Josef Dobner and his brother Thomas at Hallstatt, Austria in 1962
Photo © Sonia Williams. Reproduced here with permission

Sonia recalled meeting Professor Dobner and his family many times at their home in Villach, in Austria. He also introduced her to the painter Willi Götzl. After studying in Austria as a pupil of Götzl, she is now based in Norfolk in England. Thank you to Sonia for sharing her memories and for permission to use this photograph.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Chris Pye's woodcarving secrets and a woodcarving poem

I get regular email newsletters from a very skilled woodcarver named Chris Pye. I really admire his thoughtful attitude towards carving as well as his work.
The repetiton of the cut in carving (gouge, chisel or knife cutting over and over again) has struck me for a long time as a kind of mantra. It gives a pattern within which it is easy to slip off into thought. You also need to be pretty philosophical if a bit of carving breaks off unexpectedly!

Anyway, the most recent newsletter had a couple of sections which really caught my eye and I'd like to share them here, for those who can't see the original newsletter. Thanks to Chris for sharing them with his readers...

"Top 10 Secrets of Woodcarving!

I scribbled this list, with it's notes, on a scrap of paper about 25 years ago. I came across it the other day and realised that, since then, I hadn't changed my mind at all!
I was thinking of the qualities that I believe go to making up a really good carver: things good carvers consider as they carve, or with which they work; things students should always bear in mind.

1 Do it! Practise. Do it a lot.

2 Persistence! Don't stop.

3 Regular steps! Incremental challenges.

4 Preparation! You can't have too much research, which includes drawing and modelling.

5 Tools! The right ones, and enough of them.

6 Correct bevels and edge! Sharp tools, cutting efficiently.

7 Work from the tool! The tools are the carving.

8 Slicing cuts! The 'cut of the carver'.

9 Carve the form into the spaces! Not the other way round.

10 Light and Shadow! Gives 3 dimensionality."

The other bit that particularly stood out was this Taoist poem:

Chuang Tzu: Poem of the Woodcarver

trans. Thomas Merton

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand

Of precious wood. When it was finished,

All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:

What is your secret?”

Khing replied: “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded

I guarded my spirit, did not expend it

On trifles, that were not to the point.

I fasted in order to set

My heart at rest.

After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.

After five days

I had forgotten praise or criticism.

After seven days
I had forgotten my body

With all its limbs.

By this time all thought of your Highness

And of the court had faded away.

All that might distract me from the work

Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought

Of the bell stand.
Then I went to the forest

To see the trees in their own natural state.

When the right tree appeared before my eyes,

The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.

All I had to do was to put forth my hand

and begin.

If I had not met this particular tree

There would have been

No bell stand at all.

What happened?

My own collected thought

Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;

From this live encounter came the work

Which you ascribe to the spirits.”

Chuang Tzu was a 3-4th century BCE Chinese Taoist.

Chris Pye has a website which can be found by clicking on this link:

Saturday 22 December 2012

Triodos bank 'Cornerstone' project

I've been invited to contribute to an arts project being run by Triodos bank, who specialise in ethical banking. Several local artists and other people (e.g. the local MP and arts organisations such as The Children's Scrapstore) have made their mark on the stone, which is a piece of reclaimed material from a local reclamations yard.
The stone is a slightly coarse-textured limestone with a fair bit of sand in it too- not the easiest stuff to work with. It's full of crystals which tended to break taking bits of detail with them! Nice to be doing a bit of stone carving again though, it's been a little while.

I carved this eye to show how banks are being watched (even more critically than previously) by many people now. Other major banks, less keen on ethical banking, have been up to some pretty shady stuff recently and it hasn't looked good. 

The other carving shows the stone being forced down by the weight of a single penny. A lot of folks in Britain are finding it tough financially at the moment and I hope that banks don't forget that-ethical banking practice seems particularly important now.
However, after several parliamentary ministers got caught out for fraud recently, banks certainly aren't the only ones who need to remember ethical practice and how hard a lot of people are finding getting by financially these days...

You can find out more about the project and the other contributors by following this link:

Friday 14 December 2012

Carved wooden spoon

I carved this spoon from cherry wood for my brother's wedding gift. Cherry is great to use in spoon carving as it works easily and is safe to use with food.

 The bowl of the spoon has been left with shallow carving marks still visible, as I like the contrast between the smooth handle and these gouge marks.

The tools used in shaping were a bandsaw (to quickly rough out the shape, although I could also have used an axe), a drawknife and a Mora bushcraft knife. To shape the outside of the bowl of the spoon, I used a number 3 gouge and on the inside, a large spoonbit gouge. Some people use a hook knife (or crooked knife) to shape the insides and I own some and will use them, but personally I prefer the spoonbit gouge. 

After carving the spoon, I engraved the initials of my brother and his wife and the date of the wedding, using a Dremel hand drill with a rotary burr. 

Finally, the spoon was dampened with water and lightly sanded with fine grade paper, to allow the wood grain to rise and then be sanded back.
The final finish was a couple of coats of extra virgin olive oil.. This needs to be gently warmed before application to help it soak in, otherwise it tends to sit on the surface and attracts dirt. Some popular wood finishing oils, such as Danish oil, aren't safe to use with food.
Lastly, the spoon was rubbed down with a clean cloth and was then ready to go!

Hyper realistic carving and realistic carving

I've just been looking at some hyper-realistic carvings (that mimic other objects) and thought I'd put some images on here. There is a long tradition of carving very realistic imitations of objects and in Western art these visual tricks are called Trompe l'oeil meaning 'deceive the eye'. However, it seems that most recent sculptors who produce a similar kind of work use casting and modelling techniques (e.g. Ron Mueck and Duane Hanson). Understandable, as reductive techniques like carving (where material is removed to get to the final form) can be pretty unforgiving of errors...

These carvings are by Randall Rosenthal, an American carver. They are carved over a period of months from a single block of wood and then hand painted.

These baseball caps were carved from a block of basswood by Fraser Smith of Natchez, Mississippi:

Fraser Smith, from Natchez, Mississippi, uses an art technique called trompe l'oeil to create his masterpieces

He also carved this leather jacket, a detail of which is shown below:

Close up: Mr Smith's leather jacket is looks real even when you look at it closely

The Icelandic carver Stefan Haukur Erlingsson also enjoys carving clothing studies:

Another carver whose realistic imitations of clothing have become well known is the Venetian Livio de Marchi. Sometimes, the carvings have practical functions, such as this chair with it's creator sat in it and the two chairs shown below it:


Some of de Marchi's projects are amazing in their ambition. He likes designing carved replicas of cars and then 'driving' them on Venice's waterways.

Another American woodworker, named Wendell Castle, made this piece in 1985. Entitled 'Ghost Clock', it is entirely made of carved Honduras mahogany, some of which has been carved and bleached to look like a tied cloth covering. Castle is more usually associated with functional furniture, but I think that the execution of the cloth covering is stunning. This piece is now kept in the Renwick collection of American crafts.

In the Meiji period in Japan, which lasted from 1868 to 1912, there was a fashion for carving very realistic-looking fruit in ivory. Many of the sculptures were produced for export to the West. Here's an example of one of these okimono sculptures:

(image copyright Kevin Page Oriental art)

Ricky Swallow is an Australian artist who is now based in Los Angeles. He carves realistic depictions of things such as backpacks or tyres in wood as part of his work. The piece below is called 'Sleeping range' and was carved in 2002.

I suppose these sculptures couldn't really be called 'hyper realistic', as they aren't coloured to look the same as the original items. Ricky Swallow's titles show that he also obviously intends more in his carved works than just reproductions of objects, although the same is perhaps true of all the carvers whose work is shown here.
Another sculptor who notably made very realistic-looking wooden carvings was, of course, Grinling Gibbons. Gibbons was born in Holland but worked in Britain. In about 1690, he carved this cravat from limewood. The influential politician and art collector Horace Walpole wore it and helped to revive interest in Gibbons' work and so help to make his name legendary.

Much as I love carvings like these and admire their technical virtuosity, I think that carving a very realistic portrayal of an object is not as inspiring to me at the moment as capturing a realistic likeness of emotion or movement in a human face. Many carvers seem to favour expressionless carvings of faces when their work features human figures and it is easy to understand why.
Inanimate objects used as models don't tend to move about much of course, so a likeness can be won by slow, careful observation. Maintaining the inspiration seems much trickier when carving emotions into materials such as wood, stone or ivory, which require relatively slow working processes over long periods of time. Emotions can pass by in a second. How difficult it must have been for carvers to produce expressive self-portraits before photography was invented!
Here is a self-portrait carved in alabaster in 1770 by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, which is now part of the Austrian State gallery in Vienna. It is one of a series, which are well worth looking up if you don't already know them.

(image copyright Austrian state museum)
According to a diarist who visited him, Messerschmidt (who thought he was possessed but is now thought to have perhaps suffered from Crohn's disease) would pull at one of his own ribs, then contort his face and carve his likeness. When he completed this particular carving, which is now called the 'beaked' head, he was apparently afraid of it and hid it out of sight. To him, it represented a spirit which came to torment him.  How did he carve such a contorted self portrait, with it's features scrunched up so tightly?

I don't know who owns the copyright to some of the images used here, so apologise for any breach of it. Unless otherwise stated, please infer that copyright is held by the producer of the work shown.

Friday 7 December 2012

Judy Foote

Judy invited me to show with her in Cardiff at the 'Oriel Canfas' gallery in March this year. The show was 'Oil, metal, stone, wood', which she also curated. It was a great week, meeting the other artists in studios there and Judy's friends, especially the opening night when a great group of people were in the gallery.
I wanted to show some of her beautiful, colourful pieces here. Thank you Judy.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Some carvers whose work has particularly influenced me

Well, a lot has been going on, but I can't say much about it. I've been busy carving an oak plaque recently, but have promised not to show it on the blog until after it has been given as a Christmas present! There's also been a lot of work done constructing a bed for friends, but I'd like to show pictures from the making process when a bit more work has been done.

Soooo... I thought I'd show some work by carvers which has really struck me over the years. Some of them are well known, others not so much. All of their work is, in my opinion, well worth a look.
The images used come from the sites that are linked to. I hope that using them will introduce more people to their creator's work.

John Nelson

I first saw this Australian carver's work online in 2000. The delicacy and humour of his pieces inspired me to begin carving insects and develop the 'Mechanical insects' series.

Paul Deans

Paul Deans is based in New Zealand. I saw a carving, called 'Hinewai calling from the mist', at a gallery in a small town called Akaroa. This is on the Banks Penninsula, on New Zealand's South Island. The area still has old timber from when the forest was cleared lying around in the fields- a woodcarver's paradise!
After returning to the UK, I couldn't get the carving out of my head, even though I had no pictures of it and could not remember who carved it. On a long shot, I found the address of the Akaroa tourist office online and asked them if they could tell me the name of the gallery. The amazing Maryn Curry in the tourist office managed to find out not only the name of the gallery, but also the carver and his website. I have since been able to contact Paul and tell him how influential his carving was on my own work.

"As he walked along the narrow path between the trees, Uenuku stared at the column of mist standing over the lake. He had often seen mist lying low over the water but never a column of it standing up like the trunk of a tall tree. He quickened his step, overcome with curiosity. At the edge of the forest, close to the beach, he stopped. Two young women were bathing in the still water. He could see that they were beautiful even through the veils of mist that wrapped around them like a cloud. Further out the air was clear, but nearer to the shore everything had turned to the silver in the clinging cloud. These two women were Hine-pukohu-rangi, the Girl of the Mist and her sister Hine-wai the Misty Rain Girl. They had come down from the clouds to bathe in the clear water of the lake.
As he looked at them Uenuku felt a strange sensation come over him. He seemed to be drawn to them by a powerful force. They looked at him with clear eyes, unafraid and wondering. Uenuku knelt down at the water’s edge and said to the Mist Girl, “I am Uenuku. Tell me your name.”
“I am Hine-pukoho-rangi, daughter of the sky. I am the Girl of the Mist”
Uenuku stretched out his arms. “Come and live with me in this world of light,” he said, “I have never seen a woman as beautiful as you. I am strong and will take care of you.”> “I cannot leave my home,” the Mist Girl replied. “Even now my sister is waiting for me to return.”
“Ah, you will love this world,” Uenuku pleaded. “It is not cold and empty like the space above. There is fire and warmth here, with the summer sun shinning through the leaves of the trees and in winter the glowing fire on the hearth. There are birds and their songs, men and women and their laughter. Come with me Girl of the Mist.”
She took a step towards him and drew back. “You would not be happy with me,” she said.
“I would always love you,” Uenuku said simply.
“But you do not understand. I come from the Outer Space, and though I might spend the night with you, I should have to return to my home in the heavens as soon as the sky grew light.” Uenuku was stubborn. “I still want,” he said. “Even though I shall be lonely through the day, please come and live with me.” The Mist Girl smiled. “I shall come home with you,” she said.
No one saw Uenuku and his bride as they slipped into the whare when the firelight glowed in the creeping darkness. No one heard his words of love as he took her into his arms. In the morning before the sun had risen over the hills, the Mist Girl met her sister. They seemed to mingle like two clouds and drifted upwards before the sun’s rays could pierce them. Every morning the Mist Girl left her husband and every evening she joined him when the shadows stole across the Marae. As the summer days grew longer the women began to poke fun at Uenuku. “You say you have a bride in your whare,” they laughed. “Where is your bride, Uenuku, this bride we have never seen? Perhaps she is only a log of wood or a bundle of korari. Show her to us and we will believe you when you say she is beautiful.” There was a little time between the sinking of the sun and his rising again. During the long hours of daylight Uenuku missed the laughter of the Mist Girl and longed to hear her voice lifted up in song, and to see her take her place among the poi-dancers. In the end he could bear the absence of his wife no longer. One day he tied mats across the windows and pushed moss into the crevices between the planks. When the door was shut the whare was dark as a moonless night when the clouds have covered the covered the sky.
That night the Mist Girl entered the whare unsuspecting. The hours of darkness passed until the first light flushed the eastern sky and the Rain Girl called to her sister. “Come, Hine, we must rise up from the earth.” “I am coming,” the Mist Girl answered and felt round in the darkness for her cloak. “What are you doing?” Uenuku asked. “It is time for me to go.”
“Nonsense,” he replied, pretending to be half-asleep. “Why are you disturbing me? Look around you there is no light anywhere.”
“But morning must be near. My sister has called to me.”
“Hine-wai is mistaken. Perhaps she has seen the moonlight or the starlight. There is no light anywhere. Go to sleep again.”
Hine-pukohu-rangi lay down again. “She must be mistaken,” she said, “but it is strange. I do not understand it. She has never made such a mistake before.”
The Misty Rain Girl kept calling her and her voice was mingled with the sounds of the waking birds, but Uenuku maintained that she was mistaken. Presently she could wait no longer, and the husband and wife heard her voice growing fainter as she left them.
“I am sure there is something wrong,” the Mist Girl said, suddenly wide-awake. “Listen I can hear the forest birds singing.”
They listened. Hine-wai had gone but the song of the birds was very loud and there were voices on the Marae. Hine-pukohu-rangi ran to the door, forgetting her cloak. She opened it and the broad daylight flooded the whare. She stood there a moment and a gasp of amazement went up from the people, for the Mist Girl was so slender and beautiful that no one had ever seen anything so wonderful before. She did not look as though she belonged to the earth.
Uenuku followed her out, smiling because everyone was envying him his wife. As he passed through the doorway, Hine sprang onto the roof of the house and climbed to the ridgepole. Her long hair covered her body. The exclamations of the people were silenced as she began to sing. It was a sad song; there was pain in it, and longing, and love for Uenuku. Then a strange thing happened.
Out of the clear sky a cloud drifted down. It wreathed itself around her, fold on fold, until she could no longer be seen. Only her voice could be heard coming from the tiny cloud. Then the song stopped and there was silence. The cloud drifted away from the roof. It rose upwards, higher and higher, until it seemed to dissolve in the bright sunshine, which bathed the empty ridgepole in a glow of golden light. Uenuku was heart-broken. He could not meet the pitying eyes of his friends. His whare was cold and cheerless. Night after night he waited for the Mist Girl to return, but she never came back. One day he left his home and set out on a long search for his wife. He met with many adventures and passed through strange countries but no one could tell him what had become of Hine-puhoku-rangi. As his search went on, year after year, he grew old and bent and toothless, and at last, lonely and disappointed, he died in a distant country.
He had paid for his thoughtlessness and pride, and so the far gods of space took pity on him. They lifted up his old body and changed him into a many-coloured rainbow and set him in the sky where everyone could see him. Hine-pukohu-rangi still rises when the sun comes over the hills and warms the damp earth, while Uenuku, the shining rainbow, circles his lovely wife with a band of glowing colour."

Ian Norbury

Ian Norbury is well-known in the British woodcarving community. He founded the British Woodcarver's Association and has been carving for over 25 years. I love the way he combines detailed naturalistic carving with fantastical themes in a unique way. I have also been influenced by his techniques in combining woods in a piece, using the different colours and textures like a paint palette.
His site is very well produced and has plenty of images of his work.

Lona Hymas-Smith

I love American artist Lona Hymas-Smith's delicate and colourful sculptures. When writing this post, I  learned that she tragically died in a cycling accident in March this year.
I can only give condolences to her family and friends and say how much her sculptures were appreciated by me and other carvers in Britain (there was an article on her work in the British magazine called 'Woodcarving'). Very, very beautiful work. 

Guy Shaw

The late Guy Shaw carved delicate netsuke. Netsuke are the toggles used in traditional Japanese clothing to secure items to the sash holding the kimono robe closed. Traditional Japanese clothing did not have pockets, so netsuke were important and widely used, becoming a status symbol and more and more beautiful and elaborate. This craftsmanship has influenced carvers from other parts of the world to produce their own versions and there are many amazing contemporary netsuke carvers to be discovered, as well as the older works in collections such as the Victoria and Albert museum's in London. 

Auguste Rodin

Rodin is very famous, especially for works such as 'The Burghers of Calais' and 'The Thinker'. I like his smaller scale works, particularly where the carving seems to emerge from the rock itself. The contrast between the smooth carved surface, the roughly worked carved areas and the untouched stone is intriguing and inspiring, as in this piece, called 'The hand of the devil'

There are many other people whose work should also be in here, such as David Nash, Rene Lalique, Jim Partridge and Hector Guimard. I have to go and get on with some of my own work though! Just to finish, I thought I'd include these anonymous portrait busts, carved in ancient Rome and now housed in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum.