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Friday 30 October 2015

Running a workshop making nestboxes and insect hotels, for LinkAge in Shirehampton

LinkAge activity

I've run a few workshops for LinkAge before and they are always great fun. The organisation brings together younger and older people to work together on projects, giving a chance for communication that is often difficult in society. They also run activities more specifically for older people to get involved with, giving a chance for meeting new people and doing new things.

activities for older people

Previously, we have built benches and produced carved wooden plaques. This time, the theme was building nest boxes and insect hotels. In case you are wondering, an insect hotel is an object or area specifically designed for insects to be able to hide in and hibernate. They are often made particularly to help bees (such as bumble and solitary bees), which have been dropping dramatically in numbers recently.

It was nice to catch up with a few familiar faces again and also to meet some new folks. Some of the new participants were very, very nervous about using tools such as saws and hammers for the first time and were also surprised by how much noise such tools made. However, by the end of the session everyone was cutting and joining the wood without any assistance and produced some great boxes and hotels to take home!

making a nest box

It was great seeing people who were afraid to even pick up a saw at the start of the session cutting parts for their projects neatly, safely and efficiently by the end of it. I hope that they will now feel more confident to tackle similar practical tasks themselves in the future.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Some recently carved wooden signs and lettering, for clients including a cider maker and a well-known DJ (together with a sign featuring a portrait of a cat)

I've had a few interesting commissions lately, some of which I'll show on the blog when they are closer to being completed. Some of the recent commissions involving carved lettering have been quite unusual too...

oak swing seat

This seat for a swing was carved from locally-sourced oak, which originally grew on the Quantock Hills in Somerset. It was shaped using modern and traditional techniques, including knives and drawknives, then carved with the name of the girl who will receive it. 

The wood was originally destined to become part of a ship's figurehead in memorial of a friend. After that project fell through, it's nice to know that this timber is going to be enjoyed by children playing and having fun.

cat portrait carved in wood

This sign was carved for clients who wanted one of their Devon Rex cats to be shown on it. It's a bit nerve-wracking carving a portrait of a pet for someone, as they will always know the animal far better than I can from a photograph. 

carved portrait of a cat in wood

Happily, they were very pleased with the outcome. It was quite a relief when a visitor to my studio saw the almost-completed carving and said (with no prompting) that it looked like a Devon Rex!

The next sign was carved for the Lenches Cider Company. I was particularly pleased with the lettering on this sign, as the squared shapes of the font used were not that easy to carve by hand and they came out very well. The oak was also a very nicely figured piece.

carved oak sign

This project involved carving an inscription on a chopping board for a client, who had commissioned me to carve a similar project before. As you might imagine, it always feels satisfying when someone asks for another carving to be done for them because they are happy with the previous one.

An unusual next project, as the lettering had to be carved onto a sphere. I wondered at the time whether a computer-controlled routing machine would be able to do this kind of work?

I was also asked recently to correct someone else's letter cutting! The client had bought a rustic oak bench but wasn't happy with the inscription on it. It did look like it had been cut by someone with a blunt router blade who was in a bit of a hurry.

What a great afternoon, re-cutting the letters in their beautiful garden!

Everyone agreed that the lettering looked better once re-cut too:

 I received a lovely email afterwards saying ;

'Dear Alistair, Just to thank you once again fro the splendid job you did on my garden bench for me yesterday. I have to say also that it was a genuine pleasure to meet you and 'do business' with you! I wish you every success in the future'.

Finally, this sign was carved for a DJ and music producer. I'm reluctant to name him on the blog, as I'd rather respect his privacy (sorry!). I will say that he was a big part in the early drum and bass scene and is still playing to big crowds now. The sign was carved from oak and then stained.

If you'd like to see more of my previous letter cutting work, have a look at some by clicking on this link to the page on my website.

Giving a talk about the new Downs bench to the Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society in Bristol

Last Tuesday, The Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society (CHIS) met for their Annual General Meeting. I was invited along to talk about the bench that they commissioned and which was installed on Clifton Down earlier this year.

Clifton and Hotwells Improvement society

After the society business was concluded, the chairman Brian introduced me and I spoke for a while about the different subjects carved on the bench and the stories around researching them. There was a slideshow of images to illustrate it.

As well as talking about these subjects, I gave a very brief demonstration of relief carving techniques and answered questions. 

demonstrating woodcarving

It seemed to go very well and several people came up afterwards and chatted about their different experiences of carving. I learnt a few interesting things too! Thank you to CHIS for commissioning me to make the bench and for inviting me to talk at their AGM. Thanks also to M. Shapland, who took the photos on this post.

Two beautiful handmade knives given to me by friends

Recently, I was given two very different and very beautiful knives by friends. I know that some people reading this are fascinated by well-made blades, just as I am. Perhaps you might be interested to see these ones.

My friends Timo (on the left) and Nat (on the right) are currently travelling as journeymen. Timo is a blacksmith and Nat a woodworker. Timo created the blade at a forge he worked with whilst travelling and also made the stand. He found the antler at a place that he stopped for one night in Berlin and has fitted it to the blade. Even though the handle has the spikes of the antler left intact, it is incredibly comfortable to hold.

The blade is also stamped with marks. The three interlocking circles are Timo's own mark. The eye shaped motifs are traditional markings inspired by the Sami knifesmiths in Scandinavia, which are supposed to protect against bad luck. The knife's shape is also inspired by traditional Sami knives.

Nat worked the piece of copper that covers the end of the handle next to the blade. It is beautifully shaped to fit. When it was presented the blade was deliberately left blunt, as it is traditionally unlucky to give a sharp knife in case the blade cuts the friendship. 

Timo's own knife (which he also made) is similar but less ornate. It is also incredibly comfortable to use.

This was the very special moment when the knife was presented by our friends the journeymen.

Journeymen in the German tradition
Image copyright and courtesy of Ibolya Feher

The next knife is quite different, but also very beautiful. It was made by my friend Patrick Small and uses a high quality bought blade fitted to a wooden handle that he has made. 

Patrick Small

The handle is superbly comfortable to hold and the small blade is designed for the fine shaping of small, handheld wooden sculptures. The small wooden sheath protects the blade when the knife is not in use.

I'm sure that you will agree that these knives are both stunning objects. Thank you to my friends Timo, Nat and Patrick.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Pendant carving workshops at Wildfest 2015 on the Northern Slopes in Knowle West, Bristol

I've run these workshops at the two previous Wildfests on this site and they always go down really well. One of the great things about these events is the view here, from the Northern Slopes away across Bristol. 

Wildfest northern slopes bristol

I had brought along plenty of uncarved pendants made from locally sourced timbers such as sweet chestnut and oak. Visitors could draw on their own designs, carve them and then take them away for free.

It was certainly busy! There was a queue of people for most of the festival, waiting to try carving. I'm sure that most of them were giving it a go for the first time too. Children were especially keen, but there were also a few parents ready to give it a whirl:

One highlight for me occurred when a young pendant carver came up to the bench. I asked her what she would like to carve on her pendant. She looked at me and said "I'd like to carve a sculpture."

Fair enough! 

Working with LinkAge to teach younger and older people woodcarving in Shirehampton's Tithe Barn, in Bristol

LinkAge work to bring younger and older people together on projects, to promote communication between two groups that don't always get the chance to meet in such positive environments.

LinkAge shirehampton project

I've worked with LinkAge before, on a project to make a bench for Shirehampton in Bristol. It was a  pleasure to be invited back to work with them again for two days at Shirehampton's Tithe Barn. 
The young people who came all attend 'The Orb', which is associated with the local Oasis Academy Brightstowe school. 

The Orb particularly caters for students who aren't getting on well with conventional education. Chatting to some of them, it was very interesting to hear their thoughts on the normal classroom environment. They all enjoyed the opportunity that The Orb gave to be able to have a say in organising their studies to fit the way that they learn, rather than being forced into the normal routines of the classroom.

Eileen was also hard at work over the two days, creating a carved oak plaque for her garden.

I think that everyone attending learned quite a bit about woodworking. There was a choice: either making plaques from cedar or oak wood to take home or working on a bench for the garden at the barn.

Making the bench first involved cutting the oak legs to length using a bow saw - no mean feat!

using a bow saw

 The seat was then shaped, using a drawknife to round the edges.

It then needed to have holes drilled into it and to be carved with designs that had been drawn on, showing the barn and a design of cart special to the area.

Two of the young people also carved and assembled a plaque for The Orb using a bow saw off cut, as a nice surprise for the staff there.

the orb bristol

The bench came out really well and will last a long time, as it is made from durable oak and sweet chestnut timbers.

Thanks to Ricky, Susan and Laura at LinkAge and to everyone who came along for their hard work on the two sessions. I also had some very happy news on this project.

Ricky, who is one of the senior workers at LinkAge, told me that they felt that the previous benchmaking project that I'd led for them had gone so well that they were now using it as an example in funding applications and other important publicity work.

They had asked me to run some of these new sessions for them because it was particularly important that, as part of a major new project, they went well. They felt that I'd be able to help ensure that the new sessions were a success. I've got to say that it was very satisfying to hear how pleased they were with my work.

Thursday 1 October 2015

Helping to make the Meadow beautiful at Shambala festival 2015

Shambala festival 2015

The Shambala festival is held at a stately home called Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire in the UK. Last year, I was asked to come along and make benches from sawmill waste boards, to be put in the Meadow field. I was delighted to be asked to come back this year to do it again.

Shambala festival

The Meadow is a lovely, calm corner of the festival where the healers practice their skills and Tribe of Doris hold music-related activities.

At the end of last year's event, some of the benches were hidden away in a very quiet area of the site and it was great to see that they had survived quite happily. The sturdy larch timbers showed very few signs of decay, even under a layer of moss!

I used the surface darkening of the wood on one bench to carve lighter patterns, which represented the sun and moon:

Under a tarpaulin shelter, in a peaceful spot under a large sycamore by a lake, it was fun to plan new benches for the field. We worked happily under there, even when the rain came down all day! Everything was made using only hand tools, apart from a cordless drill.

There weren't just benches to be made. Annette, who oversees the healing field, had a special request too.

Someone had asked before the festival if it would be possible to create an area in which he could propose to his unsuspecting girlfriend. A particularly beautiful large tent had been chosen in which to do it:

Now five small shrines were needed, to represent the elements of air, water, earth, fire and wood. I made them using slab wood and also tree branches that had been removed by estate workers just before the festival.

The small tables were put around the outside edge of the tent and decorated with relevant things (because of fire risks, candle-shaped lights were used instead of real flames). It felt like a real privilege to make these items to be part of such an important occasion for the two people, their families and friends.

...and she said yes!

I wasn't the only person working with wood in the Meadow. Len sorted out the structures needed around the campsite, as well as designing a covered seat that looked great with foliage draped over it.

Clyde and Nathan also made structures that helped to make the site look welcoming.

Nathan and I dismantled some older benches and he reused the useful boards in new benches that were sturdier and will hopefully last until next year too. They are at the front on the right in the picture below, with Clyde's fence visible behind:

festival benches

One new bench for this year was inspired by the straps that tied together the wood bundles when they were delivered. These straps were tough bands, stronger than the woven plastic ones that such bundles normally have securing them. I'd fancied making a suspended seat since the previous year and these straps would be useful. It was also nice to reuse such items from all around the site, instead of leaving them to be thrown away.

outdoor bench Shambala festival

All of the benches were designed to be comfortable and I liked the deckchair-like slump of this one, even if it was quite hard to get out of (like a traditional deckchair, when I think about it). All the more reason to stay sitting there and relax!

The straps turned out to be quite strong enough to take plenty of people sitting on the seat, even when Len jumped all over it to test it.

The final thing to be made was a gate to separate the public area and crew camping. Nathan and I reused the gates from last year. One had darkened on its top surface, so that was the night sky (with stars and a UFO carved on it) and the other was day. Between them, the rays of the rising sun were fixed on.

After all the building, it was time to go and party! Here's a few final images of the festival itself. Thanks to everyone for making it a great Shambala 2015. I hope to see you all again next year.

iron man sculpture Shambala 2015

dancing shambala 2015

dusk at the festival

shambala meadow

Shambala festival 2015

captain hot knives at Shambala