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Thursday 26 October 2017

Carving a kestrel and a nuthatch for 'Woodland Arts'

'Woodland Arts' was a small, two day exhibition held on a piece of woodland next to the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol during October 2017. I was invited by the organisers to show some work in it. I like the opportunity to create work for exhibitions, as it allows ideas to be explored that may not have been suited to previous commissions.

I hadn't carved a bird sculpture for a long time, so decided to make a nuthatch. I'd thought of carving one before as I think that they are particularly elegant birds and also interesting, as they are the only British bird that regularly moves headfirst down tree trunks as well as up them. 

There were a lot of offcuts of European larch around my workshop, produced by other businesses there. This wood is durable outdoors and has beautiful ring markings, but is quite tricky to carve with hand tools. I find abrasive discs, burrs and wheels work more efficiently on it, usually mounted on angle grinders.

carving wood using power tools

The action of the discs also gave the sculptures a smoother, more abstract feel that I like a lot. I did consider painting the carvings, but the smoothness seemed to suit a finishing oil better.

After carving in some simple detailing, I fitted a beak and eyes made from small offcuts of greenheart timber. This wood is a piece of Bristol's maritime history. The greenheart was given to me by furniture maker Jim Sharples and was originally part of a tree trunk fitted to the top of the nineteenth century North Junction lock gates. These gates formed the connection between Bristol's harbour and the Avon Gorge, from which ships headed out to sea. When the gates were replaced a few years ago, Jim was asked to make a bench to go next to the Mshed museum in Bristol and had some trimmings left over, which he kindly gave to me. The dark wood was perfect to depict a small bird's beady eyes.

bird wood carving sculpture

After several coats of finishing oil, I mounted a picture hanger on the back of the sculpture, so that the piece could be hung with its beak pointing down - as a real nuthatch moves down a tree. These timbers are durable outdoors, so the sculpture could end up hung on a real tree. I particularly like the grain pattern that loops like contours around the head.

nuthatch sculpture British bird

After making the nuthatch, I fancied making another bird. So I looked for another suitable bit of larch...

larch sculpture log

This piece was to become a falcon. Until I had started roughing out the block, cutting away chunks with a bandsaw, I wan't completely sure if it would be a merlin or a kestrel. 

roughing out sculpture

Eventually I decided on a kestrel as, like the nuthatch, it lives in that area. The body was also shaped using angle grinders fitted with mini arbortech blades or abrasive discs. Again, I really liked the slightly abstracted form and the contour lines winding around the finished body, especially at the bottom of the belly.

Bird sculpture roughed out

As well as greenheart wood, this sculpture uses a piece of  pale-coloured hornbeam wood in the beak. It originally came from a tree that  grew in the grounds of Southmead hospital in Bristol, which had to be removed during building work. The kestrel looks like it has been to hospital itself in this photo, taken when the glue holding the eyes in was still drying.

bird sculpture

I was very happy with this sculpture too and it got a lot of attention at the exhibition.

kestrel bird sculpture 

The show had a good mix of work, including a picture by Lord Bath. He owns Longleat house and was the patron of the show. I won't show an image of his picture here though, as this blog has people of all ages reading it! Thanks to Jasmine who curated the show and Topper, who organised it, for asking me to be part of Woodland Arts.


  1. They're beautiful with the grain that looks like the patterns on sand. Wood always make you want to touch it out of curiosity.
    How is the old driving going?

  2. Yes, the grain pattern really suits the smoother abstracted forms doesn't it. Thank you for getting in touch with your thoughts- always good to hear from you.
    As for the driving, it was going well until two idiots wrote my parked car off just before the test! Oh well, riding a bike does keep me fit.

  3. Yeah, I take the 'fitness' approach too but I want to get a car one day to see all the things that are just inaccessible otherwise. Still working towards it (treading water at present) because excess work is writing my brain off! Hope it all goes well for you, anyway.