A set of Sirens is telling a tale of the tree from which it came, it is the Song of the Sirens. The closer you look the more you see in this Silver Maple triptych:
And closer still:
But what's that dark spot on the left panel?
This is a great question.
When I am carving large pieces from logs, I am looking for very interesting grain patterns. Generally these happen in areas of the log that are growing under pressure, or compression zones. These zones are most typically found under the forked areas in trees and under branches. In this case I was using a log that had a very large branch growing out of its center.
The orientation of the panels is with the bottom/compressed side of the log to the top of the panel, this area is where there is the boldest figure. This picture below shows how the panels came out of the log, and the arrow represents the dark feature on the left panel.
You can see that I have centered the branch/knot equidistant from the bottom edge in all three pieces. In sequence here are the panels from left to right:
These pictures tell the story of the tree. You can see on the outer/left panel where the large branch came out of the tree when it was mature. The center panel represents the same branch, albeit smaller, when the tree was still young. And finally the right panel shows the branch not long after it first appeared on the tree. As a tree grows it adds a layer/ring to its outside. So the further you go into the log the further you excavate back to where the tree began.
The curing cracks you see surrounding the branch area have been filled and stabilized with epoxy resin.
The inclusions, knots, and cracks are all very deliberate elements of my sculpture. I can't control exactly how they will all fall into place but they are there by design and don't in any way compromise the integrity of the piece. The effect is to keep my work from appearing flat.
The finished Elm 5 Elements!
I carved two different textures on this piece and highlighted the difference with an aniline dye. With the addition of the dyed element I chose to not put any staples into this piece, less can be more. The piece finished at about 34" across by 39" tall and 4" deep. It looks great from both sides and is of large enough scale that it can be used as an aid to room dividing or on a knee wall or sofa table. Hope you enjoyed this journey as much as I did.
This is a series that covers the process of creating one of my "Five Elements". From identifying the source log to applying the final coat of oil you will come away with a new appreciation for my work. In this episode I'm carving the profile on the Five Elements sections.
This is a series that covers the process of creating one of my "Five Elements". From identifying the source log to applying the final coat of oil you will come away with a new appreciation for my work. In this episode I'm back at Wildwood slabbing the logs and getting the in the Studio. Once inside I lay out and size the blanks in preparation for carving.
This is a series that covers the process of creating one of my "Five Elements". From identifying the source log to applying the final coat of oil you will come away with a new appreciation for my work. In this episode I'm at the Fergus Falls landfill de-barking Elm logs and hauling them home.
This is a series that covers the process of creating one of my "Five Elements". From identifying the source log to applying the final coat of oil you will come away with a new appreciation for my work. In this episode I'm at the Fergus Falls landfill scouting logs.
For the first time in our 35 year marriage Cindy and I had a gallery show together. The exhibition "Symbiosis" was on display through the month of December 2015 in The Kaddatz Gallery, Fergus Falls MN. I think that merits a blog post. Here's a quick peek, thanks to all of you who made it.
Last spring and early summer I recorded a photo journal on my facebook page of what goes in to creating one of my larger wall triptychs. This is a compilation of that journal. I invite you to follow and "like" my facebook page - Jay McDougall - Wood Sculptor.
I'm fast-forwarding to cutting sequenced slabs from a Cottonwood log. About one out of ten logs that I look at in the field are deemed interesting enough to bring into my log yard near the studio. Hauling in a 1 or 2 ton log is far from a casual endeavor, yet until I make the initial cut the mystery remains as to whether any given log is worthy of the time I will be putting into a sculpture. In this case it's evident that I've chosen wisely. I have my large saw (122 cc/8.5hp) fitted with a 54" bar in an Alaskan mill. I will cut 3 sequenced slabs about 6" thick.
Prior to the slabs being brought in to the bench I square them with a chain saw and mark the orientation and relative sequencing. At this time the slabs are still wet/green and weigh close to 200# each.
My initial carving establishes the curvature of the Siren's back.
Once the curve is carved I strike some very rough lines to guide me in the carving of the figure.
The rough carving is complete on the front of one panel.
I have flipped the panel over in preparation to carve out the back side. Remember, the panel is still wet at this stage. In order for it to dry with minimal cracking or "curing checks" I must remove some thickness. As wood dries it shrinks. If a slab is too thick the inside can't keep up with the outer layer in drying/shrinking, which results in cracking.
Repeat three times and the rough carving is complete!
This is what approximately 250#s of carving chips looks like. The panels themselves still weigh in at about 120# a piece.
Into the dehumidification chamber for drying. The green tarp is dropped over the front; the heat from the dehumidifier's condenser along with a circulating fan will draw the moister out of the panels. I'm very aggressive on the drying in an effort to force any potential cracks out "on my watch". Moisture content on the panels is initially about 50%.
The panels are now dry enough to proceed to the final shaping and sanding. Anything below about 12% moisture content is deemed "cured".
Applying the first coat of oil is one of the most satisfying steps of the entire process. My penetrating finish is a combination of oils and resin. The oils penetrate the wood which enhances the grain and color; the resin locks the oil into the wood so it won't dry out and require any additional coats of oil in the future.
The Sirens are getting their final hand-buffing prior to wax.
Now that the panels are carved, dried, and finished it's time to move on to the steel backs.
I have my friends over at West Tool & Design in Fergus Falls do the brake work and welding of the 18ga mild steel pans for the panel backs.
The first step is to grind and clean up the corner welds.
I'm preparing the 1/2" MDF backing boards that will be let into, and reinforce the steel backs.
The opening in the MDF fill-board has been traced on to the steel pan and I am now cutting out the corresponding opening in the steel.
I have sanded and cleaned the front side of the steel backs in preparation for the application of a dark patina.
Two of the three backs with patina applied. Sorry, the actual technique for applying my patina will remain a secret.
To protect the backs from rust I burn in a traditional blacksmith's wax. It's a combination of beeswax, boiled linseed oil, and turpentine.
Prior to inserting the MDF filler boards into the steel back I give them a couple coats of matte black paint.
A spray adhesive has been applied to the steel pans and backer boards.
The backs are all set for the panels to be attached.
The final step. Attaching the carved and finished panels to the steel backs.
The completed Cottonwood Sirens!
It's been a pretty hectic year of travel but now I'm back decompressing at Wildwood and in the studio until January. This has been a gorgeous autumn weekend in Otter Tail County and no better time or place to carve a ball. I've been wanting to carve a large ball for a long time. The objectives were simple: freehand carve a ball as large as a given log will allow without the aid of any measuring tools or templates. Just my eyes and hands.
What began as a 950 pound American Elm log ended up a solid 475 pound wooden ball. I remained true to my goals and was pleased that the ball at least approximates a sphere and has a diameter of a mere 2" less than that of its source log. But as with so many things the true value of this activity was the lessons that were reinforced in the process.
Lesson #1 -
The removal of a very small amount of material can have a huge impact on the overall shape. Choose wisely prior to removing or altering a form, it can't be put back.
Lesson #2 -
Know when to stop. It's critical to determine what is "perfect enough". This is a judgement call which becomes easier the more you do it. The alternative is to keep striving for "absolute perfection" and ending up with nothing.
And the final lesson:
Simple is hard.
Achieving simplicity can be a very arduous journey.
Oak Ridge Cemetery
And the winner is:
Congratulations Hillary and thanks to all of you who participated in this round of "Where's Jay".
If you're not already following me on facebook please "Like" my page:
Jay McDougall - Wood Sculptor
I'm a contemporary wood sculptor living and working in rural Minnesota. I gather my logs locally and travel the country selling what I make from them.