My Creative Process
Many times a particular species of bird will captivate my attention by repeatedly visiting me while I am walking, gardening, or canoeing. A particular gesture or vocalization will pique my curiosity, and I will have to learn more about the bird.
I research the size and shape of the body, legs, toes, claws, eyes, feathers, and mandible, as well as any known behaviors. Whether the resulting sculpture is realistic or interpretative, I must have a complete understanding of the subject in order to bring it to life. Only after I have learned all I can about the bird and it “feels right” will I begin to carve.
Mechanics of a Carving
The first step I take when beginning a carving is selecting the wood. The most common types of wood that I use are basswood, white pine, cedar, and tupelo. The first three wood species are found in abundance locally here in Maine. They are not only pleasantly aromatic, but easily carved with a knife. Being high in resin and long-grained makes them somewhat unstable, and therefore prone to checking and warping over time.
Tupelo wood, found in the swamps and flood plains of our southern states, is my favorite choice when desiring to achieve a highly detailed carving. The wood lacks resin and the grain is uniform and interlocked. This makes the wood difficult to cut with a knife, so I typically use power tools in the shaping process. I use a series of different shaped bits powered by a motorized hand piece, much like the dental tools of years past.
The birds’ legs and feet may be carved from tupelo wood, except when extra strength is required. In these cases, brass rods are hammered and shaped to create the legs and toes of the bird. An epoxy resin is then sculpted around the metal structure.
Painting a bird can be as time consuming as the carving process itself. I use high quality acrylic paints mixed with water to create very thin washes of color. Sometimes as many as twenty coats of this wash are applied to the surface of the carving. The building of color in this manner creates a final result that looks more alive and rich than can be achieved by the application of a single denser layer of paint.
The eyes of the birds are made of colored glass, the same as a taxidermist would use.