The ball-in-cage hanging lantern has been carved and now it is time to tackle the twin bowls of the, lovespoon. The carving of the bowls will be next, not because it is the most critical part of the project after the hanging lantern, but because there is quite a bit of material to be removed and this means fairly heavy handling, especially with the toughness of this timber.
It is often necessary to make decisions about the order of doing things when carving, in order to minimise potential risks. At other times it is to make access available and at yet others, to be able to visualise the way forward.
Carving down to the line that marks the rim top in the bowl profile, is heavy going in this timber. So a smaller but deeper gouge is needed and only a little sliver at a time can be removed, even while using a fair amount of force.
A stabbing-fist grip provides the necessary force, together with the kind of control that the natural, limited travel, of wrist-arc provides. I find however that holding the work at its far end or at other non-vulnerable parts of the carving, is awkward from some angles, as I cope with the changing grain direction.
Most of my carving is done at my jeweller’s-bench-like carving station, with palm tools, knives and purpose-made tools for miniature carving. To shape the profiles of the overlapping bowls of the lovespoon I decided to use bench tools and mallet to remove the material more quickly, and in this case with more control.
I have taken the precaution of stabilising the lantern with a rubber band and the work is securely clamped to the bench. Almost the entire work piece is flat on the back and can be firmly clamped to the bench. A small piece of cedar presses against the upper bowl to prevent lateral movement as it is carved.
After carving down to the line of the bowl profile, it is time to carve the interior of each of the twin bowls. There is still a large amount of material to be removed from the bowl interiors but this time the material can only be carved away in small increments. This is mainly because the bowl interiors each contain features and details that need to be ‘crept-up-upon’ with deliberation.
The best I can do in order to speed the process is to use a 4mm #7 gouge to cut deep overlapping channels inside the bowls and around the hearts that emerge from the bowl interior. These emerging hearts are to be blended down to the bowl surface with a swirl connection in keeping with the general art nouveau style of the lovespoon.
The curved arises on these connecting swirls need to describe fair curves that are in turn, properly related with the bowl sides and the hearts they merge into. As the carving of these features proceeds, design decisions need to be made about the depth of the swirls, and the sharpness of the arises on the swirls, especially as they become ‘lost edges’ at their graduated blending points on the bowl surfaces and hearts.
Eventually these features are formed with appropriate sized gouges and cleaned up with a shallow round-ended gouge. With a freshly stropped edge and not much more force than the weight of the gouge, tiny slivers are shaved from the bowl surfaces. This is carried out with a necessarily high cutting angle, levering from the bowl rim. In this way the interior features, swirls, hearts and splines are adjusted in shape, form and surface quality, ready for final finish preparation much later.
Once the top bowl interior was shaped, the right hand outer surface could be partially carved, enough to define the left hand rim of the lower right hand bowl. At this point the interior of the second bowl could be carved along the same lines as the other.
The full depth of the bowl interiors is gradually approached in tandem with the form of the features the bowls contain. The lowering of level within the bowls, in turn alters the curves, depth of shadow and the general relationship of the features to the bowls, and this necessitates slowly working the one part and then the other.
With the interiors fully formed, the bulk of material, especially toward the front of the bowls is removed. The stems of the lovespoon around the junction of the bowls needs leaving fairly full, both for some precautionary strength in that region during the heavy work and for later options, with the details designed for that area.
To remove the material I began with the small deep gouge and eased the curves with the large flatter gouge.
When the juncture of the overlapping bowls is approached, the form of each bowl needs to be visualised and each bowl surface carved incrementally, in much the same way as was necessary with the bowl interiors and their included features.
By working right across the entire structure of the two bowls and not separately carving each bowl in turn, an integrity of the pair is easier to realise and the degree of separation of the two, at the point of rim contact, can be well defined.
As the work is continually turned and examined during the carving of the outer surfaces. The lines of the profile are able to be scrutinised for fairness of curve and adjusted accordingly. Likewise the whole form is worked to achieve a smooth flow of concave to convex surfaces and transitions from surface to edge.
The bottom of each bowl is pod-like in form, with splined edges at the tip and at the base of each bowl. The edges loose their sharpness gradually toward the centre of each bowl, where they are ‘lost’ in the continuous smooth curved surface at that point.
A tendril like detail joins the tip of both bowls and a similar detail on each bowl trails from the outer rim behind the love spoon stem. These details also include the lost and found shadow lines produced from the blended, sharp and smoothed edges. It is the proliferation of these various curves that produce the art nouveau styling of this piece. Some of these details have been planned at the beginning in the original design drawing, but there remains opportunity to include more such detail during the carving process.
Because carving is a subtractive method of forming the object, experimental details can be tried on the fly and left in place when they add to the aesthetic of the design. Tool marks themselves often suggest such details, and can be further developed or reproduced elsewhere in the design.
Though it is not generally good practice to use abrasives while edge tools are still being employed, ( left behind grit will dull their edge ) a wide abrasive face, working over a surface will reveal humps and hollows and even them out to a continuously smooth form. Larger discrepancies in the integrity of a fair surface can be revealed in this way, where they may have been camouflaged, in the light-scattering facets of tool marks. With some careful cleaning of the surface, edge tools can again be used subsequent to sanding, both to do the heavy work that that abrasives have shown necessary, and also to finesse detail that sanding has compromised.
Abrasive tools in the form of rasps, rifflers, files and various grit abrasive papers all have their place when highly polished surfaces are to be a feature in the carving. They even have a place as a useful aid to arriving at desirable form, before edge tools are used for a finishing that features a decorative textured network of tool marks, when that is the aim.
I tend to think of abrasive papers as tools in their own right, especially when attached to some substrate that will allow the deliberate and purposeful delivery of an effect. They have nevertheless, some undesirable side effects, because of their being, not perfectly precise, and so un-like the finely honed, stropped and polished edge of knife, chisel or gouge.
Abrasives tend to even things out, blur the edges, soften the detail. This can be the perfect foil, the perfect contrast to crisp detail, but the crisp detail will need restoring when abrasive softening has been applied.
Edge tools generally provide precise ,crisp definition, in contrast to the softening effect of abrasives. They provide it where surfaces intersect and they provide it when working their potentially beautiful tool-mark texture over a surface, from the dynamism of ocean-wave rippling texture to the tantalisingly, nearly but not quite, dead-smooth, yet paradoxically lively texture, of fine aged leather.
The inner beauty of timber on the other hand, the opalescent chatoyance not yet visible with timber ‘in the rough’, cannot be revealed without a perfectly smooth evenly formed surface. A surface that has been polished to the point of being a transparent window to what lies below. For such a surface, a series of abrasive ‘smoothings’ down to the thousands is necessary. The coarser abrasive tools prepare the ground work for this result and finer and finer grits with oils, thinned varnishes and waxes bring it to completion.
By orchestrating the achievable results obtained from edge tools for the most part and the additional aid that abrasive tools provide in achieving the forms of each element. The carving as a whole is prepared in stages working toward an integrated form ready for its final detailing and polish.
The basic forms of the twin bowls are now formed ready for the tidying up and detailing that will follow when all the elements of the work have been established. The rounded-bead ends of the lovespoon’s twin stems are nestled into their coved recesses in the widening rims at the bases of each bowl. The flowing paths of the stems themselves now have to be considered and established as graceful slow curves, passing the hanging lantern and then merging beyond the lantern’s hanging point, up to the right hand side of the bound heart.
Likewise some lowering of the blank’s surface, toward the bottom portion of the dragon, the ribbon on which the dragon stands, the tail of the dragon and part of the celtic knot-work, will all need to carried out. These levels will establish working parameters that governing achieving the desired form for the bound heart.
A degree of twist will need to be imparted to the stems as they travel up to the heart, which will be the next object of attention. The final form of the stems, especially around the lantern’s hanging-link region will need blocking in first, in preparation for determining the levels and depth of carving of the heart.
So the form of the bowls is now established and while the bowl area is not the most prominent detail in the whole lovespoon, carving the bowl, or bowls in this case, are the crowning element. The bowl is always in any lovespoon, not an overly prominent element, but it is the definitive element. As such the twin bowls have commanded a great deal of attention and will continue to, in the finishing processes.
In the next post the title piece, the bound heart, will be carved into its location and at the level in the design, that relates it best in form and position to the other elements and the love spoon’s story..