Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bamboo NA style flute - Update

So I thought I'd give an update to my post about making a bamboo NA style flute in Mike Bloomquist's class at NEWR this past July. Although I was pleased with flute overall at the time, it was very quiet and "breathy". So after getting home I started doing more research online about NA Style flutes and making them. I've found a few great resources for those interested in this which I'll list out in a follow up post.

One of the things I learned was that the true sound hole (TSH) and flue are critical elements in determining the voice and volume of a flute. So - I decided to sand down my flue area and recut it. Wow! What a difference. To show you how it sounds here is a YouTube video of me improvising in a gymnasium (great reverb) at the camp we go to with family & friends every year over Labor Day weekend. Let me know what you think about the sound (not necessarily the playing).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

NEWR Day 2 - Traditional Woodcarving with Maura Macaluso

Ok - sorry for the delay. (Who am I apologizing to? Myself I guess. Is anyone out there?) Between work, life, and an awesome family vacation to MD and VA to visit relatives, and Washington DC to see some sites (the mall, the major monuments, the White House, Capital Hill, and best of all some of the Smithsonian Museums), I've gotten a bit derailed.

Also - as if I don't have enough on my plate, I've developed an new passion. Or rather re-kindled a passion. Native American flutes. (See previous blog post.) Thanks to Mike's "Making a NA style flute from Bamboo" class at NEWR I am now thoroughly enamoured with all kinds of flutes, flute music, making flutes, etc. Not sure if this will completely derail my carving for awhile or not, but it has the potential. The nice thing is that I can still put carving to use in creating the totems. Anyway - you've been warned.

Now - because I promised Maura - here is my post on her class that Theresa and took the second day at NEWR.

We arrived at the Main Hall and headed to Maura's area. As I recall there were about 10 of us in the class, and Maura had the tables set up with workstations consisting of:
- a bench hook (which allows you to brace the piece you're carving)
- some non-skid shelf material on the surface of the hook
- a basswood board about 10" x 11" or so
- a manilla folder containing: the class notes handout, the three patterns she wanted us to choose from (grape leaves & grapes, oak leaves and acorns, and a celtic knot), and a piece of graphite paper to transfer the pattern onto our wood blank

She greeted us and explained that unlike most of the other workshops at NEWR she was far less concerned with our completing our project in the one day class, and far more with our coming away with an understanding of the differences between traditional European style of woodcarving and the carving styles most practiced currently in America (caracature, flat plane, chip carving etc.), the tools involved (full sized gouges and mallet as opposed to knives and palm gouges), the techniques, and the history. She asked that we be patient as this was her first time teaching this class, and with the fact that much of what she would share would be lecture and discussion and less focused on hand's on carving.

I must say right off the bat that one of the things I GREATLY appreciated was her class notes handout. I am one of those people who feels the compulsion to take notes and pictures and try to document everything; with the result that I often tend to fall behind because I am too busy writing. The handout completely relieved any need I might have felt to try to capture it all, and allowed me to just experience the class. I really wish more instructors woud do the same.

So Maura gave some overview some of the key differences between "European Traditional" carving and most of the carving styles practiced here in the US. Some of which are:

Traditional European -

- work piece fixed in place via a holding device

- use of full sized gouges & chisels

- two hands on the carving tool or one hand and a mallet

American "hand held" -

- work piece usually hand held

- use of knives and palm gouges

- one hand on tool, one hand holding work piece

These are not hard and fast "rules" but typify the differences. She explained the evolution of carving through the European "guild" system where apprentices learned from Masters and often had to carve the same sorts of elements over and over. The Master usually created the designs, and had various apprentices journeymen do the repetive elements of the carving in which they each specialized, while the Master might only carve the more unique elements of the design or handle the final details. This was production carving to maximize speed and output. So efficient use of the tools was stressed (ability to work ambidextrously to avoid having to reposition the piece (slow), to get clean cuts and leave a polished surface not requiring touch ups, to make multiple cuts with one tool (knowing how to use a gouge to get a variety of cuts depending on how you present the profile to work surface), etc.

All of us were carving relief carvings - not "in the round" and she explained the use of the V tool to line in the outline of our patterns, and the use of a deep gouge (#9) to quickly remove the background waste, the use of flatter gouges (#2 or 3) to flatten and smooth the background surface. She explained that the beauty of using the V tool to line in the pattern as opposed to doing stop cuts with either gouges or with a knife, was that you get a cleaner intersection where the element meets the background (i.e. - it helps avoid fuzzies or visible stop cuts the went below the background surface. She also demonstrated the use of a mallet for both speed and precision as well as less fatigue on the hands and wrists. Especially for women who typically aren't as strong as men in these areas.

While we were carving throughout the day Maura read and talked about much of the history of carving and guild system. I found this to be very meditative and fascinating even though I'd been exposed to much of this information from my own reading on the subject.

In the end, I think we all had a wonderful time in the class and walked away with a much greater appreciation for the differences and what can be accomplished using full sized tools. The one downside to this style of carving for most retired hobby carvers is the investment in tools required. While I have a pretty nice collection of Swiss Made (Pfeil) full sized tools that my wife and I had to work with, most folks there didn't have the range of tools that would be ideal. She discussed that much carving can be done even with a limited array of tools and that when aquiring tools you should focus on quality over quantity.

The picture if of me working on my Celtic Knot carving in the workshop with Theresa in the background working on her Oak Leaf & Acorns.

Friday, July 24, 2009

NEWR 2009 (NorthEast Woodcarver's Roundup) - DAY 1

Well, we're back from NEWR2009 and had a blast meeting up with our NEWR friends, jamming, carving, and causing mayhem! A great time was had by all. I'll get back to philosophy soon - I promise. But first a trip report.

For those that don't know - a "woodcarver's roundup" is a gathering of folks who enjoy woodcarving lasting 3 or 4 days or so, where volunteer instructors teach workshops in a variety of carving styles. There is usually no charge for any of the instruction though you are expected to purchase your materials (prepared "blanks" or raw wood/bark) for the workshop from the instructors. This helps defray their expenses to come & teach. In addition, many instructors sell intructional books or DVDs and some offer tools or other blanks. Folks either camp or if available rent rooms on the grounds. It is a great way for new carvers to get exposure to a wide range of carving styles, carving techniques, tools, and great folks at a relatively low cost.

The three big round ups in the US that I know of are Evart Michigan (in June), NEWR in Honesdale PA (in July), and one in Florida (don't know timing or location). There are probably others that I am not aware of. NEWR takes place in late July (runs from Sun evening to Thur evening) each year at Cherry Ridge Campgrounds in Honesdale PA. Cherry Ridge offers cabins, rooms in their lodges, or camp sites for those with trailers or tents. This was our 4th year attending. The first two we camped but the second year we got rained out of our tent (this area get's a lot of thunderstorms this time of year) so we had to bug out and commute from home (we live about 90 mins away). So last year and this year we decided to get a room. MUCH nicer!!! (yeah I know - wimp! guilty as charged)

So Theresa and I left home Sunday afternoon about 3:30pm then turned back after realizing we forgot something critical (did this twice). Finally got "on the road" for real about 4:30pm and pulled into Cherry Ridge about 6pm. Checked in to our room and went to the main hall to grab a bite to eat and listen to the instructor's spiels. Each instructor gives a brief introduction to their workshop to help folks decide which they want to sign up for. Then . . . the rush to each instructor's area to sign up for the workshop sessions you're interested in. I planted myself by my buddy Mike Bloomquist's area because he was limiting his Monday NA Flute in bamboo to only 8 and I knew it'd fill up immediately. I was second in line and sure enough it filled up within the first couple minutes. Meanwhile Theresa planted herself over at Maura Macaluso's ( table to sign up for her Carving in the Classical Tradition class for Tuesday since that was our next priority. Then I dashed over to Hall 2 to sign us up for Ed Otto's bark woodspirit class for Wednesday, while Theresa signed us up for Jack Miller's smoothie shorebirds class for Thur. YES!!! We successfully got all our classes. Then it was time to chill and catch up with old friends from NEWR's past before heading back to our room to watch some Pride & Prejudice on a laptop and get some sleep.

Next morning I was off to Mike's NA flute class while Theresa decided to spend the day relaxing and getting caught up on emails & family stuff. I had selected my piece of bamboo the night before when signing up. We were all settled and ready to start at 9am. First part of class was learning about the basic structural elements of a NA Flute and how they work. Then it was on to looking at our bamboo and deciding on layout. Bamboo is a type of grass that grows in sections with blockages of the tube at nodes spaced out along the length of the bamboo. A NA flute consists of two chambers - a "slow air" chamber where you blow in, and a main chamber where the air is forced over a knife edge and into the chamber that varies in length based on how many finger holes are covered. The more holes covered, the longer the tube and the lower the pitch.

Here is a photo of Mike's whiteboard diagram (hope he doesn't mind me posting this).

The air passes from the slow air chamber up through a hole and along a channel under the "bird" where it is then directed onto an edge of a second hole allowing part of the airstream back into the tube. This area is called the fipple and is what produces sound. The difference in air pressure between the outside and inside air streams set up an oscillation of the tube resulting in vibration or sound. In making a bamboo NA style flute there isn't much actual carving except to hollow the air channels for the fipple and carving the bird. I kept mine simple just so I could focus on the actual construction of the flute. We used and online tool the helps calculate the placement of the finger holes given the fundamental pitch of the isntrument with no holes and the overal length from the node between the chambers to the foot of the flute. To create the holes we used a 1/4 in brad point drill bit and then compared each pitch to a tuner. If it was flat we raised the pitch by burning the holes bigger. This was accomplished using a torch to heat larger drill bits held with vise grips. The heated bit was pressed into the hole you want to widen and allowed to burn out the hole. Worked like a charm. Most of the flute came out producing sound but were somewhat weak in volume. So Mike gave us some hints for how to improve them.

I hope to make more in the future.

Here's a pic of Mike and my flute.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Philosophy?? And Carving???

Mark Yundt as some of you know has been very active on the WCI Forum over the last several years. He now has a blog in partnership with Doris Fiebig (in my Blog List) and I highly recommend it. In addition to being a wonderful artist and carver, he is also one of the most interesting and fearless folks I've ever talked to with respect to general philosophy, symbology, meaning, and life principles. Doris too has some excellent writings in their blog on "learning to see".

Mark has encouraged me to take up and run with my stated goals for this blog and has asked - where I will begin? Honestly - I don't know. That question has stumped me. I have stated my interests, I have given some insight into what resonates with me, and I have stated my interest in beginning to think and intuit more deeply about myself, art, carving, the world around me, etc. "Where do I start?" Hmm...I don't know how to answer that other than to pick a "start" and see where it leads.

So - I will partly abdicate that decision, by choosing to start with reading and thinking about some writings of someone whom Mark suggested I read. Paul Brunton was a philosopher who lived between 1898 - 1981 and wrote extensively about what he called "The Overself." You can read more about Paul Brunton in Wikipedia here, and his writing about "inspiration and the overself" here. The writings I am starting with come from "The Notebooks" (The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.) Hopefully - the main focus of this exercise will be on how these writings relate to creativity, artistic expression, and carving.
Mark of course approaches these topics from a solid base of thinking and intuiting (I assume) and as a serious FT Professional artist (woodcarver). I on the other hand approach this as a total amateur and novice woodcarver who has dabbled with artistic expression over the years (music performance, acting, writing, photography) and now as a long term (4 years) novice woodcarver. I am inviting Mark and anyone else who finds this interesting to jump in and participate via the comments and/or links back to your own blog (where you have the ability to post your own photos and can perhaps be more extensive in your posts).

Some ground rules. The challenge is how to explore these ideas with out getting lost and hyperverbose (which I tend to do) and losing your - the reader's / participant's - interest. I am writing this blog partly as a selfish exercise in "journaling" and to spark my own growth and creativity, but I do hope that other will find enough interest in these topics to both follow along and hopefully participate via the comments. I would like this to be an exercise in "dialogue" (in the sense as discussed by Peter Senge in "The Fifth Discipline" - where we hold up ideas for examination and commentary without the need to try to passionately prove to one another other the idea's validity or lack thereof) as opposed to "debate" where the spirit is more one of trying to convince everyone else that I am right and they are wrong. That said folks should feel free to ask pointed questions and challenge each others thinking without feeling like it will be taken as a personal attack.

So with that, my next post will be based on my beginning reading of Paul Brunton's writings as posted here. There is a LOT of material in this, so this could take some time and I (we?) WILL probably stray off into tangents at times. Or maybe we'll peter out on this topic and move on. That's cool. Plus, I may need to get more adept with the blog's tools in order to keep these posts organized, so be patient.

For now - that's all. I'll try to post my first post on this topic by next weekend.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Some past carvings . . .

Ok - I guess since the main point of this blog was supposed to be CARVING - I really ought to post at least a couple pics of some of my carvings right? Well, unfortunately our digital camera died a couple months ago and we're going to have to wait awhile to save up for new one. So all I have to post are a few picks of the VERY few carvings I worked on over the last year.

This first is a woodspirit hiking stick in White Birch that I did quite awhile back from a pattern in the Shawn Cipa, Chris Pye and Lora S Irish book on Woodspirits and Greenmen.
I especially love Shawn Cipa's woodspirit faces. They are so unique that you know them immediately. Love his curlycue beards. So I thought I'd give it a shot. Unfortunately, the left eye chipped out a little and I had to try to repair with Cyanoacrylate. So it looks a little off.

Here is a Santa again from a Shawn Cipa pattern. I gave this one to my mom for this past Christmas. Unfortunately, we never got to paint it before Christmas and after I showed it to her she didn't want to let it go for me to complete it. So, he remains unpainted. I did spray on a clear finnish to protect it though.

Lastly - here is a small Santa ornament from a Cindy Joslyn (sp?) pattern that we completed and also gave to my mom for Christmas this last year. This one my wife painted. I think she did a fantastic job.
So there's a small sampling of my carvings. When I can get a chance I post some pics of my bark carvings.

Been awhile eh?

Yeah - well . . . I got a little sidetracked with this thing that pays the bills called "work". So I've totally neglected this blog for nearly a year. Still been reading a lot and participating over on the WCI Forum quite a bit (ChuckT), but as for my own carving and blog . . . nada. I really must be the most undisciplined "carver" ever. For someone who is as fascinated by carving as I am (read constantly, talk on the WCI forum constantly, THINK about it every day etc.) I DO remarkably little of it. Which is why I've not posted links to this blog anywhere.

The thing about me is this . . . I am a LOT like - hmm, there was a character in The Hardy Boys books named Chet (I think) who was a collector of hobbies. A GREAT starter, and terrible finisher. Sadly - I seem to exhibit that trait as well. I find EVERYTHING fascinating. When I see someone doing something that looks interesting I want to learn all about it and do it too. Then interest tends to wane and it falls by the wayside - with the exception of a few things in my life.

1. My marriage & family. Happily married for 23 years now and going strong. 4 fine kids too!
2. Guitar & music. Been playing guitar for 32 years and singing & playing for church for just about as long. Still going strong. Should be a much better player after that long but I do ok.
3. Interest in woodworking and carving. Though I do very little of it my interest has NOT fallen off.

So with carving, I am a slow starter & slow finisher, but hopefully it'll be something I do till I die.

Still, compared to lot's of others out there I am a woefully slow and inadequate "carver". I even hesitate to call myself a carver - kinda like calling myself "an athlete" just because I play a pick up game of basketball or soccer a few times a year. But in my mind - I am and always will be a carver.