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.


Dave Jones said...

Interesting post. I was fascinated by the description of the differing carving techniques. In a former life I was a cabinet maker and the techniques you descvribe for English, European carving I can see and relate to in the comercial cabinet work and turning we did in the workshop. However as I was never formaly tutored in carving I have been carving in what can only be described as an 'American' way using knives and palm chisels and holding the piece. I wondered why there seemed to be no other carver in the region that was carving with knives or palm chisels and most techniques here are taught using a fixed piece and full size chisels; what I am doing, in the eyes of the die hard traditionalists, is whittling. I enjoy the knives and palm tools way of things personaly as I feel I can get closer to the wood and the final piece. Regards Dave

ChuckT said...

Thanks for the comment Dave. There's a place for all of these techniques. It all depends on what you like to do. Though I for one can certainly see the advantages of using full sized gouges in the traditional way, there is plenty of room for knives and palms too.