Does the word that just popped into your head show up here? Find out:

04 November, 2012

The Carving Itch

Like many Southern boys my age, I whiled away hours whittling. At a pretty young age, I was trusted with pocket knives and even hunting knives, which I used on wood, not food. A repertoire that began with "pointed stick" eventually progressed to "rudimentary tool handle decoration," but to say I was a wood carver would be to exaggerate. 

In Hawai'i, I was exposed to serious carving for the first time. I worked at a museum that housed wood, shell, bone, and stone carved into everything from dazzling mini fishhooks to giant images of Kuka'ilimoku in all his maggot-mouthed glory. In addition to a pocket knife that was my grandfather's and has mysteriously disappeared and reappeared several times over the years, I got some chisels, and carved under the mango tree. I never did pursue mastery, and had no teachers other than the chisel and adze marks on mute works of old masters. Fieldwork sometimes bestowed me with a chunk of alahe'e or kamani; I even muscled a thing or two out of kiawe, which is harder than most of the lava rock. The characters of each material revealed themselves to me in a series of gouges, snaps, and lacerations.

Seeing and freeing the form in the log or cobble felt good, and sometimes I'd spend hours that became days working on something. Other times, I'd do a quick hack job. Then there were times when I carved nothing at all, sometimes for months. I've always had a few carvings half-done, put aside until the urge strikes me to finish that particular carving. Sometimes, that may be years. At least one has a head that's more than a decade old, its body still a roughed out log. 

Then, I'd get the itch to carve again. Maybe to get that mellow buzz that comes with completing something long deferred. Maybe it's a new piece leaping out suddenly. Sometimes, it's just a way to foil a frustration to distract me from a disappointment, to avert anger. (Playing with sharp objects may seem like not the way to deal with anger, but it works for me.)

The photo at the top is the last thing I completed (although I have this nagging feeling that I did something else that I'm forgetting--but this is the last thing I photographed, so we'll go with it). It's a halibut serving tray carved from butcher block. 

It is also a lesson: save the butcher block for 2D giant octopus renditions, and do not try to carve it. The grain of each strip runs in an opposite direction, confusing and thwarting the knife. Knots further complicate things, and adjacent laminae may differ pretty extremely in hardness and texture. 

But with the help of a NW style bent knife, I scooped out the serving part complete with a groove around the edge to catch the juices (an accidental chip right where a halibut's anal vent would be provides a convenient place to pour off excesss). You can quibble about the tail, but all in all it passes for a halibut, I think. 

Now that that's done and given away, and a few carving-less weeks have passed, I'm getting that itch again. Maybe I'll finish the seahorse, or the woodpecker, but maybe something new ill pop into my head by the time I pick up the knife.

 my age,

No comments:

Post a Comment