The art of woodcarving is a time-honoured and admirable artistic skill, requiring much technical practice for one to become proficient at creating life-like structures made of delicate timber.
Every Tuesday evening at the Golden Circle Club in Castor, a small but passionate group of artists meet to spend a few hours crafting animals, people and objects out of wood.
The core members of the current group consist of Brian Bunbury, Randy Kary and Connie Gibson; all of whom have been participating in the craft for over 15 years. They revel in speaking about the craft of woodcarving, demonstrating the tools and various techniques employed to create a life-like wooden model.
“It’s measure, measure, measure,” says Bunbury, describing the precision of cutting out a well-scaled model. Each figure begins as a blueprint on paper that shows the final product, which is then translated onto a block of wood.
“The hardest thing is to set the patterns on your block,” notes Bunbury, “they’re all on a flat sheet of paper, and the figures are all cut at an angle. You’ve really got to proportion them in.” Curvature, angles and perspectives have to be considered in drafting the final model; and natural tendencies to mould the object have to be reconsidered.
“A first time carver, when they decide they’re going to narrow [their block] because it’s too wide they get the idea that they want to round it down [gradually],” says Kary. “You just have to figure out how much wood to cut off, and cut the sides straight down.” This process of cutting down the block at harsh angles eliminates unnecessary portions of wood from the frame, which can then be more easily carved from a smaller, more proportioned block.
From here, a multitude of tools can be used to carve depending on what is required.
“Chisels can be used to do stuff on really soft wood,” says Gibson, noting that one always goes with the natural grain of the wood when carving with this tool, and always pushes it away from the body.
Another unique tool, the woodburner, is used for the esthetic final touch of a sculpture to create fine, delicate detail such as bird feathers or fur. Describing this process, Kary displays a complex and realistic bird he carved and notes the detail in the wings.
“The top of the wing took me three hours,” he says. “Three hours for the bottom and the same for the other wing. Then you have the back and tail-feathers, and a couple of hours for the underside.” He added that when painting such a finely-carved piece, one has to ensure the paint is thin enough not to fill in the tiny crevices.
The carvers credit the likes of locals Albert Brown, Glen Miller and Bette Hronek as being instrumental in creating and maintaining a strong and educated foundation within the group. Bunbury notes that he has taken courses all over the prairies and BC to bring back new techniques to teach his peers, and adds the group will be hosting introduction sessions on Tuesdays in January for interested parties.
The group also adds that the inspiration for their continued presence in the carving community is not only the works of art they produce, but also the mental effects of the act of carving.
“When you’re carving, you’re just lost. Nothing else matters,” says Kary. “You don’t have to worry about anything. It’s the same reason people read, do puzzles, paint or draw. It takes the mind off everything else.”