A day in the life

I’ve done this once before and for some reason many seemed to enjoy it. It’s not about carving but about other facets that surround carving and places I end up. So, A day in my life.

Carving  I always find interesting but there are other things that happen along the way, people, places and things that get my juices flowing. Maybe you might find this  as well. In my career there are many paths I’ve crossed where I’m fascinated by how they got to where they are  and what they do. You may have the same type experiences as I do and meet just as interesting people and go to places that are just as much fun,,, but I just feel like writing about these things.

The day started out very typically, for a carver. Check e-mails, follow up with some calls etc. Then settle down to some carving. Spent 15 minutes or so resharpening the dozen or so chisels ( only because I thought of it before actually carving) that I’m using heavily on this current project. It’s the Wisteria Desk. I don’t currently have a story on that , but will, once it’s done. Spent the morning carving, thinking about several other jobs that just hit and what I’ll need for them. Decided that after lunch I’ll head out and pick up at least some of the wood for a job that for some reason has to be done yesterday. Ate lunch, made a pot of Beef vegetable soup for dinner and off I went.

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ChuckT
    Dec 27, 2009 @ 18:28:20

    Hey Mark. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thanks for posting this story and photos of your friend’s work. Can’t wait to see how your Wisteria Desk is coming along. Me? I am just whittling when I can find time. Just some small Santa ornaments for friends as gifts. Been bitten by the Bamboo and Native American flute making bug so that’s taken over a lot of my “free” time.

    So – some thoughts on the whole “whittler” vs “classical” (“American” vs “European”) thing. First of all – these are just labels that are placed on things to provide a handy means of referencing the distinction. Whittling and flat plane carving actually has a European foundation too. I am sure carving wood goes WAY back into pre-history, but I know that the Scandinavian countries had a rich heritage of flat plane carving of small figures with knives from when the Guild system was strong and it was illegal for a non-guild member to own carving gouges. Probably similar with Swiss chip carving.

    I can totally see where you’ve derived your love of and strong advocacy for use of non palm (i.e. “full sized”) gouges. Clearly your mentor is a master and you’ve learned (and continue to learn) from him. I would argue that much of the artistry is in the design. The craft is in the skill of use of the tools to execute the design. And the mastery (the highest blend of art and craft) is in the combination of the two skills where one’s designs are created with the knowledge of what the material can support and the tools can do with the material in mind – and pushing those limites & boundaries.

    But let’s face it – not everyone who picks up a paint brush is seeking to be a great painter. Some just want to dabble and can’t afford to go out an purchase the best brushes and paints from the get go before they’ve learned enough to see if it’s something they want to pursue. Likewise – in carving, if someone is just looking for a way to pass some time, learn a new skill to keep busy with and have some fun, the least expensive and simplest way to get into it as a hobby – is a knife or two, maybe some palm gouges, and “whittling” up some woodspirits, christmas ornaments, etc. This seems to be where the majority of “carvers” start. If they like it and as they are exposed to more, they might want to try birds – which is a whole thing unto itself (as you well know). Many are quite happy to stay there and not take on large “professional” projects. They can admire them, the skill and artistry that goes into that work, but they may never aspire to do such work themselves. That’s ok.

    Can a pro working with full sized tools do the same carvings as the whittlers? Of course. Could the amateur do it with full sized tools? Sure – once they’ve learned the basic cuts. But will they make the investment in time and money to do so? Probably not. So “American whittling” vs “Classical European” or whatever label you want to apply – is simply how things have evolved in carving through the years. The hobbiest initially doesn’t want to spend a lot of time learning the distinctions between gouges or the money to aquire them and is happy with resources like WCI and that forum to quickly and easily get a blade to wood and make chips. They are happy to carve from patterns and create the cute little “folk art” pieces. There IS in fact and beauty in that simplicity.

    Then there are those who take it further and actually are inspired to aspire to creating carvings like your mentor and you do. They WILL invest the time and money and will as a result reap the rewards of that type of work if they stick with it and make it happen.

    Then there are those like me – who see it, appreciate it, understand it, and will eventually try it. But are also happy to carve little woodspirits, hiking sticks, and Santa’s a few times a year. To me – it’s not this antagonistic either or – it’s a both and. Neither should disparage the other, but rather celebrate the skills, processes, and works of both and the happiness that is entailed and doing something fun and creative.

    Best wishes to you and Doris for the New Year!


  2. markyundt
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 05:58:58

    I hope you too had a Merry Christmas and will have a Happy New Year.
    Well the Wisteria desk is long gone now by about a month or so.I’m going to eventually make up a story here with the process and final shots of it. It should be a good addition to the blog.
    And as you well know I’m more than familiar with the whole whittler vs. carver story, how they came about, what they mean, why some do what they do etc. that I don’t think we need to keep rehashing it all over again and again. Yes , it is what it is and not everyone wants to do what I do. Fine,, believe it or not I actually DO understand it better than you seem to think I do. But I also believe you need to understand just WHY I am an advocate as you say. There are PLENTY of sites where whittling is a standard that most live by. And that seems to be the only standard known and most are familiar with so it seems. And , believe it or not many try to apply those same principles to this type of work. There is nothing wrong with making woodspirits and santa’s over and over again year after year . Lets face it, for the 3+ years I’ve been following other sites the questions and content hasn’t changed one bit. It’s like a Soap Opera. You can leave for months , come back and you can pick up the same story in a glance. Nothing,, including the carvings and “solutions” have changed.
    At some you’ll always hear the same mantra ” Lots of good information here” Sorry,, I don’t agree. Much of the “information” isn’t very good at all as I’ve been able to demonstrate on many occasions. And when I hear (read) that to do Architectural work you need a good knife,, well that seems rather odd since the person offering the info doesn’t carve architectural pieces.
    The reason I’m an advocate is there are the occasional person who ACTUALLY IS interested in carving something other than a woodspirit or santa. That’s why Doris and I are here. Are you going to do this type and range of work with your beloved knife Chuck? I don’t think so.
    You want to whittle, there are sites for that. Those principles don’t apply here and that seems to be the sticking point that most can’t get over. Why do I get e-mails with people asking why they can’t get carvings to look like mine? How did I go about it? They bought the tools that were suggested on “Other Sites” and can’t get them to produce this work.
    Does everyone want to do it? As I said and completely understand,,, NO! But what about the ones that do? Sure most want to just dabble in carving as a nice hobby and way to pass time. GREAT! NO, not everyone wants to spend a fortune on tools that is just a hobby but there are many who are willing. NO ,,not everyone who picks up a paint brush or chisel is out to set the world on fire but there are some who are looking to produce more than the average hobbyist yet still keep it a hobby. If someone is looking to further their carving,,or painting for that matter,, will they get there with lousy tools and the advice offered at other sites? I don’t think so otherwise the stories at those sites would have changed over time.
    Yes, as you say there is nothing wrong with carving little figures etc. I don’t have a problem with it as you seem to think I have. You want to carve widgets,, knock yourself out. But even if you simply want to make better widgets where are you going to go? Sure,, ask other widget carves who can’t figure out the problems either and say “looks good to me” and “just keep practicing”. Sorry,, that doesn’t cut it for me.
    And as far as my “mentor” goes I see him MAYBE once a year just to BS for a half hour or so. The last time I spent any real time with him was almost 20 yrs ago. Even then , when I was in his shop carving,, it wasn’t lessons in carving 101.
    I got to see good carving in his portfolio,, got to see him carve a few pieces,,,,I got to carve a few pieces ( primarily egg and dart mldg) then off I went. It never was teacher/student or hands on. You figured out how to carve, or starved. It was that way. It’s been that way for me ever since.
    If it’s a hobby and not that important and you just want to dabble , have fun, meet people I can send you to any number of sites.
    You want to get a bit more serious then leave your thoughts ( and most likely tools) at the door and step inside where we can talk.


  3. ChuckT
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 07:28:50

    Sorry Mark – didn’t mean to reopen and rehash old discussions. I guess I just inferred annoyance with the “whittler” vs “classic” approach distinction (my labels anyway) on your part in your post and reacted to it.

    I agree with all your points (and let’s face – what basis really would I have to disagree???). They are completely logical. Oh – it isn’t my “beloved knife” btw. I have no particular attachement to knife carving per se. In fact, I have cut myself carving with knives and never have with a gouge – so from a safety perspective I am totally in your camp. From a convenience perspective – well – to whittle some Santas, Wizards, and woodspirits – it’s nice to haul a knife to a park and do some whittling once in awhile. I am also certain that I could do better carvings, more cleanly and safely using gouges and with the work piece fixed in a holding device though. So your lessons are not lost on me. But for me – without a dedicated space or workbench, the convenience factor is – well, a factor at times.

    Anyway – I am sorry if I annoyed you with my comment. Wasn’t my intent at all. And yes – you’re right that the content is pretty stagnant up on WCI at this point. Different names, same questions, same answers, etc. Which is perhaps why my own interest and participation has fallen off over the last 8 months or so.

    I think they’d do a greater service to the overall carving community to explore these issues in more depth, and do more articles on truly professional carvers like yourself and your mentor, and these techniques – in order to present a more balanced perspective of what carving is and can be. But I guess they feel they need to cater more to that core “hobbiest” whittler type of carver.

    Thanks again for all you and Doris do here to share your perspectives, projects, and techniques.



  4. markyundt
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 16:44:20

    Not a problem Chuck.
    But as one of the opening lines on the blog states…..” Both Doris and Mark carve in the traditional methods which can yield un-traditional results” If anyone wants the traditional whittlings, there are sites for that. I tend to think that what you see here doesn’t look like what is offered there. The sentence spells it out. Some are interested, some aren’t and that’s just fine with me. This site is not for profit. It’s sharing ideas about carving and the projects we get into and develop.
    Again, this isn’t the place to discuss knives vs. chisels. This is a place to discuss carving,design, technique with those who are interested in furthering their carvings and how to ACTUALLY go about it with ideas and solutions that you can use by carvers who most likely have already done it or know how to carve the answer you’re looking for. It’s not the local carving club. We don’t provided the Doctors name that can sew up your slashed hand or repair your severed tendon as I recently read. We don’t argue about this knife vs that knife and which one you really need to produce carvings that all look alike. We’re not going to argue about particular sharpening “systems” and which ones to use that produce carvings that are in need of tools that are actually sharp.
    You want to know which tools I use, which ones I’d suggest for a starter set, and not only which tools I use but why I chose them and then on top of it how I modify them to make them even better, and then show a carving done with these tools to show what can be done with a limited selection? It’s here.
    As you said you think they’d be more helpful if they expanded on more issues. Who would you expect to do that at these other sites? Are most qualified to give a decent Critique let alone show how to actually correct a carving? I fear not. Again I’ll say it, “Lots of information here,,,” ,, too bad none of it applies to the carving in question or is so erroneous that what is the point? “Looks good,, better than I can do,,I can’t carve an eye but here is how you do it”. Sort of makes sense why nothing changes and the patterns repeat themselves over and over. The “great” carvers or artists are the ones who have carved the same face on every carving for the past 20 yrs. You can recognize it from across the room. Is this great carving or just the fact that if you do something long enough you’re bound to get reasonably good at that one thing? Carve something else? Can’t. Offer advice on other things? Sure. When , where , why and how can anything improve? Then again, most ARE content in keeping the status- quo.
    I’m not a fan of that mind set yet I do understand it. I’m looking for something else, new directions, new carvings and how to figure them out. Offering advice to those few who might be interested.Hence,,our own blog.
    Am I adamant about these issues? Yes. Just as adamant as those who insist you need a knife to produce widgets. I don’t make widgets. And quite simply , those that understand the nature of this blog, based on many of the responses I have been getting, those issues just don’t apply and just fall apart. There is no place for them here and they know it.


  5. ChuckT
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 19:08:29

    Yep! Actually – that’s why I was SO disappointed to see how things turned out with you and WCI. I was really hoping that WCI would begin to delve more deeply into traditional methods by working with carvers like yourself, Fred Zavadil (sp?), Doris and others to write articles. They do these kinds of articles once in awhile, but not often enough in my opinion. But then, maybe those who are carving using these methods don’t read articles and talk about it all that much because they (like you) are busy DOING it! LOL! Therefore, they focus more on the hobbiest “armchair” carvers like me, who read and think, but ultimately, don’t pick up the tools that often.

    Like I said, I am NOT and never have questioned your logic, tools, techniques, and methods. I am obviously in no position to do so as a rank beginner and your results speak for themselves. I think some of the antagonism that came about “over there” was in fact from those who felt intimidated by and put off by the strength of your arguments with respect to tools & techniques and your taking such a strong stance for traditional methods which was (in my opinion) warrented.

    Anyway – nuff said. I really am not trying to argue with you (because that’s just result in my getting whupped!. Just trying to understand.

    So in that vein – I AM curious – let’s say you wanted to carve a small Santa ornament like the one pictured on my blog from last Christmas (the Cyndi Joslyn one near the bottom) http://woodsmythsmuse.blogspot.com/ Not that you would want to, but IF you did. How would you go about doing this with traditional tools & methods. The piece is small, about 6″ in length, and carved from 1″ x 1″ stock basswood. How would you hold the piece to rough in the shape? To do the detail? Or would you say – why bother? Just hand hold do it with a knife? Also curious – how quickly would you be able to bang one out? Me, I whittled it and it takes me maybe 2 hours each. Pretty pathetic hunh? LOL.



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