Today, with the sophistication of computer aided manufacturing the traditional methods of creating ornamental woodwork can seem obsolete. In many cases that may well be true, but there will always be a place for the work of human hands.
There is a difference in the final result of machine work and hand work and while not every observer can appreciate that difference, many do. I think of it like seeing a human face and the face of a mannequin. One has life, one doesn't.
It might seem that wood carving is about the skill of using carving tools, and it is, but just as important is the skill to sharpen them. They both take many hours, if not years of practice, and the guidance of a master along the way is essential.
Most important of all though, is knowing how to see the subject of the work. Understanding the elements of a design should be the starting point for any carving.
The beginnings of the ram head.
The heads nearing completion. Note the ring under the bull's neck.
Having plenty of photographs to work from is a great help for a project such as this mantel leg, a scale model is even better. Still, many details must be interpreted by the carver as the work progresses.
Here a full size mock-up of the fireplace and wall ensures that the mantel will fit and the installation will be successful. Being for an older home, even the slight slope of the floor is built into this mock-up.
Testing the fit of the frame parts.
Gold applied to carved work has a radiance and depth, whether matte or burnished, that is like nothing else. It even looks good when it's nearly all worn away!
Preparing a surface suitable for laying gold is an art itself and is today essentially unchanged from centuries ago. Working with the glue, gesso and clay is both a challenge and a joy, and the variety of effects that can be achieved with them is remarkable.
Besides genuine gold, imitation gold, silver and other types of metal leaf like copper can be used to create striking effects.
This rococo style frame measures 40" wide and 50" high. It was created using a single photograph provided by the customer. It is water gilt in 23 kt gold, burnished and distressed.
This frame is my own design. It features a pierced frieze in a repeating acanthus pattern situated over a large cove molding. This intended to reflect the movement and depth of the painting. The leaves in the four corners of the frame can be found in the painting's background. Nearer the sight edge is a highly burnished rail, of an oval profile that is deeply undercut. A ribbon and rod pattern finishes the outermost edge. The overall dimensions are 72" wide and 96 1/2" high. The limitations of the access to this space meant that the frame had to break down into two "L"s - separating at opposite corners, then assembled and mounted on site.
A corner detail of the acanthus frame.
This is a copy of a 1765 Thomas Chippendale mirror created by using the original piece for the patterns as well as all other details - the color of the bole, the gold, and the nature of the distressing. It measures about 42" wide and 78" high. It is installed in the same room with the original mirror.
Detail of the Chippendale Mirror copy.
One of a pair of pelmets based on a design by Thomas Chippendale. The patterns were created using photographs provided by the customer.
This shell began as a block made up of thirty-six pieces of wood similar to the staves of a barrel. The gilding here is both genuine and imitation gold, the burnished areas are genuine gold. This shell is lighted by dimmable miniature incandescent bulbs.
Here are book presentation and award boxes, of my design, featuring reverse painted and gilded glass faces surrounded by water gilt and burnished frames. The outer face of the box lifts off to reveal a book display easel. The interior is lined in book cloth, the back is finished in French book binding paper.
The art of casting is a fine companion to hand carved work. For centuries it has been used to make ornamentation such as bronze mounts on fine furnishings and composition picture frames. Casting makes it possible to create a perfect duplicate - or many, and it allows a change of material to one better suited for the application. The subtleties of the original model are repeated in the casting.
This door knocker is assembled from two lost wax castings. I carved a wooden model from the architect's drawings, the foundry used my model to make their molds. The two castings were then assembled and fitted with an engraved button.
The model for the bronze knocker.
This entry door lock body, knob and keyhole cover were each cast using my carved models. These parts were then machined and assembled as you see them here.
One of these console table aprons is an antique and one is a cast resin copy. After making the mold and casting the parts, a convincing finish completes the effect. The one mold can be used to make as many as one hundred copies.
In order to have more control over the final outcome of my antique reproductions, I found that finishing my work with authentic techniques, using authentic materials, would naturally give the look and feel I sought. This also ensures that as my work ages and wears it does so just as a piece made long ago would. This idea led me on a journey of experimenting with natural pigments, such as umbers and siennas, malachite and cinnabar. Then followed the various resins and binders, egg tempera, French polishing and so on.
As much a a pleasure these materials are to work with, and the beautiful results they yield, they are sometimes not the perfect choice for a project. Sometimes the environment the item will be placed in, or maintenance concerns mean that other finish materials would be a better choice. In such cases it is possible to get very similar results using modern materials in an artistic way. I am happy to provide samples for the customer and to help in finding the best fit for their project.
By using the right base color, glazes and leaf the copy can have the same look as the original.
This violin was first gilded, then painted over with black egg tempera. My design was then scratched through the paint, revealing the leaf. This technique is known as Sgraffitto, and is often seen on cassetta picture frames.
For this Chinoiserie scene the figures were first modeled using a technique known as pastiglia, where rabbit glue gesso is layered to make a raised form of the subjects. The red background I made with blonde shellac and genuine cinnabar over a gesso ground. The figures and foliage are oil gilt 23kt gold and detailed with India ink.
Here, white and featureless basswood was dyed and shaded with glazes. Several different shades of glaze were layered to achieve a mellow, aged look.
While furniture repair is not my primary focus, there are many instances where I can help, or gladly refer you to someone who can.
I can work in a variety of furniture styles and with a variety of materials. When needed, I have associates that I call on for special welding, machining, polishing, plating, metal casting and more.
To replace the broken leg on this bench a new leg had to be carved and fitted to the existing joinery, then the decorative details merged with those of the apron. The new finish was applied in steps to achieve the proper color, shading and distressing of the exising finish.
This mahogany sign was created from artwork provided by the customer. It was fully hand carved, then finished to convey their message.
Many of the projects I take on require an existing design to be adapted to the client's needs, however, if these changes are too great the appeal of the original design may be lost. It is therefore, very important to preview the proposed changes. Even the best drawings take interpretation and some projects are better understood in three dimensions. This clay model was made in one quarter inch scale; first to show how the adaptation would look installed, but also to generate the patterns that would be needed to create the new piece. It proved invaluable here because of the great variation in the depth of the carving and the extent of design adaptation that was made.
Turned table base in maple with a black lacquer finish. Not shown is the base's sub-top.
This table base design uses both white oak and brass tubing. The brass parts were machined and polished before joining them to the wood.
Testing the fit of the aluminum blocks that join the brass tubing at the miter and to the wood.