Tag Archives: classic design handcrafted antler animal carving
An elephant is one of those animals that every child learns to identify, yet is also an animal that most people rarely see. Consequently, while we are sure what an elephant is, it would be difficult for most people to sketch one with any degree of detail.
It is like the parable of the seven blind men who describe an elephant by running their respective hands over only one part of the animal. We can add a trunk to the front of a large bulky animal and put some big ears on the side of the head and maybe some tusks sticking out the front somewhere, but can we really give the picture any more specific information?
I came face to face with this when carving this piece. I started with the basics, but was soon faced with many questions like how thick and long are the legs relative to the body and how wide the head? Where exactly do the tusks and ears go? How many toes does an elephant have? There are also a large number of bumps and depressions in the skull and around the hips. Nonetheless, thanks to the internet, I was able to find the answers to these questions and make this netsuke sized elephant.
The elephant is carved from a single piece of moose antler and depicts a full grown Asian elephant porting a ceremonial blanket and pannier on its back.
5.5cm L x 4.4 cm H x 3.0 cm D
2.25”L x 1.75”H x 1.25”D
Everybody gets in a slump from time to time. I find that after I finish a piece, I develop a hesitation to start a new one. Maybe it is the abrupt change from finishing one piece and having to start with the planning and rough carving that attends the commencement of new work. Whatever the reason, I usually find myself in a slump after I finish a piece, a reluctance to start something new. Luckily I live in a style where there is usually something to do to occupy myself till the enthusiasm returns.
Ideas for new work, on the other hand occur when least expected and often in bunches. While working on something entirely different, an idea for an excellent piece may show up, or it may occur when I see something around the place, or am reading about something else. I keep a list of ideas written down so that when I am ready to start something new, I can decide from among several options. The list of ideas can also serve to build enthusiasm for starting new projects.
So this last slump was a double whammy because I had just finished a string of several projects and had used up all the items on my list. After completing all the spring work around the place, I was looking to keep my skills up, but didn’t have any ideas, nor was I really enthused about starting a new project.
In the past, I’ve worked on some small projects – little things – to keep the carving muscles in shape. One such activity that I like is to make leaves and feathers. I find they are often useful for inclusion in other projects later and are also nice things to give guests – particularly to kids. While making some leaves, one of the pieces of antler I selected had a flaw in it (not unusual) that resulted in a couple of weak spots – holes – in the leaf. In a case like this, one can either scrap the piece or incorporate the flaw into the design. I chose the latter and decided carve some caterpillars and attach them to the leaf to make it look like they were eating it and making the holes. It turned out kind of nice for a little project, but I felt that, to be honest, the caterpillars should have been carved from the same piece as the leaf. Glueing them on after is the easy way. Thus resulted in the next project.
I selected moose antler because it was flat and not to thick and proceeded to make two pieces – each a leaf that looks undisturbed from above, but underneath holds three caterpillars hustling over the surface and borrowing into the folds of the leaf. One would think that the difficult part would be the carving of the caterpillars themselves, but they were relatively easy. The hard part was making the underside of the leaf. Why? Because after the caterpillars were carved, the surface remaining had to smoothed until it looked like a leaf – and there were those caterpillars in the way. This involved a lot of sanding using a stick to hold a small piece of sandpaper. The after the surface was smoothed, it had to be carved to look like the underside of a leaf – i.e. the veins had to be carved into the surface, or in one case, the veins had to left in relief whole the rest of the surface was reduced.
The pieces turned out better than expected – for an unexpected reason. The center of a moose antler is spongy like all antlers. Some parts are very spongy with relatively big holes. Other parts are quite dense and can be carved. I choose pieces that were dense in the middle and the unexpected benefit was that when finished, the middle material turned darker than the outer material. Since the caterpillars were all carved from the inner material and the leaf surfaces all carved from outer material, the result is dark caterpillars crawling on a lighter leaf surface.
The caterpillar project got me thinking about how objects could be carved onto the surface of other objects and the wide variety of potential projects that could be realized using this technique – and the idea list is again growing.
Caterpillars crawl on the underside of a leaf. From the upper side, the leaf looks undisturbed, but when turned over, there is a hustle and bustle of insects stuffing themselves so they can become adults. Are the insects any less perfect than the leaf itself? Does their presence make the overall piece seem less serene? It is all in the eye of the beholder.
In actual fact, the purpose of these pieces is to provide a wish for true gardeners and plant aficionados. Every year, just when the plants are looking their best , along comes some bug or worm or fungus to disrupt the growth of the plants. If only the power of those invertebrates and fungi could be harnessed for good instead of evil. Thus, we return to the true underlying meaning of these pieces: May the tent caterpillars eat the weeds in your garden.
Each of the pieces is carved from a single piece of moose antler. The darker color of the inner antler material results in darker caterpillars crawling on a lighter leaf surface.
Reg, where do you get your ideas? This is one of the questions I get asked a lot. The others are:
- how long does it take to make that?
- how did you start doing this work?
- do I get a discount?
But, back to inspiration–it is easy to get the ideas as they are all around me. I live in a park, surrounded by the perfect images of nature. As a biologist by training, I find the snails and worms to be every bit as wonderful as the flowers. As well, I don’t limit my ideas to local nature and find inspiration from books, videos and talking to other people.
Consequently, I have pieces representing sea creatures, even though I live several thousand kilometers from the ocean. But, overall, the beauty and grace of the natural world provides most of my ideas.
I’m also not too proud to take a nugget of an idea from somewhere else and build upon it to make something new and unique–often with little in common from the original idea. I have two bonsai-inspired pieces, neither of which look like a traditional bonsai tree.
So, finding an image worthy of attempting to copy is the easy part. The difficult part is trying to make that copy within the limitations of my skill as a carver and the availability of the pieces of suitable antler. This brings me to another aspect of inspiration–the desire to make the piece the best possible–the work ethic. In this, I have two sources of inspiration, or models of work ethic.
First, the level of skill and dedication of traditional oriental artists. Whenever I am tempted to say, “ah, this is good enough!”, I think of the work I’ve seen in Japan, or a Chinese carving I’ve seen on the internet and realize that it can be made better, even if it means starting over. If you feel like saying that it is probably good enough–then it probably isn’t. I was recently working on an oriental dragon and had finished the scales over the two foot long body. I tried a modification of the scale carving and to mixed emotions, discovered that the new method was much better. It meant I had to redo the entire body, but the final result is much better and I am satisfied.
- The second source of my work ethic inspiration is my wife, best friend and partner Jamie and our son Justin. Both are perfectionists (darn!) and so I am somewhat driven to ensure that my work meets their standards. Not that this is a problem, quite the contrary, I like to make my work the best possible so that even if it sits on a counter in my basement, I can be satisfied that it is the best I can do.
This piece started out as a 3D collage, a mix of individual organic shapes, each created in its own right, then amalgamated. However, as I was making the pieces with curves and bumps, I noticed that many of them were familiar. In hindsight, it should have been no surprise that my biological training and interests predisposed me to use shapes familiar to me as models for the abstract shapes. And if one is making abstract amorphous shapes, what better place to look then to the molluscs.
Molluscs, a group of animals having no bones, are basically bags of guts and muscle. They move by hydraulic and muscle motion. A familiar representative is the octopus, whose entire body functions like a bag of water, yet is able to effect the finest level of motor skill. Other examples are the snails, which can crawl along a razorblade edge and not be cut. Squids and cuttlefish are masters of disguise, able to transform the shape and color of individual skin cells. The bivalves, clams, mussels, scallops and oysters, are so well developed that they do not even need a head to function in their environment. Nauteloids, which look like an octopus hiding in a snail shell, were once the dominant life form in the oceans. And then we have the shells produced by these animals, in all their shapes and beauty. Each a mastery of mathematical curves and spirals.
I attempted to blend lifelike mulluscan shapes with abstract shapes to create a tableau providing a unified whole. Each segment was shaped and crafted so that it blended into the overall harmony. The diversity and unusualness of molluscs is such that it is often difficult to distinguish between the dozen or so molluscs and the abstract portions. The individual pieces are mounted on a piece of moose antler that it itself shaped to contribute to the overall effect.
Cornucopia is made from elk, deer and moose antler as well as some tagua nut. It is mounted on a base of polished Manitoba Maple with a natural edge.
35 cm W x 22 cm L x 35 cm H
13.5″W x 8.5″L x 13.5″H
A walking stick head should fit in the hand. It should be smooth, be ergonomically shaped to allow a good grip and be pleasing to the eye. A perfect shape for this is a cuttlefish–yes–a cuttlefish. The cuttlefish, like its close cousin the squid, is a cephalopod and related to, among others, the octopus. Besides being an intelligent hunter and predator of the oceans, the cuttlefish is a master of disguise and able to color and texture its skin to blend into its background, making it nearly invisible. It is also able to use this image changing feature to put on dazzling displays for courting and territorial defense.
This piece is carved from a single moose antler and is sized and shaped to be a pleasure to hold. The motif is a certain conversation piece and if necessary can act as a significantly effective weapon. The cuttlefish is fitted with carved glass eyes. The piece is mounted on a birch wood shaft.
A walking stick head should fit in the hand. It should be smooth, be ergonomically shaped to allow a good grip and be pleasing to the eye. A perfect shape for this is a toad–yes–a toad. Toads have been on the receiving end of bad press, being equated with slimy, obnoxious images. In reality, the toad likes to be left alone and is an effective predator of bugs. Larger toads have been known to consume mice and even small birds.
As legend goes, Chang-e, wife of the archer I, having drunk an elixir of immortality, turned into a toad and retired to live on the moon. Since that time, the toad is thought to bring longevity and immortality.
This piece is carved from a single moose antler and is sized and shaped to be a pleasure to hold. The motif is a certain conversation piece and if necessary can act as a significantly effective weapon. The toad is fitted with carved glass eyes. The piece is mounted on a Saskatoon wood shaft. The length of the wooden shaft has not been determined, so it can be customized to suit the user.
Dragons have become a popular motif for walking sticks, with the popularity of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Their style and appearance ranges greatly. Like Lord of the Rings, this piece grew with the telling. Carved from a single moose antler, I started with a poorly shaped piece of antler and had to develop the image given what was available. Antler carving of this form is a reductive process, so once removed, material cannot be added back. The resulting shape reflects getting the most from the original shape of the antler.
The dragon is outfitted with matched Australian sapphires, rectangular in shape and tri-colored in hue. The piece is meant to be mounted on a walking stick that is long enough that the dragon is grasped from the side, as opposed to from the top. If desired, it is also very suited to be held like a sword. The dragon head is mounted on a Saskatoon wood shaft of distinctive character. Altogether, this is a walking stick for someone with a solid conception of their own image.
Sixteen tadpoles are depicted swimming through the water. Like the piece itself, the story behind it is somewhat complicated. It begins with Chaos Theory, where harmony and order are found within what appears to be a disorganized set of information.
Part of the theory is that if we knew all the factors affecting the activity of a system, we could, theoretically, be able to understand it better. Within Chaos Theory, are objects known as “strange attractors” – strange theory, strange name. A strange attractor is an object that, as its name implies, attracts forces to itself, if they are weak enough. If the forces are too strong, the activity of a system expands into randomness.
What has this to do with the carving? Well, it is an allegory for Chaos Theory. The tadpoles are swimming in a murky water, creating waves around themselves as they move. The pressure waves in the water move away from the tadpole until they meet another wave from another tadpole. These are the strong forces. Around each tadpole is an empty space representing the weak forces. The little swimmers are, in fact, acting as strange attractors.
If only the pressure waves were shown, we would not understand why they are there. With the presence of the tadpoles shown, we can understand why the waves look like they do. We have found understanding. If only the rest of physics was this easy.
The carving is made from a single piece of moose antler. Tadpoles cover all sides of the antler piece. The smooth ridges and backs of the tadpoles, interspersed with grooves feel like movement captured in your hand. The eyes are facetted crystal.