Introduction: How to Carve a This-is-Not-a-Gun Object
In November of 2016 I became aware of this list of objects. Each of the 24 objects has been mistaken for as a gun by a police officer in a civilian shooting since 2001. The poignancy of this list instilled in me the desire to feel these objects in my hand - and more than that, to feel the hand of the missing person who had held them. I felt a deep need to give each object its time, care and attention, in so doing, giving time, care and attention to the great mistake that has occurred. I am currently in the process of carving these 24 objects. The project is titled This Is Not A Gun. This project will be featured in San Francisco as part of the 100 Days of Action held throughout the Bay Area.
Here is a step by step lesson to go about making a life-like carved object.
Step 1: Know your object(s) of interest. See them, on paper, to scale, and in life.
Step 1: Life-size Photo Render and Collection of Objects
For me, it is essential to look at objects from life, I cannot copy from a picture on its own. I have to be able to maneuver each part of my process - tools, space, objects.
Step 2: Source Your Material
Jelutong is a great wood for carving. It holds a nice grain and has a strong clean finish. None of the objects from this project are completely finished yet - but two are well on their way. Draw your blocked out shapes on your material, cut with jigsaw.
Step 3: Block Out, Glue Up, Refine
First I cut the general shape of the drill with my Bosch jigsaw. Then I glued up 2 pieces on either side of the base to widen the battery part of the drill. I clamped the glued up object together and let it rest over night. The next day I was able to return to refine the form a little more both with power and hand tools. On the next step you'll see my tool set.
Step 4: Tool Set
I believe it is critical to have the tools you need for the job. I am equipped with an orbital sander, a handsaw, a dremel tool, and my chisels, which are Swiss Made 18 chisel set. I have many clamps and always have foam handy when carving. I always have with me a leather board to quickly rub off any burrs on my chisels as well as sharpening stones and water to soak them in. I am also aware of safety and use safety glasses, a dust mask and gloves when needed. My shop is dirty when I am working but I am vigilant to clean up at the end of the day in order to always return to a clean space.
Step 5: How to Carve / How to Observe
The hardest and easiest step at once: How to carve.
There are some straight forward rules: go with the grain, keep your tools sharp, take off less rather then more, and use the right tool for the job. More than anything though, carving is a dance between you, your tools and the wood. You learn as you go. You have to be observant and allow the process to be slow and one of constant problem-solving. There will be many problems: end-grain, dull tools, tear out of the wood, broken pieces. Everything has a remedy but nothing more universal than: take your time, measure twice and cut once.
Even more challenging than how to carve is How to Observe.
I work diligently to stay focused on the task at hand - in this case, I am intent on my mind recalling the emotional power of this project for me. I am listening to audio books that further my knowledge on this subject and deepen my empathy. I have learned NOT to talk on the phone while carving, unless I want to end up with bandaids on my fingers. You must be mentally present in order to make this work. Take breaks. Don't seek perfection, know you can always start again knowing more than before.
Though I teach sculpture to college students, I know I cannot teach you to carve. It is a practice of observation and skill learning that takes time and diligence. These steps include my inspiration, my tools and my knowledge on the subject. I believe it is a worthy practice both for artist and audience.
Step 6: Finishing
I finish my pieces, after fine grit sanding by hand, with multiple coats paste wax applied with a rag. I apply a coat, rub it off and about an hour later apply a second. I will do this 2-4X.
I want these pieces to be held in participants hands and am eager to make them soft and smooth to the touch as well as easy to clean.
thank you and enjoy