It was about time I tried my hand at carving koalas. And they are quite a tricky shape to carve I found out - I spent hours studying pictures of the animals!
The top picture shows the first I made. It represents a young animal with a large head in relation to it's body, made to look larger because it was slumped into the fork of a tree, and quite sleepy, as they often are.
The lower picture shows a rather trickier pose by a mature koala. With the front legs relatively thin, one fracture more than I'd noticed and worked around could have spelt disaster, but I was thorough, or lucky!
Of course they are carved from Cowell and the two koalas show the variation in the stone.
The upper picture shows a piece of grayish-green jade with some darker banding. These bands are where the fluids, due to partial melting of the nephrite during formation, had flowed. The lower one is made from stone which is close to "Black" and had melted and completely recrystallised during formation.
Each koala is shown seated in a forked piece of eucalypt which is varnished, and then screwed to the base of a square of Terrazzo tile.
Judging by the interest from friends I will be making a lot more koalas in the coming years and it will be interesting to see how the designs change over time.
I was asked to make a remembrance poppy in jade and after much thought and an illuminating talk with the gentleman concerned, came up with the piece shown here. It was a complete departure from my Maori carving style because I wanted to show the hidden beauty of the stone (lower figure), and to do that I needed to grind the petals thinly, which required them to be made from separate pieces of stone.
The poppy has been a symbol of remembrance for the armed services since the Great War. I chose the form of a still-opening flower as a metaphor for the youth of many of the men and women who have been killed whilst defending our country. I also chose four different pieces of Cowell to represent, as far as I could, the diversity of those lost.
Having ground-down the petals to a point where the inner beauty could be seen in transmitted light (lower figure), I finished them with grinding sticks to create a patina and polished highlights (upper figure). I then set-about forming the pistil by turning-down a piece of dowelling to shape and size, then adding the stigma, made from cord on the top. The stamens are made from thin copper wire bent to produce the anthers. They were fixed into the pistil and painted. And finally the petals were fixed in place.
As far as my continuing development as a carver is concerned, this is one of the most significant pieces I’ve carved in a few years. I am happy I fulfilled the terms of the commission (except the initial timeframe!) and will be doing more work in this vein in the future as I feel it honours the stone I am working in the best way I can.
I finished this piece in early June 2020.
A further order for jade cufflinks pushed me into finishing off a couple of pairs I'd started some time ago as well as making two new pairs. In the picture on the left you can see the beautiful shades of jade. Top left is a piece of highly translucent mid-green Yukon nephrite with some white flecking. Front is dark green and highly translucent Cowell. And at top right is a pair made from Cowell Black.
It was interesting to see how they polished-up. The Black was hard and generally took longest; the Yukon was softer and took least time. But you don't get something for nothing - getting the perfect polish on the Black seemed to take forever!
Dumortierite is a rare and unusual mineral found in only a handfull of countries around the world. It is an aluminium-boron silicate, and is typically found as a cryptocrystalline mass with other minerals, forming a rock. It's the boron which gives it a blue colour in the case of this Mozambican stone. It's hard, being 8.0 - 8.5 on Moh's scale. My 60 grit flexible diamond belt was up for the job but only new burrs and sheets of Wet & Dry would grind it. After that they just polished it!
I was approached by a friend who wanted matching pieces made for him and his wife for their forthcoming wedding anniversary. As such, they needed to be made out of the same piece of stone, and show colouring and other similarities across the pair. These pieces have that, including the pale weathering crust at the bottom, but also have a fine line of a black mineral near their tops - it can just be seen.
The near-identical pieces were finished as shown, one with a leather thong and the other to take a jump-ring and chain. They were completed in March 2020.
A client from the USA sent me some Californian “Blue” nephrite to use for some work pieces he wanted – two rings and two pendants.
The stone has a most unusual colouring in my experience – mid-bluish grey - with black flecks and inclusions. The black mineral was harder than the nephrite and created some difficulties in grinding it evenly, but the carving went well.
Here are the rings, polished and finished to the stipulated inside diameter.
Jade hoop pendants
The same client from the USA who ordered the two rings above also wanted two identical pendants carved from the same piece of Californian "Blue" stone. He wanted them to be oval and to look as if they had been river-tumbled. This was a good example of bringing fruition to someone else's ideas. The loops were easy enough to form but then came my efforts to match the finish with the pieces of river-tumbled nephrite and other stones (pictured behind the piece): distressing the hoops with chips, flats and highlights, all with a mixture of rough, satin and gloss finishes was a new process to me. The leather thong matched the rustic nature of the pieces.
I was commissioned to make these pieces for a friend. They are pretty small - the bi's are 26 mm diameter for scale - and thin - the other pendants were thinner - around 3 mm thick.
I began my carving career making pieces like these latter ones and haven't made any in a while, so it was good practice to go back to my laps and remind myself how fiddly they can be! Whatever else you do, watch your nails as thin pieces have a habit of helping you to grind the ends of your nails away.
It's all about neatness, balance and patience, making sure that as I ground the blanks they were parallel and not wedge-shaped. Being careful! Isn't this what carving is about?
I think it is harder to make regular forms than irregular, so am happy with the results - and that I still have the skills to make pieces like these!
Aussie icons - kangaroos
They've been a long time coming but I've finally got around to carving the first of a series of designs that I am calling Aussie icons. These kangaroos had to be the first ones, although I did carve some gumleaves when I lived in Canada some years ago. I was probably homesick!
These three are carved out of Cowell nephrite of course! It's a dark green with moderate translucency, and you can see there are minor white markings in the stone which remain from when the stone cooled one and an half billion years ago.
The top one is a pendant, on a thick leather thong. The bottom pair are brooches.
They are all the same size because I cut out the blank before separating them from each other, but the brooches are thinner and lighter than the pendant. And they are all different in the details.
I finished this pair of Monarch butterfly chrysalides (plural of chrysalis - I had no idea until I checked recently!) in May 2019. They came about as the result of a request by a lady in Toronto who asked me some years ago if I could make her one.
The one on the left is made from beautiful, pale yellowy-green Swiss nephrite. It is quite soft with a slightly granular texture which together, affected my ability to obtain a polished finish. The one on the right is made from gorgeous, high translucency serpentine. I have no idea where it's from unfortunately. It is also fairly soft.
Carving the shape was relatively simple. Trying to decide which detail to engrave on the surface was an interesting exercise! The major feature on them is a black & yellow ridge around half of the body. I decided to represent this with a fine silver wire, drilled and glued in place.
And in case you are wondering, the head is at the bottom!
The wonderful thing about taking commissions is you never know what will be asked for next! Some I have to turn down, but I received a request for cufflinks last year, each made from a single piece of nephrite, which took me along a hitherto untrodden pathway.
Technically they were not difficult. I needed to use good quality stone, and chose pieces from the Cassiar mine (on the left) and Polar mine (on the right) - both in northern BC, Canada.
What took the majority of time was cleaning up and polishing them as there isn't a single flat surface on them. You can't rush this process!
The Cassiar stone is lovely - it has bright green flecks of chrome in it that light it up! I bought the Polar (some call it "the queen" of BC nephrites) from George Vanderwolf in Lillooet in 2012 - he's one of a dying breed of men and I was happy to make his acquaintance. It also has some chrome flecks in it, but is slightly darker and more translucent in relation to the particular piece of Cassiar I used here.
As you can see they came to a beautiful, mirror finish, and whilst they took a lot longer than anticipated to complete (not helped by an ankle reconstruction along the way), I am very happy with the final results. As was the new owner - he ordered two more pairs!
Banded inanga ear-rings
Some years ago Buddy kindly gave me a gorgeous piece of South Westland inanga from which I made a few pieces. It has a centre of beautiful deep, clear greens, surrounded by a band of translucent dark green, and then a weathered exterior rind of pale milky greens shading to white - you can see the progression clearly in the right-hand earring at left. I set-aside a few edge-pieces not sure what to do with them because the weathered crust becomes progressively weaker nearer to the surface. It needed something special to be made from such a lovely piece of stone! Eventually I figured out that if I cut blanks for the ear-rings at a sharp angle to the banding I could show off the colours to their full potential whilst using mainly the strongest of the weathered stone - and I believe I managed that in the "limited edition" oval cross-section ear-rings for my wife!
A new batch of bi's
I find bi's are an enjoyable form to produce, aside from the ancient beliefs which surround them. They are thought by some to represent the self (the hole) within the universe (the disk) in a perfect representation of completeness (I'm quoting loosely here from a Sotheby's news release that a friend sent me some time ago). Some say they are left unadorned to symbolise a modest wish for peace by the wearer. Elsewhere you may read the bi was an ancient ritual object which granted the wearer blessings from heaven. All in all, what's not to like about these beliefs or the bi's themselves? I also enjoy the precision necessary in forming the simple shape. And then, once the polished surface is as good as I can get it in this hard Cowell nephrite from South Australia, which is ancient itself at around 1500 million years old and seems to show some ancient structures within itself (you can see some of this in the picture), comes the decision as to how to hang each!
These matau, or gill-hooks are made from South Westland pounamu. The stone itself is quite variable, displaying high translucency in the deep green portions and high opacity in the areas of dark residual rock. The contrasting hardnesses, as well as the fine flow-structures and lenses in the stone, made it difficult to avoid undercut and produce a fine finish.
The two identically shaped pendants were made from a single slab of stone and were ground down to fit together.
Individually, they are matau or gill-hooks. But together, as the person who commissioned them observed, they form a koru and also an eye-form. There's so much symbolism in these pieces!
The carving was challenging but rewarding. And what's life worth without a challenge?
Spoons and spatulas
This batch of spoons and spatulas was inspired by a design I saw at a luncheon before Christmas last year which involved a piece of seashell.
The stones are Moss agate (the one on the left) from a vein I discovered near the roadside in Lesotho whilst driving up to Katze Dam one cold, misty, wet afternoon, the next three Transvaal “jade” (grossular garnet) from South Africa and the remaining six from BC & Cowell nephrite). I had four breakages whilst carving this batch, having started with 14.
The handles are turned from a variety of sources of dowels, and I’m building up my collection of cuttings from trees and shrubs to use in the future, once the wood dries out (in a year or so). The blades were set into notches cut into the ends of the handles.
I found the whipping was best achieved using a tough cotton thread as used for stitching saddles. I tried using nylon cord but any “fly-away” threads wouldn’t “lie down” when varnish was applied to the handles, which didn’t feel particularly smooth. About half are concave spoons, suitable for spooning out relish or dips, the remainder have a flat front face, which can also be used for dips and spreads.
I produced these between March and September 2018, in between completing a few commissions.
Originating from some large lumps of glass which I found in the Matola city garbage dump in Mozambique in 2007, I recently finished a batch of free-form faceted glass beads which I started and then left to lie around my workbench during the next couple of postings whilst I summoned up the energy to finish them.
I found out a lot about free-faceting glass, and also hole drilling where there is no place to hide (!) with this batch, and the distilled wisdom is included in the Carving Tips section.
But beads can be made from any thick glass - the bottom of heavy wine bottles and drinking glasses or a broken vase for example. They can also be made from thinner glass you might find washed up on a beach. So long as you can drill a hole to string them together.
The first picture shows the finished batch and the second where I used one of the smallest members from that batch (the colourless glass bead slightly to left of centre in the middle of the picture) in the string of beads.
This hei matau was finished in January 2019. It is made from deep green South Westland stone with variable translucency, and is quite "chunky" - being 7 x 4 x >1 cm and with beef-bone toggle and clamping ring.
There are three korus featured in the piece: the inner barb of the hook, the eye of the piece and the central cut-out channel.
After experimenting with a different method to cut this channel between the hooked head and the body (see the relevant Carving tips blog), I used diamond files to produce the ridges running along each side for the length of the piece. I finished the body faces with finer grinding sticks.
Because of the many irregularities and micro-fractures in the stone I felt it was best polished to only 14 k diamond paste.
It is a strong, very pleasing piece which was well received in Hokitika on a recent visit I'm happy to say!
Fish curiosity piece
I carved this fish as a curiosity piece, something to carry in your pocket and to run your fingers over at will. The picture shows the head with paua eye inserts looking towards the bottom left of the picture and the tail folded back on the body. The detailing is stylised. It's an amusing piece I think.
The stone is beautiful and came from a visit I made some years back to Kirk Makepeace's yard in Vancouver - I think it is Polar, but is otherwise likely to have come from Northern BC somewhere - and has such a high polish that I was unable to stop reflections from spoiling the picture! Some people have real problems, eh? It is 38 x 43 mm across and a maximum of 13 mm thick.