Antler sparrow- work in progress

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Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Doug Sanders » Mon Nov 29, 2010 10:50 pm

I thought I'd start a photo essay as I work on a carving in antler. Awhile back Dustin asked about designing a carving made of antler. I hope this gives him some ideas as I give my reasons for doing what I do to a carving that will (hopefully) turn out well. I'll stay a few days ahead of my reporting to bleep out any mistakes :crybaby: :sneaky:

So, as I think I and others have mentioned, you can't treat antler like the homogenous carving material wood and ivory can be. The shape of the material varies too much, and the textures within are too variable to say 'I've got an idea, and I think I'll carve it in antler' . In my experience, you've got to start the other way around. A piece of antler suggests what it will be and often you just have to go with it.

That said, I began with a piece of antler from the base where it meets the skull. This is often called the rosette, coronet, base, or probably a bunch of other terms ;) It represents a lot of opportunity to have fun with a variety of textures:
1. The skull bone at the base from which the antler grows
2. The frilly, contorted shape of the collar.
3. The white antler above it with both
4. rough, brown exterior and
5. spongey core
are five qualities worth exploiting.

It didn't occur to me to do this essay before I did some rough shaping, but here's the first picture after working with rasps and coarse sandpaper.
sparrow1.jpg
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sparrow2.jpg
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I've got in mind to do a chubby little sparrow about 3.5cm across. I'm choosing to keep the detail carving to a minimum and let the antler speak for itself and really shine. It'll be a stylized sparrow rather than something striving for realism. This means that in the finishing steps, everything has to be immaculate and top-notch :trophy: You can't hide poor finishing when there's no complexity to the form.
As you can see, the ruffled parts around the circumference give the impression of feathers on wings and tail. The core of the antler will present some color variety when polished and suggest the birds markings. It's important not to polish out all of the brown 'skin' of the antler. It will add color and I always think with antler, it's nice to show that it's antler -warts and all- than pretend it's ivory.
Also, the shaft coming out of the base had a little knob sticking out which allowed me to create the bird's beak. The head was kept to the side, off center, to generate some visual interest and asymmetry.
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Clive » Mon Nov 29, 2010 11:12 pm

Excellent Doug.. looking forward to seeing how this one develops as I've just started a simple little antler piece of my own. :Peace:
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Doug Sanders » Mon Nov 29, 2010 11:15 pm

Now, after the rough shaping is done, I refine the form by looking at the silhouette of the carving. I want to make the curves of the head, body and base as smooth and harmonious as possible. It helps to sight the carving against a darker background to look at the contours.
sparrow3.jpg
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sparrow4.jpg
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sparrow5.jpg
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I refine the form with diamond rifflers and then scrapers and sandpaper in the 200-320 grit range. You'll notice that I've pencilled in eye placement as well. Even at this early stage, it is important to get the direction of gaze correct. It determines the tilt of the head, placement of beak, etc. This goes for any figural carving-animal or person-in any material. The gaze is what it comes down to. It's difficult to get right sometimes, and it doesn't always happen perfectly :redface:
Next installment, I'll do the eye inlay. It is at a much earlier point in the process on this one, but there are reasons why it can/needs to be done.
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Leon » Tue Nov 30, 2010 12:18 am

Liked it at first sight. Keep it coming.
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Ford » Tue Nov 30, 2010 5:45 am

Lovely Idea, Doug

both the tutorial and the subject matter. I really like stylised little birds like this. What you're doing is actually giving me some ideas for my own work.
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Doug Sanders » Tue Nov 30, 2010 11:27 pm

Eyes:
I've decided to do the eye inlays at this point which is a little earlier than normal. Typically, I'll wait until much more detail is in place with a more elaborate carving. If done too early, the eyes can get over-sanded and polished as you're working on bringing the details of the face to completion. On this sparrow, I've decided to do them early, and in effect build the concept of the piece as I go rather than having an intention at the start of how the finished product will look.
So, after they're drawn in place (as in the previous photo), I drill holes with a small bit in a pin vise.
sparrow6.jpg
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I don't use a rotary tool at this point, with small bits the chance is too high that the bit might skip and drill in the wrong location. Like I said, eye placement is very important. Also, on more representational carvings I like to create eyes that are not perfect circles. They can take slightly oval forms, with rounded or pointed ends. For this one, a perfect circle seems appropriate for a stylized bird.
Once the hole is drilled, I'm using a scraper to champfer the edges. This is so that the pupil will seat itself within the outer part of the eyelids, top and bottom. It must also be polished before the inlay goes in- you'll never be able to get your polishing into this space after the pupil is in place.
sparrow7.jpg
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Next comes the pupil. I've chosen to use a piece of black horn. As you can see from this picture, even horn that might appear black can sometimes be translucent and brown, when light shines through.
sparrow8.jpg
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I'll take my material from the blackest parts of this small slab. This is very important as the inlay will be against white antler. As light shines into the pupil and is reflected out, any variation in the black color will show. Also, it will be such a small piece of horn used that any color variation is more apparent.

Small matchstick sized pieces are cut with a jewelers saw and then fixed into a pin vise. I'm doint the shaping by hand, with a diamond riffler. You can affix the horn into a collet in your rotary tool too and spin it into shape, but I find that sometimes the heat from the high rpm can change the quality of the horn. I've gotten so I can rotate the eye-peg in my left hand while filing with the riffler in the right, to generate a nice cylinder. Resist the urge to create a taper. It's an easy way to cheat and fool yourself that you've got a tight fit into the socket, but it isn't secure in the long run.
sparrow9.jpg
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After the inlay fits the pocket almost perfectly, I polish it. With any translucent material- horn, amber, perspex... you must polish the sides of the inlay. Even though they'll be below the surface when in place, it will still show. If a pupil is polished to a lens shape on top, it will act as a magnifying lens and highlight scratches within.
sparrow10.jpg
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The inlaid eye- which is now a peg gets glued into place. For a piece like this that is about 2mm diameter, I probably drill a hole 6mm deep.
sparrow11.jpg
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Finally, the pegs get sawed off with a jewelers saw and the eyes get shaped with a scraper. In this picture, I've also begun forming the eyelids.
sparrow12.jpg
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Phil White » Wed Dec 01, 2010 12:45 am

Great idea, Doug.

I really like the form, and your use of the natural shape. I'm really looking forward to seeing this piece develop.
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby toscano » Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:51 am

Excellent tutorial/work in progress, Doug.
Thanks a lot for allowing a peek into your workshop and methods.
The sparrow is looking great. As you say the simplicity of form demands flawless finishing, and so far it's looking like a winner.

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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Doug Sanders » Wed Dec 01, 2010 8:32 pm

Thanks guys. I'll do another installment tonight. It's easy when you're a week ahead in the actual work.
I hope it's useful for people (lurkers included :naughty: :grouphug: :) )
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Doug Sanders » Wed Dec 01, 2010 11:19 pm

You may notice in the previous picture that I carved the outline of a small bib or throat patch on the bird. After inlaying the eyes, I thought this area needed a little more attention. After checking the color compatibility of a number of brown woods, I settled on this one. I think it's cocobolo, but I can't be sure :confused2: . It was inlaid in the same manner, but in this case I carved the pocket with a small gouge and then evened up the sides perfectly straight with a scraper. The inlay piece was formed by cutting with a jeweler's saw and then using rifflers to shape. I held the piece in my fingers while shaping, but you could also glue it on a little mandrel of soft wood and shape it while adhered, and then dissolve the glue to free the piece. Or :crackup: you could also just glue the whole thing- piece and mandrel in place, and then cut off the mandrel and scrape down the excess. You'll notice too, that I gave some attention to the breast with the suggestion of a few ruffled feathers. I'm not so happy with this and addressed it later.
sparrow13.jpg
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After that was in place and sanded down, I devoted a little more carving attention to the face and eyes, creating some cheeks and giving it a bit more character. I don't want to turn the face into a caricature, so I've kept it fairly symmetrical and expressionless.
sparrow14.jpg
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I haven't shown a shot of the base yet, so here it is
sparrow15.jpg
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I drilled the start of the exit hole of the himotoshi to get its placement. I don't want to do feet on this fellow, so I have something in mind to exploit the ring of discoloration. It's acutally a layer all the way through, but on a curved surface it's a ring. It also has a nice purplish tone to it. What would you do to utilize this 'problem'?
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby fkvesic » Thu Dec 02, 2010 11:27 am

Many thanks for the tutorial, Doug. I'm looking forwrd to seeing the completed sparrow.
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Debbie K » Thu Dec 02, 2010 2:08 pm

Doug:

I already like it, you can stop now. Just kidding, I'm sure it will even get better.

I particularly like the way that you have stayed faithful to the flow/shape/feel of the antler. Difficult to express, but so often you get a feeling that people have taken chainsaws to pieces and imposed their absolute will upon them. With this sparrow, I feel that you are letting him be what he wants to be with a great deal of skilled assistance.

Looking forward to seeing how this all turns out, and you are shaming me for never taking photos of my process.

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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Leon » Thu Dec 02, 2010 3:00 pm

Doug Sanders wrote:What would you do to utilize this 'problem'?


Image
??
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby toscano » Thu Dec 02, 2010 3:22 pm

Leon wrote:Image


or
Image
??
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Re: Antler sparrow- work in progress

Postby Kevin » Thu Dec 02, 2010 3:28 pm

Very charming little piece, Doug! And an excellent illustration of working "with" the material as opposed to merely utililizing the material. I'm really enjoying watching this one develop :)
The "silly question" is the first intimation of some totally new development...
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