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Relief Carving My Birger Sandzen-Inspired Desk Door Panel, A step-by-Step Log.

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 2477 days ago 6233 reads 8 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I hesitate to do this, that which I am about to do. I don’t fancy myself as a good carver, or a great picture drawer. Especially with so many lumberjocks that are great carvers here that will see this. On top of that, there are so many great carvers on the internet that will stumble onto this blog because they surf the net.

With that said, after Mark Mazzo asked about the process I go through to do a carved panel like this one, I thought about it for awhile, and decided to show the process I use. There are many ways to tackle a carved panel, and I have never learned from anyone, just trial and error, and figuring out a methodology that utilizes my poor carving skills. I hope to get better, and with each carving task I complete, I see improvements.

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First Step: getting an inspiration. As Thomas noted below in the first comment, there are a lot of homesteads laying around Kansas for inspiration. With the movement of people to bigger farms, many farmhouses are no longer being used. There aren’t many jobs out in the country, unless you farm, or help a farmer, so many of these old homes have just been abandoned. I see these daily in my travels around the area, so picturing a homestead in my mind is pretty easy. I have thought that if I was a good photographer with a good camera, I might go around and document these places I see, but I’m not a good photographer, and I have enough distractions already.

Here is my small sketch I prepared for the bid on this project. The customer asked me to do a Birger Sandzen-Inspired prairie scene with a homestead shown, and so that is what I sketched out. I liked the concept of Sandzen’s artwork, as he was able to catch the strong Kansas South Wind, and how it effects everything in this area. You never have a “good hair day” in this part of the prairie. The trees all lean to the North, and the tree bows are all bent and leaning also. Sandzen was able to capture that movement better than anyone I have seen before, or since. He is a very collectible artist these days, especially after several appraisals on the Antique Roadshow tv show. My grandfather was a friend of his while they both lived in Lindsborg and taught at the college in that town. So, Sandzen artwork has been a part of my life as long as I remember. In fact, I have few memories of my grandfather’s house, that doesn’t involve staring at the Sandzen artwork.


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To make the panel, I fully complete the glued up panel, and cut it to final size. I use narrow boards to make the panel, alternating the ring lines up and down. Each strip of wood is about 2” wide, with a total panel width of about 11” across. I made the door frame for it, so that I know exactly what room I have to do the artwork, and then lay the blank tracing paper on the wood, and draw out the border line. Then, I start drawing in the details of the artwork to full size.

Here is my concept put to full size. In the past, I have just drawn my artwork straight onto the board. I have quit doing that for the most part, as I want a record of what I did. Why? I don’t know, just seemed like something to do. I put the folded up artwork sheets in my project book and save them now. Who knows, maybe I will use them again someday.

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Here, I have transfered the full size artwork to the wood, using simple carbon paper. I do a little at a time, so that I don’t get to overwhelmed with all of the lines. Also, I start with the deepest part of the picture, and remove wood there first. So, in this case, the skyline behind the trees, and beyond the hills, is done first.

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So, now the transfer of carbon paper has been done. I look at the amount of wood to be removed, and decide which tool is the “best” do this next step, which is to remove all of the black inked wood to the depth that I want. This panel is a hair over 3/4” thick, and so I want to go about 1/2” deep, maybe a little more, I don’t measure it.

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I have decided to use the Hitachi Plunge Router with a carbide 1/8” diameter down cut spiral bit. Why the spiral bit? It stays sharp longer than a straight flute bit. I use the down cut spiral, as it cuts the surface fibers of the wood sharp, leaving my working line. In the past, before I knew better, I would use a normal up-cut spiral bit. I kept having trouble seeing my line, because as I got close to the line, it would all fuzz up, as the bit pulled it upward. Then, one day, I accidentally put the “wrong” bit in my router to do some work, and was amazed that I didn’t have a fuzzy line to follow. I stopped, compared bits, and discovered the secret, that the down cut bit worked better. So, another great achievement, by totaly luck.

I use the plunge router, as the 1/8” diameter bit may break off if I cut more than 3/16” of material, so I go down to the proper depth carefully in steps. These bits are about $18 each from www.magnate.net, which is where I buy most of my router bits. I discovered them when I bought my Legacy Ornamental Mill.

Here is the work after I have routed the full depth of the background.


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The next step is take the rest of the background down to it’s depth. I want the billowing clouds in the sky to have some raise above the sky in the background, so I take the clouds down to a depth to about 1/16” of an inch higher than the background sky.

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Ok, and wallah! You’re Finished!

I didn’t photograph about 30-40 hours of this process. I was pretty scared, and kept telling myself, “it’s ok Mark, you can just make another panel, and start over if you need to, just keep going.”

I will say that about the point where I started doing the House, my wife came out to the shop and asked, ”what’s wrong, why do you look so depressed?”

I think I bit off more than I can chew on this one. But, I feel that way almost every time I am at this point in a carving, so I have to just push on past it.” I responded.

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I’m sorry for the bad detail photos. When I get up close to take a photo of anything with my little digital camera, the optics distort everything like a fisheye, so the artwork as a “bow” to it.

Sorry, you get what you pay for, huh?

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Birger Sandzen was an Impressionistic Landscape artist. His oil paintings used big thick globs of paint, sometimes as much as 3/16”-1/4” of an inch thick on the canvas. Also, none of his paintings had any detail in it. So, trying to carve in an impressionistic way is difficult for me. How much detail to add, or delete, is a tough decision, since I am not a good artist. I tried to sort of compromise with the Impressionistic approach, and added detail in places, such as the windows and rocks in the walls of the house. I also spent some time carving the rock wall. There are rock walls everywhere around where I live. Before barbed wire, it was the preferred method for fencing in animals. These relics lay along section lines in this county, and are just beautiful, still hard to carve though.

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The next phase will be to install the panel in the frame, and install the frame with the hinges on the desk cabinet. After that process, I will finish the cabinet and panel with Lacquer.

Once I have several coats of lacquer in place, I will take an airbrush and spray dark tinted lacquer, to give some of the depth and shadows some darkening. This process takes awhile, and I will be starting that today, and so it will be a few more days before I have photos of the finished panel with the shadows in place. The air brush is a fun tool to use, and it allows me to give depth to the stone, and tree bark, and wind lines in the sky and clouds. Also, it allows me to give some depth and shadowing in the prairie grass and leaves of the trees. I will show that process in another blog.

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If you would like to read more about this project, please see the following blogs:

1) http://lumberjocks.com/jocks/decoustudio/blog/2101
2) http://lumberjocks.com/jocks/decoustudio/blog/2169
3) http://lumberjocks.com/jocks/decoustudio/blog/2163

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If you would like more inspiration, you can visit these other project postings, where I have used a similar process to complete the carved artwork:
1) Raised Letters: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/42
2) Oak Leaves & Acorns: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/57
3) Orchid Flowers: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/31
4) A House/Tree, and a Stone Bridge: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/30
5) Small Flinthills landscape scenes: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/2316
6) Kansa Indian Face: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/138
7) More raised lettering: http://lumberjocks.com/projects/2269

Thanks for reading, let me know what questions you have,
Mark DeCou
www.decoustudio.com

(This writing, photos, drawings, design, and sketches, are copyrighted by M.A. DeCou 10-11-2007, any use of this material is restricted without the express written authorization of the Author. Thanks for your help.)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com



19 comments so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4435 posts in 2558 days


#1 posted 2477 days ago

Mark,
I don’t see what all the apologies and caveats are about at the front of this blog. You have nothing to apologize for in your carving. In fact, I think you should be quite pleased with the results of your efforts here. I do not crave wood but I know a little about art. It appears to me that you expressed exactly what you set out to express. I’ve been to Kansas and I can feel the wind in this piece. I’ve also visited old homesteads all over the west and can vouch for the authenticity of your rendering. The style is very effective and the art work is excellent. No apologies necessary. Well, done. And thanks for the step by step.
Tom

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2756 days


#2 posted 2477 days ago

I’m with you TA—what’s this “I’m not a carver” stuff?? The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Magnificent piece of carving.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1973 posts in 3001 days


#3 posted 2477 days ago

Thanks TA and MD: Have you guys seen Dick’s, Roger’s, Brian’s work, or …..?

That’s what I’m talking about, folks that easily keep me humble.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4435 posts in 2558 days


#4 posted 2477 days ago

Yes, I’ve seen them and still stand by my earlier statement. Your style is unque and well suited to your purpose. Be as humble as you like but you have no need to apologize.
Tom

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2756 days


#5 posted 2477 days ago

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1140 posts in 2587 days


#6 posted 2477 days ago

Wow, that’s really nice, I love the trees. How long have you been carving for Mark?

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View Roger Strautman's profile

Roger Strautman

644 posts in 2729 days


#7 posted 2477 days ago

Mark, a successful carving is one that the customer is happy with it and I can’t believe that this customer won’t like it. This carving looks great to me. Keep up the great work.

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

3960 posts in 2659 days


#8 posted 2477 days ago

Not sure of Birger Sandzen, but those trees have a life of their own that remind me of Thomas Hart Benton. This is a magnificent piece of art, in a rank of it’s own. Believe me Mark, you are a carver!

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View A.W. "Pappy" Ford's profile

A.W. "Pappy" Ford

98 posts in 2478 days


#9 posted 2477 days ago

Just amazing, Mark. If I read correctly, the vast majority of this was done with a plunge router, or was that only for the larger, deep cut sections? What degree of this was accomplished with chisels and the like?

When I was in school I’d only ever heard about free-form hand routers, which for my unskilled hands are just too easy to screw a piece up with. Now that I’m only slightly more educated on the matter I’m trying to get a handle on router tables, plunge routers, bits, and all the additional knowledge I didn’t know I needed when I dove back into woodworking a few months ago…

But I digress, this is a phenomenal piece of art in every sense of the word, thus you, sir, are an Artist.

-- --==[ Pappy ]==--

View mot's profile

mot

4911 posts in 2632 days


#10 posted 2477 days ago

Yeah, definitely time to sell your tools, Mark. You might want to try selling cars as you obviously have no talent for this sort of thing. NOT!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

12835 posts in 2579 days


#11 posted 2477 days ago

Thanks for this posting. It is very interesting and an inspiration.

You mentioned the use of an airbrush. What kind do you use and what kind of compressor ?
I’ve often wanted to use that piece of equipment, but have never gotten a airbrush that worked the way I thought it should, and gave up. Guess I should have not gotten the ten dollar airbrush.

Looking forward to your response.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1973 posts in 3001 days


#12 posted 2477 days ago

Dan: AIRBRUSH: I didn’t get started today with the airbrush like I had planned, as I went over to the Elementary School to go on the Pumpkin Patch field trip with my Kindergartner, and then stayed for lunch with my 1st grader. That put me behind enough today that I am still spraying clear lacquer, and haven’t started the air brush process. When I get it going, I will try to take photos, and show what equipment I use, and where I got it, and how much it costs, etc. I’m no Airbrush expert for sure, as I wouldn’t even dream of trying to paint a motorcycle gas tank, but I can add shadows to a carving ok to my liking. Crap, I’m not an expert on anything, why should airbrushing be any different?

First tip: don’t buy a $10 airbrush, save your money and buy a better one. I started with the $10 one myself from Harbor Freight. Then, when it wouldn’t work, I sought some expert advice from a china painter lady that I know well. She set me up with what I needed.

Pappy: What I have shown in the photos was about all I did with the plunge router.
I did use the other two routers with straight bits, a 1/8” and a 1/4” bit. I use the one with the really long base to freehand cut some strange methods, a technic I sort of just stumbled onto one day. I lay a flat sided stick that is thicker than the panel across the top of the panel, laying it on the bench. Then, I lay one end of the long router base up on the stick. This gives me a flat run across the carving, keeping it above the chips, and the rough carving surface. I then hold the other end of the router base up off of the carving, and then free hand run up and down, left and right, and sort of rough out the carving lines. I use the small base router with the 1/8” bit to do things free hand, like take the depth of the tree trunks below their leaves and the grass on the ground. Then, I follow up with the Pfingst Flexcarver, the two Dremels, and the assortment of hand tools. I use whatever tool gets me what I want best. I should have taken more photos, but the camera was in the house, and I was too lazy to go get it, and in too much of a hurry to stop. To get paid to do this type of furniture embellishment, I have to keep the number of manhours to minimum, the best I can.

Freehand Routering:
I do a lot of free hand router work, have for many years. I realize how hard it is to get “steady” doing this, as I remember how rough it used to be for me. I started out by doing Kid’s Camp Signs in rough cedar, just freehanding letters like “Men”, and “Women” “First Aid” “Office” and really classy things like that.

I kept practicing at the routering, started by doing free hand pictures on the signs, rough ones with stick figures at first. I don’t have any photos of them.
Then, I moved onto the carved letters that are raised above the background, (http://lumberjocks.com/projects/42)
and then learned to do leaves and acorns (http://lumberjocks.com/projects/57),
then some flowers (http://lumberjocks.com/projects/31),
then a House/Tree, and then a Bridge (http://lumberjocks.com/projects/30),
and then some landscape scenes (http://lumberjocks.com/projects/2316)
and an Indian Face (http://lumberjocks.com/projects/138),
and some more lettering thrown in there all around (http://lumberjocks.com/projects/2269).
The main thing I have learned is to try to do things harder each time than I know how to do, and then force my way through them.

I have to move along really quickly, or I can’t sell the carving on the work, as the price is too high for people to agree to buy it. I have done it for free several times, just to get the chance to do it. I hope that changes over time. More and more people are asking for the carving work, so that is a good thing. But, as the work has gotten more labor intensive, the cost has gone up, and the number of “yes’s” I hear has gone done. The carving, as rough and quick as it is, gives me a niche, and something unique, at least for awhile. Each project brings lessons and new skills, and an improvement over the past.

Mot: I could probably make a better living selling cars. I have sold construction and plating services, and home remodeling, and furniture. Furniture is by far the least paying enterprise I have done, except for that water meter reading stint I did in High School.

Douglas: thanks for the artist tip, I’ll look that guy up and see what I find. Sounds exciting.

Damian: I did my first piece many years ago, I think I must have been between 8 and 10 years old. My dad was a carver, furniture builder, and woodshop teacher, so I watched him do it on the kitchen table all the time I was growing up. I wish I was better at it, to be honest. There are some things that come easy for me, others are work. Carving is work for me.

Thanks Thomas and Roger & Debbie.

back to doing estimates and proposals, I’m behind on them, and need to focus. I just hate guessing at what something will take me to build it. I almost always wrong, and always on the “light” side of the number. I hope to someday be told, “just build it and then bill me.” Hey, we can all have a dream, right?

Mark

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6646 posts in 2575 days


#13 posted 2477 days ago

No Tom, he’s right, it’s horrible!!

Marc, I hope you’re just being modest. That’s great work!!

Beautiful piece!

Lee

-- by Lee A. Jesberger http://www.prowoodworkingtips.com http://www.ezee-feed.com

View Mark Mazzo's profile

Mark Mazzo

352 posts in 2508 days


#14 posted 2477 days ago

Mark,

Thanks for the further insight into your process. You have nothing to apologize about, your work speaks for itself. Please continue to post your carvings and your process. I’m very interested in hearing more.

Thanks.

-- Mark, Webster New York, Visit my website at http://thecraftsmanspath.com

View Karson's profile

Karson

34852 posts in 2996 days


#15 posted 2477 days ago

Mark; A great job. Thanks for showing the road trip.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

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