Read Part 1 of our recent letters here:
Please refer to all manufacturers’ label instructions for proper product usage.
A month ago, I had just about completed a small, intricate carving. I had put off carving the eyes because the wood that I had grabbed in an enthusiastic burst of carving excitement (and what wood you grab is a good topic for us to discuss one day), turned out to be soft in the eye area and I was not in the mood to play with it. And, yes, my tools were sharp.
I enjoy carving eyes, and usually do carve them early into the carving because as my friend and woodcarver extraordinaire, Joe Dillett, once told me, “The eyes give the piece its soul.” He explained that the body, with its language and motion should reflect the carving’s spirit, and you can’t know its spirit until the eyes are completed. (I am paraphrasing here).
So last month, I put that carving aside, eyes uncarved, and started another piece. Three days later, I received Arpad Juhasz’s “letter” which goes to prove that old Buddhist Proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” They never said “how” the teacher would appear.
TIP: Arpad Juhasz’s wrote: “This is something I have found helpful when carving small detail in some really brittle pallet grade mahogany. Take clear nail polish, the more liquidy the better. [Note: The cheaper the polish, the thinner it will be. Expensive nail polish can be thick as glue – not good for this application!] … and paint over the area with it. In a few minutes it will be dry enough to carve and the nail polish acts as a binder helping keep the wood together. I was doing eyes, about 1/4 inch wide, on a realistic face and needed to do eye-lids. The wood kept crumbling although my blade was sharp. Using the nail polish let me do the delicate job successfully. (Also helped with the wings of the nose). Because the nail polish is clear, it did not mess up the clear polyurethane finish.”
Arpad, how could you know that I needed your help just then? Thank you so much for sending that email. Arpad also wrote that he carves at the Towson, MD, BYKOTA (“Be ye kind one to another,’ a biblical quote) Senior Center. That’s no surprise, Arpad. I have found, over and over again, that the word “kind” constantly crops up wherever carvers congregate.
Arpad’s TIP came at the perfect time and I was able to easily carve small, realistic eyes into soft wood.
Next, I had to paint the carving, and I dreaded it. I would have preferred to leave the carving natural, however, it was a commission and the person requested it be painted.
I have ruined more carvings through poor painting/staining techniques, then through poor carving (well, almost). It is so painful to ruin a decent carving that way.
Knowing that painting/staining carvings is not my forte, I collect different finishing methods from magazines and seminars. To say I have over 30 different methods of finishing a carving would not be an exaggeration. I have tried most of them, and haven’t loved any of them … until … (there really should be a drum roll here) I received a “letter” from Grant Reagan, and I’ll be darned if that old Buddhist proverb didn’t prove itself twice in one week.
TIP: Grant Reagan wrote: “At craft and office supply stores you can purchase water mixable linseed oil to use with acrylics. I use it instead of water and it gives much better results. … If it is a little thick just add a little water. I would try it on a scrap piece first. Then let it dry for a day or so to make sure you get the results that you want before you try it on your carving. The one I have been using is Artisan water mixable linseed oil, the only difference is the thickness.
… After painting I use spray shellac I get from Home Depot to seal the carving. Unlike Deft it has very little fumes and is much safer. It does give a high gloss however. Paint the oil and acrylic mix on to bare wood, then after it dries, spray on Deft or shellac. I even overkill by using Howards Feed and Wax and then buffing with a soft cloth. Mixing raw sienna and oil gives you a near perfect flesh tone. Experiment with amounts.”
I never thought oil and water could be mixed, but the very next day I was at Hobby Lobby looking for water mixable linseed oil. While I couldn’t find the exact product Grant used, I did find two products that had “water mixable oil” on the label. See Photos 2 (left) and 3 (right)…
I emailed the photos to Grant, and he suggested I use Photo 2, although either would work.
Saturday evening, I tried Grant’s painting technique, and it worked so well that I painted until early Sunday morning. It was wonderful and easy! For the first time, I had control over the paint and was not crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t ruin a carving that I worked on for weeks. At 3 a.m., I was dancing in the kitchen, with the blinds down or the neighbors would have thought I was high on paint fumes.
I usually spray a painting with Deft prior to painting it, but I didn’t have to do so using Grant’s technique. In fact, I didn’t even experience any bleeding. If you want to see grain through your paint/stain, this is not the technique to use. If you just need to paint the carving, then this is a terrific technique. I had Deft, so I used that as a finish, in lieu of shellac. It looked so great, that I totally forgot about applying Howard’s Feed and Wax.
Grant, thank you so much for taking the time to send me your painting method. I will be using it for years and am grateful you allowed me to share it with my readers.
I recently came across a quote from Beethoven, “Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets …” That’s what this column is all about … forcing our way into the secrets of carving, discovering and then sharing them.
All the TIPS we share, as woodcarvers, bring us closer to understanding the beauty and intricacies of wood, control of our tools and ways to improve our carving skills. I believe that woodcarvers are so giving with the secrets of their art is because although we are all on the same journey, in the end, we ultimately carve each piece alone.
Amazingly, in this one column we have discovered quotes from Buddha, the Bible and Beethoven that apply, in one form or another, to woodcarving.
“Find a wheel and it goes round, round, round as it skims along with a happy sound.”
May your wood be plentiful, and your tools stay sharp. Take care, carve lots, and always remember to smile.