Monday, October 28, 2013

W43: The Carver’s Companion

This week’s Biblio-Mat offering came out of the machine with a quiet thunk. Being thin and wide, I was hoping for a book of illustrations but received a tome of crafts.

Published in 1958, The Carver’s Companion was a book on carving wood and stone by Peter Morton. With a brown non-descript cloth cover, the book very much resembled a piece of wood with a small oak leaf engraved on it. At 70 pages, it was one of the shortest books I’ve received from the Biblio-Mat, but felt much thicker due to the 46 unnumbered photo plates pages spaced throughout.

Also a lot of in-text illustrations.
The Carver’s Companion began with an introduction into the art of woodcarving. Interestingly enough, it focused on the two branching paths of apprenticeship versus art school with arguments that could be applied to many fields of study. Through apprenticeship there was more hands on practice but one would be limited to making the products the shop produces. While boring, it did eventually allow you to master a task completely and utterly. The path of art school, though, contained more theory and explored a wide range of mediums and styles but never focuses on anything long enough to be proficient at it. Seeing how the examples of the greatest carvers given all started as apprentices, the book was clearly leaning towards the side of learning through doing.

Most artsy fruit bowl ever.
From there, the book opens up into the actual craft of carving. Listing the tools required, which were a lot, it jumped right into exercises to practice the art of woodcarving. This pretty much amounted to buying planks of wood and learning how to gouge straight lines, curved lines, and intersecting lines into the wood. Once that was practiced enough came the next steps of carving block letters.

I own nothing that remotely like this. (This will be important later)
Surprisingly, the next section after these basic exercises focused on the importance of taste and design. With more focus on composition, the information provided didn’t actually teach design as much as implant the notion of its importance. Aspiring stone carvers were also told that they’ll need to become woodcarvers first as the disciplines build upon the shared principles of basic carving.

Carving made easy: Find a block of stone, then chip away anything that doesn't look like a man.
Moving onto furniture carving, it became apparent that this book wasn’t as much a how-to guide as it was a how-should guide. With the bulk of the lessons basically revolving around practicing and studying how the works of master carvers were created, it was less than useful to the carver looking for instruction. Thankfully, the Roman lettering section included picture guides that at least showed you what the final work should aspire to be like.

Basically: Keep practicing until it looks like this.
Ending on material selection and restoration, I felt that much of the important parts of carving, such as techniques, planning, and more importantly, mistake covering up, were eschewed for historical analysis of famous works, which was funny given the emphasis on apprenticeship over art school at the beginning.

Of course, that didn’t stop the grand tradition of participating whenever an arts and crafts book comes out of the random book machine. A quick trip to Home Depot resulted in a small plank of wood and a box cutter as buying a hundred dollar set of wood carving tools I would only use once was only a slightly worst idea than cutting down a random tree in the middle of the city for carving material. The result was less than satisfactory.

Yep, that's wood alright.
Even in high school I knew that woodwork was not for me, placing far below cooking, metalwork, and sewing. With that in mind, I went for an easy design – the Biblio-Mat. After all, rectangles meant easier straight cuts, which were simple enough, until the $2.50 nature of the wood reared its head and started splintering. Now I understand the desire for endangered exotic hardwood as the splintery texture of homegrown pine sucks for the delicate art of box cutter carving.
Two hours not very well spent.
I think I’ll stick to needlepoint.

Book rating: 5/10 (Interesting subject, bad follow through)

Random quote: “But the beginner should not be too kind to his hands and too harsh to his pocket.” (So true in almost every new hobby)


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