All woodwork is undertaken using the minimum of modern equipment. My tools range from a floor standing band saw, to hand planes, hand chisels/gauges, saws etc. The wood used is mainly seasoned lime, pine or oak for the more intricate carvings and I have a stock of more unusual woods like mulberry, fruitwoods, yew, walnut.. awaiting inspiration. I have a small amount of stone – Beer stone, Portland, - but prefer to source it once I have designed the piece.
Firstly, an idea is roughly sketched, then drawn out more precisely once the idea has properly formed. If need be the drawing will be backed up by photographs, clay model, or plaster cast – whatever is appropriate. Carving restoration of antiques follows the same basic principals.
When all the information has been gathered, I choose a piece of wood and cut and plane it to size, possibly sticking pieces together if it is a large piece. I like to use pearl glue generally, which is made from hoof and horn, as it is sympathetic to other materials used in colouring in the medieval way. It is also reversible, i.e. it can be unstuck either now or in the future, which is an important factor in restoration. It is used hot and clamped for an excellent bond.
The next step is to fix the wood to the bench, by bench screw from underneath the bench, and through into the back or bottom of the carving. Or it can be glued to a base and nailed or screwed down, or, clamped directly.
Once firm the carving can begin. Depending on the piece, the design is drawn on, and roughed out using a large gauge and mallet to achieve the overall shape. Then the required depth has to be found. If it is a large piece this can be achieved slowly, getting closer to the end depth in stages or layers, and ending with the last cut producing the final shape.
The detail is entered at the end and is by far the easiest and quickest part of the process. The carving, once finished, can be sanded in whole or part if required and is then ready for waxing, oiling or colouring using medieval painting techniques.
I use water gilding to enhance a piece of work. This is where a gesso base is laid down (gesso is chalk powder mixed with rabbit skin glue, that once painted on dries and forms a base that can be rubbed down to a glassy finish, covering unsightly knots or grain). This base can be applied with red clay followed by gold leaf or can be painted using hand ground, earthy and bright colours in a home made medium. I enjoy using these colouring techniques as the quality of colour is beautiful. They are built up in layers, making the finish glossy and uneven, creating depth.
The whole thing is finished with wax, or not, as required!
THE DALLAGLIO SCULPTURE - QUIET BEFORE THUNDER
Without being forward thinking by about 20 yrs, it would be hard to find a chunk of perfect knotless wood large enough to carve Lawrence’s hands, therefore it was necessary to buy 2, 5 foot planks of 3” and 4” lime wood. I then had to imagine the finished sculpture, look at the planks, and find lengths within them that would be long enough between knots to join together to form a body of wood that would not have problematic knots in the way of the fingers, for instance. I ended up with 3, 4” thick lengths on the bottom and 4, 3” thick lengths on top. Then to ease, or quicken the roughing out, I decided to band saw out sections of the shape before sticking the pieces together, which is a risky business as the wood cost about £200 and I didn’t want to have to start again!
Another thing to consider was the direction in which the grain should run. Considering the weight of the ball and the direction that weight was falling, I chose to have the grain running lengthways and downwards towards the lower hand.
That done, I had already cast Lawrence’s hands in plaster and set them up on a board with a ball, I then made a frame that would fit around the model and also transfer to the wooden block. I used this to make endless measurements from one to the other (on 5 sides) until the required depth was found all around. Then the fingers had to be plotted and the palms started to emerge. The ball, which was very tricky, had to be more or less finished before releasing it from the palms as I was worried that the force of using a mallet on it would make it break away from the rest of the carving. I wanted to have it touching on only three points to give it a feeling of lightness, and an illusion of the ball hovering in the air before being caught and clutched tightly to the safety of the breast.
Another aid I used was a piece of glass, propped up against the frame and drawn on with a khol eye pencil. This is useful to roughly check that things are going in the right place. Other than these things, the rest of the carving went on as described above.
The finishing touch was to prepare the beautiful piece of yew wood and oil and wax it all.