Wood Carvings by Mark Sheridan

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This and That

Well, things have been pretty busy around the homestead lately, but here’s an update on some of my activities.

The Maple Leaf Forever Tree project is coming along nicely.  You’ll recall from my last post that this particular maple tree which was felled in a wind storm was the inspiration for our first national anthem written by Alexander Muir back in 1867 or so.  The Ontario Wood Carvers Association saved a small portion of the tree and have carved a memorial that will be displayed at the Ontario Science Centre for years to come.

I spent several days travelling between Kingston and Toronto so that I could carve a portion of the tree at the Centre in Toronto.   The carving and just being a part of this project with twenty other carvers from Ontario was a delight…the traffic was not.

The unveiling of the tree is planned for July 19th at the Science Centre.  Guest speakers, a band playing “The Maple Leaf Forever”, and several carving activities for the kids who are always present at the Science Centre will round out the day’s activities.

The tree is just getting the final coats of stain-over-urethane finish and it’s looking superb.


I’ve also finished up the chalice box depicting Saints Timothy and Maura and am pleased with the way that it turned out.


I’ve been spending more time with the Ontario Wood Carvers Association and had a chance to drop by the Burlington Ontario Club to see what they’ve been up to.  All of you carvers will be very jealous ( as I am ) of their workshop.  They meet at the Art Gallery of Burlington ( south of Toronto ) for their weekly carving sessions and have full access to a very well equipped workshop in the middle of the art gallery.  Pretty nice set-up.


And last, but not least, Rosie and I have been doing our fair share of gardening.  Now it’s back to some more carving.


The Maple Leaf Forever Project

Some years ago a very old Maple tree, some 170 years old,  blew down in a windstorm in Toronto.  This particular tree had an interesting history in that it was believed to be the tree that inspired Alexander Muir to write the song “The Maple Leaf Forever” in 1867.  This song stood as the unofficial national anthem of Canada for some time.

In preparation for Canada’s sesquicentennial ( 150 years ) celebration this July 1st, the Ontario Wood Carvers Association got hold of a portion of this old tree over three years ago and began the design work and the carving of the tree trunk as a Toronto area tribute.

Thirty Maple “Leafs” are situated around the trunk, each with a particular image representing famous people ( including Muir ), famous landmarks and area First Nation artifacts and scenes.

I’ll be taking part in completing the “monument” by carving a depiction of the Toronto Old City Hall.  I’m starting next week and will be carving a couple of days at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, where the tree will continue to be on display after it’s finished.

Last week, I spent a few hours at the Ontario Science Centre and enjoyed chatting with the other carvers and hearing the young visitors’ questions…one question aimed at me by a youngster was “Isn’t it illegal to be carving a tree”…certainly a young fellow on his way to a career in litigation.


The Finished Chalice Box

I’ve been spending some time putting a finish on the basswood and oak chalice box and have learned a lot from the process.

Basswood doesn’t really stain very nicely, in my opinion.  So, I used a method of finishing the basswood that Fred Zavadil has perfected…and I’ve just started to learn how to do.  The result is pretty nice, however, I’ll do a few things a bit differently next time that I finish basswood in this fashion.

I started by covering the basswood with a urethane finish, starting with a very thinned version of urethane and ending up with a more concentrated urethane.  Although I thought that I had put a lot of urethane on the carving, I could have used more and next time I’ll ensure that the basswood is thoroughly saturated with the urethane before going on to the next step.

And the next step is applying some artists colours right over top of the urethane.  With the urethane hardened on the basswood, the artists paints do not soak into the wood and you can manipulate the colouring to your liking.  What I found with my first attempt is that the urethane hadn’t completely saturated all of the end grain portions of the carving, so the thinned down artists paints had an opportunity to soak to a minor degree into the wood.  This made the process of manipulating the darker artists colours a bit more difficult.

I used a combination of burnt sienna and burnt umber for the colouring and I’m pleased with the way that it turned out.  The colour is quite rich and the box has a bit of an antiqued look to it.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this diversion from caricatures as much as I have.  Just click on the photos to make them bigger.


Joining the Box Panels

I had originally intended to join the box together using bevel joints…basically, a 45 degree saw cut along the length of the box side with each side glued to the adjoining panel.  I don’t have a table saw but I do have a nice radial arm saw that was given to me by my Dad.

When I cut the basic panels out of the basswood length that I bought, I had set the saw up pretty accurately for a nice square cut.  There’s actually a lot to setting up a radial arm saw and I had it within about 1/64″ accuracy.  When I went to cut a bevel cut, however, it was a different story.  The bevel cut of about a 12″ length and through an inch thick stock just could not be kept accurate ( and I’m honestly still not sure why )…so, I gave up and went to Plan ‘B’.

And Plan ‘B’ worked out so well it will now become Plan ‘A’ for remaining projects!

As you can see from the photos, I created a bit of a more complex rabbet joint using a router.  I just carefully measured out the dimension of the rabbets and used a fence and hand-held router.  I wanted to keep any joint lines that might be slightly visible as thin as possible…that’s why there’s that little 1/8″ ‘cap’ on one of the panel sides.  Next step is to add a top and bottom to the box.

Last But Not Least!

You guessed it…it’s Saint Mark.


My Wonderful Daughter

Emily sent me a couple of photos of her fun night out with friends.  You’ve probably heard of “paint night” activities…where you join a group for a night of painting a particular scene led by a local artist.

Well, Emily went to such a get together last night and came up with this acrylic masterpiece!   She had just a great time and tells me that this group has a Facebook page at paintniteHamilton if you’re interested in seeing other nights that they’ve sponsored.

Just Prior to Final Sanding

Here’s what Michael looks like prior to some final sanding.  I added my version of the feathers on the underside of the wings with some chisel work followed up by ruby cutters on a Foredom tool.  Ruby cutters are fine stones that provide some cutting along with a satin finish to the wood.  I used these tear-drop shaped cutters so that I wouldn’t have to cut each in by hand and likely leave some knife and chisel marks.

I’m still working a bit on Michael’s face, as well.  I’m looking for a not too kindly but not too frightening expression!

I haven’t really been doing too much carving over the Christmas holiday.  Instead, I’ve been enjoying Emily’s company during her visit home.  Tomorrow, she’ll be heading back which will send me back into the workshop to finish some fine sanding.   Following that, I’ll set this panel aside and begin the third panel of the chalice box with the image of Jesus holding a chalice and loaf.



More Detail

Here’s another quick update on how this project is going.  A little bit more detailing left and some final sanding and I’ll be on to Archangel Michael as another panel on my chalice box project.  I should mention that all of the blue masking tape is just to protect the wood from dings while I do the carving.

The carving has been very enjoyable and I’m really only using a few chisels for the work.  The only “special” chisel that I’ve used is a bent style ( much like a spoon ) to be able to scoop out along the archway on the top and bottom where access is limited.  A nice project and certainly being done at the right time of year!


Today’s Progress

I have to admit that I spent more time cleaning leaves out of the yard than I did planning my carving…but, here’s the progress that I’ve made on the one image.

I still have a bit more to go before I’ll be satisfied with the model for the carving.  It’s interesting how your brain works when it comes to artwork.  I find that as I’m working on something like this, “my brain” gets used to how things are looking and sort of accepts it.  It’s not until I take a photo of the carving, or in this case, the clay, that I start to see what else needs to be done before it looks right to me.  Another trick that I’ve used to similarly change my view of something is to hold the carving ( or clay ) up in a mirror to look at it.  The reverse image almost immediately points the things out to you that just aren’t right or  are out of proportion.

So, a bit more that I want to do on this figure before putting it aside.  It’s all fun…

Second Figure of Jesus

The chalice box will have a depiction of Jesus holding a chalice in one hand and a small loaf of bread in the other hand.  There are actually quite a number of ancient pieces of artwork of Jesus in this particular pose and I used a number of combined sources to come up with my own depiction.  Again, the relief is about 5/8″ deep which produces enough of a shadow effect to give you a sense of 3D but it’s not deeDSC_1029.jpgp enough to allow you to get the perfect perspective from all angles that you’d get out of looking at a true “in the round” carving.  So, it’s a bit of a trade-off.

I built up the clay model bit by bit and then, once it was dried somewhat, I used some sharp sculpting tools to shave away pieces until I was happy with the contours.  I still have quite a bit of work to do on the hands yet as I want a good clay model before I attempt them in wood.

This clay work is actually well timed as it’s easy on the wrists and arms and I’m just in the midst of recuperating from some bothersome tendonitis (tennis elbow ).  If you ever think about cutting up and ripping out all the carpets in your house on your own to prepare for hardwood floors…don’t.

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