As I said in my previous blog post, sculpting a piece of natural barked wood can present some surprises that may require attention, re-construction or re-direction. Upon inspection of this particular piece of maple, I saw that there was a place on either side of it that had a ragged slightly splintered-off section. I wasn't sure if I wanted to keep them or not, so I decided to gradually shape or shrink them as the sculpture evolved. After removing some of the bark, I sanded and shaped the wood revealed beneath, creating a contrast of smooth and rough textures. This allowed me to begin the process of assessing and refining the side two elements.
As I began to refine and shape the elongated wood "tendril" on the left side I saw that it had an interesting way of echoing the contour of that side. After creating an opening at the "peak" to echo the opening of the branch hole, I continued to shape the area to the right of the tendril and, in doing so, I uncovered a small worm hole. Instead just of ignoring it, I tried to eliminate it by chiseling out more material but this revealed a cluster of worm holes. I ended up totally reshaping the area (I was pleased with the change), but it also exposed a splintery crack at the base of the tendril that made its survival doubtful. I was able to repair and strengthen the area by filling it with Quickwood (a mastic epoxy). This repair allowed me to continue to refine the shape of the tendril and the area around it.
The fate of the second side element, a smaller "tendril", was decided after a step by step removal of bark at the lower end and side of the piece. As I removed the surrounding bark, I also started to shorten the length of the tendril. Initially I thought that it could act to mirror the upper tendril on the other side, but eventually I decided that it did nothing to enhance the form of the piece and needed removal. Again I was faced with a structural dilemma - a crack at the base of the tendril necessitated removing a fairly deep chunk of wood. There was no going back. In the end, I was pleased with the results of my re-shaping and sanding efforts.
After applying a coat of satin polyurethane, I decided that the remaining area of bark was too uniform in texture. In order to vary the surface quality and break up the shape of the barked area, I smoothed out spaces at the top and bottom creating the effect of a raised bark oval around the branch hole. The side now felt complete. In my next blog post I will recount the evolution of the second side of the maple branch hole sculpture. Stay tuned!
They say a picture is worth a thousand words - I certainly hope so! I tend to take a lot of "in progress" photos while I work, but I think went a bit overboard on my latest piece. I was finding it a bit daunting to narrow down the number of photos for a blog entry, so I decided that this project would require a multi-installment approach. So here goes Side 1, Part 1.
As I looked around my studio for a project to fill the extended void of time and mobility created by the Covid-19 pandemic, my eye settled on a piece of natural maple that I had rescued some time ago from a pile of wood destined for the wood stove after yet another a tree trimming session. It not only had a perfectly round healed tree branch hole, but it had very interesting internal growth pattern on its reverse side that featured varied shapes, colors, and textures. And so ...I began.
The problem with random pieces of barked natural wood is that you never know what you will find once you start removing material, especially bark. It can cover a variety of welcome surprises and unwelcome complications... hidden worm holes, weak spots that, for better or worse, can alter your intended plan of action. The key to making progress is to remain flexible! In a subtractive sculpture, especially when working with a natural material that is a random shape and presents a variety of surfaces and textures, each time you chisel off a piece of material you are presented with a multitude of decisions that ultimately can determine the path you must follow to completion.
Side 1 presented me with a variety of minor decisions, like deciding how much bark to remove, and 2 major issues - one that required a repair to a structural flaw in order to retain a desired element and one that required extreme reshaping after falling prey to a hidden cluster of deep worm holes. The story will continue in my next blog posting...stay tuned!
Cynthia Smith, Maine artist, originally from Connecticut. Taught art at secondary level for 35 years, retired in 2004. Sculpts in bronze, wood, stone, clay & plaster. Her work can be seen at several mid-coast Maine galleries and shows.