What I do
I enjoy creating. I’ve progressed from Lego to painting, jewellery, carpentry and carving. My Birds are an ideal combination of all these skills (except maybe the lego).
– I still occasionally play with Lego.
I carve from native woods detailed life size carvings of native birds. The wood is salvaged from old fencepost’s, building renovations and various other random sources. It feels fitting that I carve New Zealand birds from recycled native New Zealand woods. Most commonly found timber is totara but other woods I use are rimu, matai, southern rata, kauri and native broadleaf.
No birds were harmed in the process of creating my carvings! I get to enjoy a charming fantail with out any residual guilt it was once alive. No complicated laws and requirements. I sometime even have the joy of bringing an extinct bird to ‘life’ (figuratively) every once in a while… no moa yet though.
Each species of bird I research as much as possible before starting to carve. Mainly I use photos, books and scientific papers for most of the details but sometimes I organise a visit to the Canterbury Museum to view specific birds in their collection to study areas not often very visible in photos. It doesn’t stop either, I often learn new things about birds I have been carving for while and incorporate the new finding into the next version.
Beyond that, a goal of mine is to try to carve every new Zealand bird at least once before I hang up my carving tools for good.
After research, drawing of plans and selection of wood, the initial roughing out is done using an electric band-saw. Most of the work is then achieved using traditional carving hand tools, as I find them superior to machinery because they are less noisy, produce no irritating dust (which I hate), and often work progresses faster. The fine feather detailing I burn in using a pyrography tool (hot poker pen). For texturing areas where detail isn’t as important I might use a stone bit in a electric Dremal tool or very fine micro carving chisels.
I then paint the birds as they appear in life using fine acrylics. I often get asked why I paint my wooden birds. For some birds I feel they don’t fully ‘become alive’ until their plumage colours are applied. The iridescent colours in particular are very satisfying when you get them right. Some bird shapes are so similar that without paint they can’t be positively identified. Yes, I do like the natural wood look as much as anyone who loves to work with wood, but, and this is the main reason, I carve for the BIRD not for the wood. That is not to say I always paint my birds, sometimes I leave the wood look, particularly if the grain is something special or when a commission specifies it of course.
For the legs on the small birds it isn’t feasible to fashion them from wood. I use metal, occasionally completely from fine-silver wire, which I engrave scales etc. Silver can be tarnished to achieve a black appearance often suitable for legs. Lately, with the help of a local jewelers (Les Riddel of Cromwell) equipment and expertise, I have been casting legs in silver or other alloys. For the larger birds like the kea, I can carve the feet and legs from wood and use metals for the claws. And for the eyes, depending on the colour, I use onyx, topaz, crystal or glass.