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Naked grouse whisky slider

‘Naked Grouse’ whisky bottle 2014

In 2014, I was asked to turn and carve oak replicas of the distinctive bottles that ‘Naked Grouse’ whisky is sold in. They were to be used in the promotional launch of the whisky in the UK. As part of the commission, I also carved the logos of five different bars in the prestigious Mayfair and Marylebone districts of London live in the bars themselves.

 

Woodcarving for a publicity event

 

The Glasgow-based marketing company  Material approached me during the summer of that year to ask if I could make some oak sculptures as part of a promotional launch. The makers of ‘Famous Grouse’ whisky were introducing their new premium malt blend, called ‘Naked Grouse‘, to customers in the UK. The marketing centred on the craftsmanship involved in producing fine whisky.

The sculptures were replicas of the Naked Grouse whisky bottle, turned and carved in oak which originally grew on the Quantock Hills in Somerset. They were mounted on oak plinths that had LED lights installed to illuminate the bottle.

 

Naked grouse oak whiskey bottle

 

It was fun doing some woodturning again to make the bottles, especially when an electrical fault in the first lathe shorted out the workshop’s electrics!

 

woodturning a naked grouse whiskey bottle

 

The labels and embossed grouse design were replicated using a Dremel hand drill.

The bottles were then stained to match the colour of the whisky as much as possible. Fitting the LED lighting systems into the oak plinths was quite interesting; I haven’t studied physics since school, so it was quite an education learning about resistors, diodes and the like!

 

DSCN0609

 

Six bottles and plinths were made in the end, of which five were used in the promotion as one bar dropped out at the last minute.

 

'Naked Grouse' whiskey promotion

 

Then it was time for the next stage of the project: live carving at bars in the prestigious Mayfair district of London!

 

promotion for naked grouse whiskey

 

The demonstrations involved carving the logo of each bar onto each plinth in the establishments themselves. The sculptures were then left at each bar. The bars themselves ranged from a Lebanese restaurant (complete with Arabian dancers) through a bar having a ‘beach party’ to a very exclusive place with no sign and a doorman.

 

london bar

 

It was great fun doing the live carving, as well as a bit of a challenge to reproduce the logos with a time limit and an audience. I’m happy to say that everyone was very pleased with the finished sculptures.

 

turned and carved bottle

Ceremonial knife handle

Ceremonial knife handle 2016

This knife handle was carved from oak that originally grew on the Quantock Hills in Somerset. It was commissioned by someone who intended to fix it onto a ceremonial blade for use in pagan rituals.

The Norse-style wolf’s head on the pommel of the handle is based on a piece of jewellery that the client particularly likes.

 

carving a wooden knife handle

 

It was an interesting challenge to mark out the knot work accurately on the handle, as it sloped from the centre towards each end.

The grip was initially turned on a lathe, then the central hole drilled, the pommel was roughly shaped and then the knot work carved with a knife. I felt that this knife worked finish gave more of an authentically ‘Viking’ look to the whole thing and it was also very comfortable to hold, as the handle was held in my hand whilst whittling the different designs. I used a selection of carving gouges to produce the wolf’s head, as they suited the shapes that needed to be made more than a knife would have.

 

whittling a knife handle

 

The oak was finished using tung oil, as it is more natural and contains less additives than many other finishes.

 

norse wolf's head carving

DSCN0508

 

I have carved several other interesting knife handles. If you would like to see more, go to the page on Carved knife handles.

 

Carved panels using braille 2016

These oak panels, featuring braille as part of their design, are part of a permanent installation at the Brunel building in Southmead hospital – a major healthcare facility in Bristol.

Initially, the commission was to make an artwork that would include words and phrases chosen by patient’s knitting and writing groups as being important to them. As part of the making process there also had to be an opportunity for patients, visitors and staff to try their hand at carving parts of it during two hospital open days.

 

woodcarving the braille panel at Southmead hospital

 

On visiting Southmead, I realised that most wall-hung artworks there didn’t really give much opportunity for blind or partially-sighted people to interact with them. They were mainly prints behind glass.

Working with guidance from local braille users, together with organisations and blind artists from around the country (particularly Alan Michael Rayner), I designed a touch sculpture that also includes braille as a fundamental part. The Bristol Braillists group were particularly helpful with this area of the project. Paul and Hazel from the group even visited my workshop to give help and advice on the design.

 

making a sculpture for blind people

 

Eventually, the installation developed into three panels. The largest one shows the patient’s groups knitting and writing, together with a carver (who might that be?). The knitting, writing and carving is spilling off the table to become a landscape with the important words and phrases written on it. In the top right-hand corner are well-known buildings in Bristol. Above it all is a description in braille, made from brass pins that have been fixed into the oak.

 

braille woodcarving

 

The second panel shows a much smaller version of the main panel (a bit bigger than A4 size), with different features labelled in braille. This was suggested by Camilla at Living Paintings, who pointed out that blind people can get ‘lost’ when feeling their way through a large area. This small orientation panel allows visitors who are using touch to work out where they are going on the larger artwork.

 

braille on woodcarving

 

The third panel is a key to Grade one braille, so that sighted visitors who would like to work out what the braille on the other panels says can do so. There are several types of braille, with grade one being the simplest – a letter-by-letter translation. This inspired some discussion about whether it was the best form to use, as most British braillists use Grade two braille which is quicker to type out and to read. However, most users felt that people who weren’t so confident in reading braille and those from other countries would find this form easier to understand.

 

grade one braille key

 

Once the panels had been fitted in March 2016, the installation was unveiled by the Chief Executive of NHS South-west, Andrea Young. She is standing in the centre of the photo below with Ruth, the arts director for Southmead, standing to the left of the picture. It was great to see that Paul and Hazel, who had helped in the design, could make it to the unveiling too.

 

south mead hospital braille artwork

 

I really appreciated the opportunity to explore new ways of interaction with public carved sculpture but also being given the chance to find out more, as a sighted person, about how blind and partially sighted people interact with the world around them. I hope that the things learnt can be incorporated into future projects and thank you to everyone who generously gave their time to help me with practical advice and suggestions.

making my own sgian dubh

Sgian dubh and Kiltpin 2015

A sgian dubh is the knife traditionally worn with a kilt, tucked into the sock, as part of the Scottish national dress. The name means ‘black knife’ or ‘dark knife’ in Gaelic.

There are different theories about why the knife is worn. One is that in Scotland’s wild past, people visiting others would be unwise to completely unarmed at any time. To show goodwill to their hosts, they would remove this knife and tuck it into their sock. They could still defend themselves if necessary, but their weapons were clearly on display. Another is that the knife was originally a ‘gralloching‘ knife, used to butcher deer. A dead deer was too big to haul off the moors and the stomach contents would immediately start to taint the meat after death, so it was best to cut it up there and then.

The blade of my sgian dubh is damascus steel and was bought, as I do not have the equipment or skills to make a good blade of this type. As a carver, I didn’t want to wear a substandard blunt knife either! The silver work was done by a talented local silversmith for the same reason. She kindly sent the silver ferrules to Edinburgh to be given a Scottish assay office stamp as well.

 

Scottish assay office mark

 

The materials used meant a lot to me personally. The timber used in the handle and sheath of the knife is laburnum, from a tree which grew in the garden of the house where I grew up and which was cut down long ago. When my mother was pregnant with me, she would rest in a hammock slung from this tree.

 

making my own sgian dubh
Reverse side of sheath and handle

The stone at the end is from a pebble collected on a beach at the Isle of Man many years ago, which originally came from an island off the coast of Scotland called Ailsa Craig. It has another name, which I found out after making the knife: Carreg Alasdair or ‘Alistair’s Rock’. Very appropriate!

You can find out a lot more about this, the timber and the process of making of the sgian dubh on my blog. There is also more about the law concerning carrying such a blade in public in the UK.

 

sgian dubh

Kiltpin

The kilt pin is worn on the outermost part of the kilt apron, mainly as an ornament but also to apply a little weight and stop the kilt raising. I was very happy with the first version, which was made using boxwood and the same laburnum and microgranite stone used in the sgian dubh. However, when my kilt arrived I realised that the colour and size just weren’t right!

sgian dubh and kiltpin

It was time to have another go. The second kilt pin is carved from the same laburnum wood used in the sgian dubh and uses a design taken from the Book of Kells, with inlaid silver, plum timber and reclaimed ebony. If you look carefully it isn’t actually a continuous knot, as such designs are often supposed to be, but is in fact two dragons interlacing with an infinity loop.

carved wooden kilt pin

By this point, you may be wondering what this kilt actually looks like! It looks like this. The tartan sett is muted MacDonald of Clan Ranald, for those interested in these things:

Muted MacDonald of Clan Ranald tartan

Leigh Woods Centenary bench 2009

This bench was installed on Stokeleigh Camp Iron Age hill fort, at Leigh Woods near Bristol. It was commissioned by the National Trust to commemorate the centenary of the land being given to the Trust by the Wills family.

 

leigh woods inscription

 

The oak used came from trees felled in the same woods and the timber was milled, carved and the bench constructed on site during the summer of 2009.

 

two man chainsaw mill

 

The bench is 2.75 metres (9 feet) long. As the site is heavily protected, the design had to be sturdy enough not to require fixing to the ground and it could not be raised up on slabs or similar.

 

carving leigh woods bench

 

The carvings show aspects of the natural history and ancient history of the area. Researching them was really enjoyable – including holding locally-found artefacts such as a Celtic bronze torc, which was around two thousand years old, at Bristol Museum.

 

celtic wood carving

 

Here are some examples of the carvings on the bench. This dormouse is hibernating with its tail wrapped around it. Dormice live in the surrounding woods and are quite rare.

 

dormouse on leigh woods bench

 

This beautiful triskele design came from the end of a Celtic torc that was discovered in the River Avon at nearby Clevedon. The original is gold and can now be seen in the British Museum.

 

celtic torc design