Triodos Bank UK asked me to carve them an owl to celebrate 25 years of being based in Bristol.
The timbers used are a bit special: the body is carved from Lawson Cypress (also known as Port Orford cedar) and the feet from linden (lime) wood, both of which grew in the Ashton Court estate on the edge of the city. It’s a place very dear to many Bristolians.
The eyes and talons are greenheart, a tough wood which originally formed the top of the nineteenth-century lock gates that led into the city’s harbour. When they were renewed a few years ago, I was given this timber.
The beak came from a garden in the Lockleaze area of the city, where some my relations used to live. The oak perch is reclaimed locally-grown timber too.
This great little character was inspired by baby Groot, one of the heroes of the Marvel ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ films. He was a lot of fun to carve and measures two feet (60cm) tall.
The sculpture was carved from oak, painted with durable paints and fitted to a paving slab base so that he could live indoors or outside.
These carvings of birds were made for ‘Woodland Arts’, an exhibition in Leigh Woods, Bristol in 2017. I like making new pieces to show in events like this one. Although it can be time consuming, it always gives an opportunity to explore themes that interest me but perhaps haven’t come up in my commission work.
I hadn’t carved a bird sculpture for quite a while, and the woodland setting for the show seemed to make them an ideal subject. Kestrels (as above) and nuthatches (shown below, poised to run down a tree trunk as they do) are both birds that interest me and that live around these woods, so they were the ones chosen.
For the bodies of each bird, I used European larch timber. These were timber offcuts from companies that share the area that my workshop is in. Larch isn’t particularly easy to carve with traditional hand tools, no matter how sharp they are, so much of the work was done with abrasive discs fitted to angle grinders.
This also gave the carvings a smoother, slightly abstract feel which I really like.
The pale wood in the kestrel’s beak is hornbeam, taken out during building work at Bristol’s Southmead hospital.
The dark wood used for the eyes and the beaks is a bit of Bristol’s heritage. It is a timber called greenheart, from offcuts which were given to me by a furniture maker friend named Jim Sharples. Jim had made a large bench to be placed near Bristol’s ‘Mshed‘, using wood from the old North Junction lock gates which led from Bristol Harbour to the Avon Gorge and then the sea. The huge trunk of tough African greenheart wood lay on the top of the old gates, to protect them from bumps by ship’s hulls. It was removed when the gates, which were fitted in the nineteenth century, were recently replaced. These small bits of wood are really pieces of Bristol’s maritime history.