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carved wooden rabbit

Making the Jackie Collins Inspirational Woman of the Year Award: 2016 – 2018

This award is presented every year by the cancer charity Penny Brohn UK. For the last three years, I have been honoured to be asked to carve each one. All of them are different in design and a lot of effort is put into making each one special to the person receiving it.

In 2018, Jacqueline Gold was presented with the award. She is the boss of the Ann Summers chain of high street shops, which sell lingerie and other products to spice up people’s love lives. Her award references one of the company’s most famous products, which has a rabbit theme…

wooden rabbit bx

The wood used came from the Ashton Court estate in Bristol and the carving also has a small box included in the design, as the Trust wanted the award to be functional in some way.

carved wooden rabbit box

Here’s a photo of Jacqueline Gold receiving her award in May 2018. The image was supplied by Penny Brohn UK and is credited to Andre Regini.

Jacqueline Gold receiving the Jackie Collins woman of the Year award 2018

In 2017, the recipient was the perfume designer Jo Malone. Her new line of fragrances uses the scent of pomelo as its keynote and so I came up with some designs based around the leaves and flowers of pomelos.

Penny Brohn UK Jackie Collins Inspirational Woman of the Year award to Jo Malone

There were a few considerations that influenced the design of the award. Jo is a practical person, so it needed to be a useful object. It also had to be created from a piece of cedar from the grounds of the Trust’s headquarters, which I already had left over after making the award for the previous year.

Penny brohn uk award

The piece was also going to be engraved with an inscription suggested by Jo’s personal assistant: Passion, Resilience and Creativity.

A bowl was the perfect, practical item to make. Pomelo leaves are quite distinctive; they have a second pair of leaf lobes coming out from the stalk (or petiole) and so that was worked into the design. Most of the bowl was carved using power tools, as the cedar seemed easier to work with when using them.

carving a wooden bowl

I was very happy with the finished bowl, as were the people at Penny Brohn UK.

Jo Malone award

Apparently Jo also really liked the bowl and now has it on her desk. Here’s a photo from the ceremony, kindly supplied by Penny Brohn UK and used with permission:

Jo Malone

The first recipient in 2016 was Nina Barough, who founded the walks against cancer which have raised millions to fund research into fighting the disease. Her award reflects Nina’s love of flowers and it was carved from cedar that originally grew in the grounds of the Penny Brohn UK HQ. The piece also had to be carefully designed, to account for changes in the timber as it seasoned.

Penny Brohn UK award

Here is a photo, again with kind permission of Penny Brohn UK, of Nina (on the left) receiving the award:

Nina Barough

I feel very proud that these inspiring people each have one of my sculptures.

 

Wood carving of dog

A carved wooden portrait of your pet

A truly personal gift; for someone else, for yourself or even for your favourite pet companion.

 

Carved portrait of a pet cat in wood

 

I normally carve portraits by hand from a good-quality photograph onto an oak plaque, then finish it with either wax (for use indoors), varnish or finishing oil. If you would prefer another kind of wood or even a carving onto something else, such as an object that your pet likes, get in touch and we can chat about what you have in mind.

 

wood carving portrait cat

 

I can carve an image of any kind of animal and, even though I can’t know them as well as you do, it will be a lovely reminder of them for you.

 

carving of gun dog

Carving of oak leaf in wood to say thanks

Gifts: wood engraving and carvings that say ‘Thank you’

Quite a few carvings that I have made were for a particularly lovely reason: to say thanks. Sometimes they were for people who were leaving a job or other role, sometimes they were just for valued friends.

 

scouts sign carved in wood

 

Sometimes, I’m asked to carve inscriptions on unusual objects which are to be given as gifts. Perhaps the most out-of-the-ordinary was this garden fork. Unlike many computer-controlled engraving machines, I can carve directly onto irregular and curved surfaces so there was no problem making it and then painting the image. In fact, it was a fun challenge to undertake!

 

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Carved Inscription on wooden object

 

Some people also want me to make gifts out of timber from trees that have had to be cut down. This plaque was carved out of wood from a much-loved cedar tree, for someone who was retiring from their job. I had to carefully cut up and join pieces of the timber in a very particular way, to ensure that the sculpture would last well indoors. It didn’t only require carving skills but also a good knowledge of joinery and how different timbers move as they season.

 

cedar wood carving

 

Some projects need a bit less letter cutting and a bit more artistic design, as with this plaque that was given to someone who was moving away from Bristol after many years living in the city. He loved the place and this illustration shows the ‘Matthew’ (a replica of John Cabot’s famous ship, which the recipient used to volunteer on) sailing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, heading towards the Avon Gorge and then out towards the sea. Do you recognise the poem? It is the first two lines of ‘Sea Fever’ by John Masefield.

 

Carving of a ship

Wooden sign for a school

Signs for Schools and Community Groups

I’ve carved signs for schools and community groups all over the country. Most are made from oak but if you would like to use another kind of timber, I’d be more than happy to advise on its suitability for whatever purpose you have in mind. I also have the relevant checks in place to come and install it, if you wish.

Esther Rantzen plaque

Signs can be finished with wax (if destined to be installed indoors), varnish or finishing oils. I can tell you more about the best one to use for a particular project when you contact me. For more information, please feel free to get in touch.

Carved wooden signs for community groups

carved wooden memorial

Memorial Plaques

Memorial carvings have been some of the most touching ones that I have produced. Making a piece to remember somebody who is no longer with us is obviously not always a happy thing, but seeing how moved their friends and family are by it can be very rewarding as well.  This plaque was installed in a school in Bristol to remember a former pupil who loved nature and I felt quite lucky that his mum and his friends were there to see it installed.

 

carved wooden memorial

 

Sometimes, the piece of wood to be used is supplied and it can be an unusual shape, which many computer-controlled engraving machines wouldn’t be able to deal with. For me, it’s just an interesting challenge. One example would be this oak ball, which was to be used as the stopper on a carafe.

 

carved lettering on a wooden ball

 

I’m also frequently asked to provide inscriptions on the work of other makers. The very talented furniture maker Sue Darlison needed a carving on one of her stunning benches and asked me if I could do it. I was more than happy to. The name and the inspiration for the design came from the lovely smile of the person who was being remembered.

 

Sue darlison furniture maker

Bridget's Smile by Sue Darlison

 

Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Open 2010

Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Open Exhibition

In 2010, I was accepted to show in the RBSA Open exhibition. It was good to go back to a city that I know well and to show my work there. The society is also based in the Jewellery Quarter, a very historic and beautiful part of Birmingham and one of the last real trades quarters left in Britain. Almost everything around is connected to the jewellery making trade: assayers, tool suppliers and workshops as well as the jewellery college. It’s a lovely place to go for a wander!

 

RBSA Open

 

Dragon castle whittling

Dragon and Castle

This detailed small sculpture shows a dragon lying around a small hill with a castle built onto it. There are towers, steps and even a waterfall. It was carved from strongly scented Camphor Laurel wood, which was used in China to make map cases and storage for clothes as it repels moths.

In Australia, the introduced tree is now quite invasive. This piece of timber was found in a firewood pile at a youth hostel in Byron Bay, New South Wales. I was working as a woodchopper for a place to stay – perhaps my ideal job at the time!

 

Wooden dragon sculpture

 

I started carving it while in Australia and continued working on and off on the sculpture for quite a while after returning to the UK.

 

camphor laurel wood carving

imaginary animal - crustacean

‘Velocivenator satiei’

What if lobsters or large shrimp had evolved into fast-swimming hunters instead of creatures adapted to a life mainly on the seabed. What would they look like?

 

unusual woodcarving of a crustacean inspired by Erik Satie

 

This sculpture, made between Nov ’08 and Oct ’09, is fairly closely based on macruran decapods (creatures such as lobsters and shrimp) and their cousins the stomatopods (mantis shrimp). Only wood and tagua nut, without any dyes or stains, has been used to make it. I enjoyed revisiting my old studies in Zoology to work out how a realistic creature would look.

 

imaginary creature- a hunting crustacean

 

All the woods used were either found after they had already fallen or are recycled material that would otherwise have been thrown away or burnt. They include:
Cocobolo and Pau amarillo from the scrap pile at a West Country wood merchants,

Juniper from a hill in the Lake District,

Mahogany from the counter of an old Post Office in Bow, London. My friend Molly was born in the flat above,

Cherry from the waste pile at a guitar maker’s workshop in Devon, from Highgate Park in Birmingham and also from a garden in Warwickshire,

Purpleheart and ebony scrap given to me by a cabinetmaker in Devon,

Tagua nut, an ivory-like nut that is a renewable rainforest resource from Brazil or Ecuador,

Holly and boxwood from Devon, courtesy of a tree surgeon friend,

Rose gum offcut from a builder’s skip in New South Wales, Australia,

Beech from the foot of the Totes Gebirge (‘Dead mountains’) in the Austrian Alps,

Black poplar and walnut offcuts from a woodyard in Bristol,

Almond from near a village named San Pedro in Almeria, Spain.

 

hunting lobsters

 

I like to imagine this piece being a specimen in some strange Victorian naturalists’s study. The title means ‘Satie’s fast hunter’ in Latin. In 1913 the composer Erik Satie, who had a taste for the humorous and the surreal, wrote a piano piece about the desiccated embryo of a hunting crustacean.

carved wooden bird skull

Predator Bird’s Skull

After making a few ‘Metainsects‘, I started to think about what kind of predator would adapt or evolve to feed on such ornery little beasties. What would they look like?

 

carved wooden bird skull

 

With an anatomy-themed exhibition coming up, I started to carve a bird’s skull, but one that would eat tough, large and potentially dangerous insects. The skull is quite chunky and crested, so the bird would almost certainly be flightless but probably a good runner. It has a large braincase, so would be smart. The whole skull is about 25 centimetres (approx. 10 inches) long.

 

wooden bird skull

 

The nozzle on the beak would fire a sticky mucus that would disable the defences of the prey. This is adapted from a similar system used by a seabird called a fulmar, which shoots foul-smelling secretions at potential attackers from a similar nozzle over it’s beak. The large beak would then be able to pick apart the prey.

The skull part was carved from a single block of sycamore. The beak and nozzle are carved from a piece of English boxwood. The stand is stained oak and bamboo.

I really enjoyed carving the ‘Predator bird’s skull’. It gave a chance to revisit my studies in Zoology and the anatomy of this skull is based on those of real birds. The different bones shown ‘fused’ to form it match those in nature, albeit with some features (like the crest of bone) added or changed.

Metainsectivore

This sculpture was made in July 2013, to be exhibited in a show called ‘Inspired’ at Ashton Court in Bristol, UK. It represents a mammal that would feed on the hybrid insects depicted in the ‘Metainsecta’ series that I’ve been working on for a few years. Other sculptures on this theme are also shown in this website, including the ‘Predator Bird Skull‘, the ‘Mechanical Insects‘ and the ‘New Mechanical Insects‘.

 

metainsectivore - an imaginary mammal

 

There was a bit of pressure to make a good job of this carving, as one of my fellow exhibitors at ‘Inspired’ was the very well-known furniture designer and maker, John Makepeace. That’s his table and chair next to my piece in the exhibition.

 

Inspired exhibition at Ashton Court

 

The entire sculpture is made from found and recycled timbers. including the eyes and whiskers. I wanted it to look like a Victorian taxidermied specimen, with the same kind of dramatised pose that such exhibits had.

 

carved wooden hands

 

It appears to have been surprised in the act of going to eat the ‘metainsect’ pupa hanging from the branch.

 

Metainsect DARPA HI-MEMS

 

The design took elements from real, existing creatures and put them together to invent a new one: features of cats, quolls, tarsiers, foxes and anteaters have all been included. A lot of thought went into what this creature would look like and why: for example, the strange long, narrow muzzle allows it to pick apart prey, while keeping vulnerable parts of the face a good distance away.

 

 

Imaginary creature-speculative evolution

 

If you would like to find out more about the designing and making of ‘Metainsectivore’, there are more in-depth descriptions posted on my blog, which you can visit by clicking on these links: Designing and Making. There is a link on the blog to bring you back to this website.