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.
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?
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.
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.
This project (with limited time and budget to complete it) was carved during May 2008 for the ‘Forest of Avon Trust‘, an organisation in Bristol that seek to promote the use of local woodlands in environmentally sustainable ways.
Four posts were sited at Jubilee Stone Wood near Backwell, on the edge of the Mendip Hills. Four others were fixed in at West Tanpit Wood, near Lower Failand and across the Avon gorge from Bristol. All eight posts were shallow-relief carved using long-lasting sweet chestnut logs, with designs chosen by young people and people with special needs from the area.
West Tanpit Wood
These posts stand a bit over 5 feet (1.5m) tall and mark a short circular route through the woods. If walking in early summer, the woods suddenly turn from being carpeted with the white flowers of wild garlic to the deep blue of native British bluebells – very beautiful indeed.
A bird called a Dipper (which can sometimes be seen running about in the stream next to this post)
Bluebells and Bumble bee
Fern by a stream (before leaving the workshop)
Oak leaves, acorns and a logpile, symbolising the two halves of the wood- native deciduous trees and commercial softwood plantation.
Jubilee Stone Wood
Early Purple Orchid with Silver Washed Fritillary butterfly
Robin singing on Ivy (before leaving the workshop)
Sunset over Nailsea- the view next to this post