.. and climbing the walls, bored out of your skull.. The story
For months, I’ve spent my time ‘locked’ to my laptop, hunting new Job posts, refreshing my mailbox every 5 minutes eager to receive word from Recruiters, and more so, eager to receive confirmation of Interviews. But life ain’t like that..
In my attempts to make life more bearable for us, ergo, avoiding myself climbing the walls and preventing the Missus from running out the door screaming, I took to ‘doing up’ the yard -after having checked vacancies, E-mail and what-not, daily. Our yard is classed as small and dark, with a tiny window of sun, but I managed to make it our li’l ‘Safe Haven’ amidst the maze of alleys and yards.. However, there’s only so much one can ‘do up’, and getting a tan is one thing, burning your skin off another..
As said, our yard isn’t one of the largest, and soon I found myself glued to the laptop again. It wasn’t really the kind of weather to be toodling about in yard/garden or, as it is also lovingly called, our ‘yarden’.. So what the **** am I going to do with myself now, then? Mind, I enjoy a good bit of Sci-Fi but you can only watch the complete Stargate Universe series so-many times..
Take a tree trunk, and carve away..!
Some time ago, I carved a stand for a Buddha my Dad gave me a couple of years ago. The wood I used was just your bog standard piece of 3 x 5 rib cut-off and with no carving experience whatsoever, I thought it quite the challenge, getting the thing to actually fit and look the part. We have several oriental ornaments with accompanying stands, but they’re mostly, if not all, factory made. I think my handy-work didn’t turn out too bad..
Left: raw cut, right: ‘treated’ with professional dye and finish (read: instant coffee for dye and blank shoe polish for finish).
Some time after finishing my work-of-art, I found another piece of wood which sparked my artistic gland; we have those Chinese Yin-Yang ball, the ones you juggle in your hand, but the box they came in got musty and damp. Et presto, another ‘project’ was born, under the same conditions as above stand: Check vacancies, send applications, check responses, commence project. Having had a bit of practice carving straight-forward, I carefully attempted a bit more frilly-curvey work. Lo and behold the Chinese Ball stand, truly a li’l marvel..
Whilst it doesn’t look much, the wood was very soft and thus prone to go wrong. Since I’m anything but a professional sculptor, I handled it with caution, probably too much but the end-result is accordingly.. A few weeks before Christmas, we (my stepson and me) found some cut down trees in the open road and thought it would be a nice stash of wood for the chimeneys, so we carried the tree and a cut-off tree trunk back to the house. I dropped the smaller trunk in my car, with the idea to chop it up for my chimeney. It never happened..
One of my writerly friends on FB regularly posts pictures of Japanese Samurai Lords and Daimyo, which got me reading up on them, and, with the tree trunk in the yard, got me thinking I might be able to carve one. Again, I’m a complete novice, so I didn’t have a scoobydoo how to even start this project. Nevertheless, the idea was born and so preparations began with de-barking the log.
I wasn’t sure what type of wood I was dealing with (so much for being a landscaper, eh?) but had the idea it was Oak as the bare parts turned dark. Half the yard was filled with chunks of bark but I got there, eventually. Off came the root-end and the slanty upper end, and drawing (another novelty for me!) began..
Left: My handy-work drawing, right: my ‘model’, Sakamoto Ryoma. The actual statue looks nothing like him, though..
Since I’m just a hobbyist with limited space, a lot of the carving was done in my ‘workshop’, AKA the kitchen table, regularly collecting the wood chips to keep the Missus from going doo-lally with the mess I was producing. Now we’ve got the outlines, the actual carving can start. Out came the crappy, blunt wood chisels (the ones used for hanging doors, or making window frames..), an old, found glazer’s knife, a set of precision files and some hobby blades. I wanted to get acquainted with the wood before even attempting any details, so I started from the bottom up..
Nice long stretches before I even got to doing any harm in messing up the detailed work, allowing me to get to know the wood (which turned out to be Ash; the wood gives off some sort of natural wax-ish matter, making the sanded parts feel smooth and shiny as a plastic surface). Of course, a Samurai Lord without Katana is a big no-no, so a little project as interval on the carving; creating a Katana from a bracket and some nylon thread (This is where my Navy history came in handy!)
The screwdriver is to illustrate the size of the thing.. wrapping it with the thread gave me a right ol’ cramp in the palms but hey! Anything for the cause! Meanwhile, I steered clear of anything to do with the head as I was adamant it had to be just so.. and in all fairness, it was a bit daunting, thinking I’d have to start doing his face at some point..
Time goes on and ‘Tis the Season..’ is there; carving was put on the shelf for a while as we don’t want the whole place covered in wood chips and Crimbo decorations.. News travels fast in the Family, and Fat Chris found out about my new-found hobby too; (s)he kindly provided me with a full set of proper carving chisels, a sharpening tool and a reference book for beginner wood carvers.. all of which have gratefully been taken into production!
Christmas came and went, and carving started again.. The face was slowly coming alive, still rough but the lines were there. I concentrated on the face before adding the hair-do, still adamant everything had to be just-so..
The face and arms are here sanded with real fine sand paper; see how smooth they are compared to the right side of his robe.. Still not sure how I’d dye the statue, I tried out several ways on the spare chunk I cut off the top; the part sanded with fine paper didn’t absorb as much dye (instant coffee deluted in a timy bit of water..) as the coursely sanded part, which was just what I was after. I wanted to differentiate the skin parts from the robe, but it panned out different in the end.. The hair-do is coming along just fine, and I’ve re-sized the face/head as they were proving to be too big..
Finally, after chopping about an inch between the robe and the boulder (stand) and shaping his feet, hand and refining some more details, Sakamoto-san is done!
It’s a miracle what a bit of instant coffee and brown shoe polish can achieve..!
Contrary to the actual statue, I’ve chosen to depict his feet in traditional foot-wear, where Sakamoto preferred to combine the traditional attire with western shoes. But then again, ‘t ain’t Sakamoto Ryoma, he happens to have the same stance, that’s all.. To compensate the slant in the statue, I’ve attached two tiny legs under the front to lift it, making it appear he’s standing on a large boulder. I know, certain details are out of scale, but for a first-ever figurine, with detailed features, I don’t think I did such a shabby job.. Some detailed snapshots..
Now, if you’re an employer who (rightfully so) thinks I should be spending my time working rather than creating a mess in the kitchen, then by all means, contact me (uk.linkedin.com/in/ceesmatthijs/) if you have a job on offer! Trust me, I’d rather be working and providing than have so much time on my hand..
Thanks for reading, do visit back from time to time!