Hunted Bird

Debra and I met Mike and Kristi at the local sushi restaurant 10 years ago on New Year’s Eve. I was telling Tim, the sushi chef, about how another friend had recently come down to hunt deer in the back yard with his bow. When I mentioned that I was looking for other hunters to help with our deer problem, Mike introduced himself as a bow hunter. I invited him to come by in the morning (the last day of bow season that year).

Mike showed up late in the morning, after spending a few hours out hunting at another location. He didn’t get a deer there, but he did show me a dove that he’d managed to shoot with an arrow.

The four of us have been good friends pretty much since the day we met. We regularly get together for dinner, and they invite us up to their north Texas property a few times a year, including the last four Thanksgiving holidays. It was there at the ranch four years ago that I grabbed a stick off the firewood pile and began to whittle, thus starting my foray into wood carving.

At the ranch last week I finished carving a bird from a piece of Aspen that had a worm hole through it. I knew that I wanted to do something with the bird, but hadn’t quite figured out what. Then Mike started talking about hunting, and I knew immediately what I wanted to do with that bird.

As I said, the bird is Aspen. I made the arrow shaft from a piece of Yellow Birch. I carved the arrow head from mesquite, and the fletching is Cottonwood bark. I whittled and sanded the shaft to fit through the hole, glued it in place, and then attached the arrowhead and fletching with glue. The whole thing received a few coats of spray polyurethane.

I have no idea where Mike is going to display it, but I hope he enjoys it.

Miniature cottonwood bark houses

After I made the pumpkin houses, I got interested in making these little cottages. I’ve made a few fantasy houses and castles from cottonwood bark, but these are much smaller–a little smaller than the pumpkin houses.

For me, the biggest advantage of the smaller size is that I can experiment with styles, textures, techniques, and design. I’m still learning a lot about this carving hobby, and working on a small scale makes me much more apt to try new things. If I make a mistake or ruin the carving, I’ve not sunk a lot of time into it. Contrast that to my cottonwood bark tree house, which involved more than 20 hours of work. I’d be much less inclined to try something crazy on that than on one of these little pieces that I can carve in a couple of hours.

Another benefit of the smaller size is that I can carry a couple of them around in my carving box and work on them at odd moments. If I get to a stopping point on one of them, I can pull out another and keep going.

And, of course, I can make a bunch of the things. I have to be careful, though. I think Debra wants me to make a Christmas village or something similar.

So far, I’ve carved and finished 11 of these little houses. I two more roughed out, and a few more small pieces of bark. If I want to make more after that, I’ll have to cut up some of the larger pieces that I’ve collected. That’s not really a problem, as I recently acquired three very large pieces of bark. The largest is about six feet long and two feet wide. That in itself will keep me carving for quite some time.

You can click on any of the pictures below to get a larger view.

This house is one of the first that I completed. It came from a rather narrow piece of bark that, in its natural state, suggested the chimney that I carved on the side. This is probably the smallest of the houses, and one of the simplest in terms of finish. All I did was texture the roof and add a few lines to suggest wood siding.

This, too, is from a really small piece of bark. Truthfully, I can’t decide if I like it. I only textured the roof and the chimney, leaving the walls plain. Sometimes I think I should have added some siding lines. But then I smile at the whimsical simplicity of the thing.

Another small and simple piece. The key here was highlighting the large natural depression in the bark. For me, that and the roof line make this house. And the oversized chimney adds that whimsical touch. I wish I had been a little less sloppy with the knife, though. Fortunately, those marks don’t show up so much when you view it normally. The camera and the flash have a tendency to capture every mistake with excellent clarity.

I think this was the second of the houses that I completed. The piece of bark I was working with had some interesting features, including a fairly large rotted section where the chimney is. Much of it crumbled under the knife, but I managed to salvage enough to keep the house.

One thing about working with “found wood” in general and cottonwood bark bark in particular is that the piece of wood determines in large part the shape of the finished product. I have in mind to create a little house, but the wood tells me where certain features will be. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of any raw bark to illustrate that point.

I really like this one. I had originally planned to do a different roof, but by the time I’d roughed out the rest of the piece, it cried “flat roof” to me. Well, flat in the sense that there’s very little texture on it. I created a flagstone-like roof by etching some lines. Again, I made it a point to keep the natural depressions in the bark on the sides.

This was one of the first houses I roughed out, but I delayed in finishing it. I just couldn’t come up with an idea of how to texture it without ruining the design. I finally decided on simplicity: contrasting the relatively smooth finish of the carved bark on the left with the cracks on the right.

This house is a good example of using the features of the bark. There was a valley right in the middle of the piece. I could have carved the “hills” down even with the valley floor, giving a flat front. Instead, I left as much of the valley as I could, incorporating it into the design. I also goofed when I was hollowing out the back of this one. The power carver caught (bound up), and broke the house in two. I glued it back together, and the only place you can tell is on the left side where a piece broke off. Now it looks like a meteor went through a corner of the roof.

That’s the only house that I actually broken, but I do use a lot of superglue to reattach small pieces here and there. The outer layers of bark are very brittle and often chip off. Almost every house shown here has at least one piece glued back onto the roof edge or the base. Wood glue works just as well, but it takes longer to set. Superglue sets quickly–almost instantly if you spray it with accelerator after applying.

Another example of using the bark features. I left that protrusion there, just cutting it down to make a little ledge for the window. I textured the ledge and the chimney with my faux flagstone.

Not much to say about this one. I’m a little disappointed with the brick work on the left side, but I quite like the rock work around the window on the right.

The roof line on this house is the result of the piece of bark I was working with. It’s one of the first I roughed out, but one of the last I completed. I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I’m pretty happy with everything except the door, which I think I could have done a better job on. I had a heck of a time getting the roof texture right, trying to make the lines flow with the contour of the roof. But after three tries the roof was getting pretty thin, so I called it good. It’s something I’ll have to work on in the future.

This is the last house I completed. I’m particularly happy with the roof and the chimney. Again, I dislike the front door. I think I need remedial door design classes or something. But overall, I really like the design and proportion of this house.

I guess the thing I like most about carving these is that every one is unique. They all have similar elements, and I suspect that they all exhibit my emerging style. But each one has a different shape, different roof line, different textures, etc. The nature of the medium and my desire to add whimsical elements makes each piece  quite different from all the others. They’re truly “one of a kind” carvings.

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