Sources

In January, I started what I thought to be a quick project for a portrait of the halibut Schooner Republic. There was not much online where I began, and even less available in terms of print sources. My collection at home also came up dry. I was able to complete the project in March but wished that I had better documentation. 

Typically, I budget about a quarter of my project time to research, unless the portrait is a well documented one design, or a small boat for which sufficient illustrations or plans are available. It’s when you start work on less documented material that you wind up in the weeds. The halibut schooner was in the deep underbrush.

Regardless of the craft you serve, there are documentation needs: patterns, illustrations, methods, notes on materials, or historical information. Over the years, I’ve grown a small but healthy collection of print and visual content. My urges to add to this depend on my current and proposed projects and general interest. Practice a craft long enough, and you wind up with at least a small library. If you love books, the affliction is much worse. Obtaining the material that you need can be a bit of a circus.

You might notice that booksellers don’t tend to hold onto extensive stock these days, and publishers have little motivation to make excess print runs for materials that they might have to sell as remainders. I suggest that you haunt library sales, befriend local used book shops, and support independent booksellers wherever you find them. But, this method of growing your collection can be hit or miss. If you are a chronic browser, this is a great way to expand your collection slowly. It won’t yield specific results when you need something for a project now.

As a sidenote for the public library user: I love libraries. However, except specialty libraries, like those associated with Maritime Museums, they don’t tend to have much for me. Sadly, every year I buy books for my collection that were initially library copies but got withdrawn and sold.

 Which, of course, leads you to the internet and the realm of search engines. Depending upon the popularity of what you are researching, sources can be very rich or impoverished. For those of you who claim that they can always find whatever they need online, I’d posit that whatever it is they are doing, it is what many others are doing as well. Take an excursion further afield, and you will soon find out that the internet is not an equal opportunity provider.

This precisely why sites like Biblio, Abe books, Thriftbooks, and other places are your friends. Their search engines index the holdings of associated book dealers. The descriptions can be sparse. So, you have to be on top of your game in terms of what you are seeking. The photo I am using for this post shows part of the workshop library. I bought a number of these books used online.

Here are a couple of pointers:

1.) learn to read and evaluate the descriptive methods sellers use to describe books – keep them honest – if a book is described as having a tight binding, but shows up with loose pages complain.

2.) compare listings among various booksellers for price, condition, and shipping.

3.) Research your purchases. Not all sellers describe the contents of the book accurately. 

4.) Develop wish lists for content that you are seeking. It may be available next month.

A current project I am working on is a portrait of a 1900 Victorian Steam Yacht. Thin online prospects and lean sources in my library led me to four online book dealers. I was able to find several low priced additions to the library that fill in some of my collections deficiencies. As the books arrive, I can fill the knowledge gaps in designing and executing the steam yacht.

A post on that should be forthcoming.

Sounds Of Silence

Good quiet is getting hard to find. I’d not discounted the reports by people attempting to capture wilderness soundscapes- everywhere was contaminated by noise. It just hadn’t been personalized to me sitting on a rock on the coast of Maine, attempting to capture 45 seconds of uncontaminated waves lapping on the shore. The video was lovely, the audio, contaminated by the sounds of powerboats that were not even in sight. I eventually came back at about eight pm and reshot just for the audio. I planned to use the video track from the day with the sound from the evening. Of course, it was decided not to use the sequence, and the effort went for naught.
When I taught media, I would always remind my students to take the time to listen for the little audio contaminants that your mind edits out of your mental soundtrack, but which will be incredibly hard to eliminate in post-production.

That summer, I spent three weeks in production along the coast of Maine. The audio was the primary issue time and again: Chainsaws, the wind blowing right through my blimp ( a cigar-shaped device for eliminating wind sounds), or a bunch of seagulls fighting in the middle of interviews.

The worst, however, was an interview shot in a tranquil book-filled room. How could that be an issue? Rooms are not silent. The silence of a place is conditional. There is this thing called room tone. It’s the background environmental sound of the room before anything else gets added. Where I was shooting the interview had a very funky room tone, probably because the books and fabrics absorbed everything but the voice. I recorded the voice on a separate microphone, and audio channel than ambient sound. Thankfully. On playback that evening, I realized that the room tone was dead. I took a recording device to an office that had a warm room tone (utterly subjective on my part) and recorded background audio that I liked and added it behind the interview. Problem solved.

The next evening I was off. After dinner, I headed out sans camera, microphone, or tripod for a quiet walk over to one of the island’s marinas. There I sat peacefully watching the tide change and sunset. Then I heard it. The barely audible sound that the clams make as they clear their siphons. More a soft spitting sound, but called along the coast the sound of clams whistling. And me with no recording device.

Succotosh

I can still see the light and fires on the water, even though I never actually saw them.


It was during the Second World War, and it was my father’s second time in the water following a torpedo attack. Just moments before the crewmen off watch were sitting down to their evening meal. The sound and force of the torpedo exploding sent everyone flying. My father had succotash all over the front of his shirt. Little things like that tend to stick with you.
In the following minutes, men attempted to rush to damage control stations and assume their parts in fighting for the ship’s life. Before most made it to their stations, the tanker was in flames, and the order was passed to abandon ship.
My father was not among the ones who made it to a lifeboat. His life now came to depend upon his abilities as a swimmer. Not having a life jacket proved to be a blessing as he swam beneath a burning oil slick; the life jacket would have been a liability. Eventually, he was picked up by other survivors in a lifeboat. But, it would be almost a week before they were rescued by a passing vessel.

The lights and fires were reflections over the harbor from the annual Fourth of July celebration in Winthrop, and I was not in a lifeboat. I shuddered at the recollection.
The memories were not mine. They were my father’s. For some reason one afternoon, he decided to tell his nine-year-old son about how to survive the sinking of a tanker. His descriptions were vivid, and I discovered that they abided with me throughout the years. That and an aversion to succotash.

Worms

Clancy was a bloodsport type of cat. If no other cat or dog were available to pick on, he’d pick on me. He eventually ran out of cats to fight because other rough cats he met would either start staying clear of him or would team up with him to go for big game; The Sawyers bulldog. I got tired of hearing the Sawyer’s complain about how my twenty-pound cat abused their ninety five pound bruiser, so I determined to distract Clancy.
Clancy’s favorite way to explore was to ride on you until you came upon something that he found interesting. Then he’d hop down to investigate. His style of mounting you was by climbing up your leg, over your back, and onto the shoulder. Ouch. But, it beat hearing the bulldog whimpering.
One day we opted for a long hike through the woods and across the island. The island not being too broad at that point, I soon came to the shore of the Sheepscot River. There in the flats, a few boats had been run onto the tidal flat. Men were busy working the mudflats with hand rakes. Surprisingly, the cat seemed curious. So, we walked onto the flats to watch. Seeing someone on the mudflats with a large cat on the shoulder was not something the diggers usually saw.
Clancy liked his instant celebrity status. He jumped down to enjoy the attention. Soon he was watching each worm disinterred from the heavy clay. His gray fur about matched the look of the marine clay on the flats. He didn’t seem to mind a bit.
Now, a word about bloodworms; they bite. They bite each other, they bite themselves, and they will bite you. Considering that I don’t recall seeing gloves on diggers, they either develop a facility for not getting bit or ignore the nips.
Clancy was soon helping with the digging, as he discovered that the worms bite he became more not less interested. “wanna piece of me, huh? Come on…” the diggers got a charge out of this cat who took his combat personally with the worms.
Digging worms starts and ends on the turning tides. As the tide recedes, you run your boat onto the flat. Buckets of bloodworms and the mud they are in are heavy. You don’t want to lug them farther than needed. Having the boat handy is a great convenience. The equipment appears rudimentary: a bucket, hip waders, and a hand rake with large flat teeth.
You are bent over at the waist the entire time you are digging and in clay, or mud for long hours watching for worms as they wriggle away from your rake. After a digger finishes an area, it looks as though a rototiller went through. It did not bother the cat. I thought I had at last found something to occupy his attention when I wasn’t working.
All of a sudden, there was a wet slap slap followed by a watery, sucking sound. The tide was coming. The cat continued until a wet splash landed within a foot of him. All of a sudden, all his attention was to his rear. For the first time, he saw waves washing towards him. It took a moment for him to process: waves, wet, water…oh shit! With a scream, he was off. Across the flats, to the dry, he ran. He leaped across the access road to the woods, into the woods and was gone. I was left to follow at a much slower pace. I found tufts of gray fur in the low bush blueberries that marked his passage. As I approached the cabin, I heard my wife screaming. He had hit the screen door running, smashed through, and in a panic jumped into her arms – with claws fully extended. Now, they were not mutual favorites. She was not thrilled with this sudden surge of “Mommy protect me!” He was not happy that she was eagerly trying to disengage him. As I entered, he seemed to realize how this looked, and he reasserted his macho self-control. He strolled by me and took a swipe.
We never went back to the flats. That ended Clancy’s explorations for a while. The dog was not pleased.

CAT

I was at my booth at a boat show in Maryland when another maritime carver came to visit. Lordan was the local “yaahd cavaah,” as we’d describe it in New England. We hit off right away, talking about the little niceties of our trade. Somewhere along the line, he asked if I would be willing to make a swap. ” I know that you teach carving, and I also do. I’ve found that if I teach the students to carve the word CAT, they get a complete guide to letter carving in one word. It has the verticals, horizontals, curves, and diagonals all in one word.” We continued talking about letter carving for a while. In the days before Robo carving stole that end of our market, we tended to do a good bit of hand-carved quarter boards, transoms, and banners. After a while, I admitted that this was going to be useful to my students, and I asked him what he wanted in exchange. ” You carve a lovely little compass rose design. I’d love to borrow it for just a few boxes for presents.” “Done.” Says I, and the deal was complete.
Over the years, I used CAT to instruct many in letter carving. By the time they master CAT, the student is ready to move along to carving a quarter board.
So, the CAT carving was supposed to be a practice piece. But I noticed more than one student carefully finishing off the CAT practice piece as a finished piece of work. At last, confirmation came in the mail of what I had suspected. There, in all its glory, was the photo of a cat happily eating dinner in front of it’s very nicely varnished and gold-leafed CAT carving.
One man’s practice piece is another’s kitty gift,

Smooth

About twenty years ago, I gifted some early works to interested friends and family. I had withdrawn them from use at the shows because my work methods had changed. They weren’t bad, I had moved on and they no longer reflected current work.

I’ve always preferred cherry for my mast hoop portraits. Cherry is durable, has beautiful grain that gives you sky and water, and lends itself well to detailed carving. A principal difference that cropped up as my methods matured was how I carved or didn’t carve water and skies on the portraits.
Early on, I attempted to carve ripple and wave patterns in the water, and similar effects in the sky. Eventually, I decided that I’d let the wood do the work, and avoid the tool marks. That I changed my techniques was a matter of personal evolution. The portraits didn’t sell any better or worse for the change, and none of my clients commented on it. But (let’s run the laugh track here), if in a century a collector of my work was to write a critical article on evolutionary trend in my style, they might wonder at the “early” versus “late” Carreras – you can groan now. It was just that I came to appreciate the smooth over the textured. For those of you who are artists and craftspeople, you can probably pinpoint similar moments when something changed for you.
I am not a super fan of Bob Dylan, but a line from one of his songs has always summed it up for me: ” He not busy being born is busy dying.” Grow, change, keep being born.

Share

Share; be generous.
It began with my mentor pointing out my stinginess. I had little money for presents, but he countered that I had my craft: “Give it away; it will come back to you.” I ignored his advice. No, it wasn’t a miserable holiday. People were generous to me. Eventually, it began to sink in that he was correct. But for years, I was not creating and had little to give. So like many of us, I bought for others.
When I re-established the business in the early ’90s, I created lists of things I needed to improve on before opening my business – right at the top was lettering.
I’ve always needed to link learning with meaningful work – so I planned projects that targeted lettering proficiency but would then become presents. The photo shows two examples. I made signs and other carved projects for a long list of nieces, nephews, sons, and daughters of friends, and of course, my kids. By Christmas, I had mastered all the serifs, ascenders, and descenders needed and made a lot of people happy. Cost? Almost nothing. I used odd cuts of wood; the only expenses had been for paint, glitter, and varnish.
My present to myself was a gift of increased skills and sharing the happiness I had created.
As I write this, I am planning some new products; the spring is always my most productive time for new things. That means it’s a product development and gift planning time. Need free product development advice; give a gift and ask: ” Terry, these boxes are something I’m developing. I’d love to get your input on them.”
Dare I say it! Do good while doing well? Try it; making someone happy is an excellent use for a craft skill.

Fast

There is only about a week between the little Dutchman’s Breeches and the Trout Lilly. Its Spring in New England and time gets compressed. One day the Maples are flowering and making me sneeze. Then the next, I see the tree is full of small leaves.

I walk around every morning. My Bloodroot blossoms are almost gone by, but my Goldenseal is beginning. New England spring is not extravagant. Miss something today, and it’ll be a year before you see it again. Don’t waste time; Spring is fast.

Peckish

During the summer, give me a lobster roll from any of the local places serving them up. There’s an incredible Haddock stew at Gilbert’s on Commercial Street in Portland. I’ve probably never met a finnan haddie I hadn’t liked, and the sweet Gulf of Maine shrimp are far better than the southern cousins. In short, despite a medically determined avoidance of bivalves, I am a big fan of coastal cuisine.

My in-laws were known for serving bland cuisine. Spicing something up meant adding salt and a small amount of pepper. I came from a home where Spanish, Hungarian and German foods were on the menu daily. Rice, a staple in my family, was a rare item in their home. When served, it was soggy and overcooked—being over-enthused once I tried to introduce them to Spanish rice only to have the entire family leave the table. I’m not that bad a cook.

 Despite blandness, Cora was a good cook. Her cod cakes, lobster stew, boiled lobster, lobster roll and chowder ranked among the best. But, there is one exception. There it is again that all-important word “but.”

The Cap’n loved nothing so much as a couple of lobsters for Sunday dinner. Tamale, rolls, salad, and choice of dressing ( thousand Islands or french). This menu was as unchangeable as the date of the fourth of July. With one exception. If the Cap’n was feeling “peckish.” If his digestion were off, he’d ask for boiled cod and potato. I guess it was comfort food from when he was a child. But even Cora and my wife had trouble smacking their lips together over boiled cod and potato. To make this, you boiled the fresh filet of cod with potatoes until it was hard to tell where the mush from the cod ended, and the overcooked potato began. The first time this was served to me, I asked what sort of seasoning was available. Leftover bacon fat from Sunday Breakfast got drizzled over the plate; if you felt it needed it. Ummm, Ummm! I salted and peppered heavily to get it down.

I learned that I could peddle my bicycle over to the Island Store with a little warning and get a good sub sandwich if I got there before eleven. Then I’d insist that I had vital work to do on Psyche – rain was coming, and I wanted to finish that varnishing. The Cap’n would never object to me working on his boat.

I miss many things about living in coastal Maine, but ( there it is again) not boiled cod and potato with bacon grease.

 Bon Apetit!

Create

We so often admire the complex and then seek out and appreciate the simple. The examples I have chosen to show are small carvings from post-war occupied Japan. Both feature a popular theme in Japanese art; Mount Fuji.
The simplicity of the creative technique is central here. The entire subject gets rendered with no more than the bare required cuts, and for that matter, the bare number of tools. Although the artist makes multiple cuts, the amount is minimal. We can also see this at work in brush calligraphy techniques where the subject is composed and executed in one continuous stroke.


To be effective in this requires two things: a thorough knowledge of the capabilities of your tools; and mastery of your tools. As one of my senseis says, “and that’s all there is to it.”
One mentor of mine once knocked out about a foot and a half of fancy molding out of what was scrap wood. He cut all the cuts needed from one tool, moved on to the next, and so on in succession—the complexity of the finished piece derived from the repetitive simple cuts he made in the correct sequence.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I can tell you that I am still working on this, and probably will be until it’s time to put away my tools. Like so many creative endeavors mastering the complex depends on learning the very basic.

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