Robert Cox ARBSA developed a life long interest in wood sculpture after 40 years as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator. Embracing the study of form inspired by nature, Robert calls on his design skills and a lifetime of experience using traditional carving tools. Nature has bestowed on us a never-ending treasure chest of patterns and form. It is this form that he draws upon for inspiration, through the beauty of wood and the material’s complimentary surface pattern. Most materials are obtained locally from the Staffordshire countryside.
Cherry wood is wonderful for carving, having close grain, good figure and not too hard.
An opportunity presented itself when the house next door to ours (Findhorn) had a large cherry tree in danger of pushing the adjacent properties fence down. A decision was made to fell the tree so I quickly marked out the area of trunk that would be suitable to produce a sizeable sculpture.
In due course, the tree was felled and the marked out section of trunk was delivered down the drive, in fact rolled down, and was probably the best way to handle ½ meter by 30cm, weighing well over 100cwk fully loaded with sap water and very green.
To enable success with green wood, one common problem is hesitation. You can’t wait! If you do, cracks (checks) will radiate out from the pith and be with you for the whole carving duration.
Now presented with the basic log and the fact that the tree was in the prime of its life, felled in April, and denied it’s natural cycle to produce leaves, blossom and fruit, I felt I had a duty to honour this tree! This was the birth of an idea behind the sculpture that would follow.
My main thoughts centred around the bud form, the very beginning of seasonal life and an obvious progression to blossom and fruit. A focal point within the bud form would represent the stamen, creation from within, and the ability to promote the trees function of carbon capture.
Presented with the material, the next stage was to refer to my drawn-out design and transfer the basic form to the log, using a chain saw to remove large quantities of surplus wood. The surplus wood was placed on our log rockery for the encouragement of insect life.
Having completed the chain saw work, I had reduced the volumes and weight to enable transport to the carving shed.
Work started by carving the reverse of the sculpture and then after completion of the basic shape, a bin liner was placed over the wood after each work session. This enabled moisture to be retained without evaporation and shrinkage, i.e. checks and star shakes. To delay removing the plastic bag for more than 7 days can result in fungal attack, so timing was critical.
The reverse of the sculpture was now complete, so I moved on to the front of the piece. A vast amount of material was to be removed, but the first consideration was back to basics- checking for cracks radiating from the pith.
The pith needed to be removed first to reduce stress from within the material.
This photo illustrates the careful drilling to enable quick removal of waste wood, so the hollowing out of the piece could begin in earnest.
My aim was to produce the thinnest shell form that was practical. This was very time consuming, but as the operation proceeded, the stress in the material was gradually reduced and as the wet wood was removed, the weight vastly reduced.
As the work proceeded, I was able to introduce a safety expansion/ contraction zone as the material continued to dry out. You will see this area cuts right through the last remaining pith area, the very centre of the base of the sculpture.
The sculpture was now well on the way to completion, but I still had moisture and the risk of checking cracks within. At this point the sculpture was removed from the carving shed into a fairly cool studio at about 15°C and placed on the weighing scales. I could see the weight going down over the next 7 to 8 days. When the weight had ceased dropping, the sculpture had reached equilibrium with the studio humidity. I could now coat the piece with varnish or penetrating oil and then take the sculpture into the centrally heated house, but well away from any radiators.
The final part was now to carve the stamen using kiln dried lime wood. Life became a lot easier carving a stable well-seasoned wood!
I used lime wood for the central part of the sculpture to produce a striking contrast next to the darker cherry wood. The stamen complete was then fixed to the centre of the piece with epoxy resin and then sealed with 3 coats of acrylic matte varnish, 1st coat water thinned, 2nd and 3rd coat neat.
All that remained was a suitable base, so I created an 8x23cm block and painted it matte black. This gave a great contrast with the natural wood textures and colour.
Findhorn Spring has been created as a result of a lifetime’s interest in nature, sculpture design and professional carving. My work has taken me on an evolving journey, taking in beautifully carved wood sculpture, large public works, and traditionally carved signage.
This experience has been a great pleasure and has given me a real focus during lockdown and shielding!
Findhorn Spring will be exhibited as part of the RBSA Anniversary Exhibition from 28 July to 5 September 2020.
Robert Cox NDD RBSA
The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) is an artist-led charity which supports artists and promotes engagement with the visual arts through a range of exhibitions, events and workshops.
The RBSA runs an exhibition venue – the RBSA Gallery – in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter, a short walk from the city centre.
The gallery is currently closed due to Covid-19.
We will reopen on 28 July with new opening hours from Tuesday – Saturday 10.30am – 5pm.
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