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Exclusive Excerpt from Three Bird Carving Projects

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Excerpt from Three Bird Carving Projects

Introduction by Tom Baldwin

While writing this book, I couldn't help thinking about my first experience with bird carving. During a visit to Chincoteague, Virginia, a carver gave me a block of basswood as an encouragement to carve something. This was in 1987, and there was no Internet. I didn't even have a carving club nearby to give me pointers. There were some books available, mostly about decoys, but essentially, I was on my own. I took my block of basswood and decided to carve a kingfisher in the decorative style. I had some cheap chisels from a local craft store, a #110 X-Acto knife, a loud and clunky Dremel, and a wood burner I used mainly to solder electrical wiring. It took me about nine months to complete my kingfisher. I got stuck many times and put the carving aside, but after a few weeks I would resume my battle with the piece of basswood.

After I painted the kingfisher and put it on its branch mount, I paused and made the first really thoughtful review of my creation. I won't say it was a religious experience, but it was an artistic epiphany. Like a scene from an epic Cecil B. DeMille film, the sky parted, sunbeams warmed the carving as Elmer Bernstein's music swelled...

Well, it really wasn't quite that dramatic, but that was the moment that I realized that carving birds was the one thing I wanted to do with my life.

There is nothing better in life than realizing your real purpose. Discovering bird carving has been simply the most influential and defining moment of my creative life.

After the kingfisher, I carved decorative ducks but started to lose interest in them after I made a few. Real ducks are very beautiful, so that was not the problem. I missed the narrative part of the carving and found that I preferred carvings with some habitat that gave me the opportunity to tell stories. I also found that I really enjoyed the engineering challenges of putting a carving and habitat together. For me, mixing art, ornithology, engineering, research, and botany to create the "mini narrative" of a carving is a perfect artistic experience.

Once in a while I do stray from the confines of decorative carving to do interpretive pieces. I never do much planning for these. After a couple of sketches, I grab some wood and carve away. This is enjoyable in a very free-flowing way, and I have been surprisingly successful with it. I say surprising because I have always been a detailed drawer and painter and never really understood abstract art. Nonetheless, detailed or decorative carving is still my favorite style. When I look at my kingfisher today, I recall the excitement I felt when I made it. I also recall the millions of questions I had during its creation, and how much effort it took to answer those questions back then.

Things are very different today. Carvers have lots of books, videos, magazines, and websites for information. Unfortunately, most of the available material is designed for experienced carvers. When I do demonstrations, the most common question I get (besides "How long did that take?") is "Where can I learn about this?" The frequency of that question prompted me to start a beginner's decorative bird carving class at a local non-profit art center. Now when people ask me that question, I just tell them to sign up for one of my classes.

I really enjoy seeing hte joy and astonishment my students feel when they create their first carving. One student told me, "My kids are never going to believe I did this." For many of them, bird carving becomes an exciting new chapter in their lives and they readily sign up for my next class to start a new project. I hope that those of you who can't take my classes will use this book to get started in bird carving. As an artist for most of my life, I have always wanted to share whatever I know about my art with whomever wants to know about it. I am delighted that the carving community has the very same ethic.

Not too long ago, a customer came into my downtown studio and remarked that it must take a great deal of patience to go through thte many steps of creating a carving. I told them that I always considered "patience" as something you need to do things that aren't fun. When I carve, I don't notice the time passing. I am having the time of my life. I really love what I do and I want to share that joy with anyone who would like to try it. It is my sincere hope that this book will help people avoid the tug-of-war experience I had with my first carving. I designed this book with the beginner in mind and used many observations from my beginner carving classes to guide me. My goal is to guide you through a joyful and successful bird carving experience.

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