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The Rust of the Story

How to oxidize your carving with texture and paint

By: Text and photography by Tom Baldwin
Updated September 26, 2019

Texture is one of my favorite playgrounds with three-dimensional wood sculpture. The many textures of bird carving are fun to manipulate. Habitat provides the artist with great opportunities for even more textures. One of my favorites is rust. One year I received a critique on a sculpture I had done of a red-shouldered hawk on an old field mower rake, and the judge told me, “If this was all about rust, you would win hands down.”

In an earlier article (“Altered Landscapes,” Summer 2018) I mentioned how birds make functional use out of manmade, rusty junk for their daily activities. I enjoy the dynamic between the soft organized structure of the birds’ feathers and the rough and unpredictable surface that rust presents. An additional attraction is that the colors in rust can complement just about anything.

I kept this in mind when composing The Grief of Gaia, the carving I did for the 2017 Ward World Wildfowl Championship. This interpretive piece was literally all about rust and it won a second best in world award. Although I use rusty implements in my decorative sculptures fairly often, I decided to focus on this piece for the article because it provides a full smorgasbord of rust types. It has pitted rust, decaying rust, surface rust, and welder’s rust. You can use any of these rust types on other habitat subjects, such as old tools and metal posts. As an artist born and raised in central Ohio in the heart of the Rust Belt, one thing I know about is rust!

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. To make holes in the hawk, I had to cut the carving in half so I could hollow it. It’s not at all different from eating a cantaloupe. With my half pieces carved out, I can now begin texturing the wood surface and deciding where to place the holes of rust decay.

  2. I will use these three tips in my micro-motor. They have 3⁄32" shafts and are readily available. From left to right, they are a 3.5 mm medium head diamond ball, a Saburrtooth with a “safe” or smooth end, and a knife-edge diamond tip.

  3. Insert the “safe end” Saburrtooth tip in your micro-motor and position the flat end on the wood’s surface. The flat end allows the tool to skip around the surface and only the very edge of the tool cuts. With the tip skipping around, you will need to control the movement by forcing a scribble-type pattern as you work.

  4. As you scribble over the surface, be aware of how deeply you carve and where you want to carve eventual rust holes. This picture shows the finished rough surface and rust hole locations. With the inside of the carving textured, I glue the pieces together.

  5. I wanted to make the hawk appear like it was made of steel cut plates. With the knife edge diamond tip, I can undercut the bottom edge of the upper layer of plating. Putting the tool on its side, I can give the carved illusion of steel that has been plasma cut.

  6. Once the plasma-cut edging is completed, you can take the knife-edge diamond and use the top of the tool in the same way you used the Saburrtooth tip earlier. With the top of the knife edge, gently squiggle the surface where needed. This is a fine- tuning of the carved rust surface, so don’t overdo it.

  7. Using a very light touch in a scribble-like direction, apply the 3.5 mm diamond ball over the entire surface that you etched previously with the Saburrtooth tip.

  8. This photo shows a good deal of the hawk area that I’ve textured with the Saburrtooth tip. You can also see the plating and plasma-like texture. With the 3.5 mm diamond ball, I will very lightly texture the entire carving in a scribble motion.

  9. When designing rust holes, take a pencil and outline the area for the hole. Using the Saburrtooth tip at an angle, cut out the basic size of the rust hole.

  10. Since the Saburrtooth tip has a smooth top, only the top edge of the tip will carve. Working in layers, start at the bottom and cut layers inside the hole opening as shown here.

  11. Use the knife-edge diamond to undercut the layers and the flat top of the diamond to edit the surface and detail the rust hole.

  12. This photo shows the finished detail of the rust hole.

  13. This photo shows the other side of the hawk, which has a great deal more decay than just a few holes. You can see the detail that creates the illusion of pitted rust on the edges of the openings.

  14. The base for the hawk is made of separate pieces that I textured individually and glued together. I wanted to create the effect of a welding bead holding the pieces together. I used a product normally used for creating fake leaded glass designs. This material is acrylic-based and dries in a few hours. Cut the tip of the bottle at an angle, squeeze the bottle, and pull and stop; squeeze and pull and stop, and continue.

  15. Using the technique described, you will end up with what looks like a welder’s bead.

  16. This photo shows the welding bead on other parts of the hawk carving. Let everything dry completely before attempting to paint.

  17. One nice thing about creating rust texture is you don’t need top-quality brushes. Here is the lineup of my usual suspects: A 3⁄4" shader brush with a frayed end, a very worn out #8 round, a used toothbrush, and a mildly used #12 shader brush. The paints I use are DecoArt Traditions acrylics. The colors are raw sienna, burnt sienna, carbon black, raw umber, quinacridone gold, and opaque white.

  18. Instead of using white to seal the wood, I use burnt sienna mixed with water to a 50/50 ratio. Cover or prime the entire surface and let dry.

  19. Make a mix of 95% raw umber and 5% black and add to water to a ratio of 80% water and 20% paint. Use the 3⁄4" shader and brush a wash over the whole carving (or just a rusty area) and let dry.

  20. Tint the surface where needed with quinacridone gold. You will not need water to thin this as this color is very transparent.

  21. With the ¾” frayed-end shader, stipple accents of burnt sienna for effect. Thin this color slightly with water.

  22. Mix raw sienna with 95% water and brush this wash color over entire area. Let it dry.

  23. This is a judgement step. Where needed, brush on a raw umber wash (95% water) and let it dry.

  24. Stipple quinacridone gold for accents where needed. You may also want the worn out #8 round brush for smaller areas.

  25. Using a 50/50 mix of water and raw sienna and a pinch of white (hardly any), use the ¾" brush with its frayed end and stipple for visual effect where needed.

  26. Mix 90% raw umber and 10% black with 90% water and use the toothbrush to thumb flick spots of this color over the whole carving. This is an accent procedure so do not overdo. Use a “less is more” approach to the application of this final step.

    Now you know the rust of the story.

Additional Images:

  1. Finished hawk

  2. Kestral

About the Author:

  1. Tom Baldwin is an internationally award-winning wildfowl carving artist. He recently was awarded second best in world interpretive at the 2017 Ward World Championship. Tom also teaches a beginners' bird carving class at the Cuyahoga Valley Art Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. He also finished a workbench book for Wildfowl Carving Magazine titled Three Bird Carving Projects: Power Carving Instruction for the Beginner. Tom lives in Akron with his wife, Barbara, and their two dogs. You can see more of Tom's work on his website: songofwood.com.

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