There are over 70 species of boxwood around the world, but only two have chiefly been used for the creation of small tools and art objects throughout history. Buxus sempervirens- the common or European box and Buxus microphylla- the little leaf box. Sempervirens naturally enough means evergreen which may give you a clue to this bush's tenacity. It grows in hot, dry climates of western and southern Europe, over to pick up a small bit of land in England, then down to Morocco and westward through the Mideterranean to finish the circle in Turkey. Microphylla grows in Asia, with varieties native to parts of China, Japan, and Korea. In these climates, the box grows slowly; barely gaining an inch in diameter over 40 or 50 years. It is this density that allows box to be durable and take on detail and high polish.
To name a few of its uses in the West, I can think of slide rules, recorders, carpenter's planes, chess pieces, tuning pegs on stringed instruments and bobbins for lacemaking. Mallets and beaters for lead working and rulers for measuring. The Eastern box has been used for hanko, shogi pieces, abacus beads, and combs...
...and of course figural carvings along the lines of netsuke!
As my skills develop and I'm demanding better material to work with, I've become choosier about the boxwood I use. Most box on the market now, to my knowledge, comes from England, the Pyrenees, Turkey and East Asia. Each has its own characteristics of color, density, oilyness, dryness and ability to take a polish. It's not the cheapest wood out there, but it certainly is one of the best.
Something to keep in mind the next time you glance at that neglected box hedge in the corner of a suburban yard.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Carved from a deer antler rosette (the basal portion of the antler connecting it to the skull) with horn eyes, it measures about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. There's something about using antler that, for me, seems ideal for winter subjects. The opaqueness and subtle gray streaking, coolness to the touch, and high polish evoke cold weather and barrenness. This piece was interesting to carve from a material perspective; the top portion is antler while the bottom, beneath the irregular edge, is more bone-like. Each reacted differently during carving and polishing. I'm really fond of this piece- it has a quietness about it that people seem to pick up on, but is impossible to convey in photographs.
I finished this one early last year. He's carved from boxwood, stained to a rich golden color using an acid technique. Details are in pearl shell. In designing this one I spent some time thinking about how to create a vertical composition given the bird's long tail feathers typically dragging on the ground. Contorting the form upward and perching him on a log seemed to be the solution. The grasses give a hint of emerging from undergrowth, while still keeping the piece structurally strong.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Before I get in to some photos of my latest carvings, I thought some background might be in order. I was graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in the early nineties after studying printmaking and drawing. I don't have much left from that time of decent quality, so I thought I'd share a scan of this miniature I did a few years afterwards. I've always done small scale work- partly out of economic and spatial necessity, but also because I think it's within my temperament. Never was comfortable with six foot canvases and sweeping statements. There was a period when I did quite a few of these miniature gouaches which gradually evolved into contemporary themes, mixed with older Persian and Mughal styles. Some abstractions. This one's still up for grabs.
I hardly do any painting these days...should get back to it.