Tuesday, 28 July 2009


This post is about extreme green woodwork. The wood was cut 3 weeks ago and came from the same log as the totem pole sculptures in the previous post. This green oak plank has been sitting outside in full sun and rain since then. The hole in the middle is a dead knot hole that has been rotting out in the tree. This is not the way to treat wood and it had hundreds of splits in it.

I have done a lot of sculptures similar to this, using the same technique, but always out of first grade well seasoned wood. I am cautious by nature and usually over engineer everything I make. Wood, being a natural material, is difficult to use, it splits, warps, rots, and behaves in all sorts of ways that can make life difficult for the craftsman or end user.

This technique uses an Arbotech which is a wood cutting disc that fits onto an angle grinder, it can cut a groove about 20mm deep by 8mm wide in one pass. It is an excellent tool for carving, but noisy, dusty and potentially very dangerous.

These sculptures have about half their original weight and mass of wood removed. Everything I do to the wood feels technically wrong, I am making the wood weaker, I am burning it with a propane roofers torch, and then some of them spend the rest of their lives in the garden.

The sculptures so far have been made from 40mm thick wood, this is because the depth of cut with the Arbotech is limited to about 15 -20mm. The tools also limit the type of line I can cut, tight circles are out. I often draw a few key shapes and lines on the wood, but the Arbotech is usually used freehand. It is easy to go off line, and cut wood that should be left, the tool throws up a lot of waste shavings so it can be difficult to see where I am cutting. The tool cuts very fast even at full cutting depth.
I like the quality of line and form that comes from working this way, there is a beauty that comes from repetitive work done fast and well, even if it is not perfect

The form and shape is not perfect, it wiggles about, it is organic and natural, if these where made perfect in every respect, for example cut with a CNC router they would have a very different feel. They would lose the energy and life they have when each one is hand crafted. I often repeat designs, but each one is very much an unique work, because I carve freehand.

I usually treat the sculpture with a preservative or finish of some kind, this is because I am attached to the need to sell work that lasts, to finish and make presentable.

I have always been fascinated with time and decay, often keeping flowers in a vase until all water has evaporated and the dead flowers dried out. Why can we only appreciate fresh flowers and why is decay always discarded? I have often found beauty in unusual places and things.
I have a wing sculpture which is a cock-up, and a tall thin monolith which I have not treated or even finished to my usual standard. These are in pride and place in our garden. The monolith is a perching place for anyone of the hooded crows that raid the bird table.
The sculptures are changing slowly over the years and will one day decay and fall to the ground. I like this process: art that returns to the ground, transient, and not possible to hoard as an investment. Art for the now.

I am presently looking for a gallery to represent me and these sculptures. I am also looking to make far larger work which I can only do to commission.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Wood Sculptor: hand carved

Over the next couple of months I will be posting work that Lucy and I made a couple of years ago. These poems with photographs have only seen the light of day at The High Moorland Visitor Centre in Princetown, Dartmoor, at an exhibition of my woodwork and photography and Lucy`s poems.

To see a large version, just click on the image

Image and words copyright Sean Hellman and Lucy Lepchani

Just off to WOMUD, opps, sorry that should be WOMAD, lets hope they do not have to tow us onto the site again.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Climbing sculptures for Holberton play area

Just over a month ago I had a phone call from Caroline at Eden Design wanting someone to make 4 totem poles for a play area. The time scale was tight, as 5 weeks is not really long to organise, carve and deliver everything. She had been let down by the person who was originally commissioned to make them. Two weeks later I had managed to get Anton to saw up a very large, short green oak stick into 3 very big beams and I also bought a stick that had been cut in half length wise. It took 2 journeys to get them back to the workshop. Lifting the ends of the beams onto 1 inch dowel, I managed to pull them out of the van with one end onto the ground. To get them fully out I had to drive the van off, letting each one fall out with a hefty thud.

I could only just turn them over on my own, and carving was a slow process because I do not yet have professional chainsaws. I lost a week and a half due to a bad back, so these were eventually made the week before delivery during the heat wave. I can tell you - wearing kevlar chainsaw trousers, helmets and other protective gear in the summer is no fun at all. It was so hot that I had to take lots of breaks which slowed progress down a bit.

Today, Monday I delivered them. Luckily, the landscape contractors picked 2 of the sculptures up at my workshop in their van, so only one delivery journey was made by me. We spent the morning shifting the sculptures up a steep path and into place. I had left the part of the post at the bottom that slips into the metal sleeve, a couple of centimetres oversize. We spent the rest of the morning planning and sawing them down to size.

Using a hoist they were fitted into the sleeves, which were all slightly different sizes

Here is Caroline being 6 again, and playing on the sculpture. Personally I think adults do not play and be silly often enough.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Nature kidz workshop

I was booked by Michelle Lane from Naturekidz to run a green-wood workshop for half a day on Friday. The workshop was for adults only and Michelle had organised superb crèche facilitates for all the children of my students.
Given the limited time, and the unknown abilities of my students I decided to blank out 14 spatulas/pot scrapers out of green aspen. I split the wood from the log and axed each small plank to make them equal thickness. Drawing the shape of the spatula on them using a hardboard template, I then cut them out on a small bandsaw. All the blanks were put in a bath of water, to keep them green. It's been so hot recently, it does not take long for small bits of wood to dry out.

After all the normal Health and Safety stuff, etc , I talked everyone through the safe use of knives, explaining and demonstrating the basic knife holds and cuts. The students then practised on scrap pieces of wood, with me going around correcting techniques if necessary. On these short workshops I do not teach any techniques that cut towards the body, apart from hook knife use.

After a short demonstration on the safe use of axe and draw-knife, everyone got down to business. Running a workshop is like painting the Forth Bridge, as once you have finished individually seeing how everyone is getting on, correcting techniques and answering questions, its time to go around the group again.

A good light lunch was provided, and back to work afterwards, with everyone having a go with the hook knives. I guessed correctly that it would be my Dell Stubbs open sweep hook that would be the one to draw blood, only a minor cut thankfully.
I must say this group was a delight to work with and everyone produced very presentable pot scrapers. As people finished they started playing on the pole lathes and making gypsy flowers. The day drew to a finish far to soon.

Above, almost all the students, and below some of the pot scrapers that where made on the day

I had a great time and Michelle seemed to be absolutely delighted with the workshop, talking about an ongoing course next year, if she can get funding.
Every time I run a workshop I learn something new, this time it became apparent that I should draw up a handout on grain direction in wood, and which way wood needs to be cut.