bird sculpture

White Raven Sculpture In Progress

The White Raven was not the intended title of this post but as an avid viewer of Game of Thrones my ears pricked up when replaying part of season 6 and hearing Sansa tell  Jon that a white raven had arrived from the Citadel. In the fictional world of the Citadel, white ravens are purported to be a different more intelligent  species to their black corvid cousins hence their fictional black eyes. In reality as author Carrie D. Miller explains, white ravens have leucism which is a condition that reduces the pigment in their eyes and feathers  resulting in  cream colored rather than  white feathers and  and  blue rather than black eyes. 

When looking for details about white ravens I came across some wonderful photographs taken by Mike Yip and posted on Carrie D. Millers site. You can see more beautiful photographs of ravens and other bird species on the site administered by Mike Yip

Photograph Courtesy of Mike Yip

Photograph Courtesy of Mike Yip

 Living in the hills of Hollywood we have the good fortune to see families of ravens on an almost daily basis but only once have we seen a white raven. I can attest that he/she looked perfectly healthy and happy in the presence of his/her darker siblings. The white raven, was as Ms. Miller correctly states more cream and beige in color than white.

 The sculpture was finished at the same time we saw the rerun of this series and so we decided to make a small video showing the piece in white basswood. To preserve the wood as well create a surface that will release more easily from the  rubber mold we have now finished the Raven with a water based varnish. Martin will next  begin making molds so that we can get one step closer to creating this piece in  bronze.

Carving made easy - Raven sculpture video

The title of this post is very much tongue in cheek as this observer and videographer can attest. I have in recent years carved the occasional textural detail on furniture pieces that our company makes but confess that these were mere chips of wood removed with minimal precision to create an interesting tactile surface and not an example of fine wood carving.

For the carvers who may be reading this the major shaping and removal of large areas of wood was done with either a large flat gouge or a flat pairing chisel. The large feathers were carved with a “V” tool and pairing chisel. The small feathers were created with various different shaped gouges which were pushed down into the wood and around the edge of the feather to create a vertical wall and small pairing chisels were then used to remove the tops of the abutting feather to create a step. Describing Martin’s carving was far more difficult and far less informative than making and viewing this video.

Traditional artistic methods and 3D printing

One of the advantages to old school artistic methods is that they allow the artist to make more immediate design corrections. While CAD does allow the artist to see his virtual sculpture from a 3D vantage, the same holds true for perspective drawings done free hand with pencil and vellum. No doubt the ease and speed of both methods owes a lot to the different ways our brains are wired and to the different way we learn our artistic skills. While Martin Pierce does use a Wacom tablet with built in mouse, for his initial development drawings he finds he can achieve a faster result by adding and erasing pencil lines.

Plan View of Raven Design

Plan View of Raven Design

This is the same approach he uses when creating custom door handles and as with sculpture, the grid drawings can be placed on solid wood so that the shape can be traced onto the wood’s surface and then cut out with a band saw. While we could use 3D printing to create the pattern, the speed of printing a quick cast SLA model and the cost makes this approach less attractive. By comparison, once a pattern has been sculpted and the artistic and practical bugs sorted out then 3D printing comes into its own if one wants for example to create a left or right version of a piece. We have occasionally used 3D scanning to scan a pattern and then have created a print file that is a mirror image thus allowing a 3D print to be made. The only drawback to doing this is that you end up with a clone of the original and Martin tends to have a preference for asymmetric designs.

Profile of Raven design

Profile of Raven design


New Raven Sculpture Takes Shape

Following on in the quest for a perfect raven sculpture Martin has drawn his intended subject side on and full scale at 22” from tip of tail to tip of beak.  Using old school techniques to maintain the bird’s proportions he drew the raven on a 1” size grid and then increased the grid to 2” to achieve the correct size. While this could have been done in photo-shop with a grid tool, the size of the piece would have made it cumbersome.

He will now need to draw the front elevation, plan and top view so that he can correctly show the leg stance and wing position and capture the birds pre-flight position with the wings slightly apart.

Finding a captive raven to study for the other elevations has not been easy but we have found 4 ravens who are residents at the Big Bear zoo so will be travelling there soon to get some footage for the next stage.

Martin will be carving the raven in basswood which is a tight grain but relatively soft easy to carve hard wood. At this point he plans to carve the bird as whole sculpture to ensure its correctness from all elevations. Once it looks correct and mindful of the cost of and weight of bronze he will then cut the sculpture down the middle so that he can carve out the center and thus make the sculpture hollow.

raven drawing 3.jpg