New silver finn ring available on Etsy

crafts

Follow this link to my etsy shop for details or contact me via my ‘for sale’ page for enquiries on custom sizes. 
I’m currently working on making my wedding ring which has given me the opportunity to buy some small scale metal casting equipment.   Casting is not something I have ever tried before so lots of practice is required to get it right. To practice I made a ring for Valentine’s day to give to my fiancé.  I already sell plastic Adventure time rings I make using laser cutting but have always wanted to make one from silver. 

It took quite a few attemps to get my first successful casting but once I manage it is was able to replicate the success more consistently with each attempt.  After I had produced a few rings I decided to list them for sale.  I have been asked a few times in the past about making metal rings as wedding or anniversary bands and I am happy that I am now able to offer some for sale. Follow this link to my etsy shop for details or contact me via my ‘for sale’ page for enquiries on custom sizes.  

Snail on chestnut, Work in progress

netsuke

I have been working on a netsuke in boxwood of a snail on a chestnut which started out promisingly.  This was inspired by the many antique chestnut netsuke with a dark rich stain and patina which i wanted to replicate.

 

Carving a chestnut is deceptively difficult.  One has an assumption that such an item would be easy to reproduce but once you start examining a chestnut, their undulating form, striation, asymmetry and satin gloss finish it quickly becomes a complex task.  The second challenge is to replicate the above with exactly reproducing every impression and contour like for like.  I wanted it to appear realistic whilst each cut would give an impression of the form, deceiving the eye to make it appear real. The third challenge is replicating the patina and stain of the beautiful antiques I have seen whilst also mimicking the colour and polish of a real chestnut.

Not one stage has gone exactly as I would have liked it.

The shape I achieved I am happy with but it not exactly as I set out to make.  The detail is adequate but is not as impressionistic as i would like.  I have a habit of trying to carve every detail rather than giving an impression of detail and I need further work to find a method of achieving this which suits me.

The staining has almost undone the whole project.  The boxwood i used appears to be very unstable.  After a warm bath in yashadama a number of hairline splits appeared and then closed again.  I then tried a cold stain and the same happened to a greater degree and the splits did not close as well.  After this I tried filling them but then had to find a way of covering them so used urushi to achieve a finish.  The humidity in the curing process for urushi caused further splits to appear.  I have not yet finished allying the urushi but these pictures show my progress to date.  after the urushi is finished I need to to the gloss of the finish and polisg the rest of the piece.  I am unsure if this will work and if anything this has been an exhausting learning exercise.

Chidori Netsuke

netsuke

SONY DSCEarlier this year I started a small netsuke based on the traditional Japanese Chidori motif.  Chidori are a small plover bird and simple designs of them can be seen on modern and antique Japanese goods.  I had a small piece of baltic amber I wanted to use for a bird related design and decided to make a chidori as a short project.  It was also an excuse to have a play and combine different materials I have collected.

The main body is sculpted from baltic amber, the beak and feet are made from red coral, the aye is made from mother of pearl and Whitby jet, and the himotoshi collar is made from red dear antler. The detail on the tail was completed using Japanese urushi.

This netsuke is the smallest i have made to date and only measures 25mm nose to tail and is around 8mm thick.  I signed it discreetly on the back as it is too small to take a bold signature.

 

Reishi netsuke.  

netsuke

Since returning from my travels in Japan in October 2015 my work on netsuke has not been as prolific I would would haveliked. I have yet to produce a new fox priest after the last one escaped and only now do I feel like I am starting to get back into carving after that setback.

This is one of the netsuke which I have made to keep myself busy since last year.

It id a group of reishi fungi depicted in mountain mahogany which was inspired by the many different fungi and I saw in Japan last autumn (there are pictures of them on my instagram).  This has a light staining to finish using yashadama.  Spurs on the underside of the fungi heads have been depicted using ukibori technique.

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Let me tell you about my new boat…

model making
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The Belafonte from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

So.  I have been promising a new Belafonte model for some time now since my first attempt 4 or 5 years ago.  My love of the movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou has not abated during this time and I had always planned on making another Belafonte.  I had always thought I would make a bigger model but the opportunity arrived as a commission for a small (very small) 1:220 waterline model.

At this scale the whole model is around 22cm long (just over 10 inch) so doing any fine detail is a challenge but i was excited to give it a go.  I made the base and blocks for the upper deck from solid boxwood.  The detailed decking and windows ect. were laser cut from 0.4mm plywood.  The rails are all brass etchings and I used brass rod for the cranes, flag poles and antennae array.  I used plasic rod for various other bits-and-bobs.

The water slide decals were expertly and professionally made by Robert at Wessex Transfers in Australia.  They were made quickly and very reasonably priced and arrived from half way around the world in a very short time.  I really can’t recommend him enough, they were done to my exact specifications.

Painting was a nightmare and isn’t my strong point but it came out looking pretty good.

Anyway enjoy some progress photos and then finished photos.  There are more on my instagram.

And finished shots….

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The Belafonte from above

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The Belafonte, The Bridge

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Deep Search and the Chopper. Tiny decal on Deep Search just visable

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The Belafonte the rear, and another tiny Decal

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The  Belafonte. Professional decals really make a difference

Last of all I happy to announce I am making a second 1:220 scale model Belafonte which will have a full Hull.  I will be advertising it for sale on this blog when finished.  Keep an eye out for it.

Fox priest pilgrimage

netsuke

 

In September of 2015 myself and my fiance visited Japan and traveled to several different locations including Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Takayama, and Kanazawa.  My most recent netsuke carving at the time accompanied us on our travels.  This was a carving of a fox disguised as a priest which gave me great pleasure to make.  I was also very pleased with the results and had taken it with me to show anyone who may be interested as I made my way round visiting netsuke collectors and dealers.

Unfortunately the fox priest had better ideas and finally gave me the slip in Kanazawa.  I can only imagine now he is completing some pilgrimage or has taken up residence with a kindly Japanese family.  Either way I wish him the best.

Here are the only recorded pictures of him, before completion and enjoying the view from the Park Hyatt Tokyo

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Antique Shopping in Japan. A brief guide

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I recently returned (reluctantly) from an 18 day holiday to Japan.  This comprised of a 4 day stay in Tokyo, 2 nights in Takayama, 2 in Kanazawa, 3 in Nara and 4 in Kyoto (plus one in the airport hotel at Osaka which isn’t worth discussing further).  The purpose of this trip was primarily a holiday planned around interesting sights and michelin star restaurants.  High on my personal agenda throughout the holiday was antique shopping and museum visits to hunt for netsuke and urushi work though almost anything old and well made will grab my attention.  Before going on my trip I couldn’t find any short guides to buying antiques in japan so here are some of my essential tips.

Antique shopping in Japan

First off I will give a bit of a general overview of my experience when antique shopping in Japan which was mainly positive.  My experience ranged from vintage open air markets, little junk shops and more professional dealers.  Almost everybody I spoke to was willing to entertain the idea of me buying something (I think one or two stores in Kyoto were not but I can’t be sure of this, I was just politely but firmly ushered out) and everyone I spoke to was willing to negotiate on prices.  The strength of the exchange rate at the time of my visit probably helped with this but having a few key phrases really helped too.  A few cheap phone apps can help with this. there are many on the market which provide key phrases.  It really took people by surprise being able to ask a few things in Japanese when browsing and negotiating.  Key phrases I would learn are:

    • Hello, good morning, afternoon, or evening (the right greeting at the right time of day goes a long way)
    • Excuse me (when wanting to ask for assistance or wanting to say sorry for saying or doing something wrong or stupid)
    •  How much is it? (absolutely crucial)
    • Can you give discount? (don’t be frightened to ask as I can’t remember one person who said no)
    • I’ll have to think about it.  (this phase is an absolute as you always need a get out clause when negotiating and this will give you time to think)
    • Thank you, thank you very much (or any other variation of this, be as polite as possible when buying or browsing.  Not only should people do this just because it’s nice to be nice, but people are more likely to give you discount if you are not rude to them)

In addition to the phases above know the name of what you are looking for and how to pronounce it such as netsuke is not pronounced net-suck-ay, but is pronounce net-ski or net-ske.  A lot of time was saved by walking into shops and saying, Hello.  Excuse me, netsuke? inro? to which most responded ‘no’ and then I could say thanks, goodbye.  I also had a list of word relevant to the item I was looking for such as material names for netsuke.

I watched an american man barge into a small store and basically shout net-suck-ay! at a very confused old lady who spoke basically no english.  Not only did I feel sorry for her but I felt embarrassed for him as this lady had some of the nicest netsuke I handled during the trip and if he had only taken the time he could have found that out without all the shouting.

Another must have item was a notebook and pen.  This is the easiest way of asking how much something is and then negotiating on prices and all each person has to do is write down numbers.  Many shopkeepers will have a calculator to do this but pen and paper are a good backup.

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Prices

The main items I searched for were netsuke and inro whilst on holiday.  Prices for these items can vary massively from one to another but there were price differences from one city to another.  Kyoto was by far the most expensive but it also had the most antique stores and the area I shopped in is well known for its antique stores so there was probably a higher premium.  It also had the better quality of netsuke and inro that I encountered.  The open air market in Tokyo had a huge range of prices.  I made the mistake here of buying something I had not set out to buy, a tsuba and fuchi.  I realize now I probably over paid for them both as I had done no previous research on these item types.  If you are looking for certain things then stick to what you know or you’ll get stung.  Nara and Takayama had a good range of shops and prices were overall reasonable but be careful of overpaying for low quality goods in inexperienced antique stores.  I didn’t find many antique shops in kanazawa but was there during a public holiday.  I think most bargains to be had were in Tokyo and Takayama.

 

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Item Quality

Buying anything an a whim can be a poor idea but in antique shopping it’s a terrible idea.  If you are looking for netsuke or related items do not presume that just because you are in Japan all the netsuke you see are genuine.  I saw more chinese ivory and wood fakes (netsuke like object, tourist pieces, what ever you want to call them) in Japan that I have seen anywhere else.  For every one genuine netsuke I saw I probably saw 4 or 5 fakes.  I don’t think shop owners were trying to deceive unwary travelers but I think many antique dealers had no idea about netsuke themselves.  This is why knowing what you are looking for is crucially important.  Visits to museums to see the genuine article, taking photos and examining the fine detail is a must.  If possible go and see a reputable dealer first and ask them to give you a quick lesson on what to look for.  If you fail at this stage you’ll end up spending large amounts of money on items which just aren’t worth anything more than sentimental value, so in other words worth nothing to anyone else.

I hope this helps anyone going to Japan and wanting to bring back something more than tourist tat. A few google searches when in Japan helped me locate shops but just keeping a eye out when shopping is a must.  For Japanese phrases there are a few good apps out now which really helped.

Smokey Fox

netsuke

I just completed my fifth netsuke, this time representing a fox which hopefully appears calm and tranquil.  It is made from the root section of an old scrap of walrus tooth so the shape, and to some extent to composition of the netsuke was dictated by the material.  20150725_162525This netsuke also gave me the opportunity to experiment with ibushi or fumigation staining using incense smoke to enhance the materials depth and finish (though eradicating the smoky odour after is proving difficult).  Overall this has been a project I quite enjoyed working on and I will definitely be returning the fox as subject matter in future netsuke.

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Carving: bits and bobs

crafts

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Although I mainly concentrate my carving efforts on the Japanese art of netsuke practice and doodle with scraps of material all the time to improve my skills.  Occasionally this leads to a commission of small items which spark my imagination.

My two most recent commissions comprise of a fox eared ring made of box wood and two troll beads to fit on a Pandora necklace.

Here are some photos of the pieces.  The ring was the most enjoyable to make.  The beads were quite stressful without the aid of a lathe.10835441_10153203526981070_9130146975899042148_o 11083781_10153203526976070_7838797487906785420_o 11083815_10153203527051070_1484919753308701539_o 11121517_10153203527181070_7633907743962156298_o

New Netsuke completed, Usugi moon

netsuke

It has been a long time in the making but I feel I am at a point where I can call this piece finished.  A 37mm by 37mm manjū style netsuke made from polished ebony with mother of pearl, abalone, horn, hippo tooth and gold inlay. It represents a dashing hare at night under a clouded moon.  On the back can be seen a cut piece of equisetum arvense (horsetail).

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When I started this I had a vague idea that a hare and moon were a rather Japanese looking subject matter but it all became a bit more than that.  The further along the netsuke got, the more I discovered and the more I added to the design.  At first it was just going to have a plain back but I found out from volume one of the Trumpf collection that Hares represent the 2nd month and the hours between 5am and 7am.  A happy coincident for my black netsuke but then further reading revealed that in Japanese legend the hare is responsible for keeping the moon clean and shining.  A second coincident! I’m on a roll.  Not only is my hare running around in the dark at 6am in February but it’s running to clean the moon which is being covered by clouds.  The third element helps to tie it all together.  The hare cleans the moon with horsetail (equisetum arvense) Which is apparently used as a metal polish because it contains silicic acid.  This gave me the concept for the design on the back. So after a lot more work then I originally envisioned, and after cutting and re-cutting each piece inlay 3 times each It is done.

It is by no means perfect.  The inlay on the moon is rather ill fitting.  Following the original one breaking when it was set in place I had to re cut and each time more wood material was taken out.  I didn’t want to attempt to get the inlay any tighter in fear of it getting slightly worse each time.  For my first real go at inlay though I’m happy with the results and see this as a good foundation on which to build.  It has also bee a learning curve in relation to polish and finishing which has taken many hours.

I have a few ideas for my next piece already and I may get around to taking some better pictures of this one.