I never put time limits on my work, focused on refining a piece to it's fullest potential.
I began Bienvenido #5 thinking it would take between 2-4 weeks ...that was 7 months ago. As I created the piece it became apparent that to truly reach it's full potential technically, visually and energy wise it was going to take much longer.
I almost always carve with my work resting on my lap. It is most comfortable to me while giving me the ability to lean the work at angles, change positions quickly and most importantly get a very close perspective on the work.
It also gives me the ability to take my work anywhere as I love creating under the energy/inspiration of the outdoors.
I also generally carve on wide single boards of mahogany which is a stable wood, great for shaping, excellent for painting or natural.
This piece at 20 3/4" x 35 3/8" is around the size that I limit myself before the wood becomes too awkward to balance while working.
I have been carving/ shaping wood for over 20 years but began pursuing and falling in love with the art form of hand carving flat wall panel works since around 2005.
In 2010, I created a series of four female anatomical silhouettes using a cornucopia of my inspirations combined into what I was calling "abstract anatomy."
The work below INFINITY incorporates ideas from the golden spiral., Fibonacci sequence, graffiti, anatomy, religion, hierarchy, intellect as well as scrolls.
brief background on the bienvendo series :
I began the bienvenido series stuck indoors during a snow storm weekend in 2016. As my main focus of creating unique mirrors developed I designed this series with a modern, bolder interpretation of the classic scroll with individuality and personality.
As someone that grew up around antiques I always loved the beauty of hand carved work and scrolls in furniture.
I created three frames in this series during that year that had a more defined scroll opposed to the more loose organic shape in INFINITY
(my apologies as I only have photos currently of these frames pre mirror installation )
sketching/creating my scrolls :
It was important to me on this work that the scrolls were all unique and had individuality. I free hand sketched the scrolls on the wood then refined them as I carved deeper into the work.
(as seen below from the drawn sketch at beginning of carving to refined scrolls towards completion)
creating bienvendio #5
As I worked on this piece in various outdoor locations this year the general opinion was that this piece represented waves. For me the beginning influences were :
-group of people interacting
-decorative ornamentation on suits of armor
carving bienvenido #5
I avoid using power tools on my art. The only time a power tool was used on this work was a jigsaw to remove the portion to be the mirror.
I began this work by carving the border. It would set the graduation from the highest to lowest point on the inside portion of the frame thus showing me how much material I would have to work with creating dimension on the scrolls.
Generally the more material you have to work with the more dimension/shadows you can create.
The carving was pretty straight forward with the scrolls tapering downward from the highest point in center. (short video of shaping below with a longer video at end of blog)
This piece breathed the sweltering hot summer days to this now 20 degree day in Philadelphia with the holidays almost here...
A standard phrase I got to repeat for probably the last 5 months was "it's almost there." I felt it was almost always done just needing that extra 5 more hours... that would lead to another 2 weeks etc…
I believe these scrolls taper and flow beautifully … the centers are delicate but defined ...shy but powerful, soft, warm.. comforting...caring...illuminating...everlasting energy...simplicity... …. that is what bienvenido #5 is to me or it's " a bunch a waves" as most have seen it !!!
One of the main reasons I love wood carving is the simplicity in tools. That I am participating in an artform that hasn't changed much dating back to at least 7,500 BCE. and that I can still create an object that a million dollar machine isn't capable of.
These are the only tools I used on this piece :
Pfiel carving tools with various lasered quotes for some inspired carving
1/3 : "it's the best thing going woooo" - Ric Flair
1/8 : "every damn minute of it: - Ric Flair
1/25 : "I grab a handfull of clouds" - Mike Tyson
1f/6 : "SPOKEN, LISTENED...CRIED" - Mike Bunts
the following were used in succession for the scroll from center out:
8/3 - final curl of scroll at center
5/4 - used after above to continue bend in line. - "Son of a Gun" Ric Flair
5F/6 - used the for continuing the curve and general shaping " I'm shomer shabbos" -Big Lebowski
3F/12 - used the for continuing the curve and general shaping "My style is impetuous" - Mike Tyson
5/14 - shaping " To be the man" : Ric Flair
3 rasps :
smooth curved rat tail
course flat bottom with point/curve
knife edge rasp
My cherished hammer used on every piece I've made since 2008
outdoor carving essentials
extended carving video
Note : Roughly a year after this project was completed the world lost Tim. I always looked up to Tim and feel fortunate we finally got a chance to work together on a project. He was an amazing force and spirit that is missed everyday. A small portion of Tim's work can be viewed at :
Distilling sign project:
This project entailed creating 40 promotional signs for the launch of Dogfish Head's new spirits line featuring a vodka and two versions of gin.
Because of the fine detail, time frame and amount of signs on this project I was able to collaborate with Tim Cloonan of CallowHill Bass. Tim was already a well accomplished jazz guitarist about a year ahead of me at Temple University when I first knew of him. We then went onto working with each other at a guitar company for some time before Tim ventured off creating his own well respected hand crafted bass line called CallowHill in the mid 2000's. Knowing Tim's attention to detail beyond expectations I was happy to finally collaborate with him. Tim did all of the CNC programming and cutting of these signs.
rough boards of poplar before being cut into 12" x 18" pieces
After I got back the routed boards from Tim each board was hand distressed with a gouge then painted with coats of black.
The signs were then sanded through on the raised parts to reveal the white logo as well as hand rasped and sanded on the edges to give a rustic feel. The two part signs hang with a hook/eye hook.
about the piece:.
While creating the Apollo Mirror this summer I became very obsessed with listening to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, especially the Detroit Mix. It is a true masterpiece and maybe the most intelligent album ever created both on a music and social level. The more I listened to the album and it's meaning/purpose I just felt sad/angry inside that we have in many ways not progressed as a society since the album release in 1971 and in many ways become worse. Our culture is willing to turn a blind eye to major issues, as well as accept mediocrity on a whole. This album became the inspiration for the work.
Poverty, lack of jobs, quality industry moving out of our country, terrorism, education, hatred, fear, lives devoted to social media, ignorance, exploitation, gun violence, people in power abusing their positions, greed, war, pollution, lack of choices in presidency. This is what fuels the piece.
I love and believe in our beautiful country.
" When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace." Jimi Hendrix
creating the piece:
I took this work as seriously as Jimi Hendrix did making his statement on the Star Spangled Banner. I used my signature work of runny fried eggs as the foundation for this piece. You can read about the meaning behind them at :
I wanted to make the piece as large as I could and chose to scale it at 8 feet by 4 feet so I could use a full sheet of plywood as my backer to mount the work to.
At this scale size the fried eggs replacing the stars measure out at 3 1/2". I cut a maple board into 50 squares then turned yolk portion on the lathe. I then band sawed out the rough outside shape before hand carving and shaping with gouges and rasps outdoors at Schuylkill River Park in Philadelphia.
creating yolks on the lathe :
Each individual egg has been treated as a sculpture upon itself. When you get close to the eggs you will view scratched rasp marks which I love.
The rustic stripes are made from oak boards that I cut down from pallet skids used for transporting goods. Each one was hand chosen for it's unique texture/ grain that has been created naturally through wear and tear.
I used denim that I slightly distressed for the backer of the eggs as it also provided a vintage flag feel to the piece.
Creating the drips on the egg is jazz although not random. There is a definite control to the amount of drip and it's travel.
I really enjoyed working at this scale size and look forward to creating future works exploring this concept.
For purchase inquires of this work as well as commissioned work please contact me at :
I consider TO DREAM WITHOUT . an abstract spiritual composition combining many concepts from science, existence, anatomy, nature, jazz theory and improvisation. The piece is based on a poem that I wrote titled TO DREAM WITHOUT DYING.
While I enjoy working in all styles of art, I really love the challenges and freedom of abstract works. I think from an outsider's perspective abstract can be random and without thought. Not until I started working with abstract concepts did I realize the challenges of composing works that make sense. Abstract can very technical and involve much more thought and planning than works with recognizable subject matter.
I feel it is an artist's responsibility to challenge their craft. I will always credit my jazz education for developing me as a sculptor. I was lucky to have brilliant teachers as well as exposure to musicians who took their foundation and pushed the limits. One in particular being John Coltrane. His dedication to creating unique musical architecture mixed with deep spirituality has always inspired me and motivated me to follow suit.
creating the piece :
The piece is divided into three sections : the infinite pulse (spiral section), the tabernacle containing the trinity and the soul (afterlife)
The design includes the first 8 numbers in the Fibonacci sequence
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13,
0 = infinity
1 = entire composition
1 = work contained inside the decorative purple border
2 = is represented in the branching off of the life pulse that leads into the symbol for PI at the top, there are also two scrolls hidden under the tabernacle visible up close
3 = is represented by the three sections in life pulse/ dwelling place containing trinity/ soul
5 = rings surrounding the eye of the afterlife and 5 fluttering wings of soul
8 = 8 small descending steps descending into infinity
13 = rings in spiral
The piece was completely created using simple hand tools over a 19 month period at various outdoor parks around Philadelphia. Purity is very important to my work. Wood carving/sculpture is a chess match and I sometimes spend more time contemplating the next move than actually working on the piece. Many carvers will immediately eliminate the background of their work with power tools to save time and effort. I never do this because there have been many instances that design changes are made that I would have never planned for before starting the piece, including this work.
The spiral was the most challenging part of the work, primarily because the spiral goes across the grain. Typically in woodwork/carving you want the work to run with the grain providing the most strength. In this case I did not have that option so I walked a fine line between making the piece as strong as possible while still being as delicate and realistic as possible. Any cracks on the spiral would mean I would have throw the entire work out no matter how much time was invested.
The spiral was sketched onto the wood without any layout or measurement tools. In these types of situations I like to rely on my eye and feel, it adds to a more organic quality to the work. The spiral is as 3D as possible with very few connection points to provide it from breaking.
I also used an organic approach to the layout for the hexagon tubes in the bottom right. In nature hexagons typically provide the strongest support systems while consuming the least amount of material ie beehive construction. Meant to mimic an anatomical cross section the hexagons were carved to shimmer and reflect like a diamond as well as draw the viewer upwards into the spiral. One advantage to carving outdoors is using natural light to really gauge the shadows that were being created as well as creating as clean of a piece as possible. Shadows are important to my work, not only giving a piece depth but I also love how the shadows change as you walk around the piece.
The final part to this puzzle was creating the tabernacle and soul in the upper left side. The tabernacle contains the trinity in this work. A protected place of dwelling. I created three joined spheres inside the tabernacle space to represent trinity. I created a hole small enough in the tabernacle to let the trinity be visible but only partially.
The soul/afterlife is represented in the top left as the glowing eye of the form flutters above the tabernacle. The lower half encased in seeds to continue the life cycle. Creating soul form took me back to childhood arts and crafts.
Although I have created more delicate and fragile works since then including my latest, Apollo Mirror
( http://www.bpkwoodwork.com/blog/apollo-mirror ) which tested the limits of wood sculpture by hand I will always look at this work as truly showing me there is no limit to the possibilities of creation.
The laurel wreath is a sign of victory, eternal youth.
In Greek mythology Apollo is in love with Daphne. Daphne's father transforms her into a Laurel tree to avoid Apollo. The laurel becomes his sacred tree and a reminder of Daphne's eternal beauty.
I have been concentrating on the form of mirrors for over 3 years now and love the concept of interaction between the viewer and piece. I wanted to create a work that would entangle the viewer with the carving.
I spent a good amount of time at the Philadelphia Art Museum over the cold winter studying art in great depth, especially the frames around the art as well as older carved works from the masters. The original sketch for this piece was actually done in the museum around March. I turned my attentions away from more abstract/experimental works to concentrate on more pure natural mirrors creating delicate hand carved works that pushed my tools/wood to the limit.
I only use hand tools in my carvings which is the pace I like to work at. It allows for more thoughtful improvisation. A majority of this piece was carved at a beautiful park at 25th/spruce in Philadelphia. It is a super calm peaceful place to work. I generally try to only carve outside. The ability to use natural light to create as flawless of a look as possible is very important to my carvings.
The wood was from the same board used to create the lobster claw tap handles for the release of Dogfish Head Choc Lobster Stout.
The layout for this was quite simple. I edge jointed a Sapele (dense form of African mahogany) board 2" think x 9 1/4" wide by 60" inches . I then took a compass and drew the circle that would make up the wreath. I then band sawed the negative pieces before gluing the boards. Sapele is a weird wood to carve, sometimes very easy to work with and sometimes proving to be very brittle yet dense with interlocking grain.
After the board was glued up, I removed about 1 1/4" from the back of the leaves to have the wreath appear free floating. The piece started out with more leaves as I wasn't sure how much support/ strength I would need due to how delicate I wanted to make this piece. As a sculptor I always want to push the limits of my tools and wood. Nature is delicate and the eye recognizes this, my goal was to faithfully reproduce this on the mirror.
The carving goes against the laws of strength in wood working as typically you want the grain to run the length on the carving. On this piece the grain is running horizontal to the piece which makes it extra frail and susceptible to breaking but because of how I wanted the grain to run on the frame I did not have an option. The open span of the wreath runs 12 3/4" long on each side.
I carve on my lap which worked out great in this situation as I was able to support the delicate carving on my thigh until they became too flexible and was in fear of breaking as the piece. As the piece became more fragile I would support the portion I was working on with my left hand and carve with right hand
The back side of the wreath had to be carved as well to create a realistic look in the reflection of the mirror. By the end of creating this piece the work was so fragile that I had to support the carving in the left hand while carving with the right. It felt like I was carving a piece of paper in my hand.
Pfeil carving gouges
6mm 5 sweep fish tail
3mm,8mm,6mm fishtail ,16m straights
3 sweep 12 mm
5 sweep 5 mm
I was asked to take part in the exhibition Poplar Culture : A Celebration of a Tree in May of 2012 curated by the Wharton Esherick Museum.
Wharton Esherick is known as one of the pioneering craftspeople of the 20th century. He elevated furniture to an art level creating his own unique style of furniture, sculpture, wood prints, architecture etc. His work is seen as the beginning of what is known as studio furniture now, finely crafted typically functional expressive furniture. His beautiful, completely hand detailed home and studio are open for tours in the Valley Forge area.
A large beloved Poplar tree that stood next to his studio had to be taken down. The Esherick Museum gave the tree new life by giving the kiln dried lumber to 42 artists. It was great to see such of a variety of work from one tree, a complete spectrum from traditional furniture to sculpture.
works can be seen :
making the piece :
My first idea was to make a large see-saw so I asked for two flitches (rough slabs of wood) . During this time period I was doing a bunch of experimental carvings incorporating concepts from anatomy, jazz/improvisation and composition, science, nature, love, silliness, dreams, abstract, fractals, math, spirituality, graffiti etc....
The more I thought about the piece the more I wanted to do a large experimental wall relief.
Sometimes it can be scary to take a risk instead of making something clean and understandable but I also feel that it's important as an artist to let go and reach for something bigger. I gain a ton of inspiration and drive from the spirit of people like John Coltrane that were fierce about pushing their vision and ideas.
Early on in the sketching process I came up with the title "to love is to save" which gave me a design direction.
Love is such an immense power source that seems to get lost in the day to day thing. It is very easy to forget purpose in life but I do feel it's important to use our power of love more often than we probably do.
to love is to save tells the story of life ... the protective pulse, energy, celebration, fertility, unity, creation, existence, home, comfort and the afterlife.
I had been wanting to do a time lapse of the creation a piece and thought this would be a perfect opportunity. I also wanted music over the time lapse that represented the feel of the work.
I was fortunate to have Ben Schachter lend his song A Giant Among Us to the time lapse and can't imagine anything in it's place when I watch the video. The song is full of twists and turns, power and flow.
I spent about 5 months designing and hand carving the piece as well as editing the pictures I took to make the time lapse. It was a super busy time in my life as I was working full time, making this piece as well as creating the first run of 21 beer racks for Dogfish Head so it was pretty much 6 am to 11:30pm juggling act every day trying to get all done. I was literally applying the clearcoat the morning the piece was due as it consumed so much time.
It was the largest piece I worked on at 5 foot 8 inches by 21 inches.
How this piece is viewed by people in the present or future is not up to me. I am happy I made it and that it exists. I am a better artist/thinker because of it. It is certainly a stepping stone to where I am three years later as well as 10 years from now as I am still on my little quest to making experimental work and developing my own personal language.
" And in the end, the love you take, Is equal to the love you make " - Paul McCartney
Ben Schachter's website www.sungunsung.com
I had been wanting to build a cabinet with a carved front panel for a couple of years when I finally decided to focus on this project.
When I begin the design process there are many variables at play. The thought process is usually figuring out a way to capture and express artistically what is going on in my life/mind. Will it be abstract or known? Will it be functional or sculpture?
For this piece I knew I wanted a striking, powerful object that would provide as much 3 dimensional qualities as possible. My best design ideas come while driving. I can't explain why but it's a good time for my brain to sort through the database.
This piece is about letting go/moving on/inviting the new. INDIVISIBLE, to stand strong. The pineapple was representative of someone in my life.
In 1493, Christopher Columbus returned with the pineapple introducing it to Europe, a very rare and royal fruit. So held true here in America as the hard to acquire fruit was a sign of status. The pineapple became symbolic of welcome, warmth, good cheer and family.
Making the piece:
I used 2 inch thick Honduran mahogany with beautiful rich grain. Most of the classic carvings use Honduran mahogany because of it's beauty , workability and luster when finished. Honduran mahogany is getting more and more difficult to find. This particular piece of wood certainly wasn't the easiest to carve as it had interlocking grain in various spots.
Interlocking grain is where the grain gets twisted so if you try to carve with the grain it is rough and often will lead to tear out of the wood grain. In this case it's better to carve across the grain if you can.
I did the majority of this carving outdoors around Philadelphia, using only hand tools. It is far superior to carve in detail in natural light than indoors.
I started by clearing out the background to set the depth of the carving. Using 2 inch thick wood allowed for a ton of depth.
One of my favorite parts of the piece didn't reveal itself until I began carving the leaves but if you look in the leaf left of center it has a hole in it almost like a beauty mark. The hole is indicative of genuine mahogany as a native worm borrows through the tree. If I had seen this hole before starting the piece I would either have tried working around it or using another piece of wood to try to keep it pure but in this situation it was too late, but it really adds to the piece.
I never realized how complex the structure of the pineapple was until I started carving it. Particularly the way the lower half of each fruitlet (hexagon shape) is halfway covered by a protective leaf that ties itself into the surrounding fruitlet. The fruitlets fuse themselves together around the core to form one overall fruit. The fruit is jazz. It does what it wants while still maintaining a structure.
I did not spend too much time on the layout of the fruit part of the piece, as I felt that the feel should mimic the fruit growing how it may. I did however put a ton of time into the detail of each hexagon type shape on the fruit section. I tried to go as deep as my gouge would allow me to define the piece without cracking the wood.
I then used Zebrawood for the frame of the door as I wanted the beautiful grain to wrap around. I hand beveled the back of the door to fit into the door slot leaving the center part with the naturally worn oiled grain from being carried around and worked on.
I carried the pineapple look above the top of the cabinet as well as extend the one side of the cabinet on the right to create a shelf in the back. The shelf on the inside of the cabinet is fully adjustable with shelf pins.
I finished the cabinet in various shades of green and one shade of black to create a slight rustic feel.
I completed the piece by adding a hand shaped rosewood door pull.
When I got an email to make the 50 signs for Dogfish Head I was excited. I love anything stars/Flag related and actually had been wanting to create something with this feel for a while so it came at the perfect time.
I first came up with three various approaches to replicating the DFH American logo in wood at 2 foot by 14 inches. The first approach being a silk screen on flat wood. The second to personally hand rout each one. Or, third, to have a CNC computerized machine cut them out in which I would only have to paint them after they were cut.
We ended up going with the second option which was what I was hoping for because I knew it would look/feel the best as well as be a challenge of my skills. When doing production runs of any type you have to become mechanical and methodical in your approach to the project, trying to make all as similar as possible.
I ordered in 110 feet of wide Poplar boards from Quinn Hardwood and Lumber. Poplar is a wood still readily available in wide sizes. It's also a very stable wood and great for painting.
I first cut out a template of the positive on a scroll saw as this template would be used to trace the logo consistently onto all of the boards.
After tracing the logo I used a down cut spiral bit with a Dewalt compact router to freehand rout the design. This router has a light in the base which makes it great for seeing the wood to be removed.
To hit the deadline I would need to make 4 signs a night, which typically took over 4 hours. 4 hours of full concentration in a weird universe. The weird universe being that when you wear eye goggles, dust mask and ear protection, you feel very isolated, I imagine, like an astronaut would feel at times.
I had only one shot on each sign to be as perfect as can be. To try to achieve clean crisp stars my arms had to lock and move in an almost robotic fashion to control the torque of router from wanting to run and pull across the wood.
I had basically two mountains in front of me every night. The stack of wood that hadn't been routed yet and the routed stack. It's always a great moment when the done pile becomes larger than the "to-do" pile.
After the signs were routed the outside was band sawed to the oval shape. Each sign's background was then hand distressed with a riffler rasp leaving scratches in the wood to begin to create a rustic look.
During the painting process I used three shades of blue for the background to add to a fading rustic look.
I originally thought painting the shark/stars white would be as simple as taking a paint roller and barely running it across the top. When I did my sample the white paint was hitting the background as well as running down the sides of the stars, so I had to come up with a new option.
I tried a bunch of different techniques but the fastest and most effective way was a throw back to childhood. I applied the paint to each star with my index finger. So 50 stars times 50 signs times 3 applications of various whites equaled 7,500 finger painted stars. Needless to say my finger was pretty sore for many days to follow.
After the white was done I painted the stripes with 3 shades of red. Then sanded through creating a distressed look. Each sign was unique to itself in the way the distressing looked and truly loved each one.
I then aged the white paint with transparent coats of greys to add to the rustic feel. I used a gouge making slight indentations in the blue background as well as going back to the riffler rasp to distress the background more. After a final sand/clean-up they were clearcoated with a matte finish.
I was approached a couple times at the 2014 Analog A GO GO at the Dogfish Head brewery by people who bought these signs including the parents of a gentleman active in the military who has it hanging in the barracks. It's always a great reward to hear stories about where my work ends up. ( and hopefully one of these signs pops up on Antiques Roadshow 150 years from now)
I can not say enough for the people at Dogfish Head for letting me be involved in such projects. There is a reason why their beer/product is amazing. It's the care for quality and appreciation/love for craft.
DFH American Logo T-shirt is available at http://www.dogfish.com/store/guys/american-logo-tee.htm
I make my morning stop at Starbucks and talk to the baristas about my woodworking as they are always interested in the projects I have going on. They were really into this project counting down the amount of stars to rout from the beginning 2,500 till the final day when they were finished. Hanna wrote this kind message on my cup on the final day of routing the stars.
Dropping off the scraps at my Uncle Mike's house for firewood.