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How to carve a hummingbird (not recommended for normal people)

February 4, 2015


This is part of a letter I just sent to the spinner who commissioned this wheel: I thought and thought about the hummingbird and how to carve a little delicate bird in a carving style that is by nature heavy and monumental in approach.  I created a file of images I found on a Google search and the carvings are recognizable as hummingbirds but they don’t have the feel of an actual bird.  The silk screen or painted images do often have a lighter and more delicate feel but they are a pretty modern interpretation of the old art forms.  I don’t know how they would have resonated with the ancient people who were not decorating living rooms or bathrooms with prints framed under glass. The art was created with totally different intentions.  Eventually after running out of excuses, I just went out to the shop to make a little hummingbird.  I was looking for a tool under an inevitable pile of stuff and as usual I ran into two pieces of wood that I just haven’t been able to throw into the burn pile.  They are cherry cut outs from an earlier set of treadles I made for a Disney themed wheel.  The cutouts were to mimic the clef cutouts on a violin as the spinner is a violinist.  When I saw them this time I noticed the organic shapes and felt they might just be the way to integrate my new bird into the rest of the wheel.  The result sort of grew out of this glimmer of an idea and eventually incorporated a couple pieces of stained glass as well.  The glass echoes that on the rest of the wheel and also adds strength to the delicate wood curves. 


With the base created (and removable) I started the bird.  I just started with a block of cherry and roughed it out on the band saw.  The wings were added with epoxy.  Then I started carving in a way that best allowed me to keep with NW coast style.  I am not really a carver and I usually run up against my limits.  I also had to keep the bird from becoming too much of an isolated feature in an otherwise harmonious wheel.  What I decided to try was to make it look like a real Rufus hummingbird is transforming into a carved bird.  There are hints of NW coast design elements here and there but the paint is another story.  A real hummingbird has no pigment in its feathers and the brilliant display of colors is caused by iridescence.  So I decided to mimic life by using mostly iridescent powders mixed with varnish.  It does shift color when you shift viewing angles.  I also wanted to make the hummer doing what these birds do so I carved a little flower.  This serves another purpose which is to guard the delicate beak from being damaged.  The beak itself is rather thick but strength would be lost if I thinned it out much more.


There is fine-tuning to do at this point but first I will wait to hear back from Sandy.  I love the freedom spinners give me but sometimes I take risks in pushing too far and too fast.  My excuse is that if I don’t know how to do something, just get started and follow the lead of the wheel.  Thanks for looking!






From → Gary's Thoughts

  1. Teri Chambliss permalink

    This takes my breath away. One day I may be able to get on your list:)

  2. Emma permalink

    This is just amazing. You are incredible.

  3. Sharon Baptiste-Valdez permalink

    Genius! I love the Tlingit design on the top and the intended iridescence on the underside. You never cease to amaze me with your creativity. It the flower Lily of the Valley?

    • Thank you Sharon. Since the photos were taken, the flower has changed from a stylized bluebell by altering the color to an Indian paintbrush red. Now it ties the areas of the wheel together much better and draws your eye to that little drama playing out at the top. Blue flowers tend to disappear against green I’ve found. So we threw out realism with our handy Artistic License and we have a red bluebell!

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