Asian woodcarving is considered to best illustrate the vitality and fertility of nature in both subject matter and technique. Wood was used for furniture and the wide variety of fittings and ritual objects in the service of religion such as cabinets, tables, chairs, beds, mirrors, boats, and decorating items.
Therefore, woodcarvers are free of restrictive iconography. They often sought inspiration from their surroundings: the luxurious tropical lifestyle and the real or imaginary creatures who populate it. This resulted in an emphasis on the decorative, on ornamentation which is characteristic of Asian art…Its movement and drapery, all of which are of primary importance in Western art.
Unaffected by restrictions of material as experienced by bronze workers or stone sculptors, woodcarvers employed a composite technique. This allowed an artist to carve individual parts of work separately and then assemble them. The resulting spontaneity parallels the creativity of nature.
The earliest remaining pieces date from the 16th century with the best preserved in museums. The sophistication of these woodcarvings suggests that there had been a rich developing tradition of woodworking over prior centuries. The finest wood sculpture was closely associated with architecture, and animals were a favorite theme.
Traditional Asian craftsmen acquired their knowledge by passing it on from generation to generation through apprenticeship and practice. They developed into small regional groups of village craftsmen the best of these small regional groups were selected for works to be done for the government or for the royal court. The skills of wood carving were highly specialized.
The carving tools…
1 .Mallets They are made of hardwood .Sometimes the hammering section may be made from hardwood, while the handle is made from softwood. Wood mallets are preferred because of their light weight which makes it better for handling and because it causes less damage to the handles of the tools.
2 .Firmers and gouges The most essential tools for wood carving for creating designs and depths. They are made from cast-iron, and may be used with or without handles, depending on individual craftsmen ’s preferences Some important types are as follows:
Gouges These have u-shaped blades, varying in degrees of sweep from 0.64 cm. And more. They are used for carving curves, circles, or grooves
Straight firmers These are straight-blade tools, coming in varying width from 1.27-2.54 cm. Used for straight-line carving and for grounding.
Skew firmers These have cutting edges at an angle with the axis of the tool. used for scraping or squaring up inside corners or in finishing inside narrow grooves. There are other more specialized gouges for specialized purposes like bent gouges for making hollows.
Other implements include carpentry tools like saws, files. planes, knives, drills, glue, pencils and sandpaper. On rare occasion some electric tools are used, though the main bulk of woodcarving such as we are presenting is mainly be done by hand.
3 .Wood The knowledge of the characteristics of wood-durability, hardness, and grain-is essential for woodcarvers so as to choose suitable types of wood for different kinds of works, though it seems that the color of the wood was of scarce importance to craftsmen in the old days, for most work was subsequently gilded, lacquered, or decorated with glass. Care must also be taken in making sure that wood is without any blemish like knots or cleavages.
Of all kinds of wood, teak has been the most popular. A medium-hard wood, it has a light-brown, slightly coarse-grained texture. lt is very durable, resistant to insect attack, with low elasticity. Hence it was traditionally used for gables, door frames, and important buildings.
Other kinds of wood are ta-kien (Hopea odorata Roxb.) once used for plows. Now that teak is very expensive and rare, large-sized works are much harder to find .
Wood carving is, for now reserved for furniture or handicrafts, interior decorations or souvenirs. For which it is necessary to use other kinds of wood like khanun wood (Artocarpus family) or cham cha wood (rainwood).
Techniques of carving
Transferring pattern A pattern is necessary for wood carving. Hence at the initial step of carving, the pattern designer is as important as the carver. They have to work together even before the carving begins, for not every pattern is suitable or possible for carving. It is like a fine ice sculpture…working with a large piece and slowly and meticulously cutting away from it until you finally get the desired end sculpture. The difference is that while an ice sculpture can take a few hours to produce, the pieces we are presenting can take days and even weeks just to produce one piece!
In the old days a pattern was first drawn on a piece of paper before it was then positioned on the block of wood and held firmly in place. A Cloth-compress with chalk inside war next used to sprinkle powder well over the wood. In the case of light-coloured wood, charcoal dust was used. The paper was then removed, leaving the pattern on the wood.
Now the process is developed , and it is easy to transfer, magnify or reduce patterns. Hence it is possible to reproduce patterns through photocopying or tracing the pattern on to thin paper which is then pasted on to the wood and left to dry before beginning carving
Carving A small-sized firmer is first used to scrape off the wood, making a ground around the pattern. Next a straight-blade firmer is used to peel off the ground layer by layer to achieve the desired depth which is then smoothed out in preparation for finishing decoration. Once the pattern is well separated from the ground, a scew firmer is used to finish off fine angles or depths of the pattern.
For free-standing sculpture, a knife or a chisel is used to cut off the wood into a rough shape before whittling the fine details. Once a pattern has been cut, it is often necessary to redraw the pattern and recut it several times, unless the carver is truly skillful.
The last stage of finishing off the fine details is often done with a file or with sandpaper to prepare the work for decoration.
Many of the pieces we have to offer are made out of a single piece of wood, and on occasion there is another piece or so attached.
This would be the case in the palm mirror with the village scene below. The palms are carved separately out of a piece of wood and attached. The scene, however is painstakingly carved with every detail in mind. These works of art are truly amazing to us…the pictures , unfortunately, don’t tell the story of these fine detailed works of art. When you see one up close, in person you will see for yourself…you will be asking yourself…how did they do that?