Chad Awalt on Carving
Interviewed by Doug Hall
Doug Hall: Given that there are so many other mediums to work in, what is your attraction to wood?
Chad Awalt: Wood has all of the fractal qualities that come with nature. Wood has a warmth and life that other materials don't have. That's been a part of me for as long as I can remember.
DH: In your work you seem to incorporate grain and the characteristics of the wood itself into the piece. What is that process like for you?
CA: That's a bit hard to explain. The approach has to be that you have to understand that the markings and patterns in the wood can be distractions that completely take away from the design and become dominant themselves if they are not incorporated properly, which defeats the purpose of all the effort of carving.
You have to be able to see how the patterns in the wood can embellish a sculpture to enhance the visual qualities and make the sculpture seem like it has been waiting for fifty years to emerge from the tree. This doesn't happen by chance. To make it work, nine out of ten times it has to be carefully planned. You have to know what your form is going to be before you start and visualize how it will develop with the patterns in the log.
In classical carving it is not an issue. You want clear perfect grain so that the carving design is the only embellishment.
DH: How do you select the material for each piece?
CA: It's different with each project. Basically, there are 30 logs sitting in my driveway in front of the studio. I start there.
DH: What tools do you use for each part of the process?
CA: Again, it is different with each project. There's not a science or recipe to the process. I use what ever tool looks like it will work best for what I need to do next. Many times that has meant making a new tool because there isn't one out there that will do what I need. Sometimes that's jigs, power tools, hand tools, etc. I have around 600 tools.
DH: What is your favorite part of the process?
CA: The beginning when the design comes together. An original idea is a very exhilarating moment. And then the final stages of the piece when you know you actually see that thoughts and images that were only in your mind are now standing in front of you on your work bench.
DH: Given that you also teach, what would be your recommendation to anyone that has an interest carving? What is a good way to get started? Are there books that you would suggest, etc.?
CA: Just don't stop. Carving requires a lot of trial and error to get familiar with all of the variables with the wood and tools. Experience is the key. Plus don't give up on a project. I've seen people give up just before it started to look good. Don't expect to see your carving take shape in 30 minutes. You won't be able to recognize it until it's 80% of the way done.
DH: What are some of the key points that you feel are important to impart to a student that helps them move forward as carvers?
CA: Good tools are everything. Quality tools that are extremely sharp (and kept sharp at all times). Try to accumulate as many tools as you can afford. Also, use studies and references all the time.
DH: For you, is there a difference between sculpting and carving or does each happen at different point as the work takes form?
CA: To me, I use carving to enhance a form that I see underneath the carving. When I sculpt, I am creating the form from the wood
For more information about Chad Awalt and his work visit his website.
See a detailed description and/or register for Chad's class on January 27-29, Classical Carving (991308).