Some visitors to the aWay station have asked me to define whittling. To paraphrase one old time whittler “The difference between carving and whittling is that for carving you need equipment and talent, for whittling all you need is a knife and time”.
Brian Karl out here at the Headlands suggests that I call it ‘worrying’. I like that!
But my wife Sandra loves the connotation of lightness and ease that comes with ‘whittling’. Perhaps resulting from the only whittling metaphor common in English, ‘to whittle away the hours’.
For me, the attraction to whittling comes from over 25 years of woodworking – making things that require a huge amount of planning and upfront design work and then hours and hours of painstaking construction using a huge variety of hand tools, machines and jigs. It’s incredibly refreshing and liberating to sit down for an afternoon with a small piece of wood (a piece that I would regularly discard in my studio), a single sharp knife and my hands and mind, to worry or whittle out a form for which I have no preconceived notion or plan.
I think back over 100’s of thousands of years of humans doing something similar; two stones, a sharpened stone edge and a stick, a blade of bronze or iron or steel. Its feels so natural and so strange – both at the same time. Strange in that few people in our culture and our time are engaged in this direct process of tool on material at all. Least of all the meditative act of working a piece of natural material with a single, simple but versatile tool.
I love the way the final outcomes vary so much from person to person. Its tempting to put on the psychoanalyst’s hat – or pipe.
So many of the forms feel so good in your hand, like the handle of a sweet tool. It’s as if they are ‘of’ the hand.
I’m excited to see how much of this inter-connectedness of the hand, the tool and the material can be carried into other objects or images created from these simple little sculptures.