American bird carver Lori Corbett shares with us her working ways when she is carving at the bench
Lori at her bench carving one of her many spectacular birds
Rufous Hummingbird, life-sized. Carved from tupelo and finished with acrylics
Cedar Waxwing, life sized. Carved from tupelo and finished with acrylics
When did you start to carve?
I started carving in 1987 when my (step) dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I was seeking solace in a bookstore when I came across some books by Richard LeMaster, a noted carver of waterfowl. Dad was an avid hunter, as well as an artist, and finding these books was a sign. I bought them and began a journey that has led me on many strange and wonderful paths to places physical, emotional and spiritual.
What made you continue carving?
The passing of my dad. He saw my first carving attempt, and my second is buried with him. Through the dark time, carving was a way to maintain a connection with him, and it was a literal sanity-saver. As time passed, it enabled me to let him go.
What do you find inspires you when you carve?
So many things. Obviously, the birds themselves. I've always felt a special kinship with birds - I've been called 'flighty' by more people than I care to count! They have taught me so many things - patience, how to see with more than my eyes, and on occasion, given me access into their world. I've learned to call some birds - most notably a pair of great-horned owls in my yard will answer my calls. We won't go into the osprey that rewarded my calls to her with an extended stay in the shrubbery, until she decided I wasn't worth waiting for and went away.
Birds have always been considered spiritual messengers and by carving them, I feel closer to nature and to myself. It's my tribute to all things wild and the freedom of the wild.
I will also go to the mountains for inspiration. I feel most at peace in the mountains, and I always come back with ideas.
[ah>What project are you currently working on?I've a couple of small commissions, and I am starting to plan a piece for me - it's a white raven that has been appearing to me in my dreams off and on, but lately, more frequently. I'm getting a feeling of insistence, so I guess it's time to bring him out.
Which tool wouldn't you be without and why?
Pencils and erasers - they are my best friends. I draw a lot, both on paper and wood when I'm carving. After the pencil...clay. I always start with a sketch, but turning the pencil sketch into a clay sketch helps me resolve the piece in three dimensions.
Which is your preferred style of carving and why?
My style of carving is called 'decorative' in the bird carving niche - usually fully textured with detailed paint. I am starting to lean towards less texture to a more smooth surface because I'm finding that it suits my painting style better. The American Avocet in the photo, for example, has no texture at all.
What do you think has been your biggest carving achievement?
The friends I've made through carving over the years. And though it may sound cliche, the latest carving. Each piece is an accomplishment of working through a technique, a process, and trying new things. It's a continual learning curve for me, and that what keeps me going.
Whose work do you most admire?
There are too many to list. I enjoy art that's different from what I do, and try to bring those elements into my own work. I especially enjoy the aesthetic of Sumi-e, that of portraying the subject with just a few strokes. I try to impart that quietness into my carvings. I admire many interpretive bird-carvers for the same reason. Also, I want to be Raymond Harris-Ching when I grow up!
If you weren't a carver what would you be?
Interesting question. A carver isn't so much what I am, as who I am. I would imagine I would be a pencil artist. Or still be doing my previous work as a structural steel draftsman / detailer and wishing I were carving. Taking that leap from closing down my business to carving was a dream come true. I can't say it has been a smooth ride, but I'm glad I did it for the most part. I'd rather say "I tried" than "I wonder what if..."
Describe the view from your workbench and the area where you live.
I live minutes away from rivers, mountains and desert. This provides access to an astonishing variety of wildlife and birds. The view from my studio is my backyard full of trees and birds. The studio has windows on all four sides and two skylights to let in as much light as possible, and to keep me from feeling enclosed.
Do you like to listen to music when you carve?
Yes. Rock music - hard rock music! Think Rob Zombie. That gets me through the roughing out of the bird - I'm a power carver, and I rather go deaf from music than through machine noise. Things quieten down when I paint - usually.
Who or where would you most like to carve for?
My peers. To me, it's an honour having a piece commissioned by a fellow carver.
Are you a self-critic of your work?
Aren't we all? Sometimes I paralyse myself with criticism. But I'm also not afraid to pat myself on the back for something I feel I got right.