Frequently Asked Questions
John Adamson- Tree Sculptor
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Q Why do you carve a living tree?
A I only carve dead or dying trees. I am a conservationist, and I do like trees to be growing tall and reducing the green house gas effect. But there comes a time in every tree's life when it faces the axe man. This may be due to old age, disease, infirmity, damage, or the misfortune of having grown in, what has now been defined as, the wrong place. The owner, frequently the local council, in these circumstances would just cut the tree down and, all to often, it would end in a land fill site. I hope that the tree could continue to benefit the world. Just leaving on the ground to be colonised by woodland animals and plants, seems a good idea. Joe Public, the council and particularly the council's insurers think that this is untidy and dangerous. Sustainable forestry sounds good, i.e. selling the wood to cover the costs of planting more trees. Commercially it is almost impossible to get enough profit out of the sale of one tree to cover the costs of extraction. Wood chip seems a cheaper alternative but there is currently a glut. The suppliers of logs for wood burning stoves charge for felling the tree, only take what they can sell, and leave you to remove the rubbish.
Q So what do you do?
A I aim to turn a problem tree into an original work of art. This has the benefit of making the public more aware of the tree that I am carving. It is amazing how often I am asked "How long has that tree been there?", as if they had not been seen it before, rather than "How old is the tree?". The other popular question is "Did you do the carving at ......", which shows that carvings are creating some interested in trees, woodland, and ecology. It is a small step on the way
Q Is a chain saw dangerous?
A YES, but then so is a can opener. Dick Leigh, who sold me my current chain saw, said "You must remember that you will be using the machine NOT AS THE MANUFACTURER INTENDED", and that seem a good enough warning to me. I wear full protective clothing, make sure that I am not tired before I start, and think about the safety aspects of each cut. How many of us do that before opening a can of beans.
Q How do you start a carving?
A I start by drawing the tree to get to know its shape. Just looking at it is not enough. Drawing involves a translation from a three dimensional object to a two dimensional representation. In that process I come to know the tree and simplify the shape in my mind. Then I take the bark off the tree and look into any obvious signs of rot. The main design is then in my mind. I make a few pencil marks on the tree to establish the position of the first cuts, and get going. Unless the client wants one, I do not make a drawing of what is to be carved, nor a model. Even if I do make a drawing for the client, I do not look at it whilst I am carving.
Q So how do you decide what to cut off next
A Not an easy question to answer without a carving in front of us. Most carvers work from a front and side view. First they cut back to these views and then sort of round off the corners in between. I think that technique produces rather stiff carvings without movement. I do lots of drawing all the time, in cafes, parks, train and bus stations, the cinema and theatre, really anywhere I can get a free model. These drawings are stored in the back of my mind and I use this resource to decide what will fit into the wood, and where the next cut should be. I think of it as a holistic approach to carving. I see all the views of the figure at the same time, not just the front and side. This gives my work movement.
Q Are you on Community Service? (For those not familiar with the British Justice system, Community Service is an alternative to a prison sentence and involves the offender working without payment in a capacity that benefits the community for a number of hours)
A I am not on Community Service but I do feel that I am benefiting the community. I provide a bit of interest for passers by. Some make a visit to see what I am doing part of their daily routine. I am willing to talk to anybody and frequently have to explain a partly finished carving to people with communication problems which can be quite difficult.