Figurehead – left cheek

November 21st, 2011

With the help of Abigail, I got a good start on sculpting the left cheek and jaw. Before they were very angular, but are starting to smooth out and look more realistic.


I also did some of the shaping of the right side of the cap, not shown.

Abigail to the rescue

November 20th, 2011

Okay, even with a number of 2D digital images of the same woman, it is still hard to visualize the 3D shapes. You don’t have a real object that you can move around to where you need to see. I realized I had a perfect model laying around the house that I had picked up a few years ago at a sale for $2 – a “Cameo Girl” Lady Head Vase of Abigail from 1858. This particular praying Abigail is entitled “Amazing Grace.” [I like the way women used to look before blue jeans and t-shirts, and other blah modern clothes.]

Auray head 4

Abigail has volunteered to pose for me and pray for the outcome

The interesting thing about this vase is that the head is about exactly the size of the head I’m trying to create on my hurdy-gurdy!  It might be easier to just figure out a way to attach it to my peghead — ha!

So, I definitely have no excuse as far as a suitable model to give me the best shot at reproducing a decent face.

Gidget, a gurdy girl?

November 20th, 2011

As I’ve said, I was excited to find the two antique postcards of the girl in Breton costume shown from the front and side, which I thought would help in carving.

She has one major problem, however – she looks anything but happy. Who wants a sad figurehead on their hurdy-gurdy? Her second, lesser problem is that she isn’t particularly beautiful. Nothing against that, she can’t help it. I’d be more than happy to be able to duplicate her face perfectly – but with more of a smile.

But me being such an amateur carver, I need all the inspiration I can get. I imagine if I aim for a real beauty, I may end up with some one more like on the antique postcards, which would be fine. But if I start out with that, I would likely end up with something not as good. The third issue is that the two old views do not have a lot of detail of the subtle shaping of the face, and there are only these two shots, no in-between ones.


Sandra Dee - “Gidget”

Could I find a prettier face with various angles to work with, showing more detail? Maybe an actress, as there would be plenty of pictures available online from different angles. I asked a movie buff friend of mine for suggestions, and he said “Sandra Dee.” I really didn’t know who she was, but found out she was known for playing “Gigdet” in the iconic 1959 surfing movie, and other ingénue roles. An ingénue is a young woman who is endearingly innocent and wholesome. The term comes from the French adjective ingénu meaning “ingenuous” or innocent, virtuous, and candid. Well, I thought she  had a very sweet, girl-next-door look, and I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Of course, she would have to wear the costume of the Auray region of Brittany…

Auray head 3

Sandra Dee Photoshopped into costume: “Gidget goes French!”

Will my figurehead look like Sandra Dee? I doubt it. I just hope she comes out passably attractive.

Those things are sharp!

November 20th, 2011

I’ve been recently using a couple carving tools I bought, and have already slashed my thumb. I had bought a leather thumb protector, but I had it on the other thumb at the time! I didn’t have the protective fish cleaning glove on. I need to be careful to wear that. Thankfully, the thumb doesn’t hardly hurt, and is healing fine.


Bandaged thumb, protective gear, and carving knife

The photo shows some work I was doing shaping the shoulders and working on the collar.

Head – width narrowed

November 12th, 2011

The outer edge of the girl’s headdress is an original edge of the block and was being preserved to narrow the width of the pegbox to match that of the keychest. I decided I couldn’t keep that intact any longer due to the shaping I needed to be doing. I was hoping to do this later, so none of the good edges would get dinged up while doing the carving.

I couldn’t run the pegbox side over the router bit and keep it level without leaving a second “foot” opposite the one created by the headdress edge.


Partway through the second of three passes, showing temporary foot

I made about three cuts of increasing depths to reach the right dimensions. I did both sides of the peghead while at each depth. Once the right depth was reached, I needed to remove the temporary foot before the bit was adjusted. This was done by using a “crutch” strip of balsa wood the same thickness as the foot being amputated, to hold the piece level.


My crutch spacer used to remove the temporary foot underneath

All of this was a very delicate operation. I was worried about chipping out a final edge. More of a possibility was gouging by the router bit, if I tried to do too much at one time, making it buck, or if the piece rocked slightly. Removing the temporary feet was also very risky, with the possiblity of the crutch moving or not being exactly the same width as what was being removed.


Results of narrowing after routing off the temporary feet

One side had to be routed a little deeper than the other. This was because the holes drilled for the chanter strings did not turn out exactly in the middle of the block. I shifted the centerline of the piece over to match these holes.

It turned out that one side of the pegbox is 1/32 thinner than the other because of how I hollowed out the inside. This is only slightly noticeable, and only visible from the bottom, anyway. I could probably do something about it, but don’t know if I will bother. The thinner side is about 5/16″ thick.

Overall, the operation was a huge success, and one I am glad to have behind me. I hope to eventually put marquetry inlay in the sides of the pegbox, which will match that in the lid of the keychest.

Figurehead – basic oval for the face

November 9th, 2011

I’m now cutting inward to the rough oval pencil outline of the face with the chisel. This involves undercutting the edge of the lace cap.


Right side of face roughly carved out underneath the cap edge

Extra wood was left towards the back for the ear and hair. The long ridges made for the rough profile of the nose and lips were shortened to their proper areas. This is giving more of a 3D look, and hopefully start to look slightly human, too.


Her other side roughed in

Her right side was done on Tuesday and the left side on Wednesday. Definitely looking more human, now — just like a wooden Indian made with an axe!


More of a profile view of my hopefully temporary wooden Indian


Figurehead – silhouetting the face

November 8th, 2011

Over the weekend I gave a very rough profile to the face: nose, lips, chin. I did this by drawing horizontal lines at the low spots, sawing along them, then chiseling into these slots from both directions.


Beginning stage of creating silhouette of the facial features

I drew in some lines for the neck and collar, to help solve the 3D collar problem. I also drew in the 1/4″ parallel lines where the peghead sides will be narrowed to match the width of the keychest. La femme’s cap will be wider than the business end of the peghead.


Besides rough profile of face, large areas of scrap removed from sides

After doing the notches across the face, before totally losing the rest of my reference photo of the face, I chiseled in diagonally on the sides towards the neck, according to the angles of the bottom lines of the cap in the front view, to get rid of a large amount of scrap. The cutting from here on will have to be more true carving and sculpting, and not just waste removal.

I sketched in the oval for the head, and added some very large ears and hair below those, since at this point I am not exactly sure of ear placement and don’t want to remove too much too soon. It will be a challenge from this point on, not having photos in place to serve as accurate cutting guides.


We've definitely arrived at the end of the straight-cutting phase

You will see there is a thin, flat, original block edge on either side of the head. I hope to keep that intact for as long as possible because it should come in handy when narrowing the sides of the peghead, which I expect to do mostly with the router.

Figurehead – silhouetting back of neck

November 8th, 2011

Last week I sawed and chiseled out the back behind the neck.


Rough silhouetting of the back of the head

I got a little carried away with the initial shaping of the top edge of the stiff lace collar in the back, not thinking correctly in 3D. I cut out what would be a cross-section view of this shape, including the notch where it stands up, not remembering that the collar has to wrap up over her shoulders towards the front. Cutting that straight notch [or the notch at all, at this stage] was a mistake, because it cuts through where the high part of the collar should wrap around to the front.


Back of cap will stay flat for now to serve as a base for carving

I will just make the highest point of the collar lower on the shoulders, and so this mistake shouldn’t be a big deal. It doesn’t have to stick up as high as the following example.


One of many samples I found of the costume's collar from the back

Figurehead – initial shaping

November 1st, 2011

Before moving on, I cleaned up the inside some after drilling the peg holes – repairing the chipped out places and re-smoothing the inner surfaces. I hope I am done in here for awhile!


First I undercut the chin to the neck with a miter saw and chisel, and added a paper face to the front as a guide.


Then I sanded off the top and corners using Leonard’s disc sander…


…to create a rough outline of her headcovering.


Doing much more rough-shaping will involve losing my nice silhouettes, which will definitely make it harder to get the proportions right. I will need to ponder the order in which I want to do things from here. I could further shape the top of her cap, or remove the bottom to the outline of her head and neck.

A Ma Vie

October 31st, 2011

hermine1When I did the laser-etching on the keychest, I promised to do a post on what the phrase A Ma Vie meant. So, finally… voilà!

It is associated with Brittany and the ermine, which I also used on my hurdy-gurdy, especially for the soundholes. You can see the whole ermine to the left, as well as the symbolic fur tufts like I used for the soundholes, and the phrase A ma Vie.

More precisely, it is associated with Duchess Anne of Brittany. As the postcard says: “The ermine,  emblem of Anne of Brittany, wife of Louis XII.”



This postcard gives more clues, the French text explaining the “devise” [motto]: “As this emblem is also that of purity of manners, it is believed that the motto A ma vie signifies I will remain pure all my life.” [or ‘in my life’] So, A ma vie [“ my life”] is an abbreviated slogan for this larger concept of purity. But what’s this got to do with ermines?

As with the French fleur-de-lis [lily], these weasel-like animals are a symbol of purity.  Their winter coats are snow-white, except for the black tip of their tails.


Anne of Brittany, r. 1488-1514

There is a legend about them that explains the Breton motto. One version is that the Duchess Anne of Brittany was on a hunt with her court when an ermine was being chased by the hunting party. When the ermine came upon a swamp, it turned to face certain death from the hounds rather than escape and muddy its pure white coat. Anne was impressed by the creature’s courageous attitude and asked that it be spared. She adopted it for her emblem. It has been used widely as a symbol for Brittany on various coats of arms, and even on their modern flag.

A longer motto of the Duchy of Brittany was Plutôt la mort que la souillure. [“Rather death than defilement”] A ma vie is a variant of  this same sentiment, according to Wikipedia.


Ermines with “A ma vie” scrolls carved in stone on an old mantlepiece

I don’t  know why they had so much difficulty portraying ermines back then. They are rather cute, contrary to the old representations.