Carvers' Companion
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Thirty-six Important Things I Learned As A Full Time Carver Of Fish

by Dan Blair

1:  Carving fish is a good way to keep yourself in the chips.  Unfortunately, almost all of the chips are on the shop floor and mixed in with a bushel basket (or two) of sawdust.
2:  What started as a pleasurable hobby can and WILL be considered a career move if you haven't given it up after 46 years, and if the city insists that you MUST have a business license to continue your efforts in that direction.
3:  Your significant other will NOT think you are funny when you announce you've nicknamed your sawdust-filled lungs "Hoover" and "Kirby".
4:  The depth of a cut will be directly determined by how sharp your carving tools are.  The sharper they are, the better and deeper they will cut into a wood carving.  The same point is TRUE when talking about DULL tools and body parts.
5:  You will NOT be reimbursed by Medicare for emergency treatment for a severe laceration that you disinfected with an alcoholic beverage and bandaged with paper towels and duct tape.
6:  Will I go to Hell for judging other fish carvers in competition since the Bible says, "Judge not that ye shall not be judged."  Should I be worrying about that more than I already do?
7:  Repairs to an accidentally broken fish carving will take AT LEAST 20 minutes longer to fix and conceal than it will take the customer to show up who decided to surprise you by stopping by to pick it up EARLY.
8:  Sanding off the top of your thumb knuckle on your disc or belt sander does not look serious as long as you keep your thumb tightly bent.  It is ONLY when you straighten it out that it becomes a 1/4" deep hole that can easily cradle a lima bean, and only then begins to bleed profusely.
9:  Dog hair does NOT make good homemade paint brushes.  (Cat hair on the other hand.....)
10:  NEVER Super Glue a project while wearing shorts, and IF you do, be certain that your bare legs are NOT crossed!  It is VERY difficult to go to the bathroom when your legs are crossed and glued together.
11:  Being able to carve a reasonably realistic fish does NOT mean you can also carve the replacement leg to an antique French love seat.  And no matter how many times you try, you will NOT be able to stain free cottonwood to make it look like expensive, imported French walnut.
12:  Your children WILL carry a grudge into their adult years if you ever used their stuffed-animal toys as an emergency source for eye balls for your fish carvings.
13:  House paints and deck stains make poor substitutes for painting fish carvings, and left-over automotive lacquer paint from the local auto body shop is NOT airbrush ready.  (Strain it two or three times through nylon panty-hose.)
14:  Emory boards used by the Ladies for sanding and polishing their nails work GREAT for touching up some of those hard to reach areas on a fish carving.  HOWEVER.... in the long run, they will cost you a WHOLE LOT LESS if you go to the store and buy your own.  The same rule applies to those soft facial cosmetic brushes, rubber gloves, Q-tips, pearlescent fingernail polish, steel wool, Scotch-Brite, sharp scissors, and especially.... panty-hose.
15:  Inserting the barrel and action of a rifle into a hand carved gun stock is FAR more challenging than inserting carved fins into a wooden fish carving.  And scaling a fish carving is FAR less challenging than checkering a gun stock and forearm.
16:  NEVER hold a board on your lap when drilling holes into or through it!  And do NOT drill it on the dining table, the fender of your truck, the kitchen counter top, or linoleum floor.  Also do NOTHING on these same surfaces that requires using screws and electric screw drivers.  Power tools will ALWAYS drive a screw at LEAST a 1/4" deeper than the screw is long and the board is thick.
17:  Never assume you can successfully put lacquer-based clear coat over acrylic enamel paint if you just apply it in a built-up series of very thin coats until it looks as wet and shiny as you'd like.
18:  Why is it that when you tell people that you carve fish for a living that they automatically assume you do that ONLY with a chainsaw?
19:  And why is it that when you explain that you prefer to carve fish in basswood or tupelo that they ask, "Is that soft like balsa wood?"
20:  My stomach can easily hold those 44 ounce sodas I buy from the gas station next door.  MY BLADDER CAN NOT!!!
21:  Making a GOOD impression is MOST important.  The FIRST person you should impress is yourself.  It is a mistake to carve a fish and only THEN compare it to the the real thing.  It makes MUCH MORE sense to look at the real fish FIRST and MOST and ONLY THEN to make the carving look like the fish.  The latter method will help to show you how close you can get whereas the previous method ONLY serves to show you how far off you missed.  If your finished fish carving doesn't look like the real fish, you did something seriously wrong.  Not using good references to impress yourself is most likely where your problems first started.
22:  Carving students will remember EVERYTHING I tell them about using MY power tools EXCEPT the rule about NOT kinking the cable on my Foredom flex shaft.
23:  Applying hundreds of spots with an airbrush on a highly spotted trout or other fish ALWAYS works well.  It is only one of the very last spots that blows out into a spider shape that ruins the entire painting process.  So play it safe and do not add the last three or so spots.
24:  Carve more LITTLE fish.  That way, when they don't come out quite right, you can always add fish hooks to them and tell spectators you specialize in carving homemade fishing lures because that's where the "REEL" money is at.
25:  Consider finding a better source for carving woods than from that stack of pallets behind the grocery store.
26:  Do NOT shake a glass airbrush bottle if you have added a steel ball-bearing to help stir up the paint inside.
27:  Carving while sitting on the toilet is NOT a good idea.  The accumulation of chips floats and has a tendency to clog the toilet, sewer line, and septic tank.
28:  As a rule... yard sticks are usually very inexpensive, frequently made from basswood, and thin enough to use as a source for fish fins and other thin-wood carving projects like plant leaves, etc.
29:  Using real rocks on a carved fish habitat base will NOT impress a customer nearly as much as carving and painting even poor substitutes.  Even a very small child can glue rocks on a board.  Right?  And who would ever believe you could carve a fish, but you couldn't carve a rock?  Never give them that impression.
30:  Dealing with the demands of an over-powering inspiration is like throwing up.  You never feel really good again until you get it ALL out of your system.
31:  There are a LOT of ways for an artist to be taken, but I think one of the VERY worst is to be taken for granted.
32:  No matter what I've done, there is NO doubt in my mind that I could have done it better.  I still have to figure out why I didn't.
33:  Buying less expensive tools costs more in the long run because they eventually end up in the junk drawer after I replace them with what I should have bought in the first place.  I keep my first airbrush (a Paasche' H single action) to remind me that I really should have bought my Paasche' VL double action airbrush instead.
34:  Wood chips and shag carpet make a VERY BAD combination and a garden rake will NOT be part of the solution.  Picture yourself on your knees with a pocket comb and a tweezers.
35:  Some say rules should NOT be broken.  I say that because some of have dared to break rules that the rules have been made better and stronger.  As a result, so have we.
36:  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is not path and leave a trail."  I have tried to leave a trail for several years now and I SINCERELY hope SOMEONE is following because it must be VERY obvious that I have been thoroughly and completely lost now for quite some time.

Originally published on the Fishcarving2 mail list and used here with permission of the author.

Dan BlairDan Blair is considered by many to be one of the true pioneers of fish carving. With over 40 years as a professional carver/artist, he has been honored with awards numbering in the hundreds and has taken no less than 19 Best Of Show wins for wildlife and western art.

He is a former associate editor of Breakthrough Magazine and assisted in co-producing three Breakthrough Books. He was the show manager and a judge for the 1987 World Fish Carving and World Taxidermy Championships, and was a seminar instructor for the 2005 World Fish Carving Championships.  A reptile group "wood carving" Dan entered in the World Taxidermy Championships took second place.

Dan is currently an owner/moderator for the largest fishcarving group on the Internet, Fishcarving2 (Click HERE for more information.) He continues to judge shows and teach woodcarving classes across the continent.


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