Monday, May 13, 2013

The Frog Prince . . .

Well, maybe not a prince.  Not even for a prince, in fact.  The bowl featured in this post was my Mother's Day gift to my frog-loving mom.

Now, this particular gourd has a story to go with it that began two years ago when Mom and I first attempted growing gourds.  We weren't sure how it would go, but I followed the instruction I found for hand-pollinating the female flowers using the pollen from the males.  It was a couple weeks until we found this gourd growing inside one of the socks used to prevent cross-pollination.  It was the first one we found, and we found it on Mom's birthday.  Right away, I decided that this gourd would be a present for her in the future.  A few weeks later, I tied a ribbon loosely around the stem so I wouldn't mistake any of the other gourd growing so emphatically for for this, our first one.

When it came time to harvest the gourds for the winter, I simply memorized what this one looked like.  After all, each gourd develops its own shape and coloring, and the stems are like fingerprints in their own way.  I watched this gourd closely, afraid that something might happen to ruin it as it "seasoned."  But it came out of the winter and spring seasons unharmed and in terrific condition for crafting.  Unlike most of the other gourds, the coloring was pretty even, giving me a canvas that was virtually blemish-free.  

Deciding what to do with this fantastic specimen, something to make it distinctive for a very important woman, was difficult at best.  It sat in a corner of my sunroom where I could see it every day.  The ideas it inspired varied from simple burning, to carving ivy vines, to something as intricate as a carved vine with some of the leaves cut out.  But it sat there for an entire year before I finally decided to cut off the top and make a bowl.  The frogs came later.

Here is where I warn you that I have forty-four pictures of this project, and while I will not post all of them, I will post a lot.  I am very proud of this project.  And, while some parts of it were a learning curve, I couldn't be happier with the results as they developed before my eyes.  Somewhere I have pictures at least of the harvest, if not the growing process, but alas, I can not locate them in the vast folders used for my gardening endeavors.

So, without further ado, I present the pride and joy of my gourd crafting to date . . .

As Maria sings in The Sound of Music, let's start form the very beginning.  These little buggers were tough to place.  I tried several times to place the six frogs evenly around the bowl.  I failed miserably each and every time.  Finally, I broke down, dusted off the old math skills (utilizing my husband for decimal conversions), and got them in place using two rulers.  One for between the frogs, and one from the table to the top of each frog.  It was tedious, yes, but the results were more than satisfactory.  See, you never know when those math classes will come in handy.

After tracing each of the six frogs, I removed my print copies to reveal the "pencil" lines beneath.  

I started with the burner.  I used Mom's because she got this awesome one from Arizona Gourds, and I wanted to try it out.  Besides, I was burning sharp details.  There was no way my fifteen dollar craft burner would make the grade.  This precise burner, however, was like using a razor-edged marker to trace the lines.  It was that precise.  I still had to get used to it, considering this was the first time I'd really used the thing.  I had done a few lines and such on a scrap piece, but that was it.  I was jumping in with both feet and hoping my air tank worked.
First shape outlined.

One thing that was spectacular about this burner was the sensitivity in the temperature dial.  A millimeter of movement changed the results dramatically.

The toes, I found, were especially difficult.  I had to turn the tip at just the right speed to avoid over- or under-burning.  I also learned that I am better at making counterclockwise turns from left to right.

First frog outline burned.

Started shading with the eye.
 Time for the shading, and this I practiced a bit first.  I had to get the angle and temperature right to avoid making lines in the shading.  But once I got the fine-tuning, it was easy.  The shape of the tip helped with that a lot.
Half shaded

First frog fully shaded.
I knew what I wanted to do for for the top of the bowl, but I thought that just having three burned and three carved frogs wasn't enough.  It needed something to accent the top.  I decided on a simple tribal element between the places where the wrap would go through the gourd.  More measuring for precision, but again the results were well worth the extra time. 
Penciled tribal element.

Tribal element outlined.
Tribal over burned frog.

I was really happy with the contrast this provided.  It was the perfect addition to the rim, and you will see just what I mean when the wrapping is added.

Tribal over frog to be carved.

So then I broke out my Grandpop's old Xacto carving set.  I chose a chisel blade and I used it to cut rectangular holes between the tribal patterns.  Once the hole was cut, a square needle file just over 1/8 inch wide smoothed and evened out the holes to the perfect size and shape.  Using these hand carving tools made me wonder if maybe I could do some carving by hand.  It was rewarding in so many ways.  And, I fell in love with the outcome.  In fact, I liked the look so much I toyed with the idea of not wrapping it at all and just leaving the holes empty.  
Xacto chisel and square needle file with first hole cut.

Dyed outside
In order to even out the few areas where the gourd shell was a bit off, I dyed it with honey ink dye.  I dyed the inside, too, by mixing a fair amount of a special gel with the color.  The gel keeps the porous areas of the gourd from absorbing the dye, thus avoiding an overly dark (or even black) appearance.
Dyed inside

Now the fun part.  I have found that I love carving.  By hand, with a Dremel, it doesn't matter.  The detail and depth that can be achieved is amazing.  And it's all by chance for the most part.  Well, maybe that's just because I'm still in the infantile stage of my craft.

I started carving the outline of the frog first, using a tiny little ball carving burr in my cheaper non-Dremel rotary tool.  The tiny ball allowed me to get the finer points carved without rounding them out too much.  I also used this burr to carve the middle out of the narrower portions because the next size up was too aggressive.  But I did switch to that next size for the larger areas to be carved.

You can see how just having the rectangular holes cut between the tribal designs sets off the rim without needing the wrap.  I ended up doing the wrap because it softened the look of the rim.

A lesson I learned with the burning and carving is the order in which they should be done.  Carve first. It makes so much dust, that it sticks to and lightens the burned outlines.

Before I started wrapping the leather lace, I sprayed the gourd inside and out with a semi-gloss poly spray to protect it.  Then I got to work on wrapping the lace.

Start of the lacing.
It was easy enough to get started since I only had to wrap it in one direction.  But I had to keep it loose because the next step would require finigling at every turn.  I fought with the lace to fit two strands through each hole, and to keep it from twisting.  I had to use two lengths of lace and figure out how to tie off the ends without using knots.  The effort was well worth the payoff, though.  
Top view of lacing.
"Tied off" ends.

I love the look of the crisscrossed leather lacing accented by the tribal points reaching toward the juxtaposition of the darker burned frogs and the lighter carved frogs. 

 But you decide for yourself.  How do you like my Mother's Day gift for the best Mom--and Grandmom?  (Let us know what you think in the comments below.)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much. The bowl is so beautiful. The pictures don’t show half its beauty.