The September/October issue of Lynchburg Living magazine hit the stands and included an awesome feature on Mark’s wood sculptures and chainsaw carving. They asked some great questions about his inspiration, process and aspirations. I think you’ll enjoy Mark’s answers!
Mark, you work in several different mediums of art, so how did wood carving become your main focus?
I’ve drawn most of my life and have done a lot of portrait, abstract and graphic work. I had always wanted to do sculpture. Marble was attractive but not the easiest to obtain and sculpt. But working in 3-D was where I wanted to go. I saw a chainsaw carved wood bear, and I thought I’d try it. One evening after cutting firewood, I took my chainsaw to a log and carved a bear. I was hooked from that point.
When did you start wood carving?
Did you ever formally study art?
No, I’ve gotten to where I am through focus and practice. What are some of the behind-the-scenes realities of your work? How much preparation goes into a piece? When I first start talking with a client, we discuss the sculpture he or she wants, which includes the type of animal, the size, the pose, the expression and emotion, and the finish, whether it is left natural, stained or painted and sealed. Next, I draw a sketch for the client’s approval. After a sculpture design is done, I start looking for a log that will suit the piece. Sometimes I have an appropriate log on hand, and sometimes I work with local loggers to find what I need. Once I have the log, I strip it of the bark and occasionally will spray paint an outline and guides for the design onto the surface; other times I go straight to chainsawing. Carving away the bulk of the unnecessary wood to reveal the basic shape of the piece goes pretty quickly. After that, I continue to shape the piece with chainsaws and other tools. The refining work and details, such as fur and the face, come last, followed by the finishing color and sealer when needed.
Do you have a set plan of what your sculptures will look like when you set to work, or does it simply take shape as you work?I do have an idea as to what I’m going to do, but it isn’t set in stone. It takes shape as I work. The creativity isn’t always on tap. I have to coax it to come out. But once I start a piece, everything starts to flow.
What is the inspiration behind your designs?
Inspiration comes from the design process itself, and the challenge of creating sculptures I’ve never before tried.
How much of your work is commissioned, and how much do you start independently and then sell?
I started out carving lots of bears that would then be sold, but now nearly all my work is commissioned. I do try to keep a few small, rustic bears available since they’ve become popular. Today, most of my clients find us through our Etsy store, Etsy.com/SleepyHollowArtists, and website.
How many hours go into a typical carving? What factors affect the amount of time invested?
The design process and finding a log can take up to a week. The smaller carvings take one or two days, and the larger sculptures take about a week to carve. Using the chainsaw makes it go quicker. Before adding a finish such as paint, stain or sealer, I let the wood sculpture sit and dry for as long as the client will allow, typically two to four weeks. Then I apply the finish and let it sit for a day to dry at which point it is ready to be shipped or picked-up. Other factors that affect the amount of time it takes to complete a piece are the complexity of the design and the type of wood.
What is your favorite thing to sculpt/carve?
My favorite type of sculpture is one I have never done before.
You do much more than just wood sculptures. Could you tell us about some of the other pieces you have created?
I have done a lot of graphite portraits of people and animals as well as oil and watercolor paintings and airbrushing.
What has been one of your greatest challenges as an artist?
Finding a way to plug into the art world and be successful.
Wood carving seems to be somewhat of a lost art form. How are you helping to bring this medium of art to the attention of people in the local area?
I enjoy talking to people about carving and inspiring them to try something artistic.
Do you sell your work to people outside of Central Virginia?
In the beginning most of my work was sold locally, mainly around Wintergreen and in Amherst County. Now, nearly all of it is commissioned by clients all over the U.S. My work especially has been gaining popularity in the central and western parts of the country. My clients usually say they have never seen sculptures with such attention to detail that convey emotion and stay true to the animal form.
What do you hope to accomplish through your artwork?
I enjoy making my clients happy and watching their reaction and emotion when they see their sculpture. Personally, I am always exploring my creativity in order to continually take it to the next level.
Do you have a gallery? Are people able to come view your finished pieces or watch you working on a piece?
I work at my home studio, and clients are welcome to stop by and watch the progress. In the future, I plan to build a gallery space on our property which would be open to the public.
What is your favorite aspect of being part of the Lynchburg community?
The Lynchburg community is an untapped resource for me. Most of my work has been in Amherst, Nelson and Bedford counties and all over the U.S. I look forward to being part of the Lynchburg art scene.
What’s next for you?
I continue to push the limits and create more impressive pieces. I want to work outside of the log itself and sculpt more intricate, complex and multi-log constructed designs. I am working my way into selling sculptures at local retail stores and gaining national corporate and resort clients for commissioned art. I am also interested in contributing to greenway projects, parks, playgrounds and city revitalization efforts.