Creating a bird
The bird sculptures come to life in a large workshop next to Geoffrey’s farmhouse. Piles of intriguingly-shaped pieces of wood sit there. There are gnarled oak roots, sometimes used for bases, and slowly drying driftwood planks, their gentle smell pervading the whole space. Rows of different-sized chisels are neatly hung on racks along the walls, and on a tidy work bench sits a pair of half-finished curlews. The process starts by drawing the outline of the bird on a square block of wood. To make the curlews, Geoffrey uses a block approximately 12 by 20in (30 x 50cm) for each bird. He knows exactly what he is going to carve before he starts. “The whole thing can end up on the floor in shavings unless you have planned what you are going to do first.” The bird’s body is made from reclaimed pine, sourced from salvage yards, old buildings or finds on the beach. Pine is not a traditional carving wood, but Geoffrey prefers to work with it rather than the more usual, harder lime or oak. “It has a deeper grain than the other woods which makes it look a bit like driftwood, so it matches the bases,” he explains. However, working with it is challenging, as being a natural material it can be unpredictable. “If you get a knot in the wrong place, or the wood cracks, you just have to throw the whole thing away,” he explains. Once the shape has been drawn onto the wood, he cuts it out roughly, using a band saw. “Then, off I go with a chisel and wooden mallet,” he says. He carefully cuts away the excess wood using ever smaller chisels to refine the bird’s distinctive form. This part of the process takes several days, although Geoffrey is a fast worker. “If it takes too long to make, I know there is something wrong with the shape.” The bird’s head and beak are made in separate sections, then joined to the main body of the bird with wooden dowels and glue. The legs are made out of reclaimed metal from scrapyards, which is heated with a blow lamp, then hammered into shape on an anvil. The finished legs are inserted into the body and then into a hole in the base. The birds are finally rubbed down with different grades of sandpaper to give a smooth finish.
The bird’s outline is cut from the wood and its shape enhanced with a chisel. The reclaimed metal legs are bent using a blowtorch before being inserted into the body. The bird’s head is made separately, then attached to the body at Geoffrey’s work bench and sanded at the join.