The Custom Carver


It was just a few short years ago
when i picked up my first knife
Just a magic moment in a day
that  forever changed my life.
that day a woodcarver I became
and I wore my chips with pride
and I learned everything I could
left no technique untried.
I called myself a custom carver
and built my own web site
spent the next few years carving
staying up very late each night.
I heard that one must find a niche
and believe me, I have tried
I still carve almost anything
whatever my customers decide.
While I like to carve my own designs
I do not wish to starve
so I create what others want
At least I get to carve.

Maura Macaluso

Wood chips


wood chips, wood chips everywhere
whatever should I do
sweep them all up into a pile
and grab a bottle of glue.
To the carving that they came from
I try to paste them on
little piece here, little slice there
until the pile is gone
now I’m right back where I started
with a modest block of wood
Can no longer see my carving
It wasn’t very good.
But again I start to chisel
again the wood chips fall
covering up my legs and feet
till I can’t see them at all
I look up at my carving
and its exactly as before
just a mediocre carving,
a pile of wood chips on the floor
Some days can just be magic
other days nothing goes my way
wood wants to be what it wants to be
and tomorrow’s another day

Maura Macaluso

Notes on Human Proportions

Notes on Human Proportions

Head: shape is oval from three views:the front, side and top.Upper portion wider than lower
The distance from the chin to the top of head is the same as from the back of the head to the front. The mid-point of the face, when measured from chin to top of head, is at the base of the eyes or eye sockets
Widest part= distance between the two parietal eminences.The head sideways is one head high and one head wide.face- If looking straight ahead, ends of face will stop at 1/2 of collarbone. facial proportions are universal regardless of race, sex and age, and are based on the phi ratio of 1.618. For example, if the width of the face from cheek to cheek is 10 inches, then the length of the face from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin should be 16.18 inches to be in ideal proportion.The average main face triangle touches the two pupils, the widest part of the nose and the point between the front teeth. To me this is an important character trait. The triangle goes from the center of the pupil, touches the outside of the nose nostril and stops at the center line, every bodies triangle is a little different.. Eyes: The space between the eyes is about the same width as one eye. If the width of eye is used as a unit of measurement, the head is five eyes wide.The eyes are halfway between the top of the head and the chinThe space between the pupils is two and a half inches.The width of one eye is always equal to the space between the eyes
Eyebrows extend beyond the eyes on both sides.
Ears: The top of the ears line up with the brow of the nose and the eyebrows, and the bottom of the ears with the tip of the nose.The top of the ears line up above the eyes, on the eyebrows The ear hole is in line with bottom of the nose, and just above the backbone- skull pivot point.Nose: The bottom of the nose is the midpoint between the eyes and the chin.Face is three noses longLength nose = length earWidth nose = width eyeMouth: The corners of the mouth align with the centre of the eyes (if you’re not smiling). The line where the two lips meet is slightly above the halfway point between the end of the nose and the chin..Mouth is twoeyes wide Chin: The mound of the chin starts at the inner corners of the eyesthe bodyThe average adult is seven heads tall.
– The top of the hips are four heads high.
– The pelvic region is about one head high.
– Elbow to fingertip is about two head lengths.
– Wrist to fingertip is one head length.

  • HEAD- Width of torso (sans shoulders)
  • HAIRLINE- One eye-length above eyes
  • FEET- Length of half of shin (or roughly the size of the forearm).
  • HANDS- Fingerbase (across knuckles) half as wide as face
  • LEGS- Torso length (hip to knee)
  • TORSO- (hip to collarbone) 2 1/2 head lengths
  • ARMS- Elbow ends just above waist (not hips)
  • FOREARM- if hand is on shoulder, wrist is at mid-shoulder.
  • The width from shoulder to shoulder is 3 heads width.
  • The distance from the hip to the toes is 4 heads.
  • The distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the chest is 2 heads.
  • The distance from the wrist to the end of the outstretched fingers of the hand is 1 head.
  • The length from top to bottom of the buttocks is 1 head.
  • The distance from the elbow to the end of outstretched fingers is 2 heads.
  • The neck is 1/4 of a head high.
  •  The chin to shoulder line is 1/4 of one heads length.
  • The chin to nipples line equals one head length.
  • The nipples to the belly button equals one head length.
  • From the belly button to the space between the legs is one and 1/4 head.
  • The width of the waste at the belly button is one head length wide (not head width wide).
  • From the hip [trunk] top triangle line to the space between the legs, is one head high and two head widths wide. Not more.
  • The center of the body is the bend line, it is 1/4 head above the space between the legs and two head widths wide. Not more.
  • The torso triangle is from the ends of the shoulder line to the center and the top line of the bend line triangle. That is the quarter head high triangle within the trunk triangle.
  • The rib cage can be represented by an oval two heads high, starting 1/4 head length above the shoulder line.
  • The upper arm, from the shoulder triangles outside edge, is one and 1/2 heads long.
  • The lower arm is one and 1/4 heads long.
  • The hand is 3/4 of a head long, equal to the average face.
  • The chest side view is one head width wide at the nipples.
  • The upper arm is one and 1/2 head lengths, connecting through the shoulder ball, a quarter head circle reaching the end of the shoulder line.
  • Just below the leg space, the legs and the body are the widest.
  • From the outside point of the bend line triangle down to the center of the knee cap is two head lengths.
  • The bend line is the center of the body.
  • The knee cap is a 1/4 head length circle.
  • The calf muscle is higher on the outside.
  • From the center of the knee cap to the ground is two head lengths.
  • The ankle is 1/4 head high off the ground.
  • The foot is one head length long.
  • The ankle bone is higher on the inside.

Carving The Human Head

Carving The Human Head

First, lets talk about carving the human head. The following information came from the archive files of the Knotholes List. Robert Mace, the moderator of the List, re-published this information for a second time. The original author of the email was Mr. Gene Graham. Mr. Graham has additional information about carving eyes at his web site. You can view it at http://www.angelfire.com/tn/treetotreasure/index.html.

Subject: “Rules” for carving faces

THE HEAD:

1. The height of the face is about 1 1/2 times the width.
2. The side of the head fits roughly into a square.
3. The neck cuts straight back, then angles back & down, then straight down 
4. The head sits forward on the shoulders.

THE FACE:
1. The forehead-to-nose-to chin angle is approximately 120 degrees.
2. The left cheek-to-nose-to-right cheek angle is approximately 90 degrees.
3. The face is divided into three equal parts: the top of the head to the brow, the brow to the bottom of the nose, and the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin.
4. Both sides of the face are NOT symmetrical.
5. The forehead is the only place on the face that is allowed to be flat. 
6. Narrow the temple area.
7. The face is “five eyes’ wide.
8. The eye area is the widest part of the face.
9. Cut the cheek areas straight back.
10. Define the cheek muscles.
11. From the nose to the cheek to the side of the head should have a smooth rounded transition.

THE NOSE: 
1. The “half in – half out” rule. Half of the nose should extend out from the face. The other half should extend into the face.
2. The outside edges of the nostrils line up with the inside corners of the eyes.
3. Taper the nostrils back NOT out.
4. The nose widens slightly then tapers back in about half way between the bridge and the tip.
5. The nose has a ball on the end of it.
6. Do not carve away the muscle structure that connects the nose to the cheeks.
7. DO NOT hollow the inside of the nostrils until the face is completely finished.

THE EYES: 
1. The eyes are in the middle of the head.
2. The eyes are one eye width apart.
3. Round the eyes and face back around the head.
4. Recess the bottom of the eyes farther back than the top.
5. Under normal circumstances, the eyes should be small slits.
6. The pupil of the eye makes up 80% of the eyeball.

THE MOUTH: 
1. The mouth line is 1/3 of the distance from the base of the nose to the base of the chin.
2. Dentures are not flat! Round the mouth area.
3. The corners of the mouth line up with the middle of the eyes.
4. The corners of the mouth should extend behind the nose.
5. The bottom lip should set back under the top lip.
6. The corners of the bottom lip should tuck under the top lip.
7. Add dimple lines at the corners of the top lip.
8. The mouth has little “pockets” at each corner.

THE CHIN: 
1. Keep the ball of the chin small.
2. The chin sets back behind the lips.
3. The chin has two muscles on the end of it.

THE HAIR: 
1. Hair has several levels. Carve them!
2. Hair must have a starting point and an ending point. It does not start and/or end in the middle unless it comes out from or goes in under something.

THE NECK: 
1. The veins in the neck disappear behind the ears.
2. The jaw turns into the ear.

Joe Dilletts’ Woodcarving Apprentice Program

     To achieve an Apprentice 1 level they began with a simple project that they choose. They learn safety precautions. They must be able to take a knife and gouge and V-tool from a wide blunt edge and get them razor sharp. All have certified through the sharpening. They are all working on carving moldings.
Each molding teaches them right and left hand carving, grain structure and direction of cut. The first molding is a chase carving with a V-tool or veiner (spoon carved design). The next molding is a row of small raised
buttons surrounded in a conceived circle. The third molding is a ropedesign. Two are still working on the rope design and the rest have certified through this point. Egg and dart is the next molding. A shell in the next
molding. The last molding will be their design. After completing all themoldings they must apply a finish. Then they must certify to knowing how to calculate mathematical ratios and proportions and certify to enlarging or
reducing a picture to create a pattern per my requirements. They must certify to knowing the common types of wood they will be carving and how tochoose the direction of grain to orientate a face or how to choose the bestand finest grain direction to orientate the carving. They must develop arespect for wood and the source it comes from through good conservation practices inside and outside the shop. Than they must complete a project.That will get them to Apprentice 1 level.

     Apprentice 2 level will have exercises that refine their chisel techniques,uses power to improve productivity and studies good design techniques and human and animal proportions. They must know how to construct a block for carving and good gluing practices by calculating how to even out clamping pressure. There will be much time devoted to drawing which will be taught from the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards.They will be learning woodburning techniques and develop a wide vocabularyof texturing techniques by using chisels. They must develop the ability to make clean cuts in remote areas so to eliminate ‘hamburger’.

    To get certified to Journeyman they must have logged about 1000 hours of carving time, demonstrate originality and uniqueness of design. Capable of designing and drawing their own patterns from several sources. Produce a carving from real life, both in the round and in relief. Does not need instruction to design, carve and finish a carving. Understand the material of  wood and how it is effected by moisture changes, UV exposure, various drying techniques, strength and weatherability. Understand, know when to use different finishes and how to apply those different finishes. Able to make several carvings of the same subject, like an oak leaf, and express different feelings, such as serenity, anxiety, sadness, and joy . Knowledgeof all laws and regulations that apply to the carving business, such as sales and income tax, EPA regulations, MSDS sheets, different business structures such as s-corporation or sole-proprietorship, accounting practices as applied to running a carving business. Demonstrate a willingness to share their knowledge by teaching woodcarving classes.

     To achieve the Master Carver level they must have knowledge of good business practices, know how to quote jobs, write work orders/contracts, create invoices and estimate completion times accurately. Demonstrate good marketing skills. Demonstrated a desire to promote woodcarving and teaches on a regular basis. They must demonstrate a willingness to give back to their community by getting involved in community activities.

                                                                    Joe Dillett

What is Art

Art and Artist are part of a trine with the third point being the viewer. None can exist without the other two and all form a never ending symbiotic evolutionary relationship. Art is created by an artist and is absorbed by and reflected off the viewer. an artist must create art to be an artist and needs support of the viewer to exist(not necessarily financially). The viewer is dependent upon the artist to create and the art to evoke. Art, is simply anything created by man solely for its intrinsic value and serves no purpose other than to exist, occupy space and arouse negative or positive feelings in the viewer. The artist is simply the creator of the art. Though an artist may create with a purposeful meaning behind his art, it is up to the viewer to interpret his statement, to keep or discard what they will, until they have made some sense of it. While some artists believe that they are compelled to create and are not at all dependant upon the viewer, they are mistaken; art is not art unless it is viewed and felt even if it is the artist himself who does double-duty as the viewer.

Woodcarving Tips

  • Strop often, sharpen less
  • A good tool becomes an extension of your arm.  
  • Keep your tools well and they will keep you well
  • Find cheap tools at estate sales
  • Attend a carving show.  You will be inspired
  • Always bring wood into your shop at least two weeks before you plan to use it.  It needs to acclimate to the humidity.
  • Keep your tools well and they will keep you well
  • Anybody will buy anything if you make them think they need it
  •  It is much easier to carve using two hands and hold down devices
  • Sawdust in the air can, combined with a flame or spark, can cause an explosion.
  • Use a sharp straight edge of broken glass to clean up a carving.
  • There are no mistakes in woodcarving, only new design possibilities.
  • Gouges can be used upside down.
  • You can sharpen your tools with various grades of sandpaper.
  • You can put wood into a microwave to dry it or to kill bugs in it
  • Never carve when you are impaired or tired.
  • Don’t carve after sanding, the grit will dull your tool
  • A good tool is worth the price you pay for it.
  • Carve away from yourself.
  • Crumpled up brown paper bags can be used for fine sanding
  • Bad tools don’t get used
  • Crazy glue can be used to glue cuts closed.    
  • Boil a cypress knee and the warm bark will peel off
  • A chisel is not a pry bar.
  • The width of one eye is equal to the space between the eyes.
  • No matter how much wood you have, you won’t have the right size for your next project
  • Remove pencil marks with rubbing alcohol
  • If you price a carving too low it won’t sell
  • The most valuable lessons are learned from your worst mistakes.
  • Wood dust can explode if there is an open flame nearby
  • Use spar varnish on wood which will be displayed outside    
  • Do not use a mallet on palm tools
  • Agree on the price for a carving before you start it
  • Use a scraper to remove excess glue
  • Standard drying time for fresh-cut wood is 1 year to 1” of thickness.
  • The corners of the mouth line up with the centers of the eyes.
  • A high swivel chair with a back and footrest is the perfect carving chair.
  • There are cheap tools to be found at yard sales and estate sales
  • After cutting away the skin of a golf ball, use the excess skin for a paint cup.
  • Turn a problem area upside down and then try to carve it.
  • Wood dust can cause cancer and other diseases
  •  Always plan to demonstrate at any show you attend.  Those who demonstrate usually draw a crowd.
  •  Cover your workbench with inexpensive rubber mats.  Relief carvings will not move.
  •  Smaller pieces of wood can be glued together to make larger pieces of wood.
  • Most carvers have a variety of different woods stored away in their workshops and will pass a piece or two on to a new carver.
  • A V-tool actual has 3 separate blades.
  • Young children can carve soap but be careful, the chips are slippery.
  • If you have wet acrylic paint on a palette, put it in the freezer between painting sessions
  • You can make excellent woodcarvings with a single knife.
  • You can never use too many pictures for references.
  • A power saw can cut faster through flesh than wood.
  • Never stand in a direct line with a table saw blade.
  • Rubber bands can be used as clamps.
  • Use a v-tool for outlining, not using stop cuts will save lots of time and you will not crush the wood fibers.
  • Original carvings sell better than carbon copies.              
  •  Wood carves easier when “wet” but most likely will crack while drying.
  • .Thin cardboard can be used as a strop.
  • Shave the hair on your arm to test the sharpness of a tool.
  • Books are worth their weight in gold but a good carving video is better
  • When picking something thing up, you will knock over another, maybe even 2 or three.
  • The more costly a tool, the more likely it is to jump off your workbench.
  • A mixture of 50% rubbing alcohol and 50% water sprayed on wood will make it easier to carve.
  • Tools should be purchased as needed. 
  • Looking and acting like a professional will help make you one.
  • Tools can sense when you’re afraid of them.
  • The best way to learn is to do.
  • Wood contracts and expands with humidity.
  • Sell the right things at the right shows
  • Grinling Gibbons glued layers onto his carvings.
  • Let the customer be involved, update them on their carvings progress. Email them pictures in various states of completion.
  • You can soak a thin board in water, cover it with a wet towel and use a household iron to  remove any warping or cupping
  • Word of mouth is the best selling tool.
  •  You can burnish wood by using a rounded piece of hard wood to press into your carving.
  • Wood is dry when it has a 10% or less moisture level
  • Cuts usually happen reaching for tools.
  • Always get a deposit which will cover the costs of a commission carving.
  • Clean sandpaper using hard rubber
  • There is always more than one way to do something.
  • Slowing down wood drying time will lessen checking. 

How do you become a woodcarver?

A reflection on my 10 year carving anniversary.

     How do we become who we are meant to be?  In my case I did not decide to become a woodcarver. My first few woodcarvings just happened.  In fact at the time, I didn’t know that traditional woodcarvers existed anymore. On an annual June family reunion to Cape May in 2000, my Uncle Bill told me about a creation that a friend had given his family. It was the same subject, a leaf, I believe, repeated 3 times in 3 different mediums.  One of the mediums used was wood.   He spoke of the creation glowingly.  I had always had an artistic bent coupled with the ego of an artist and remembered thinking to myself, ‘I could do that’.  I filed the thought away in the underworld of my cluttered mind.
That July, I turned 40 and it started a dialogue in my head. For the first time in my life, I really dealt with the issue of my own mortality.  Was this my midlife? Were my days numbered, and the writing clearly on the wall? Or would I have many, many more days to waste away getting nowhere fast. There was no mid-life crisis, no therapy, no craziness on my part. It was a quiet yearning for something more, something that mattered, something that when I left this earth, I could be proud of leaving behind, an accomplishment that would mark my point of existence in history. What I knew then was that I felt unaccomplished and that did not sit well with me. I had no legacy to pass down to future generations, nothing to contribute to mankind. Besides passing my DNA down to my son, there would be nothing to say I had been here. Career-wise, I had been a sign maker, an x-ray darkroom technician, an x-ray developer repairman, a New York State EMT for a brief period, a restaurant worker and a US letter carrier. All of these were respectable occupations that sounded good when I started them but within a few short months or years, I knew that I would not want to spend my life doing any of them.  To be honest, I  was never ambitious. I was always happy with very little.  If I could pay my bills, have money to live and a roof over my head, I was content. It had never been about money or fame.

     Looking back on my life, the one thing that remained a constant was my art. I had doodled, drawn and painted since I was a young child and this slowly developing talent led to my first job at the age of 15 as a sign-maker for local businesses. Somehow, it wasn’t creative enough for me and I soon grew tired of it.  I continued my art as a hobby, painting dungaree jackets and glass etching car windows and commission painting. I even made a few bucks from it, now and then.  When I was 17, with high school graduation looming large, my mom asked me what I was going to do with myself.  I didn’t give a moments pause and told her, “I’m going to be an artist”.  What came next was one of the most hurtful things that ever happened to me, whether intentional or not. My mom laughed at me and said “Don’t be silly. That’s not a job, you will need a real job because when you turn 18, I will be charging you rent”. I was crushed, not because I might have to grow up but because my art was the one thing I could do that held any real meaning for me.  My mother thought little of my art, which was such an integral part of who I was.   I was broken. In retrospect, perhaps I should’nt have listened to her but a mothers view of a child holds a tremendous weight in any persons life. I never had any semblance of a good relationship with my mom, but was always looking for her approval, I went out into the world of working people, day after day, earning a living, only to regret it 20 years later.  I know now that I should have been willing to sacrifice for my art, even if it meant doing without for a few years.

In early Sept. of 2001, my Uncle Bill, who had collected a few pieces of my drawings and paintings called on the phone. His son, my cousin, T. Kyle, who lived here on Staten Island had landed a job in the financial district in Manhattan. My uncle, who lived in Pennsylvania, asked me to make him a drawing or painting of something New York City related that he could put in his office to reflect this. We bantered ideas back and forth and we agreed that I would create something that had the Staten Island Ferry as its focus.  I wrote it down and soon the scrap of paper became buried under other things and was forgotten for awhile.

A few weeks later on Sept. 11th, 2001, my world would turn and re-adjust its axis when I watched the Twin Towers collapse in front of me. What I remember of that morning was how beautiful and perfect a fall morning it was. The sky was crystal clear and a beautiful shade of blue. There were big puffy clouds floating around. The type of clouds that you lay down in the grass and look up at, imaging all types of things in them. The leaves were needing to be raked and it seemed like there was no better day for a bit of outside work.  I had clipped my walkman to my pants, hung the headphones around my neck, and just as I walked down the steps to go outside,  the phone rang.  I continued out the door but having a young child in school, I turned back to answer it, in case it was some type of emergency.  It was a friend of mine and the only thing she said was “hang up the phone and turn the TV on. I did as asked and saw that it was moments after the first plane struck the tower at the World Trade Center in downtown, which was now on fire. How could that have happened?, I thought to myself and raced out into my car, grabbing my camera as I went. As I reached the north shoreline of Staten Island, the second plane hit the 2nd tower.  I knew then that this was no accident.

I was standing there taking pictures a while later when the first one collapsed. I have personal photos in time sequence of the event. As the first tower fell, all the wind rushed out of me, my legs weakened and quivered and I dropped to the ground on my knees. I understood that it was the moment when thousands of people died and were vaporized. Very little was left behind to even prove they ever existed. I felt it to my core. These were, for the most part, innocent working people who didn’t deserve to die.  Interestingly enough, I had just read a study in which the results were, the number one regret that people have on their deathbeds is that they spent too much time working and not enough time enjoying life.

As panic was all around me, I decided I needed to go get my son from school in case we were at war or something, only to find that my ex-husband who was much closer to the school had already picked him up.
I eventually returned home, upset and not knowing what to do but knowing that I needed to stay calm until the world made sense again and I went down into the basement workshop in an effort to do something, anything to distract myself from the terrible events and rumors of the day. I came across the scrap of paper with the word ferry on it.  I put it aside to do some thinking.  what would I draw, what would I create.   I looked around me and surprisingly there was a slab of pine sitting there. It was at that moment I knew what I would do.  Recalling the conversation I had had with my uncle about the artwork he had been given, I decided  I would carve a ferry into the wood. While I was laying out the design in pencil, it looked like a ferry floating in space so I needed to give it a back ground.  There was no question in my mind that the background would be the Twin Towers in all their former glory. I finished the design and laid it aside.

In the fall of 2001 towards the end of September,  I went on my annual vacation to Provincetown in Cape Cod, MA.  It was my habit to bring something of a creative nature with me. I brought the slab of wood with me and my rotary tool with all its bits and attachments.  There on the beachfront deck of our rented condo, I proceeded to shape the wood into a folk art depiction of the ferry. I eventually mailed it off to my uncle who loved it. Understand even though it was technically my first woodcarving, I did not consider it that. It was simply a drawing/painting of the ferry which had been shaped into a piece of wood.

A few months later, on Dec. 18th, now a letter carrier for many years, I would slip on a set of stairs. I severely dislocated and catastrophically broke my ankle. This would lead to many months the following year, spent having surgeries and living in a wheelchair with a huge heavy hard cast covering almost my entire leg. I spent a tremendous amount of time laying in bed, reading, watching TV and movies and playing video games until eventually a morose sense of long-term boredom set in.

At the end of January, 2002, I received a very distressing phone call from my dad in Florida, which would again tilt the axis of my world. My mom had suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. This was something so unexpected that it didn’t make much sense to me in the moment. My dad was older than her. Dads were supposed to die first in my naive view of the world. I packed a suitcase and caught the first plane I could manage to. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done, in a cast, in a wheel chair, going through the post 911 airport security. I arrived in Tampa a day after the phone call only to be told that my mom was continuing to suffer a series of heart attacks and that the outlook was not promising. My mom was 59. This simply could not be happening. But it was. The extended family gathered down in Florida for what would be an almost month long vigil. After 2 or three weeks, I returned to NY to attend to some work related business to apply for workers compensation.  I was to return to Florida and my mom and dad shortly thereafter.  But in the few days I was home, it happened almost as if I wasn’t meant to be there. On February 20th my mom passed away.  This was a terrible time for me especially because we hadn’t resolved our personal issues with each other.  Except for a few moments of tears when I learned that she had passed and then again at the actual service, I was numb. I spent a few more days with my dad and our immediate family.  When I returned home to New York after the funeral, I guess you could say I was in shock and did not feel much of anything. My concern for my dad was paramount but not much else mattered then. Each day led into the next. and eventually life went on as it always seems to do.

  My Mom

One day at the end of March 2002, when no one was home, I was utterly at the end of being able to handle my boredom. From my bedroom up on the second floor, still with the heavy cast on, I scooted myself on my butt, down two flights of stairs and into the basement where I had set up a small workbench under the stairs.  I had done a lot of repair work in the house and I really enjoyed that. I wanted to do something, anything, to distract myself from the physical and emotional pain I was in. I realized after a few minutes that there wasn’t much I could do. Most of the tools were power tools which you needed to stand to use.  I tried to go back upstairs, then learning how much easier it was to go down stairs rather than to go up.  I sat there in pain and frustration and realized I would have to wait until someone came home to help me. That would be a few hours.  I got myself up into a high swivel chair, looked around at what I could reach. I needed something to keep me busy. I saw a small block of wood and picked it up. I looked to the rack of hand-tools attached to the wall on my other side and I saw an old rusty utility knife. Now, I held a piece of wood in one hand and a knife in the other. I simply started whittling. I had a huge collections of penguins and I could picture a penguin in my head so I proceeded to use the knife to carve one.

My first carving
    The act of carving that day was therapy, mediation and resolution all through a little piece of wood. It was the most incredibly peaceful thing I had ever attempted, just me, the wood and a knife. In the middle of it, I broke down crying, the tears wouldn’t stop. I was finally crying for my mom, for all that I ever wanted for us, for her approval which I would never get, for all the words never spoken. I was crying for the loss of my beloved Twin Towers and a world which would never be innocent again. I was crying for the loss of my livelihood and the stability and financial security I had known up until that point. It was a terribly emotional afternoon. But even through the mist of the tears, my hands kept working.  I wasn’t sure if it was my mom now giving me permission to continue my art or if  I was doing my art, in spite of her, because she couldn’t laugh at me anymore. Whatever happened to me on that afternoon, I would never, ever be the same.  I had finally found myself. And by the time I finished that little carving, I knew who I was and who I was meant to be.
     Eventually someone did come home and help me up the stairs and back into bed. I was clutching the penguin in my hand. They asked me what I was thinking going down into the basement. “This”, I proudly proclaimed and held my little penguin up for their approval.  They said, “you didn’t make that”.  And as I reassured them that I did, The next days plan was already forming in my head. I would carve again. The next carving was a series of ducks innocently swimming past a hollow log. A carving for my duck loving little boy. Unbeknownst to him, inside the hollow log I had carved a ready-to-strike snake in perfect position to snatch the littlest duckling, my own twisted sense of humor coming in to play. It was a lesson from his mom, to be careful in this world.
     From small beginnings, come great things. My life changed in so many ways. I had never found something which had ignited such a fire inside me. I carved day and night after that, started purchasing all the tools I would need and eventually understood that carving was how I would leave my mark on this world. In the last 10 years, I estimate I have done close to 1000 carvings, and have taught a few hundred people how to get started. I have written a book, I have gone on many carving journeys and met wonderful people along the way. I have made so many, many dear friends. I have woodcarvings in 23 countries on 4 continents now and even if just one of those carvings lasts beyond my lifetime, someday, someone, somewhere will turn that carving over and find my name. and I will live on through it. I will have my legacy. I found something which I will continue to do until I can not do it any more. And I will be happy doing it.
      It is 10 years later to the day of my first carving and I am planning for the day I will be officially retired from the postal service. The greatest journey of my life is about to begin in earnest and I can’t wait to see where it takes me. I will regret nothing when my time comes. Happy anniversary, my little penguin.