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  • From Observation to Expression

From Observation to Expression

By Carol Russell
Photography by Donovan Knowles

Gary Field has been a stalwart of the woodworking community in Brisbane for three decades. His work has featured in galleries and exhibitions Australia-wide. His enthusiasm to develop and see his work evolve has been boosted by the experience of handing on knowledge to fellow woodworkers through demonstrating and teaching.

'Homage to Reclaimation' Huon Pine Bowl. Hand-caved by Gary Field.

The beautiful undulating shapes and gorgeous timber featured in Gary’s woodcarving, tell a story of the Australian landscape. He draws on the forms and textures found in the natural world to create a diverse range of objects from sculptures and decorative vessels, to small boxes which entice you to open them and experience their colourful miniature world. He has an innate understanding of his material and works with it to release the intricacies of grain and colour through his artful designs.

Red cedar carved platter.
Gary Field in his workshop.

Gary is a collector of all sorts of objects, drawing on them for inspiration. Seed pods, shells, feathers, stones, leaves and bones are to be found resting in every corner of his workshop. They serve as a reminder of the Eastern Australian coastline and bushland that he is strongly connected to.

A collection of objects for inspiration.

Nearly all the timber piled high in his workshop has been salvaged - much of it by Gary himself. Generally he prefers Australian species including: Red Cedar, Silky Oak, Rosewood, Queensland Maple, Huon Pine and White Beech. Sourcing his timber sustainably is an important issue, he hates waste and strongly believes that every piece of a once living tree should be used. Even the smallest off-cut is kept to make one of his distinctive sculpted handles or used to create a feature inlay.

The workshop is stacked high with blocks of timber that act as a sort of time machine to take you back through his timber collecting past. Over many visits throughout the years, I’ve seen his workspace getting smaller as the timber takes up residence. Gary knows what it all is, where it came from and when it was collected. It waits until called upon for the project it will be most suited to.

A timber collection of all shapes and sizes.

When he creates a new work, Gary begins by sketching out a concept and then making a 3-D model. This can be from modelling clay, plasticine or even surfboard foam. When he is happy with the model, he begins on the timber blank. The characteristics of the timber can have a bearing on the design if there is a particular element in the grain that he wants to highlight or use to create an effect.

'Celtic' (left) and 'Heart Series' (right). Images courtesy of Gary Field.

A wide range of machines and hand tools are used to make his pieces. His workshop features a lathe, bandsaw, sander, small jointer and several motorised carving tools. His hand tools consist of a wide variety of rasps, planes, carving chisels, spokeshaves and drawknives. The space is small, but everything needed is at hand. Gary has the ability to get the most from a tool and explores its potential to the full. I am reminded that often the most ingenious woodworkers aren’t beyond modifying and reinventing their tools to get the results they want. This takes both skill and knowledge.

A wide range of machines and hand tools are used in Gary's workshop. His tool-hanging invention (top left) is an example of the ingenious modifications that woodworkers use to get the results they desire.

Rather than being guarded about the things he’s learned, Gary is happy to pass on the benefit of his experience. He gets enormous satisfaction from teaching, demonstrating and sharing his techniques. Being largely self-taught, he understands the value of getting the right guidance from other craftspeople who understand the process. Gary teaches two day master classes at the Brisbane Carba-Tec® store where he guides students through the full process of creating an abstract sculpture in wood.

During his course, Gary teaches people to look at the often familiar things around them with new eyes and to really see what’s there. I was impressed by an exercise the students participated in. They sliced a red capsicum into four pieces and examined it in terms of shape, contour and texture. It was a great example of refocusing your mind and viewing familiar things differently. I saw first hand how it’s possible to free up your thinking and be more open to ideas when you really observe all the detail in something. This different way of observing also features highly in the pieces of sculpture that Gary carves.

Gary teaching a carving master class.

The future for Gary Field looks like a busy one. There have been a number of exciting challenges and commissions in recent years. Gary has seen some of his commissioned work heading overseas as well as interstate. At the 2013 Turnfest Symposium, a three-day event on the Gold Coast hosting specialist woodturners and other wood artisans from overseas and Australia, Gary gave a series of well received lectures and demonstrations. It was a real high point for him to be amongst other craftspeople that are striving for quality and innovation in their work.

It’s likely that we will see a lot more of Gary at similar events as there’s enormous interest in his work. Most weekends though, you will find him where he is most comfortable, carving in his workshop.