Awhile ago we told you about Mary May, one of our favorite classical woodcarvers, and her forthcoming book: “The Acanthus Leaf: A Rite of Passage for the Classical Carver.” It’s now in-house. And it’s tremendous.
This week I flowed all the text into InDesign, and checked out the images and illustrations. And here’s what struck me: The exhaustive amount of attention and detail Mary put into teaching.
Artists, by nature, often do their best work while in the zone. In her book Mary talks about her first real carving job, which she completed in her modest second-floor apartment in a small Victorian-era house in Minneapolis. (Each chapter begins with short stories like these, allowing us to be privy to her woodcarving life thus far, and they’re a joy to read.) Her workbench was in her bedroom. Her work was to carve a pastoral African scene in an oval-shaped umbrella stand made of butternut. “On most days, I was so engrossed in my work that I became completely lost in the carving world,” she writes. “There were times when I discovered that it was 3 a.m. and I was still pounding away with my mallet and making chips fly across the room.”
And yet, with this book, Mary steps out of that zone again and again and again to write detailed steps, draw detailed illustrations and take detailed pictures. She makes a most impressive art suddenly seem accessible.
With each new leaf (from basic to Roman to Scandinavian to Greek), she teaches you how to draw the leaf, and then carve, with thoughtful illustrations and photographs. Take, for example, the basic acanthus leaf. She walks you through a simple 12-step drawing process. Here’s the illustration for Step 10:
Then she walks you through the carving process, with carefully written instruction, including proper tool selection, illustrations and photographs.
The book also includes a fair amount of history and photographs of the acanthus leaf as seen on antiques and in architecture around the world.
Now begins the editing and design process, which we’re all looking forward to. To get updates on Mary’s book, consider subscribing to her email newsletter here. We don’t have a release date yet for the book, but when we do we’ll be sure to let you know.
— Kara Gebhart Uhl