Reaching out to carvers in cyberspace
Lora Irish operates one of the most-visited woodcarving web sites. Classic Carving Patterns was one of the first of its kind and has been extremely influential in bringing carving into the digital age and introducing woodcarving to a new generation.
Lora has always had a deep appreciation for the arts. Her mother is an oil painter who operated a ceramic and crafts studio for 20 years. Lora learned many of the skills she uses today for pattern making and drawing from her mother. Her father restored antique guns, which often entailed carving the gun stocks. Lora fondly recalls watching him carve as a child, and in fact, learned the art of woodcarving at her father’s bedside.
When her father became terminally ill, Lora, and her husband Mike, would visit often to off er her mother support. “I would sit with Dad, and he taught me how to carve.” Lora said. “He couldn’t hold the tools anymore, so he used me and my hands to do the work. He told me where he wanted his next cut. When I wasn’t carving, I was drawing. We drew the designs he wanted to carve.” The day her father died, her mother presented Lora with her father’s carving kit— passing a love of carving wood from one generation to the next.
Those sketches done at her father’s bedside eventually became her first published book. Husband Mike is a cabinetmaker and Fine Woodworking magazine subscriber. At his urging, she bundled up her patterns and shipped them off to Taunton Press, Fine Woodworking’s parent company. Classic Carving Patterns came out later that year.
Mike launched the couple’s first website in 1996. The site cost $35 a month to operate, and featured 12 fine art dog prints created by Lora. “I thought we were ruined,” Lora said. “I couldn’t imagine who would want to buy my dog art.” Lora received her first order within a week of the site going live.
In 1999, Lora submitted Landscapes in Relief to Fox Chapel Publishing. Th at book marked the beginning of a continuing series of more than 11 titles published with Fox Chapel, all of them top-sellers. In addition to her skills in pattern drafting, Lora discovered early on that she really enjoys teaching. The step-by-step tutorials off ered in her books help carvers reach new levels with their own art, but she was looking for a deeper level of connection.
That desire to connect with her students was the basis for her website. One of the top-rated woodcarving web sites on the Internet, it features well over 1,500 patterns and designs for carvers. The impressive pattern collection is just the beginning of what Lora off ers visitors. The site also includes projects and tutorials, as well as tips and techniques covering everything from transferring patterns to applying a finish to your carving.
Probably one of the most valuable things Lora offers is her own personal e-mail address. Lora takes great pains to respond to inquiries and offers coaching and encouragement to aspiring carvers. One-on-one digital communication and feedback from an accomplished carver is the next best thing to having one at your side. For artists who are unable to receive mentoring from a carving club due to their geographic location, Lora provides support via the computer. Her web site is an invaluable resource for carvers working on a late night project who need a few tips to help them over a rough spot.
Lora, now 55 years old, says there are three main things that influenced woodcarving as we see it today. The first was E.J. Tangerman’s books, which brought carving into the home.
The second was the way that Ed Gallenstein connected small groups of carvers so they could share their accomplishments. “Everything stops in the studio when Chip Chats arrives,” Lora said. “The computer goes off , the phone goes off the hook. Mike and I go out on the porch and we go through it page by page. It’s an absolute joy.”
The third major influencing factor is the Internet. The interaction that the Internet fosters between the author and the carver, no matter what their physical distance, would be difficult to achieve any other way.
Many people have been positively influenced by Lora’s work. Shawn Cipa, was honored to collaborate on the book Wood Spirits and Green Men with Lora. “Lora’s many pattern books have inspired countless carvers over the years, myself included,” said Cipa. “She possesses a great ability to research any given subject matter and write about it in a clear and concise manner. Her pattern web site, with its variety of offerings, corners the market and influences many aspiring artists and craftsmen.”
Lora Irish sums up her dedication to promoting the art of woodcarving in one simple, yet eloquent, statement: “I want you to be as excited about woodcarving as I am.”