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The Dream Weaver

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image Meet Ian Norbury, creator of some of today's most provocative sculptures

There's much to learn from professional woodcarver Ian Norbury, whose carvings are in collections all over the world.

“I don’t sell woodcarvings,” Ian Norbury declares emphatically. A quizzical statement from a man who has been a professional woodcarver for over 25 years, until he completes the thought: “I sell dreams and ideas. They just happen to be wood.”

Ian and his wife, Betty, have been quite successful in the dream-selling business through their White Knight Gallery in Cheltenham, England. Ian has pieces in collections all over the world, some of his carvings fetching up to $25,000.

The gallery is also the studio where he creates most of his art. Producing about a dozen pieces a year, Ian works to build inventory for his exhibitions, which he and Betty assemble every two years. To a limited extent he does some creative work in their home in Ireland, where they spend about six months out of the year. This work is at a much more relaxed pace.

A strong believer in sharing what you know, he published his first instructional book in 1983. This book, Techniques of Creative Woodcarving, was followed in by two others in 1985 and 1987. He has also written dozens of magazine articles.

Ian’s Inspirations

The Art of Ian Norbury showcases his best work with lush photographs and insightful captions. We’re pleased to offer a preview of the book in these pages. As you view his work, you notice that the folly of mankind is the basis of much of his work, and when asked why, he explains, “I read a lot of books about history and ancient mythology. It’s fascinating to me to watch the same sorts of things being done by the same sort of people over and over again. Vanity and greed are strong themes throughout history and are reflected in my work. I enjoy the challenge of expressing an old theme in a new way. Maybe it’s because I spend a lot of time by myself, but I tend to look at people through the wrong end of a telescope.”

Art aficionados throughout the world are enjoying that view, too, and look forward to adding another Ian Norbury dream to their collections.

Classes and Instructions

Ian will again come stateside for a teaching tour through the Southern States January through March 2005. Watch this magazine for more details about the latest teaching/seminar tour or visit his website, www.iannorbury.com.

Easy to navigate, the site serves as an online newsletter for the latest Ian happenings. In addition to the photo gallery and an appearance schedule. Ian’s site has two popular elements that keep his growing legion of followers coming back for more. The first is a “works in progress” section where visitors can click on images of Ian’s latest sculptures in various stages of development. The second is an area where web visitors can pose technique-related questions to Ian. He reviews them and then answers them in downloadable three- to four- minute video segments.

Ian's Woodcarving Tips

When asked what he could offer carvers to help them improve, Ian offered advice in his inimitable style.

  • Carve Within Yourself. So many carvers try to do things beyond their ability and they make a mess of the attempt. It can be frustrating and depressing. A better approach is to carve something that is within your ability and do it really, really well. Slowly work your way up from there. Pretend you’re being paid to do it. If you’re not 100% behind it, then you’re just wasting wood and time.
  • Get the Most From Your Book Purchases. When you buy a book on woodcarving, read and follow every single word and study the photos. The tendency is to just look at the pictures. As a writer of books, I can tell you that I don’t put the words on paper just to fill the space.
  • Take Your Time. Forget all the stuff you read about machines and gizmos to make the carving process go faster. Don’t ever forget that what you are making is a unique object, a work of art. You have to get it right, and to get it right you have to take your time.
  • Always Use the Best Wood You Can. It’s really no more difficult to carve a beautiful piece of wood than a dull one. The beauty of the wood then enhances your carving.
  • Quick and Easy Sharpening. Sharpening with an oilstone will produce the best edge. But it’s very time consuming, and only very skilled people can get a very good edge. Using machines, anyone can get a second- rate edge very quickly. I much prefer having a second-rate edge quickly than spending the time to sharpen with an oilstone.

Further Readings

The Art of Ian Norbury Take a look at a lifetime of outstanding carvings created by British artist Ian Norbury. Includes large format full-color photographs of his works plus commentary by the artist.

More Info
Carving Classic Female Faces in Wood
Instruction on designing, laying out and carving the female face. Includes extensive information on anatomy.

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Image gallery
This  sculpture is both a beautiful figure study and a powerful social commentary.  Ian chose to depict  her in a death throe position over a blackened earth as a statement  about man’s disrespectful attitude toward our planet. Chiyonofuji: Challenged to create a carving of a Sumo for a client’s Japanese-style home, Ian decided against portraying the large man in a typical wrestling scene. Instead, he opted for the peaceful pose of a Sumo performing the Dohya ceremony. Lime, pur Maasai Warrior: The problems in Sub-Saharan Africa have been so horrendous during my lifetime that most people have given up thinking about it. We are appalled by a few tragic deaths in Europe or America while Africans die in the millions. The extraordina The Idealist:Oblivious to the fact that his three wheeler can’t be steered, the idealist travels onward toward the unattainable point of perfection that he can see through his telescope. Note his ragged clothes and his emaciated body. The idealist has no Touchstone: Touchstone is the court jester in Shakespear's comedy As You Like It. His caustic wit and penetrating comments on human weakness and folly give him an aura of jaded worldliness, creating one of the Bard's most unforgettable characters. He is e Corruption: The Harlequin is a frequent subject in Ian’s work, and here this character from antiquity meets the modern era. The Harlequin symbolizes the computer, which is trying to dispose of a corrupted hard drive. Unfortunately, he is too late and the The Dream Maker: Ian’s sculptures require careful study as they include details with symbolic meanings. In this piece, for example, the cabinet seems to go on forever, reflecting the possibility of endlessly repeating dreams or nightmares. Lime, walnut an Reaching for the Moon: Fortune was depicted in many different ways, usually as a woman, sometimes with wings and carrying various implements. Invariably the figure stands on a ball, which represents instability and perhaps the world. Sometimes the figure Aphrodite: The study of mythology is but one of Ian’s passions, and his work draws heavily on the images and themes found in its literature. Here he has captured the beauty of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility. Boxwood, gold, coral and marble, Il Serenissima: Anyone who has visited Venice will have been struck not only by its unique beauty but also by the fact that most of it seems to be crumbling away. Of course it is common knowledge that the city is slowly sinking into the mud on which it is Europhobia: Europhobia is my comment on the xenophobic  Because He's Worth It: One of a series of carvings Ian is doing on the theme Racehorse: One of Ian’s early woodcarving depicts one half of a pair of racehorses running neck and neck. Using wood as a medium seemed a logical progression from his work as a painter specializing in racehorses. Walnut, 12 White Knight: This was Ian’s first major piece and is based on John Tenniel’s illustration of the White Knight in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass. Lime, 24
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