I have always been fascinated by small sculptures since art college days. Little maquettes which sculptors make as 'sketches' for finished monumental pieces have always seemed more interesting to me than the finished work. Perhaps it's my fantasy side which imbues these little sculptures with magical properties, especially when they can be carried in the palm of your hand!
Certainly to the Japanese the small toggle like figures called 'netsuke' became of enormeous value and importance perhaps even more special than the important items that were attached to them! The practical need for these small carvings arose from the fact that traditional Japanese dress had no pockets. The containers that were hung from the belt ranged from simple purses to delicately lacquered or carved ivory inro with several compartments, held together by cords which were passed behind the belt and tied to a netsuke.
The commonest materials used in carving netsuke were wood and ivory. When I set out to carve my own version of a netsuke I chose mahogany, as for reasons of animal conservation, ivory was out of the question, although antler was also a possibility! I'm a great horder of bits of wood and had some chunks of mahogany lying around the workshop...hence the reason the little fella was formed out of that material.
For some time I'd wanted to make my wife a birthday gift of something like a magical netsuke to which was attached something of importance. She loves pictures and stories of dragons, so I set out to carve a baby dragon as it might lay in the egg or soon after 'hatching'. Nearing completion I couldn't resist the urge to include some precious materials too! So his spine ridge was inlayed with fragments of real gold cut from an old ring, a moonstone for his one visible eye and a rough cut diamond for a nose.
The finished piece has the dragon in fetal pose sucking on one of his toes, with a paw covering one of his eyes. Unfortunately, with all the little precious pointy attachments, he now wasn't really a practical sort of netsuke, but I still felt satisfied with his appearance. I couldn't imagine even newly born dragons would be particularly cuddly to a human. So that was my excuse...phew!!
Meanwhile, work was also begun on the part of the gift that would be 'attached' to the dragon netsuke. While carving the little beasty I'd been thinking of writing a little fairy story, and in keeping with the fantasy theme of dragons and magic, had the idea of commiting it to a parchment scroll. Unfortunately real, historical parchment or 'vellum' was made from the skins of stillborn animals...not something that appealed to me as an option, and certainly wouldn't have appealed to my wife!! So I found and used the 19th century equivalent called 'vellum paper' made from treating and embossing wood pulp or cotton fibre to make a thick ivory coloured, and semi-translucent material, with a low gloss. If you've never tried this as a writing surface with real ink, as I hadn't at the time, I'd encourage you to... it's a wonderful medium. The dragon is attached to the scroll by a silver shackle and chain, whilst the scroll is bound by a gold ring of similar design to the silver shackle.
The story on the tiny vellum scroll involves love, an evil knight and a beautiful lady, a dragon and a magical flower, fighting, a quest, a lesson learned and sadness, all the elements of a good fairy tale. At least that is what I hoped my wife would think! I'm sure she judged it less harshly than you the reader will!
The gift of the baby dragon netsuke and the story scroll wasn't practical to give as it was, so I set about making a box worthy of the effort I'd put into the scroll and the dragon. The box has elements of decoration that relate to the tale of Sir Cedric and the magic flower, with a carved lid inlaid with rough semi-precious stones; amethyst, turquoise and malachite. The centre piece of the lid features a flower design I cut from a piece of junk silver and antler, with an uncut ruby atop it all.
Inside the lid of the box is my one and only attempt at embroidery! I wanted to include something that looked like a medieval tapestry and this was what I came up with to fit the scale of things. The frame surrounding the embroidery is made from pieces of flat antler, engraved with little flowers.
I am not a jeweller, or metal worker, so my apologies for the crude way in which I realized my ideas. Most of the carving was done using a surgical scalpel knife, a few little files and bits of sandpaper. "Jack of all Trades"...master of none!
~Thricelightps. Spot the spelling mistakes!Please Enlarge
The dragon is approx. 5cm in length
The mahogany box is approx. 18cm long
Materials used: diamond, ruby, gold, silver, moonstone, malachite, turquoise, amethyst, antler horn, mahogany, parchment/vellum, ink, watercolour and other more mundane materials.My Thricelight Deviant art gallery is copyright ©2008-2009
Thricelight. Stephen Paul Forshaw. All rights reserved.
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