Calling all wildlife and nature lovers, we’ve got a treat for you! Here we present the wonderful work of New Zealand based artist Gordon Pembridge.
Kenya-born and New Zealand-based artist Gordon Pembridge has developed a lifelong bond with nature. This connection with Mother Earth is often the main source of inspiration for his impressive wooden vessels that incorporate elements of natural history and portray colorful local wildlife.
He’s able to look at a section of timber, visualize how to shape the wood’s grain into an object that can stand on its own, and plan out the geometry keeping the structure intact while carving out a significant amount of material.
His final pieces look like he’s done some sort of magic – making the design look seamless and easy. But at the same time, we know that it would take years to learn the mechanisms of all that’s involved – from properly curing the wood, to practicing the hand-eye coordination that keeps a steady hand from weakening the structure of the sculpture, and to the craft and color sense of delicate painting that distinguishes his body of work.
There is no denying that Gordon has a really special talent. He perfectly captures the true beauty of nature and wildlife. His background in painting, woodworking, graphic design, illustration, engraving, and photographing all come into play in his creative process. And, he may have a knack for geometry, since his mapping out of designs on curved surfaces is masterful.
That’s why it’s deeply satisfying when an artist like Gordon shares his creative methods from start to finish. We are the lucky audience. He has videotaped his vessel-making process, letting us in on the patience and precision it takes to create carved wooden pieces that reflect the flora, fauna, and animals of his native Kenya and adopted New Zealand.
Gordon’s intricately carved vessels start as pieces of wood from Cupressus macrocarpa trees, commonly known as Monterey cypress (native to the Central Coast of California, and thought to have been introduced to New Zealand in the 1860s gold rush). Each piece of wood is unique, and the grain orientation gives Gordon choices that help determine the shape and size of the final work.
He uses a lathe to shape the wood into a blank. Next, he draws a design onto the outer surface, carves out the negative space with a high-speed engraving tool, touches up the freestanding sculpted areas, and finishes with airbrush- and brush-painting – as you can see in the three videos below.
“Some of the wood is wet turned as a rough blank for drying. The blank once dry is then remounted on the lathe for finishing. This process can take years depending on the type of wood.
Typically I turn the macrocarpa for my thin vessels when it is wet. The vessels in this picture are all turned from macrocarpa, being only about one millimeter thick they dry quite quickly.
After carving the feet and sanding the dry blank the design is measured out and drawn directly onto the wood.
The design is carved out with a high-speed engraver with careful attention to line and texture. A time-consuming process.” The Process Involved in Making a Gordon Pembridge Piece of Woodturning
Gordon is an associate member of the Society of Animal Artists: “…founded in 1960, [SoAA] is devoted to promoting excellence in the artistic portrayal of the creatures sharing our planet, and to the education of the public through art exhibitions, informative seminars, lectures, and teaching demonstrations.” On his website, he shares links to woodworking groups and links to fellow wordturners:
- American Association of Woodturners
- Association of Woodturners of Great Britain
- Association of Woodturners South Africa
- National Association of Woodworkers New Zealand
- North Shore Woodturners
- South Auckland Woodturners Guild
- The Irish Woodturners Guild