Carve or Starve!-An Interview with Jesse Toso

About: Jesse Toso, born and raised here in British Columbia, is a talented woodcarver whose tool of choice is equally impressive: a chainsaw! To see some of Jesse’s extraordinary work, go to: 

http://www.stumpartist.com

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The first time you carved was at a competition in 2005, at which you took first prize in the Amateur category! What motivated you to take part in the competition, and did you have a feeling that you would be a natural?

I grew up in Campbell River where the Transformations on the Shore Chainsaw Carving Competition has been taking place since 1997 and I remember looking at the amazing carvings produced at the event each year and I thought to myself: “I could do that”.  So,  I borrowed a chainsaw and hacked away at this giant piece of Douglas fir and by the end of the week, I had shaped out a Phoenix. After taking home the $1000 prize, I decided to do it every year after. This year will be my tenth!

 

Why do you prefer to work with a chainsaw, rather than other tools? 

Chainsaws are fast.  

In your opinion, how does the type of wood influence the final carving? 

The type of wood I use influences the final carving immensely.  The colour, the size/shape, the grain are all contributing factors.  Sometimes I look at a piece of wood and determine what to carve based on it’s shape and type, and other times I will want to carve something and look for a piece of wood that will work, but ultimately it is the wood’s inherent qualities and characteristics which influences the final carving.

What did you do for a living before wood carving entered your life? Do you think you will continue to wood carve for the rest of your career? 

I am a carpenter by trade as is my dad so working with wood comes to me naturally.  I will continue to keep carving wood, but I am also interested in exploring the artistic relationship(s) between other building materials, namely: glass, metal and concrete.  And I’ve always wanted to try carving ice.

What is the best part of working in wood carving?

Wood is a beautiful, natural, and quite versatile.  And it’s sustainable.

How have you improved over the years? 

I improve every time I carve. Going to annual carving events such as the competition in Campbell River and Carva-Palooza (an annual chainsaw carver’s convention in Ontario) has also been a huge boost.  I hope to continue improving with every carve.

What do you consider your most difficult piece? How about your favorite one? 

I would say the 16-foot spider hanging on the side of a building in downtown Campbell River was my most challenging and my favourite, too.  It involved creative engineering, 3D visualization, chainsaw joinery, and it was done in five days (as a part of the carving competition).  Also, it caused a bit of controversy.  People wrote into the local newspaper asking it be taken down as they have arachnophobia and could no longer go to the theatre because of the giant wood spider overhead!  Other people then responded in defence of the spider, and it so had people talking in Campbell River.  Which is what art should do, right? I have since carved several spiders and I will be bringing a “smaller” 8-foot version to Art World Expo.

You’ve worked on a variety of different sculptures, mainly focusing on animals. Do you prefer to use nature for your inspiration and how come? 

I am drawn to curvy, smooth, rounded, flowing shapes such as octopus legs, dragons, or the neck of a heron, and so find myself carving such shapes.  It happens that most things with these characteristics are from nature.

How has working first-hand with nature changed your relationship with it? 

Trees are precious. I am honored and humbled when I carve into wood that had once been a tree that had been standing for hundreds of years. I feel I need to use every bit of the wood I am carving.  Many of my carvings are from off-cuts from other carvings. 

Do you think that wood carving differs from other forms of art? How so? 

All art is expression. Carving wood with chainsaws is just another way for me to say: “Look what I can do!”

Do you have any advice for beginners in the field? 

Carve or starve! 

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Have you ever done a collaborative piece? If not, would you like to? 

I have done several collaborative pieces.  As a part of Carva-Palooza, one of the several carvings we do is made with a partner. Actually, this year I will be leading a group project (at Carva-Palooza) where eight of us will carve a complete chess set out of logs. I am really excited to see how this turns out.

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