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Age and Youth: vegetable ivory and ochre.

Vegetable ivory or tagua nut is a product made from the very hard white endosperm of the seeds of certain palm trees. Vegetable ivory is named for its resemblance to elephant ivory. Species in the genus Phytelephas, native to South America are the most important sources of vegetable ivory. The seeds of Metroxylon amicarum, from Micronesia and Hyphaene ventricosa, from Africa are also used to produce vegetable ivory.

Wikipedia

Vegetable Ivory nut. The outer surface has been somewhat removed. You can see the stem at 6 o'clock.

Vegetable Ivory nut. The outer surface has been somewhat removed. You can see the stem at 6 o’clock.

A client brought sone vegetable ivory which he wanted me to carve into two faces. The ‘ivory’ carves well but is very absorbent, which means that it is difficult to polish without leaving the colour of the polish itself impregnated in the material. Traditionally it is stained or painted.

First the hard outer shell has to be cut through.

First the hard outer shell has to be cut through.

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He wanted me to carve two faces, old and young. I found that the shape of the nuts somewhat determined the shape of the face I could carve unless I opted for a very small face – I went with this, and found that the ‘old’ face became ‘old’ on a different sense – it began to look like a human ancestor, with a sloped brow and eyebrow ridges. I opted to stain it with ochre, which I had found in the Northern Cape. You can see a little piece of it in the box. I made a small silver hinge.


 Here are the two faces:

After 20 years of happy marriage, the client wanted a love-token. Here’s what I came up with:

I carved the box from a piece of Kameeldoring (camel-thorn) wood. It is a magnificent wood for small carvings, very hard and dense, and easy to get since South Africans use it to make braai (barbecue) fires.

I did all the black and grey in the painting using a Chinese ink slate and block, but without a brush. I inked various things lying about the workshop as well as some weeds from the garden, and impressed them against the paper. After that I washed in the blue and brown (this ink is waterproof once dry.)

Ruin: Ink impressions and watercolour

Ruin: Ink impressions and watercolour

Long ago a Chinese friend gave me a Chinese ink set – ink stick and slate. It gives a slightly brownish-black ink, and it’s possible to modulate the amount of pigment in the ink to get quite subtle shades. It seemed the right medium for representing the aftermath of the fire that swept across our mountain in the last week.

After the Fire

After the Fire

The painting is done on A3 paper, and at the default size it’s pretty useless. If you click on it, you can see it bigger.