Donald Powell is a Maleny based wood sculptor who has a particular affinity for figures, but works on a wide range of subjects. In 1996 Don was awarded a Churchill fellowship to study teaching teaching methods in Europe. He is now a highly respected teacher and lecturer, author of articles on woodcarving and is at present working alongside wood sculptor Laurens Otto on the St Mary’s Cathedral project in Sydney. Don was featured in AWR#15 and also appeared on the cover of that issue. He first wrote for AWR#21, December 1998.
Q: How did you get into woodworking?
A: I taught myself to whittle with a fixed blade scalpel when I was 12 years old after seeing an article on carving big horn sheep and eagle heads in a popular mechanics book. I carved several in walnut and was hooked, I still have one of the carvings.
Q: Who are your woodworking heroes/gods/gurus?
A: I would say that Ian Norbury the English wood sculptor was an inspiration and mentor.
Q: What do you mainly make?
A: I specialise in faces and figures but do wildlife, particularly horses. I love fantasy and am a romantic at heart. I suppose I carve anything I have to.
Q: Your thoughts on traditional vs ‘new’ and digital?
A: I really like using traditional tools/blades, but I will use anything that I need to do the job and I like to try new innovations. As far as digital goes I’m working at it.
Q: What are you pet woodworking hates?
A: Blunt tools and wobbly benches.
Q: What is your desert island hand tool/ machine/ timber/ woodie book?
A: If it was just one tool I would look for one that would give me several shaped blades in one tool, like a carving jack and a supply of linden blocks for ease of carving. On the other hand if I planned on escape, a chainsaw and some good boat building wood.
Q: The best thing you’ve ever made?
A: Tough question. Some years ago I carved The Mercenary a figure of the first rifleman from the 15th century. I carved it in about 18 different woods and incorporated silver and gold. I had it two days before it sold. Last year the owner very kindly allowed it to be displayed at a show where I was working in Perth and I must say I was impressed with it myself and in fact I think it looked even better than when I had sold it. The piece was just over a metre tall.
Q: Your best excuse for not getting something quite right?
A: Well I suppose you really needed that expensive gear you wanted but didn’t get and all those interruptions were a killer and the wood was crap and your bad back was killing your concentration, and if you had just let me do it my way…
Q: Your most often-made mistake?
A: Delaying saying ‘it’s finished’.
Q: Your biggest woodworking disaster!!?
A: Well I have carved two left hands on a figure, but letting my wife think that she is quality control eclipses that.
Q: The thing I would most like to change about wood is…
A: It would be nice if wood would no longer crack.
Q: The thing I would most like to change about woodworkers is…
A: Wood is the one of the most difficult mediums to master so those that do master it should be highly regarded, and the many who are working towards mastering it should be respected for the task they have undertaken.
Q: The thing I would most like to change about my own woodworking is…
A: That every hour I spent carving made me one hour younger.
Q: My final word on woodwork is…
A: Just pick up the chisel and start carving.