Carving möbius forms with Hape Kiddle
Words: Hape Kiddle
Studio photography: Sarah Brown
Process photos: Hape Kiddle
For many years now I’ve experimented with the möbius form. There is something about its unusual nature, its playful, twisting, disappearing and reappearing lines that I find alluring. During my time as a jeweller I would forge silver and gold into expressive möbius forms, sometimes as pendants, bangles or the occasional ring.
Different views of the same Huon pine form illustrate how much a möbius can visually move and change.
What is a möbius?
Historically, the möbius is attributed to German mathematicians Johann Benedict Listing and August Ferdinand Möbius in 1858. However, it appears in art as far back as 200AD in Roman mosaics.
Put simply, a möbius is a surface with only one side (despite being three-dimensional) and one border perimeter. An easy way to make a möbius is to take a strip of paper and give one end a half twist, joining the ends together with tape.
Design and play
From this point you can search out many possible variations in the form. A change in the paper’s width, thickness or length, or perhaps using another material will yield changes. Heavy materials (such as rubber) may droop for example, and suspension again causes interesting effects on the möbius model.
Different materials can be used to experiment. One of my favourites is plain old plasticine which I keep cool in the fridge between shaping sessions. This can be extruded and shaped, and has the extra benefit of been able to be cut away with knives and chisels to refine the form. It is also relatively clean as opposed to clay.
Beginning and beyond
After I’ve got an idea of the form I want, I select the material that’s best going to work for the design. I take into account the dimensional requirements, the colour of the wood and its workability.
I wouldn’t suggest using heavily figured wood for these forms as they are difficult enough to carve without the additional challenge of grain variants, and in some cases the figure may overwhelm the form. But then again...
Some of the timbers I use are Huon pine (Lagarostrobos franklinii), myrtle beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii), white beech (Gmelina leichhardtii), Australian rose mahogany (Dysoxylum fraserianum), and silky oak (Grevillea robusta). There are of course many other possibilities.
Different views of a gidgee möbius form
Working with gidgee
I should add that I use gidgee (Acacia cambagei) for my smaller work. This marvellous wood is more dense than the others just named and requires a very different approach and tooling. But here we say – welcome to the world of rasps and files.
For smaller scale work, particularly in hard and dense timbers – welcome to the world of rasps and files.
The benefit of the figured gidgee in the making of the smaller works is that the form can be more robust and the endgrain, inevitable in a möbius form, remains quite strong. Gidgee carving is a slow process but the deep tones of the wood and the tight figure make for some wonderfully small intimate carving forms that are both fascinating and tactile in the hand.
For the most part an array of shallow gouges are my main chisels for this sort of work. In addition there are a couple of V-chisels that I find handy (12/6, 13/6 or equivalent ). In terms of brands, I find myself more often selecting my M-steins, Pfeils and Japanese Kawasei from the tool cabinet.
Over the years of carving I made some good friendships with certain chisels, they’re comfortable in hand and I know them like they are extensions of my fingers, but I’m open to trying out others tools as well and regularly do so.
Different cuts often require a change in approach and a möbius will most certainly require a willingness to adapt. As with chisels, I keep an open mind in regards to rasps. I have a small selection of these which include Japanese rasps, microplanes, and Corradi files of various cuts.
But I would be doing fellow carvers a disservice not to place emphasis on a handful of particular rasps. These are a double-ended jewellers wax file (I have used my Valorbe for 15 years), a Shinto rasp and two particular Iwasaki wood files. I am never without these in the workshop or on location. The Iwasaki bent half round really deals well with the gidgee internal curves as it cuts towards the user on the pull cut and leaves a clean surface.
Once the bulk out is taken away, a hole is drilled to further refine the shape. Having a theme in mind will affect the feeling you are trying to express. A fluted effect was chosen here.
Once I’ve got my plan together, models resolved and materials selected my process is not so different to any other carving. I draw on to the material a front view and its matched sideview (in line with one another) and then carve away the external bulk. I then turn my attention to the removal of the negative space. I begin by drilling a large hole in the most central part of the area to be removed and carve this away with gouges. Once the bulk out is complete and as clean as possible in terms of shape, I will set out to work the carving down to the form of the model.
Double möbius form in progress. "There comes a time where part of the form needs separating – usually where one part moves under or over another. I tend to do the separation as late as possible in the carving."
At some stage, depending on your design, there will come a time where part of the form will need to be separated – usually where one part moves under or over another. I tend to do the separation as late as possible in the carving.
There is a temptation to ‘see the möbius’ active in dimension by cutting the separation early, but it’s better to get the form organised rather than deal with a lot of bulk that may affect how you see the form. At this stage you’ll need to pay close attention to your model as it is easy to go astray.
Above: The numbered sequence shows the process of carving a möbius form in Huon pine.
Give it time
There are a couple of what I see as key ingredients in the art of woodcarving. One is time; give the work the time that it is requesting of you. Good work takes time. And the other is observation; look at your model, soak it in and become familiar with the design as much as possible. I tend to saturate myself in the subject matter so that it soaks into my bones, so to speak. The more I know about the form and variation of the möbius, the more I can feel free to express through it.
Once the möbius structure is visibly obvious to me, I feel like I’m ready to start carving. The möbius form is, for me, the underlining bones of the sculpture. I am searching out how to communicate more than the rendition of a möbius! I have in mind a theme from the very outset and whilst the möbius is in itself a fascinating and charming object to contemplate, it’s the theme that brings it to life and gives it meaning.
A theme might be a simple recognition of the value of water to life with the base of the möbius being robust and water-like, and the moving expressive twist forming the gentle impression of a leaf. This is where I’m at my slowest in terms of carving. I want to be able to react to how the form is feeling and make subtle changes as I go. Again observation and a willingness to surrender time prove to be important ingredients.
I use a range of different finishes on my work as I find that different woods respond to different finishes. For example, in the case of gidgee I sand to a fine finish (between 800 and 2000 grit wet and dry depending on the gidgee’s receptiveness) and use a slow drying wax sparingly.
I find there are many different types of finishes available which will mostly yield great results when not rushed. Oddly enough, most finishes come with instructions and reading them is a good step... And again, give the finishing process the time it deserves. You’ve worked hard enough to get to this point so celebrate your hard work with a good finish.
Möbius variants in figured gidgee by Hape Kiddle
The satisfaction of carving a möbius successfully is well and truly worth the time it can take. The process extends how the maker views form and I am personally more inspired each time I make one. They are very much a part of my maker’s language and I find many of the shapes contained within a möbius influence my other work. If you do find yourself carving your own möbius, I wish you luck and learning.
Hape Kiddle is a full time wood-sculptor, carving teacher, and occasional jeweller working from his studio in Griffith, NSW. Learn more at www.hapekiddle.com