The Magnificent Arctic Tern

The magnificent Arctic Tern.

This piece started as a special order. As with any special order, I was a little nervous about trying something different, yet quite keen to attempt something new. One of the few advantages of the pandemic is that it has given me the ability to say "yes" to more special order requests as I have the time to ease into different ways of approaching new ideas.

The tern is a beautiful bird with imagery that often includes a lot of sharp points. There is it's long thin beak, it's sharp-cornered wing peaks and it's tail tips that are also slender and culminate in a fine terminus on both sides. As this carving was specific to a pendant, I also had to take into account how the wings could be arranged. The typical morphology of a bird in flight is a set of axis, which could easily get caught on the wearer's clothing.

I looked at a lot of pictures but ultimately was attracted to an illustration by John J. Audubon of a diving tern. It worked for me in many ways. It encouraged me to manage the fragility of the wings by swooping them back as in a dive. It also helped me discover that I could attach the wings to the tail, providing structural strength to all four of these fragile points. Though still not quite as angular and sharp as the real thing, this enables me to suggest the finesse of the tern's wings and tail. I opted to make the beak a little shorter and thicker than an actual tern's beak to contribute to the pendant's durability and keep it from poking the wearer.  Another element the diving pose is that it directs the eye of the viewer along a vertical axis. This gives the carving a nice curve and flow and suggests the physical movement of the dive along with the exquisite grace of these birds. As I've created the impression of a tern more than an anatomically correct, realistic depiction, I've used just some simple lines to denote feet on the underside. I've done something similar on the beak and on the top of the head to delineate the distinctive black cap associated with this naturally light grey and white bird. The eyes are carved from buffalo horn and, for the cinch bead on the cord, I carved a tern egg, although without the spots.

This was a very satisfying project and I'm now planning to carve more birds, I think. Thanks again to L.W. for the inspiration.

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