Griffon Ramsey is an artist, entrepreneur, and YouTube personality working out of Austin, Texas who has gained international acclaim for her pop-culture-inspired woodcarvings. This month, we picked her brain to find out how she developed her unique approach to creating unforgettable art.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get involved in Maker culture? Have you always considered yourself an artist?
I'm a chainsaw artist based in Austin, Texas. Although I've only been carving for about five years, I've been a Maker in a variety of ways my entire life. Being creative is a personal need that I find I have in common with Makers of all types. Even as a small child, I would get the itch to use my hands to manifest the things that were in my head, without knowing why I felt that way or knowing what to do about it. Education, finding mentors and a lot of trial and error have helped me develop the skills that have helped me better express myself. I'm fortunate enough to get paid to create art, and that makes me very happy.
Your tool of choice—a chainsaw, gives you an incredibly unique way to create art and probably comes with its fair share of unique challenges. What made you decide to start using a chainsaw to make your carvings? What makes it different from other mediums?
I grew up a short distance from the Oregon coast and had the opportunity as a child to visit some chainsaw art galleries in tourist towns along Highway 101. Totem poles especially were mesmerizing to me. Years later, I mentioned to my husband that I had always wanted to try carving with a chainsaw. He bought me a chainsaw as my first Mother's Day gift. At the time I was still pregnant with our daughter and too afraid to use it while I carried her. I put it in the basement and forgot about it for six years. In the fall of 2011, I wanted to launch a YouTube channel with an idea for a video that involved making a chainsaw sculpture. I got my saw out of storage and went down to meet with some local carvers. They helped me get started by showing me the tools of the trade and where to get them, what safety gear I needed, what kind of local wood to use and how to secure it. If there hadn't been other carvers willing to share their knowledge nearby, it would have been a much more difficult process to learn. As far as I know, there are no chainsaw sculpting classes in university art programs or community colleges. It's such an incredibly powerful, efficient and versatile sculpting tool, but learning how to use it isn't easy.
Do you have any tips or tricks for other artists or Makers who are interested in working with natural materials?
When working with natural materials, it's important to stay flexible. I often find an empty pocket, some rot or a crack where I was hoping to have something solid to work with. Sometimes I'll clean out the area and fill it with matching, solid wood to complete my original design. It's more time-consuming, but I'm starting to get faster with practice. Other times it's possible to adapt the idea to what the material is doing naturally. In many cases, the adapted idea turns out better than my original plan.
How do you incorporate Dremel tools into your projects?
I have three Dremel rotary tools (and counting), each with one of my favorite wood carving bits in them. By having more than one tool, I can just grab the one I need without taking the time to change out bits for varying techniques. I use them to add fine details to my larger sculpture work, especially on faces and filigree. When carving eyes, finishing with a Dremel adds an extra amount of accuracy and life-likeness that can really make a piece.
Your work seems to be heavily influenced by both nature and pop culture. Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration in a lot of ways, but it's a constant searching process that changes over time. My interest in pop culture is inspired by an ongoing conversation with my online community. When enough people on Twitter ask to see me carve a character from pop or gaming culture, I get the sense I should probably make a video about it. I am absolutely inspired by being in nature, but not just on a local level. Like most carvers, the freedom to travel is a large part of why I do what I do. Being on the road allows me to experiment with new kinds of wood and to learn from the artists I meet at competitions and events. I'd like my work to get larger, more interactive, and more appealing to the general public.
What's your favorite piece that you’ve created? Was it inspired by a particular experience?
I carved a 14' non-traditional, original totem pole for my art studio in my first year of carving that is still one of my favorites. Obviously, I've improved since then, and there are some things I would change, but since I've decided not to sell it there is still time to tweak! The pole is a collection of stylized animals that represent certain members of my family, memories from childhood and species traits that have very personal meanings to me. I like to of think of it as an antenna for my creative energy.
To learn more about Griffon and her work, visit her website.