Dremel caught up with Canadian wood carver Jordan Straker who for the last 29 years has been carving wood, gourds and other materials used in his amazing creations to win the attention of art collectors’ worldwide. Jordan has been featured in numerous publications and television spots including Canadian Cowboy Magazine, Western Art and Architecture, Outdoor Lifestyles and Cowboy Country TV. On the rare occasion when he’s not carving Jordan plays tennis and enjoys living in the Okanagan area of British Columbia with his wife, two dogs and two cats.
Tell us a little bit about your work. How do you describe what you’re doing?
It’s hard to explain, but I carve three dimensional works to look mostly like clothing. I mostly do that but I’m always pushing myself. For example, my first gun and holster set weren’t as good as they are now but I’m not changing my style so much as I am adding to my repertoire. I used to carve just wood, and now I carve gourds, and I’ve started to combine the two by adding wood to gourds.
Your carved gourds are amazing.
I don't classify myself as a gourd carver. I’ll carve on anything that a Dremel tool will go through. I’ve done Styrofoam and many things, but my idea is to just do three-dimensional art in a perfect-type way. Sometimes the gourds I get aren’t so great, but I’ll find the one that’s best for what I’m doing. I never think about what I’m going to do when I do it, I’ll just pick one and then decide upon a design.
Your art is so incredibly lifelike, the leathers look like leathers, the beads look like real Indian beadwork, how do you achieve such realistic detail?
My leather looks are achieved through texturing and various painting styles. The simulated beads are plotted and painted three times each with a pencil tip to add dimension to them. The feather tines are carved with a particular bur -- add a little insanity to the mix and voila, sometimes I have painted and counted up to 20,000 beads.
What was the inspiration that got you started carving?
Years ago before I started carving, my wife took a paper tole course. It's basically layering paper. You buy five of the same images and you cut them out and layer them on top of each other to give you a dimensional look. It’s just paper, and I thought, “That’s really cool!”
My job at the time was sandblasting headstones and it was a bit dimensional because you blast granite away to form letters, but it was not three-dimensional. I had no idea that I even wanted to do three-dimensional work until I got my first Dremel in 1988.
Tell us about your first Dremel tool.
I had a hand surgery and after my hand was out of the cast, I needed some therapy so my brother bought me a Dremel rotary tool. I said, “What am I going to do with this? You know I don’t fix cars.” He said, “Look in the book.” The book was 175+ users for the Dremel Multi-Pro that came with the tool and one of the projects was this little carved bird. I thought, “I can do that” and I carved my first bird with the grinding stone that came with the tool. I ground out this little bird with the stone and not much later I saw this ad in the paper announcing a local carving competition. I took that little bird to the show and I won best in show. I didn't know the name of the bird, I just made one up. The judge came up to me and said, “What’s the name of your bird?” And I said, “Oh, it’s the brown flicker flasher.” He said, “Oh great, I’ve never seen one of those.” So that made-up bird became my inspiration to continue carving and I’ve won over 300 awards since.
What other jobs have you had?
I was a special education teacher before working in a headstone carving business.
What fuels your creativity?
I have to create every day. That’s my thing. Even if I have nothing to do, I need to create, so I’ll just say, “OK, I’m going to carve such and such and if it sells it sells but I just have to create for my own need.”
What is your workshop like?
I have a 6-foot bench on a plywood floor, and above me I have a pole with three Dremel rotary tools and the Dremel 732 heavy-duty flex shaft hanging. And basically I stand there from ten to twelve hours a day.
How do you sell?
I do art shows and from those shows I get my client base, usually from word of mouth. I have my website and I have my Facebook profile, but generally I attend high-end auctions and they usually get me a fair price for what my stuff is valued at. From that auction, there is usually a fair number of people who didn't get the item who may contact me for new work.
Which Dremel tools do you use?
In 1990, I sent Dremel a Nike tennis shoe and a sock carved out of wood. They sent me in return the 732 heavy-duty flex shaft tool to demo. It’s the most fabulous tool I’ve ever had in my life. I have around three Dremel 4000 tools, and a Bosch 4-inch angle grinder and that’s all. I’ve tried many other tools just to see, but Dremel tools get the job done for me. For thirty years I’ve made my living using Dremel tools so you can't go wrong with that type of history.
That shoe led to my Dremel 732 flex shaft tool and it’s now 27 years later and I’m still using that tool-- isn't that amazing?
Yes Jordan it is. Here’s wishing you at least 28 more years of amazing carvings.
To see more carvings from Jordan Straker, visit his website: www.jordanstraker.com.