Garry Shand has made a living out of what he calls production carving, whereby he creates large volumes of similar carved lines, rather than only working on one-off commissions. James Hendrie caught up with him to find out how a lifelong love of art led him to where he is today.

I first came across Garry Shand when I attended the 2015 Carve Carrbridge competition. I, like many in the crowd that day, was struck by Garry’s unique carve of Groot, a character from Marvel comic books, and perhaps better known as one of the stars of the  Guardians of the Galaxy films. Many in the crowd thought that Garry had a winning carve, but it was not to be, and in the end he was placed in a credible third position.

Catching up with Garry, both by phone and online for this feature, I came to understand right away why the Groot carve might have been an unusual subject choice for others, but not for him. He explained that, as well as having a love of art growing up, he also had a passion for comics. “My love of art really started very early, drawing and making stuff, which I was encouraged by my school and parents to do. Comics were my thing; I still think it is a very important and underrated art form.”

Forestry Journal: Garry receiving his third place prize at Carve Carrbridge 2015.Garry receiving his third place prize at Carve Carrbridge 2015.

Garry hails from Huntly in Aberdeenshire and, while he tried to pursue his love of art both at school and after it, things did not go as he expected. This was until he found a way of expressing his love of art though chainsaw carving, which he has described as “being like discovering and learning art all over again.” Garry gravitated to the Scottish School of Forestry in Inverness to learn chainsaw skills and basic forestry knowledge.

He discovered that he had a natural ability with a chainsaw while at the school. “I found that I quickly picked up using a chainsaw. I could visualise things in 3D and was good at getting my cuts correct. While I had not used a chainsaw before, I had used other power tools in the past, so I was quite comfortable with a chainsaw. In fact, I actually got an award for my chainsaw work from the school.”

However, while there, it was operating forestry machines that became a goal for Garry. He saw a career path, but at that stage he did not have his driving licence. Then fate intervened. He met Heather and they got married. When his son Bobby James came along, he realised he needed to get back earning money to support his family. A move from Inverness back to Aberdeenshire followed. After a brief spell with the Forestry Commission, a local arb contractor, and then finally with a tree squad for Scottish Hydro Electric (SSE), Garry started to consider chainsaw carving.

Forestry Journal: The Groot carve, which Garry gained third prize for at Carve Carrbridge 2015.The Groot carve, which Garry gained third prize for at Carve Carrbridge 2015.

It was perhaps not a surprise that Garry would think about carving as it offered a way to combine his love of art and working with wood. Initially, Garry carved as a hobby and continued to work with SSE. He was inspired by what UK carvers were doing and could see that some were earning a living from it. That got him thinking about whether he could do the same. His first chainsaw carving was an owl and, much to his surprise, he sold it.

READ MORE: Chainsaws on the ground 2020

“By this stage, I was working, doing my own tree jobs, and producing firewood. It was in between doing a load of firewood that I carved the owl. I put it at the top of our road, and someone knocked on the door and offered to pay me £40 for it. I quickly thought two things: I had better do another, because Heather had liked the first one I carved; and then maybe do more if people were going to buy them! The decision to go full-time came after a long period of working both full-time at my job and part-time carving, which became impossible to keep at.”

Forestry Journal: Wee Coos pay the bills and Garry carves lots of them.Wee Coos pay the bills and Garry carves lots of them.

For Garry, the routine of carving during the week and attending local farmers’ markets and festivals at the weekends to sell his carvings became the norm – although he quickly learned that having a wide variety of different individual carves was not necessarily the right way to go about things. He would sell his one Highland Coo and then discover he could have sold it ten times over; such was the demand. He resolved to start making more of same type of carves rather than different individual carves. Carving lots of coos and owls soon became the norm.

Almost from the start of his carving career, Garry set out to be what he calls a production carver, producing large volumes of similar carved lines, rather than only working on specific commissions. 22” and 15” coos are very popular sellers for Garry and an example of carvings that he produces on a large scale by employing production-carving techniques.

“These are one of my bestselling carves and I haven’t really altered the design of them since I first started carving them. Part of their appeal, apart from the way they look, is that they can be posted to anywhere in the UK, making them a relatively inexpensive carving that people can own.”

Garry has taken the batch production methods from manufacturing and applied them to chainsaw carving. A typical week for Garry can start on a Monday morning dealing with a pallet of quartered 30” logs, from which he can get two 15” coos. He then starts working on the blocking-out stage, taking these blank logs, and adding some detail. Then, in the afternoon, he may work on a one-off commission piece. Tuesday morning then sees him back to the coos, doing more detail work on them. Then, in the afternoon, more commission work. This process repeats for the rest of the week with the coos being sanded, burnt, painted, and then oiled in the mornings, then commission jobs in the afternoons. On Friday, any finished coo carves can be posted to customers or placed in stock to complete the weekly cycle.

Forestry Journal:  Highland Teuchter gained the highest auction price at Carve Carrbridge 2019. Highland Teuchter gained the highest auction price at Carve Carrbridge 2019.

“I have found working this way I can be more efficient and productive. I am only using the same equipment at each stage, I am not chopping and changing, slowing production down. It is just the same way as a factory or production line would operate. In effect, I am minimising my production costs, to offer my customers an affordable carving to own while making a profit margin for myself. I have, in the past, spent days on doing specific commission carves, and, ultimately, not making much money for all the effort I put in. Doing this allows the coos to pay the bills.”

Owls are another favourite. Garry carves them in all sizes and designs, though feels it is important to make Owls look “silly”.

“Everyone does owls, as customers like them. So, I tend to have mine looking slightly silly or quirky to make them different. I also tend not to carve them with legs, as that takes more time. Rather, I concentrate on making their eyes or feathers detailed and attractive to customers.”

Garry also offers relief carvings to his customers. This is where the subject is carved from a flat panel of wood, allowing it to project slightly out from the background. In some cases, he uses burning, sanding and paint techniques to enhance the details of individual relief carves. Again, he explained doing these he can apply batch production techniques and has made several different design templates for relief carvings.

Garry was able to study this technique and learn more about it after spending time with the Backus chainsaw family while attending Carve Montana in 2018. It is something that he enjoys doing, but also it has helped him to innovate with the range and choice that he could offer his customers. ‘Mushroom fairy hooses’, which he introduced to his customers in 2019, are another example of Garry continually striving to be innovative.

READ MORE: Carve Carrbridge 2020 CANCELLED

Based at Drummuir in Moray, Garry currently operates from a 20 ft shipping container, with a canopy covering the entrance. Prior to this, he had the use of a timber shed workshop. However, back in 2017, a devastating fire destroyed this and threatened his whole business. Fortunately, Garry, Heather and Bobby James were not hurt. Carves and stock worth £8,000 were destroyed, along with around £12,000 worth of tools and equipment. For Garry, this was life-changing in many ways; certainly, for the way he was to carve in future.

“The fire made me really think about why I was carving. It allowed me to reset what I was doing. After the fire, Heather became much more involved in the business. I focused much more on productivity and streamlining the way I carved. I strived to become more efficient at producing quantities of saleable end carvings. While the container is a stopgap and I do intend to replace the workshop, I have set it up to allow me to carve in the way I have described. I also have a 60 ft yard which is big enough to store my timber and the sawdust and wood offcuts that are a byproduct of my carving.”

Forestry Journal: Garry posted this picture on his Facebook page to thank everyone for helping to get him back carving after the fire in 2017.Garry posted this picture on his Facebook page to thank everyone for helping to get him back carving after the fire in 2017.

Such is Garry’s focus on productivity that sawdust and offcuts go straight into one-tonne bags during the carving process. These are then moved around the yard with his forklift truck. This purchase, although expensive, was a means to save time and aid production. Once he has enough bags of this waste material to sell as firewood, he places a notice on his Facebook page and soon finds many local takers. It’s about keeping things simple and efficient.

Like many carvers, Garry has a wide range of saws and equipment. Unlike many, he has no real allegiances when it comes to brands. His main and favourite saw is a Husqvarna 550XP Mark II with standard bar, which he describes as a “powerful, zippy saw, which is really quick”. He uses a Stihl MS661 for the processing work and cutting the logs into the blocks he needs for his production process. The real detail work is done using a Husqvarna 535i XP saw.

“Because it is battery-powered, it is quiet but nevertheless powerful, and, with a small carving bar, I can get a great level of detail. Other advantages of these saws are their obvious lack of fumes and the fact that you don’t have to continually pull a starter cord all day to get them fired up!” He also uses a Stihl 201, and is eagerly awaiting the release of the new Husqvarna 540i XP, which he sees becoming his main detail saw.

Forestry Journal: Garry’s Three French Hens carving, which was part of the Aberdeen Christmas Sculpture Trail in 2018.Garry’s Three French Hens carving, which was part of the Aberdeen Christmas Sculpture Trail in 2018.

Dime-tip carving bars are important to Garry and he tends to use Cannon as, to him, they are “the best carving bars”. He also feels that Tsumura and Sugihara carving bars are of a very good quality. The Makita brand is his preferred choice for power tools such as his sanders and grinders, alongside using a Manpa Multi Cutter and Harrycane power gouge tools.

Garry has continued to carve during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of the lockdown, he said on his Facebook page that, as a carver, he had, in effect, been self-isolating for years, and that while there may be a small delay, his customers would still get their orders.

“There was a lot of discussions on carving forums about whether to keep doing it or not. I made the decision to keep carving. I postponed the larger commissions that I had and concentrated on doing my smaller production carves that I knew I could get posted or couriered to my customers.”

Garry has competed at Carve Carrbridge since 2008. “Carve Carrbridge is special. It was the first competition that I took part in and it helped me to develop and meet other carvers for the first time,” he explained. “The first year I competed, I really didn’t have a clue, but I used that as learning for the next year and the years after that. For me, this competition is not about necessarily trying to win it but more about trying to challenge myself each year and come up with carves that the public like. I also like to have in mind what they are likely to buy in the auction at the end of the competition when thinking about what to carve.

Forestry Journal: Left: Relief carves are something new for Garry.Left: Relief carves are something new for Garry.

“I have formed lasting friendships with carvers from across the world. There is a real kinship between carvers at Carve Carrbridge. This event has led me to being invited to carve in many other competitions, including the Ridgway Rendezvous, Woodfest Wales, the Kootenai Country Montana International Chainsaw Carving Championship, and the Huskycup. The village of Carrbridge, its people, the event organisers and volunteers are great in my eyes. They do a fantastic job each year. This event is quick, challenging and the only one where you are only allowed to use chainsaws, no other tools.”

As well as placing third in 2015 for his Groot carve, last year Garry’s Highland Teuchter carve achieved the highest auction price at the end of the competition. He told me that this is something that he has achieved on more than one occasion.

READ MORE: Valley of the carves

“I know what those attending are likely to want to own as a carve. Many who bid are hotel, B&B, pub or restaurant owners, who are looking for a statement piece to have outside their premises. In my eyes, Highland Teuchter got me over a grand for four hours’ work so that cannot be bad!”

In 2018, Garry was involved in providing the carves for the Aberdeen Christmas Sculpture Trail. This involved making a series of carvings to represent the Christmas carol, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. This job took a whole month to produce the 12 carvings required, and Garry enlisted help from fellow carver Simon Archer to produce three of them.

Forestry Journal: The snail carving which is located at the side of the main Inverness-to-Aberdeen railway line at Forres.The snail carving which is located at the side of the main Inverness-to-Aberdeen railway line at Forres.

Another interesting commission for Garry was the creation of a carving which became known as Aspire. This was produced from a 25 ft-high elm tree stump that was located on parkland at George Square outside St Andrew’s School Inverurie. Garry explained that Ken Regan, Aberdeenshire Council landscape services officer, approached him about whether he could do something with this tree stump.

“I engaged with the pupils at St Andrew’s School, which is a school for children with special needs, trying to get their feelings for what to carve. Meeting and talking to them made me think about doing a different type of carving. They have dreams, desires and aspirations just like the rest of us, and the result was this carving of children with arms around each other, lifting each other up and reaching, in effect, for the sky.”

Other carvings that Garry has been involved in include a snail carved from tree stump left alongside the main Inverness-to-Aberdeen railway line at Forres. This attracted a lot of attention, both from the public as he carved it and after he placed a video of it on his Facebook page. “I was approached to do five carvings from stumps that had been left alongside a walking route between the road and railway. The snail is the first one I have done and, unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted my plans to carve the other four stumps. I had never carved a snail before and it is one of the things in my ‘wish book’ to carve.”

Garry’s ‘wish book’ is where he keeps his ideas, sketches, and pictures of things he would like to carve in the future. He told me that he always keeps a notepad to capture thoughts and inspirations that he has about anything to do with carving. He also takes pictures of cuts or techniques he has made which he thinks may be useful in the future.

Forestry Journal: Mushroom fairy hooses were a new carve innovation in 2019.Mushroom fairy hooses were a new carve innovation in 2019.

Another interesting carve was that of a dragon at the Castle Fraser estate. “I was contacted to carve something from a big piece of spruce, and I decided to do a dragon. The idea was for me to carve the head and tail and then these were going to be placed into a mound of earth. As I like carving dragons, I was happy to do it. I carved a big, friendly dragon’s head which the visitors to this National Trust property really liked.”

It is clear from talking to Garry that he has a passion for carving and the creation of pieces of art for people to cherish and enjoy. I was interested to hear from him how he saw the future in the immediate term, post-COVID-19, and in the years ahead.

“I started my carving business in a recession and survived so I am sure I can do the same now. I am happy with life and what I am doing. I am, for me, living the dream, doing work that I really enjoy. I will carry on production carving because I am very efficient at doing that, but I will also look to work through my wish list of carves when I do my commission work. I am a creative carver at heart, and I will probably look to do more of that, but I will not lose sight of the Wee Coos that pay the bills!”

Find Garry on Facebook at Garry Shand Chainsaw Sculpture.

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