Today we’d like to introduce you to Bob Bruu.
Bob, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My father and grandfather handed down being able to draw and paint. Both were artists and perfectionists, in their own right. My love for wood and working with my hands grew from playing in my grandfather’s lumberyard in Hampton Bays, NY. He taught me how to use tools, choose lumber and to be precise.
Woodcarving started with an infatuation for duck decoys. Their beauty, colors, and realism intrigued me. With an invitation from a local woodcarvers club in the late 80s, I was handed a block of wood, a knife and told to carve a bear (I still have that original carving from that night). That led to a series of duck carvings and songbirds.
Later in life, my inspiration shifted after seeing a carving by Fraser Smith. I knew then what I wanted to aspire to, in my own way.
Has it been a smooth road?
I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a “smooth ride” for an artist. Art has entered and exited my life so many times over the years. Its definitely been more front and center the last ten years or so than ever before. It started with getting involved in the local art scene, doing some small art shows. That led to entering local art contests and then getting involved in more national shows.
My ultimate goal was to get into a gallery. That happened a couple of years ago in Vail, CO. I thought that once you landed in a gallery, things would fall into place. I learned a lot through that experience, what you think is going to sell, is not always the case. And the fact that you need to keep producing, keeping the inventory fresh. I fought the feeling of making things “commercial” to sell versus creating.
Then there’s life in general and how that can redirect your attention, day job and family priorities take over. I’ve since pulled out of the galleries, with a plan to get back when I’m ready. I now create in my 100 yr old barn, when I want and what I want to carve. It’s worked out pretty well.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Bob’s Wood Shop story. Tell us more about the business.
Bob’s Wood Shop is my collection of handmade wood designs. The collection includes Trompe-l’oeil wood carvings, wood turned bowls, hand-carved wooden spoons, and furniture. I build, design and carve in a 100 yr old barn located in Historic Downtown McKinney, TX.
My two favorite kinds of carving woods are Tupelo and Basswood. Both are traditional duck carving woods. Tupelo comes from the Southeastern part of the US. It’s known for its ability to hold detail, whether using hand or power tools. Basswood is a North American species, mainly from the Northeast.
It’s known as Limewood in Britain. It’s a soft wood, with little grain and highly manipulative. I’ll use other woods from time-to-time when requested. I finish my carvings with an assortment of materials; stain, acrylic, oils, milk paints to name a few.
Time to complete a wood carving always depends on the complexity of the subject matter. On average a baseball hat takes about 50 hours to complete. Something as complex as a shoe can take 200 or more hours. Most time is spent on planning the foundational cuts off a piece. Making sure you leave enough wood to get to the next level of detail, to ensure realism.
Once the carving portion is done, I always sit with a piece for a few days before painting or staining. That’s the last big step. Before I apply a brushstroke, I need to be fully committed to my final design. I’ve also started to explore other methods of working with wood.
I’m now turning bowls on a lathe and carving wooden spoons using traditional tools like an axe and spoon knives. I get to create and work with wood in a hundred-year-old Barn. It’s truly a unique and inspiring experience. The Barn is open from time-to-time to the public, for the annual McKinney Art Studio Tour, for example.
What I love about my carvings is that it provides someone a forever memory of something that is cherished. A favorite hat of your Dad or Grandfather, your Mom’s old ballet shoes, a favorite whiskey bottle or whatever someone can think of, can be carved.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Wood carvings have been around for thousands of years, there are many forms from traditional to highly conceptual. The use of wood as a material is something that I think will always be in demand, but as with all things, it will ebb and flow.
We as artists will continue to be challenged with upping our game to expand our creativity and go to places few have gone.
With the advent of 3D printing and C&C machines, it will be interesting to see how the public will react to machine vs. hand made. I’m betting (or hoping) that after the initial spike in demand of machine built art forms, it will center back to what a human can make from hand.