Inside the Mind of MadcarverComments (0)
“It’s like a movie in my mind”—that is how Randall Stoner aka “Madcarver” of Orange County, California, pictures the dragons, trolls, ogres and a variety of otherworldly creatures as he brings them to life in his carvings. His unique style transports the viewer into a world of mystical imagination and storytelling far beyond the physical boundaries of a block of wood.
Finding a lot of his inspiration in sci-fi/fantasy novels, Randy often forms an emotional connection with a certain passage in a book that he feels compelled to reread over and over. Those words that capture his imagination stay with him long after he puts the book down. “If those words really affect me, I want people to feel that same emotion in the carvings I create, whether they have read it or not,” he said. “I want to express that scene and exemplify that character as I imagined it from the book.”
Magical-realistic sculpture carver Randall Stoner aka “Madcarver” works on “Muskie Fishing”; another carving “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” can also be seen at left.
Is he really a mad carver? Well, his friends may have accused him of being crazy, Randy laughed. “They say, ‘How do you do that? You work all day then go straight to the garage and carve all evening.’ So yeah, they think I’m kinda crazy.” Maybe obsessed is a better word. He is also an online gamer who had to come up with a username. “So I changed ‘crazy’ to ‘mad’ and ‘madcarver’ became my handle.”
He was first introduced to carving on a Boy Scout trip. Watching the instructor create something from a piece of wood piqued young Randy’s interest. “He was so good at it. Slice off a piece here, a piece there. Wow, that was so cool,” he recalled. He carved his first piece on that trip—a small bobble head caricature “kinda like Bugs Bunny.” That Christmas, he received a knife and eventually earned his Wood Carving Merit Badge.
Randy credits his artist grandfather with encouraging the grandkids to draw, paint, or in Randy’s case, carve. “I was relegated to the back porch because I couldn’t get chips in the house,” he said. Though his grandfather was a commercial artist and lithographer as well as an accomplished painter—who turned down a job offer with Disney to stay near his family—he wasn’t a carver. “But he knew the art. He was great at teaching, gently guiding you and leading you forward.”
Randy’s early carving days were sporadic but
that changed when he returned from Japan in his later 20s after an extended
stay to study the Japanese martial art of Yoshinkan Aikido at the headquarters
in Tokyo. He carved an Aikido practitioner, which led to a similar commissioned
piece. Something ignited in Randy’s spirit. He knew: “Carving is what I should
have been doing all along.”
Randy in his Aikido garb
Another thing he brought home from Japan: his wife of 21 years now, Yoko. Yoko now works in logistics and Randy works in IT near their home in southern California. When asked if they had children, he laughed: “No, that’s why I can carve.” They do have two cats.
As he was learning the ins and outs of carving, Randy said he often felt that certain knife-style tools were dangerous. “I have the scars to prove it,” he said. A nonslip mat on the work surface made all the difference. “When I put a block of wood on a non-slip mat, I became a much better carver because I could focus more on my work instead of worrying so much about hurting myself.”
The Master’s Tools
Randy added to his carving tool collection over the years, usually making purchases at his local Woodcraft store or online at woodcraft.com. “I would often spend my last dollar,” he told. “I wanted good tools so I started picking up chisels. I wanted to be able to go look at them, feel them in my hand.”
Randy works out of his one-stall garage by making use of every bit of room and having hinged worktops.
He incorporates the use of any number and size of chisels when creating his works of art. For bulk removal of materials, he often relies on a power carver to limit the amount of stress on his hands. He has more than a dozen rotary tools on standby—each ready with a specific carving tip—and buys up to 10 new ones every year as they wear out.
Pfeil Swiss Made Tools are a favorite of Madcarver’s.
One Block of Wood
Each of Randy’s carvings is typically created from one block of wood, usually basswood. He said 90% of each project is carved in relief style, though the angles and depth suggest a much more 3-D look. “I never do just a profile. It boils down to the angles each carving presents. I want each one to be a challenge. You can only carve so many trolls and goblins,” he laughed.
For instance, for the “Climber,” Randy shifts the perspective so the woman’s upper body appears closer to the viewer while the left foot against the rock looks to be at a lower elevation. As he carves into the block of basswood creating depth to the scene, the flat surface starts to draw the eye into the piece as if it was a bird’s-eye view. Randy was raised by strong women, who have become an inspiration for his carving. “I love carving heroines,” he shared. “I like putting female characters in traditionally male roles. Most women are doing all the same things men do in this modern time.”
Often, the background of Randy’s carvings is almost as important as the main subject. “I feel like anyone can create a main subject,” he explained. “However, creating a super fine detailed background is in itself a story beyond the main subject and my ultimate goal. My intention is to take the viewer into the story. I want them transported there with me.”
Randy uses varying amounts of color on his projects, but often merely a combination of woodburning and stain to obtain the desired look. Occasionally he will add a whitewash for something like mortar and stone.
One of the biggest nods to the realism of his carvings was received on a commissioned piece—and it wasn’t from a human. He carved a family’s departed dog. Though the wife cried over its stunning likeness, the other family pooch growled from the other side of the room.
“Beloved” commission project by Madcarver
The characters that Madcarver creates can be seen in castles, taverns, dungeons, and climbing mountaintops. Wizards, dragons, scuba divers, Wild West gunfighters, weary travelers, unsavory pirates, wildlife, and beloved pets have all come to life through Randy’s talented hands.
See Randy’s transformation from roughed-out scene to completed in his carving entitled “Deep Dread” (below) along with a few other masterpieces. A deep diver, having gained the attention of at least one octopus, begins to panic as his face shield cracks.
Knowledge is Power
is Power” - This
highly detailed carving gives the viewer plenty to discover.
Not Too Bright
“Not Too Bright” – An oafish ogre guard put at an unimportant location with no responsibility.
“Arch-Mage” – The apex of wisdom, knowledge, experience and power
Woodcarving as Art
Randy wants to change how people view woodcarving, and his skewed high bas-relief style is a great start. “Many people see carving as ‘folk art’, a hobby that takes little to no skill, imagination or forethought,” he said. “However, each year, more and more artisans are using wood as a medium to craft intriguing works of fine art, where only the imagination of the artist is the limit.”
“Master Miner” travels through underground tunnels, corridors and passages searching for treasures.
Always willing to share his process, Randy’s active social media channels provide a way to document his work while imparting tips and tricks for viewers. He shows the methods used, discusses challenges and answers questions. He teaches tool use and sharpening, frame creation and anything in between.
One carving on Madcarver’s “someday” list is the Cerberus, the Greek mythology creature often called the Hound of Hades, a multi-headed dog guarding the gates of the underworld.
We hope you’ll be inspired!
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