Not only is there a printmaker next door to us at Country Workshops, but there's a tool maker as well. John Kraus teaches toolmaking at John C. Campbell folk school, Country Workshops, and Penland. He's also a fiddle player, and we play music together when I visit. He always spends a bit of time helping me get my carving tools sharp as well. I've taken a page of notes every time he shows me how, and one of these years I'll master it (he says I'm getting better), but they're always best when John puts his magic touch on them.
This year he told me that the flat blade I was using to outline forms wasn't really the right tool for the job. I need an exacto knife instead, with its sharp edge on both sides. We stopped by to say goodbye on our way out of town, and John pulled out this beautiful tool, made just for me. He carved a handle for an exacto blade out of pearwood and made a copper neck and sheath for the blade. He said the handle would fit well in my hand for what I needed, and he was exactly right. It's a joy to use, and I am grateful for John's friendship and generosity.
The timing was perfect. A sharp blade helps me outline delicate sections so I don't (hopefully) inadvertently cut away bits I need. With trees and other amorphous shapes, I don't take the time to outline, but with fine detail and sharp lines, outlining helps a lot. I'm working on this Tower Grove print of a Victorian pavilion, and I've given the beautiful new tool a good work out this week.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.