Motivated to Create: The Importance of Painting

A self-help seminar inspired Phil and Vicki Bishop to quit their jobs and carve full time

By Kathleen Ryan

With distinctive down-home features, peculiarities of figure, and deliberately exaggerated faces, carvings by Phil and Vicki Bishop are designed to evoke smiles and keep us from taking life too seriously.

Although Phil and Vicki, a popular husband and wife carving duo, are award-winning carvers who spend their days working together, each pursues his or her own distinctive artistic direction and unique style. Phil favors country and western themes, while Vicki’s carvings include monsters, animals, Santas, and pirates. But no matter the theme, each carving tells its own funny story in caricature.

The Bishops find inspiration for their seemingly endless array of caricatures in many sources, including cartoons, magazines, and life itself. They love the cartooning of Herb Mignory and read Far Side books and Mad Magazine. Once an idea hits, Phil meticulously sketches his design on paper, while Vicki sculpts her thoughts in clay.

“We see a lot of people in our travels, and some trigger our creativity immensely,” said Vicki. “We have strange senses of humor. When we were traveling a lot, we would bounce ideas off each other and they would take on a life of their own. One thought would lead to another, and soon we were laughing and writing down the idea. We do the same thing in our studio.”

Getting Motivated

Phil and Vicki were both born and raised in rural Oklahoma, and they share a lifelong love of the outdoors. Both grew up dabbling in all forms of art. Phil, in particular, discovered he had a natural talent for drawing and a love of cartooning. The couple married in 1980, and later both began working at 3M Company. Phil discovered woodcarving in 1992, and soon after, 3M sent Phil and Vicki to a motivational program that motivated them to quit their jobs and pursue artistic careers.

“When we went from painting on canvas to carving wood, it was like we had come home,” said Phil. “We love everything about wood—the texture, the smell, the way it looks when you cut it with a knife, the sound of the cut. The three-dimensional aspect is way more satisfying than the flat canvas. We can get so much detail with wood, and the detail is what makes a good caricature carving.”

In the beginning, Phil carved realistic figures, and he even won a Best of Show award with one of his first realistic Indians. Then, the couple met renowned caricature carvers Dave Dunham, Randy Landen, and Steve Prescott. Inspired by their work, Phil and Vicki began researching caricature art. After Phil discovered the work of Harold Enlow, the transition to caricature carving was complete. “We think of [Harold] as the Norman Rockwell of woodcarving,” Phil and Vicki explained. “Harold’s work has a down-home quality to it. Even though he carves a lot of hillbillies, there is nothing hillbilly about Harold. He is an intelligent, well-read man and a true humorist.”

The Bishops have been so successful with their caricature carvings that they are currently the first husband and wife team in the Caricature Carvers of America (CCA), a national organization that promotes the art of caricature carving. The CCA has only twenty-five active members at a time, so this honor is significant.

Beginning Two Businesses

Phil started teaching in 1994. With only two classes under his belt, Phil was hired on short notice to fill in for a sick instructor at the Woodcarving Rendezvous in Branson, Mo. More than seventy people were registered for the class, and Phil had only ten days to prepare. Time was too short for Phil to cut enough blanks, so the couple hired a company to prepare roughouts. That was the beginning of the Bishops’ outstanding teaching career as well as their roughout business.

“We’ve found that roughouts help new carvers by providing a basic form—a place for them to start. It’s also great for those who don’t want to own, or bother with, a band saw,” Phil explained. “Folks send us lots of photos of their carvings finished from roughouts, and it’s great. We love seeing what other people do with our roughouts. It’s very humbling to know there are so many good carvers out there.”

Today, the Bishops sell more than 100 different basswood roughout designs. Each year they introduce at least five new designs and retire about ten, which ensures fresh challenges for their clients. The roughouts, which come with color photos as guides, range in price from $12 to $45.

“Phil and Vicki are wonderful woodcarvers. I’ve purchased several roughouts directly from them, and I must say that I thought they were the best I have ever used—top quality in every way,” said woodcarver Myron Compton.

Teaching Their Techniques

Until recently, the tremendous success of the Bishops’ unique teaching team kept the couple traveling the woodcarving circuit to exhibit at shows and teach up to thirty caricature-carving seminars per year throughout the United States. They were often booked two years in advance.

“I have never sat under two instructors with more passion for teaching woodcarving than Vicki and Phil Bishop. I took classes from them four years in a row,” said carver Mark N. Akers. “In each and every class I picked up a new technique or tip that enabled me to take my carving skill to the next level. If I had to sum up their talent in one statement it would be that the Bishops are definitely both cut from the same blank. As a teaching team, they were awesome.”

Not only did Phil and Vicki teach carving in their classes, they also emphasized painting. “To us, a caricature carving without paint is like a chicken without feathers; it leaves us cold,” Vicki said. “We like the wood grain to show through the paint, so our advice is to thin the paint to the point where it’s actually more like coloring the water than thinning
the paint.”

In 2010, the pair retired from teaching when Vicki’s parents fell ill. “We do not miss the time on the road, but we do miss the good friends we made over the years,” Phil and Vicki said. “We are still doing a few shows to see some of these friends. Woodcarvers are the best!”

“When I heard that Phil and Vicki were no longer teaching, all I could think of were the words of John McEnroe, ‘You cannot be serious!’’’ Mark said. “They dedicated many hours to the development, production, and instruction of woodcarving, and to say their efforts will be missed is the understatement of the year.”

Although their teaching years are behind them, Phil and Vicki haven’t slowed their carving schedule. Fans and friends can look for them at a few shows, as well as visit their website to keep up with their artwork. “We are still carving and designing roughouts, as well as creating new one-of-a-kind pieces,” Vicki said. The Bishops will be contributing to the carving world for a long time to come.

Phil and Vicki Bishop live in Elk City, Okla., where they carve and run their roughouts business. To request a catalog, visit www.bishopwoodcarving.com.

Quick Tips for Painting Caricature Carvings

You do not have to be an artist to paint your caricature carving.  When we paint in class, we mix the paint and let the students do the painting no matter what their level of expertise.  Here are some of the techniques that work best for us:

• Wash your carving and paint while the carving is still wet to keep from raising the wood’s the grain.

• Thin your paint to the point where it is more like colored water than thinned paint.

• Paint with three values: light, medium and dark. The medium value is the paint applied to the carving. The light value is the paint that remains on the carving after you take off as much as possible with a wet rag. The dark value is the shading done using a darker version of the medium value.

• Always allow the wood grain to show through the paint.

• Paint the carving carefully because watered-down paint can bleed into areas that you don’t want it to be.

• Remember the worn and haggard works well for the cowboys and hobos , but does not work as well for the ladies, animals, and Santas etc.

• Mix a small amount of burnt sienna oil paint to boiled linseed oil and apply a light coat to finish off the carving. This brings the carving to life.

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