Tuesday, August 10, 2010


When I was younger my family lived in Germany. We were stationed there twice because my dad was a band director in the Army. What an oxymoron: an artist in the Military.  At that time in the late 70's there were countless Volkswagon beetles on the city streets. We had a daschund my sister named "lady bug" after the VW. Very fitting. But now, as an adult, I don't see VW Beetles as round lady-bugs. They're more like snails. Slow moving artifacts. A novel keepsake. An old design from recent past. An afterthought. Their motors sputter.  Engine powered from behind.  Tiny interior.  Maybe room for a small friend, perseco, and a picnic basket?  They can't compete with the cars of today. As my dad would say about the present automobile, "they all look the same... designed in a damn wind-tunnel".

VW was founded by the Socialist trade union German Labor Front. The name "volkswagon" literally means "peoples car" in German. It was a liberating concept to provide affordable vehicles at that time (1930/40's) for average citizens when automobiles were considered such an extreme luxury.

The beetle, lady bug, veedub etc. was what our i-touch, i-phone, i-tunes is to our generation today: providing "accessibility" at somewhat affordable prices. But our current world is dressed fast. In immediacy, real-time, "mach schnell"! My technical devices seem to be extensions of my body, like a hand I can't live without. Texting, surfing, facebooking, blogging my way through space and time. Feeling total panic when my cellphone battery dies because I forgot to plug it in for the last 6 days and I'm downtown trying to meet up with friends. At that point I'm completely incapable of doing anything. I become useless as the anxiety kicks in, realizing I don't have "access"... this faux life-line that connects me to my little world. I've only been introduced to this speed in the last 5 years. And now I can't remember what I did in the previous 30yrs without all my gadgets?

Reflecting back on my "youth"... the VW beetle isn't an afterthought.  It's still a reality.  It's a treasure.  A symbol.  An iconic vehicle that reminds us of the world that "had" existed.  And ultimately it reminds us of what still exists today?  I really like the snail. Versatile in it's mobility. House on it's back.  Traversing through Berlin eating a little Falafel Döner. Unfettered. Adaptable. Deliberate.  A true free-spirit.  I have to remind myself to take it slow.  Pay attention to detail.  Stop and smell the roses.  I make a point to find time for perseco and picnics... just as long as I remember to plug my phone in the night before.

Carving in progress with sketched city and kebab.
Creating background and frame.
New "water-based" sludgy stain I was worried about.  I made numerous "tests" before applying it to this carving.  I was still a bit nervous with a new stain.  But it seemed to work out well.
This is one step away (gloss finish, black oil paint)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

ALT/NEU is a concept

Alt/Neu is a concept. It means Old/New in the German language. It's a notion that holds no boundaries. It can present itself as timeless and enduring, or quite the opposite as ephemeral and transitory. I created this term while trying to define my woodcarving. It's quite fitting since I'm of German descent, my mentor is the prolific German woodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider (1460 – 7 July 1531) and I happen to enjoy Brats and Beer. Alt/Neu can be perceived as the symbiosis of an OLD craft and NEW art. It can respect and celebrate old techniques, traditional rituals, crude tools, and redefine what was once know as a relic into a woven relationship with the modern world. My woodcarvings live and breathe in the world of Alt/Neu. This is certainly not your grandpa's woodcarving. I don't carve duck decoys, although I do think duck decoys are rather beautiful.

The birth of Alt/Neu came to me when I had a booth at the Portland Saturday Market. I decided to name my business "Alt/Neu". I thought it was clever. But it confused the patrons of the market and I experienced a lot of crooked eyebrows. Perhaps I should've named my booth "carvers corner" or "whimsical widdler"? I packed up my booth to meditate and take refuge in Alt/Neu. To take serious the versatile potential of bas-relief woodcarving in the 21st century. Portland has a gorgeous pool of Alt/Neu artists: weavers, quilters, knitters, fanzine publishers, book binders, woodblock print-makers, sculptors...  cross-stitchers?  Reinventors and rule breakers.  Guerrilla Craftsmen.  We have amazing pioneers blazing old craft mediums and reclaiming them in the modern world.

I've never had the desire to "blog" about my work, but recently I've been tongue-tied trying to explain what I do.  This site is dedicated to house my process for those who are interested in knowing more about this method and style of relief carving.  Although I use techniques identical to the old masters, such as carving in linden/lime wood (basswood) and I only use hand-tools, the content is certainly not what you would imagine in relief carving.  I finally decided to take the plunge becoming a woodcarving blogger to provide images and explanations of the prepping, carving, sanding, staining and finishing processes I use. And if the mood strikes me, I'll even explain the themes and intimacies of individual pieces.

Vielen Dank,
Nik Arnold

NEW SERIES: Deliberate Dwellings and Adaptation

She is the relationship between nature and modernity. The ever presence and persistence of the modern world nipping at her heels. The delicious vulnerability of her natural skin, body, and mind within the ever changing world around her. She is beauty. She stands tall in the seduction of the technical world.

Flowering Sun in the cosmos. Bedroom lights beg to be reborn as the blazing stars that light up the universe.

The hummingbird is a craftsman of spider webs, weaving tiny nests for their tiny eggs. Later as the babies start to grow, the nest expands.  Truly ingenious.  These brilliant architects are an inspiration.  They teach us how to do things right with what's simply provided by nature.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Turning 35 years old

Summer birthdays are fabulous!  We recently hosted a bbq celebrating my 35th birthday with some of my most beautiful, thoughtful, and crazy-wild friends!  I'm so privileged to be surrounded by such excellent people.   Later I walked through the house and it looked like someone had gotten married, all the amazing floral arrangements scattered around the house like priceless works of art.  Indeed, I am married to this year.  I made a loyal commitment to 35 and it's already brought richness and beauty into my life.

Being a host during this celebration, naturally I didn't get to spend a huge amount of time with each individual who showed up.  At one point in the night, between feeding the neighbor kids, hugging gorgeous Portuguese men longer than they expected (Kiki, your brother is "muito quente!") figuring out how to put Niko's transformer back into a truck, receiving kisses from neighbors, making sure everyone was eating and drinking enough... I sat down on the lawn to take a breather and looked around.  I thought to myself: every single one of these people are marvelous.  I felt overwhelmed with happiness seeing my parent-friends relaxed and carefree, the kids running around with sugar-highs, my neighbors chatting with my best pals I've known forever, Liz's smile lighting up the backyard while Mary-mac cracks her up, hearing the accents of Germany, Australia, Scotland, England, Eritrea, and Portugal floating through the air, witnessing a quick friendship between strangers as Val and Wayne became spontaneous grill-masters taking charge,  hearing Connie Wong by the fire-bowl proclaim, "you know, smores just bring people together!"

 This was one of my favorite birthdays to date... only because of the company.  I had to document my gifts and flowers everyone so generously brought.  I took photos of each arrangement and gift I received.   (I'm a carver not a photographer fyi!)  The personality in each bouquet is clearly apparent as a reflection of the person who methodically placed each stem in place.  Pure artistic beauty.  Thank you so much.  From the depths of my gratitude, I adore each and everyone you.

 (I suggest you click on the image to enlarge the details)