John Willis | Artist and Sculptor

Nature to Art

A burl (or burr) is a rounded irregular growth, found on the trunks of old trees. The burl is a defence mechanism of the tree to isolate foreign invaders such as insects or moulds. The result is a bulbous timber growth that is tightly packed with character in its grains and knots, unique as a finger print. I have always found them to be fascinating, growing on all sorts of trees and in all sorts of environments.

The first part of my process is exploration. I explore farms and cattle stations to find the most rare and unique growths that at first glance might look ugly – but with work, sculpting and fine finishing might reveal their unique beauty. The selection isn’t taken lightly – as a finished burl may have had over 100 hours poured into its creation. Only the burls with the most compelling character and story to tell are selected. The exploration is much like going on a fishing adventure – you have no idea what you will come back with.

I extract my selected Burl from the tree and store it in my workshop for at least three years to passively cure and dry before the carving process can begin.

Sculpting begins with an axe to carve out the heart of the timber, taking my time to feel my way and let the burl’s natural characteristics reveal themselves to me. This delicate process takes time as I do not want to harm the integrity or structure of the piece.

Next, I move on to defining the outer shell of the sculpture with a chainsaw to further shear off the dense wood. This takes hours of careful and precise chainsaw work, not the kind of careful work you might think of when imagining a chainsaw wielder.

The final part of defining the sculpted shape is undertaken using a grinder with a carving disc to refine the burl. Now for the eight layers of sanding (taking dozens of hours), starting with a rough 60 grade paper and finishing at a super-fine 1500 grade paper.

Finally, a clear finishing oil is applied, this keeps the burl as organic looking as possible.

100+ hours of work later, you have a beautiful and tactile piece of natural art, sculpted by hand and invited into your home to bring a warmth and energy not found in stone, steel or synthetic materials.

Invite nature into your home with Raw Nature Australia.