Kim Bryant: Groomed for Carving

Kim Bryant: Groomed for Carving

A couple of years ago, after Kim Bryant and her husband, Doug, retired, “We were bored, so we started building things,” Kim said.

One of the first projects was a set of chairs for their deck. Doug built the chairs, and Kim said, “I think I can carve something on it.” She had a Dremel rotary tool that, up until that time, she had never used; with repeated uses, though, her skills “just get better and better.”

On those first deck chairs, Kim carved the outline of a dolphin on the front and the back. She has since moved on to carving things like a sea turtle, and lots of mermaids. “I’m just tickled by people: they want different mermaids, different sizes — one even wanted a mermaid wearing a bra!”

Kim sells her carvings, now, and she focuses on “coastal animals and birds — because that’s what people want.” She did try a buck deer peeking through oak leaves, inspired by pieces she’s seen from carver Jerry Mifflin, one of her inspirations. In Kim’s coastal Alabama area, however, when people have seen that piece in a store, “I’ve heard everybody loves it, ‘but it doesn’t go with where we live.'”

Kim herself loves to do large carvings, such as doors and panels. “I do huge vignettes and get it detailed. It takes a great deal of thinking it through to get the different levels.” In some ways, she says, it’s like her previous career as a dog groomer (Doug is a retired veterinarian): “When I groomed dogs, I’d do step-by-step sculpting: I sculpted the dog into a pattern. It’s a beautiful thing when it’s done right.” Similarly, with her woodworking, “Even though it’s a piece of furniture, it’s still a piece of art.”

Kim started out having Doug make all of the pieces she carves upon, but moved toward a millwork shop that now produces doors for her, allowing her to work with the Chilean mahogany they provide. Of course, Kim says, “I’ve got four big panels from the millwork shop screaming for me to work on them, but I haven’t had time to do it” — largely because of the time taken up with the handyman business for condos she and Doug are currently running.

“My husband and I have always worked together,” Kim said. When she saw a picture of a bed in a magazine, “I showed him the picture and said, ‘I want you to make me this bed.’ We went out in the shop and drew things on the chalkboard; we had no plans.”

With pieces like the bed, and its large panels, Doug also  helps move things around and get them in the right position for Kim to do her carving. “I’m not ambidextrous, so I have to have it in the right position to work on,” she said. “It’s important to think it through and plan it out before you start.”

Doug uses the Domino jointer in his building and, while Kim does a little bit of hand carving, most of her work is with power tools. “I was a dog groomer for years, and it took its toll,” “she said. “Regular hand tools require so much hand strength, and my hands start to cramp. There’s also the instant gratification.”


She uses a Shofu dental tool for much of her carving: “I had cleaned dogs’ teeth for years, and my husband was a veterinarian; he said, ‘Yeah, if it’d carve a dog’s teeth, it’d sure carve wood.”‘

Doug also built Kim a cyclone vacuum; for smaller projects, she said, she doesn’t need to wear a mask — unless she’s working with Spanish cedar, one of her favorite woods. “It has an oil in it, and even with a mask, you end up tasting it on your lips, tasting bitter,” she said. But, when it’s used outside, bugs don’t bother the Spanish cedar, it takes a stain well, “and it carves beautiful,” Kim said.

Kim does occasionally paint her pieces, particularly the smaller, jewelry pieces she does because they get her noticed — and are easier to transport than the large panels she likes to work on. The jewelry, she says, tends to look better when painted. Kim has also been a painter herself, working in acrylic and decorative painting. She once spent a week at a Las Vegas workshop “with the guy who did the Bellagio; it’s the only training I ever had in anything.” Mostly, Kim says, “I learn visually. If I see how somebody else does it, I can usually do it.”

As for the painting, she has done three original paintings, “but for me they just took so long!” she said. Also, “It wasn’t as relaxing to me as the carving. There’s something about the smell of the wood, the way it feels, the way it responds. I just really love wood.”

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