Cascades of flying wood chips and sounds of chain saws grinding against wood are common sights and sounds in Austin artist Griffon Ramsey’s downtown studio.
Ramsey makes a living carving elaborate sculptures out of wood she finds scattered throughout Texas. Since she started woodcarving in 2011, she’s created a YouTube channel — which currently has more than 60,000 subscribers — where fans can see how she turns large pieces of bark into recognizable icons of pop culture, such as Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and Bender from “Futurama.”
A 2008 graduate from Texas State University, Ramsey studied theater and worked as a set designer. In fall 2011, she decided to use her skills working with lightweight material on wood through chain-saw sculpting. Before starting, however, she had to learn to handle the potentially dangerous tool and how to work with her new medium.
“I had never used [a chain saw] before, so it was a scary learning curve to get over the fear of it,” Ramsey said. “I also had to learn about wood, sculpture and kind of all of it.”
New carvings sit among some of the earliest works in Griffon Ramsey's East Austin studio.
Ramsey said chain-saw carving has fascinated her ever since she was a kid. As she began learning the trade, seeing the work of woodcarver R. L. Blair, who’s credited for carving more than 150 statues found throughout Disney theme parks, played a huge part in getting her started in woodcarving as an adult.
“She stopped by one day and eventually she started to carve periodically,” Blair said. “She’s a sweet, young lady who’s good at what she does.”
Ramsey carves the majority of her work at the FORT, a warehouse art studio that she shares with other artists. She said she enjoys using wood as a medium despite its heaviness and unstable nature.
“Wood is finicky — it cracks, and holes, and other surprises like bugs,” Ramsey said. “I’ve been focusing on wood because I want to get better as a carver. I do plan to incorporate other materials and collaborate with different artists who work with metals and glass.”
Ramsey, a former production designer for Austin production company Rooster Teeth, uses her editing skills to create videos that highlight the process behind each individual carving.
Her videos aren’t just paint-by-numbers explanations about how she makes the sculptures. She also explains the motivations behind each piece. In one video, she creates a sculpture of Elsa from the Disney film “Frozen” while explaining how her daughter’s love for the character and her appreciation of the growing trend of animated films featuring strong, female characters inspired her.
Griffon Ramsey uses a chainsaw to work on a project.
Although Ramsey originally planned to use her channel as a place to experiment with a wide range of art forms, it remains a home for her carved creations more than anything else.
“My idea was that every video would be different techniques and different materials depending on whatever I was making,” Ramsey said. “But then I started using the chain saw, and I just fell in love with it.”
Ramsey works actively to increase the channel’s popularity by creating sculptures based on fan requests. She said the channel helps her sell her art, which she puts up for auction on her website, griffonramsey.com.
“I’ve had carvings, after the videos go up, sell within five minutes,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey said she hopes she can transition to larger projects and public art for the City of Austin.
“I just hope I get better and do larger scale projects,” Ramsey said. “The nice thing about carving is that you can do large scale relatively quickly.”