Interview: TJ Kleens - Wood Spirits

by Massive Voodoo

Good Morning Jungle,

Massive Voodoo is quite famous
for our not-so-regular and unique interviews.

This time we bring you something different once again, but something truely beautiful:

The wood carving work by TJ Kleens.

Roman encountered TJ's work via Instagram and fell in love with such wonderful characters ...

This interview was held by Roman and he wants to thank TJ for taking the time to answer the questions he was throwing at him. What both learned on this interview is that good things, need proper time and no haste, like always in life.

We present you this interview english language.

Want to see more of TJ's work?

From this point on all photo credits go to TJ Kleen.

1. Who are you? Let us know a little bit about your person? 
I am TJ Kleens. I am a wood carver, and student of art. For a very long winded and slightly exaggerated tale about me, folks can check out my about me page on my website. Just visit

2.1 How did you find your creative expression in wood carving? 
What made you do it? When did you start? I create work based on my moods, and which ever piece of wood shouts at me the loudest. Each piece is unique and has a different face inside. Some want to be let out and other want to hide a little longer. I started carving when I was let go from my last job in retail. I made a few small pieces and sold them. My wife saw my potential and told me to chase down what made me happy. My art career started in the summer of 2012.

2.2 Is it your full time job or are you doing it as a hobby? 
Full time. I carve about 30 hours a week, since that is all my hands can withstand. The remaining hours of work are devoted to drawing, some painting, online sales, and as much day dreaming as I can fit in.

3.1 What is your favourite piece of yours and why? 
I have recently started carving what I call my portrait of a dragon series. They are partials of a dragons face emerging from the wood. I have three that I think show off my current abilities as an artist. I do not know if I could pick just one of them. I have included images of them and another fun piece.

3.2 How would you describe your creations in one or two sentences? 
One of a kind pieces that you will be able to enjoy for a lifetime.

4. In which sizes do you work?
What was the smallest piece and the biggest piece you did so far? I have tried to carve some small keychain, pendant size pieces. The small stuff can be challenging. I try not to work smaller anything small than 1/2 inches or 1.27cm in size The largest thus far is about 2 feet or 61cm in length and about 3 inches or 7.6 cm wide. I have some larger pieces that are dried and just waiting for me to find out what lives in them, but time has not allowed me to explore those opportunities as of yet.

5. I am pretty sure our readers would be very interested in your tools. 
Can you show them to us?
I have attached a few images of my carving units as well as some of the bits. My bulking out tool is a flex shaft with a 1/3 horsepower motor. It runs at a top speed of 15k rpms. It is made for bulk removal. My precision tools are micro motor tools. They are electric motors housed within a handpiece. There are many brands. I use a combination of Ram, Micropro, and some random Chinese produced imports. These tools carve at speeds up to 46k rpms. For safety I used a full APR mask, a leather glove for the hand that holds my work and foam ear plugs. The bits pictured are some of the ones I use on a daily basis. They include carbide, diamond, steel, and stone. The stone bit can be seen in the micro motor hand piece.

6. What is your favorite tool out of it and why? 
I hope this does not sound cliché, but I love my pencil and paper. I can try out endless ideas on them without getting dirty, anytime and anywhere. The more I practice drawing the quicker my carving abilities progress.

7. How to you find your inspiration for your carvings? 
Inspiration is everywhere. I sit outside and draw clouds, faces or scenes I see in shadows, trees, and things lying around the house. I watch a lot of Jim Henson era Muppets. I find shapes in the carpet, popcorn ceilings, and soap bubbles in the shower. The list goes on and on. My inspiration goes back to my statement about daydreaming as much as possible. Sometimes it is best to just close my eyes and let images morph in my eyelids. On a good day, I can get more ideas than I can put on paper in just a few minutes of daydreaming. I also run trails. I encourage you to get away from technology and take in mother nature. A good run will clear my head, and I usually feel ready to charge headfirst into work.

8. Wood is not the easiest material to sculpt with as you have to know a lot about its structure. Can you give someone interested in it some starting tips when it comes to wood carving? 
 If it looks like an interesting piece of wood, pick it up. Do not shy away from shrubbery. Shrubs do not have a lot if any grain structure. They dry fast and carve well. If you are using high speed rotary tools like me, the softer stuff tends to shred a bit. It will require more sanding. It also does not hold very fine details. Stay away from very dense woods like oak. They are pretty, but they are hard on your tools and hands. At all stages of art, I teach and try to live by these three words: accept, critique, improve. Accept that at this moment in time, this is the best piece of work you can produce. Critique it, have other critique it. Find the single most important thing to work on and improve upon it. When you have finished another piece, accept critique, improve. Smile and have fun. It is just art.

9. Do you have a work order? Is there something you always start with and followed by something else? Tell us a little bit about work steps? 
  No, there is no special order. I try to let the pieces tell me who or what is ready. There have been times that I pick up pieces for several minutes before getting started. However, all of my faces are done start to finish. There is no assembly line work for those. I allow myself to be completely immersed in that face.

There have been a few times that I have stopped working on one, but it is usually due to one of my machines breaking or my hands going numb from too much work. I start by finding a piece that speaks up and says start with me. Next I clear off any bark or small bits that need to be removed. Once I have a clear surface, I pencil in basic shapes and borders. If it looks good, then I proceed with the bulking out phase. If not I erase the marks and keep trying till I get it correct. The bulking out phase is when I remove the most material. It is things like shaping the tops and bottoms into hats, tapers for beards, or maybe just rounding off the ends. I also remove most of the wood in the general shape of the face. Most things at this point look like small mounds, or simple geometric shapes. I then proceed with smaller finer bits. These are used to refine and smooth my bulked out shapes. I can add larger details with these bits. Finally I finish up all the smaller details, things like eyes, wrinkles, freckles, with diamond bits. If the piece needs any further sanding, the face can be touched up with a stone bit, and larger parts of the hat or back of the carving are smoothed with sandpaper. Frequently I will use a small propane torch to add some heavy dark contrast.

10. We have heard you are going to many shows with your carvings? What kind of shows are these? How do people react to your art? 
I prefer to setup shop at renaissance faires, and recently I have started showing at indoor comic conventions in artist alley. At renaissance faires, those who stop in usually ask me if I am the artist. I have been told by many patrons that I am not old enough to produce this type of art.

Earlier this month, I turned 42. I do not think age has anything to do with what type of art you want to create. I think the older generations associate what I do with those who are retired and want to do something fun with their remaining years. Some of the kids, mostly those under the age of ten, ask me if my work is done with computers and lasers. I politely tell them no, it is done by hand. I then put one of my flyers in their hands and tell them to have their parents take them to my youtube channel and watch me do a bit of work. The few who stop by my tables in artist alley are a bit dumbfounded. Many of them have never seen anything like what I do. They usually have some interesting questions.

A few have even given thought to trying a bit of carving on their own using whatever they have available at home.

11. Do you listen to Music while working? Tell us your favourite song pls? 
Yes, lots of music. Instead of a favorite song here is what genres I listen to while creating different types of art. Carving: Usually electronic dance music. The steady beat and lack of complicated lyrics make for a steady work pace. Drawing and painting: Classical and some metal. Most classical will work for me. I do not have a favorite composer. If I am listening to metal it is of the fantasy varieties. Dio, Dream Evil, Hammerfall, etc.

12. What is most important for you when you create?
Time. Take your time and allow the piece to evolve. If you rush it usually looks like junk.

13. What are your future plans or ideas when it comes to wood carving? What is your personal goal as an artist?
I hope in about ten years to be considered in the top five in the US in what I do. It has less to do with financial gains and more that I want to be in demand as a teacher. My goal is to eventually work less ren fairs and artist alleys. While they are fun, I want to teach art to as many people as possible. Anyone can create. You just have to want to learn. I want people to have a better understanding of what goes into creating a piece of art. There is more time involved than just the piece you are looking at. Through education I want all my students to be able to walk into a booth, gallery, or museum and say "I know what it took to make that piece".

14. Tea or coffee? Both are good, but coffee over tea. I prefer the fullness of the flavor.

15. How does a regular work day of TJ Kleens look like? 
Wake up between 12 and 2 pm. Coffee. Sit and allow the mind to warm up. Chat with my wife about how her day has been. Eat. Apply lacquer or oil washes to pieces on the drying rack. Run errands. Coffee. Pet the dog. Stare at ebay, etsy, and amazon, and wonder why I have not sold anything today. Panic. Pet the dog. Stop panicking. Sit outside and draw clouds. More coffee. Lie on the floor and day dream. Pet the dog. Go for a jog or something if I can remember to before it gets dark. Turn on some tunes and get settled in for some work. Carve for 4-6 hours. I try to make them uninterrupted hours. Apply lacquer to that evenings work. Shower. Eat. Work on figure study. Read two pages, think of something to try out on paper. Put the book down and draw till I am too tired to produce good work. Fall asleep between 4 and 6am.

Thank you for a nice insight into your work, TJ. 
Massive Voodoo is pretty sure that our readers find this interesting too. We wish you good fortune in your future adventures and always the right time at hand to carve your art. 

Want to see more of TJ's work?

You want to support TJ? 
Check his cool wood spirits on etsy!

Find more MV Interviews here! 

You want to support Massive Voodoo? 
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