News from Stark Raven Studios: Dan and Saga's blog about blacksmithing, art, and daily life and  work on their tiny Wisconsin Northwoods homestead.

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My First Folklore Image

I have always been fascinated with legends, myths and folklore. for as far back as I can remember, I was drawing pictures of dragons and princesses, with gowns flowing, awaiting her prince. I was endlessly entertained by stories of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty among many many other tales. When I wasn't drawing pictures of legendary characters, my play revolved around some of the stories I was read as a child.

When I got into highschool, my Freshman English class had a segment about Greek Mythology and we read things like The Odyssey and Illiad. My drawings grew to include these wondrous characters as well. I had classes in both Greek and Roman Mythology, which made my curiosity about folklore grow even more.

In my early 20s. I discovered Norse  and Celtic folklore and the basis for stories like Sleeping Beauty, based roughly on the Story of Brunhilde and Siegfried. I could not get enough of these stories. I still can't. And, I still find myself obsessively illustrating aspects of them. 

Yggdrasil - The World Tree

Yggdrasil - The World Tree

In the past 20 years, much of my focus has been on Norse folklore and it was when I was just into my 30s that I did my first serious illustration depicting a story from Norse folklore. I painted my interpretation of the World Tree, Yggdrasil. I am still enchanted by this painting.

I sold the original years ago, but was thinking ahead and had prints made. I have sold a few and given some as gifts. Now, I'd like to offer them to the public with a special price in order to share my love of the old stories the best way I know how....through illustrating them.

Santa's Beard

by Dan Roesinger

All in the family: (l to r) bearded axes with 27" & 19" handles, early viking belt axe, tomahawk, Scandinavian carving hatchet.


I wrote recently about a pair of tongs I'd made for handling the stock I use for some of my axes. Here's one of the axes I make with that stock: the bearded axe.

Click image for product information

Click image for product information

This axe as I make it now has a 2 lb head about 7" long with a 5" cutting edge. It is mounted on a 19" handle in the pictures here. It could be mounted on a handle of any length, really. My own bearded axe (the shiny one in the pics here), an earlier version of this model, is on a 27" handle and weighs less, just under 1-1/2 lbs. It's my favorite axe for limbing. Its keen edge means usually one stroke will remove limbs a bit over an inch diameter, in fairly well seasoned maple. The two-pound axe that is now my standard for this design will do a little better.

Light bearded axe

I like the look of the original design as much as that of the current version, and it performs nearly as well. The lighter weight does allow for an easier and faster swing, so it still does a lot of work, more than I'd have expected. 

But the extra weight of the bearded axe as I've developed it since does give it more power. More important, it has a deeper eye, making for a much more firm attachment to the handle. I did struggle a bit with getting the first, lighter bearded axe set really well so that it doesn't loosen in use. I could certainly still market the light bearded axe, but the price would be very similar, so I suspect most folks would opt for the new 2 lb version anyway.

Now that the holiday season is looming (somehow it doesn't seem like a thing that should loom, does it?) I have a couple more of these bearded axes to make, one with a slightly modified bit for splitting; this means a thicker cross-section in the center of the cutting edge than at the top and bottom. Kind of like this () if that makes any sense.

So I'll be doing my part to keep Santa busy, though I do have room in my schedule to be able to complete a few more new orders in time for his big day. Somehow, I never thought of elves working in forges (other than in Tolkein's books), nor have I ever thought of myself as being in any way elfin. But if the shoe fits....

VIdeo: cutting performance

In the "Olden Days"

by Saga Erickson


Have you ever wondered how things used to be done in the “olden days?” That’s what I heard the days of yesteryear called by my grandparents. They used to talk about before they were born and how they grew up, back in the “olden days.” Well, I know I was always the kind of kid that used wonder about that and I know Dan was that kind of kid too. I think I can speak for both of when I say, we each had a sense of awe and wonder for how things were done back before there was the kind of technological advances that our grandparents, parents and we, have seen in our lifetimes.


I’ve been thinking about this a lot today. Our chosen lifestyle has been a living experiment in how people did things in the “olden days.” Sometimes it feels like we are triumphant in this experiment and are doing everything we’d dreamed. Other times we struggle with the amount of time, even what seems to be the simplest chore, seems to take.

Yesterday, we had a sunny day, but knew that snow was on the horizon. The past few weeks have been a preoccupation with firewood. Will we have enough? Do we have enough to start a new batch of charcoal today? Can we get into the forest to gather wood today? We cook and heat with wood. We make our own charcoal for the forge. Wood is a crucial part of not only our household survival, but it keeps the forge going too. Plus, you never know when you’ll come across the perfect broomstick or a nice green crook for spoon carving.


When we know we’ve got a couple days, we like to set up a wood gathering camp out in the county forest. The only modern “convenience” we bring with us is the chainsaw. We gather what’s already dead and down and usually haunt timber sale cuts from the previous year to gather large limps and such left behind by the loggers.

This is one of the ways we embrace the “olden days.” If we don’t get the wood in, we can’t cook, heat or even run our studios. This way of doing things cuts out the middle man of modern life and it gives one a sense of awe and pride to know that this is how our ancestors did things and there was a direct connection to your actions and survival.


Greeting cards are a great way to say hello!

by Saga Erickson

When the mood hits, I like to do illustrations. Most of them are of a whimsical nature and when I’m in an illustration streak, I crank out image after image, giggling to myself with great glee. For me, the illustrations are a quick “fix” when I’m in need of creating, but lack the patience for a larger project or detailed painting.

These “quick fix” illustrations are how my Nordic Folklore series got started. I was working on little drawings with a Yuletide kind of a theme, when I got an idea for a gift for Dan. I did a small illustration of the Norse God Ullr. It turned out to be the first of over a dozen folklore illustrations. Ullr also turned out to be one of my most popular images.

The original intention for my illustrations was to make them into small holiday ornaments or greeting cards, but some (the Folklore Series) have made it into larger size prints. Meanwhile, some of my larger, more “serious” paintings have done better as greeting card images.

I tend to do illustrations in series. When I get one idea, it often turns into half a dozen ideas and pretty soon, I have a pile of sketches on my lap awaiting color and ink!

Greeting cards are kind of fun. Receiving one always makes a person feel cared for. Giving one gives a person the opportunity to connect with a loved one and show that they’re thinking about them.

Northwood's song - pastel.jpg

I’ve noticed a trend over the past few years in regards to greeting cards, especially those depicting an artist’s work -- they are often framed. It is a great way to have a favorite artist’s work on your walls without taking up a lot of space. Plus, greeting cards are pretty reasonably priced, so they don’t end up eating a lot of the budget.



How's That Grab Ya?


by Dan Roesinger

I often have a hard time getting myself to take the time to make tools for myself if I can get on with my work with what I already have on hand. But I did finally make myself something I've needed for a good little while: a pair of box-jaw tongs sized for the 1" x 2" stock I use to for some of the axes I make. 

I don't often see smiths posting online about the tools they make for their work -- especially the more mundane tools like tongs -- so I thought it might be fun to share some pictures.

New tongs on the left; in center, the body of a Scandinavian Carving Hatchet, end split ready for the tool steel bit; on the right, the bit. Click here for info on this axe.

New tongs on the left; in center, the body of a Scandinavian Carving Hatchet, end split ready for the tool steel bit; on the right, the bit. Click here for info on this axe.

 I started these tongs just like I'd make a pair of straight-jaw tongs, starting with 3/4" square stock. But for these, I forge-welded a piece of flat stock (1/4" x 1-1/4" x 3-1/2" long) to the inside face of one of the bits to form the box jaw.


It's just a simple butt weld; I only made a scarf in the center of the lighter piece to aid it in blending into the inner face of the jaw. On the upper face, I used a top fuller to blend the side edges of the bit into the upper face of the crosspiece.


Now I can finally use the bars I'd set aside when they got too short to handle when hot -- they've been gathering dust too long! 



Evolution of a Portrait

Pastel portrait of Ariel

by Saga Erickson

I love to do portrait work and I recently got a commission from a repeat customer (always a good thing). Several years ago, she had me do a pastel portrait of her granddaughter, Ariel. Now she has a grandson, Tyler, and wanted me to capture his character in pastels as well. I thought it might be a cool idea to show folks how I do a portrait. So, I'm including step by step pictures of the process. I'm hoping to do a video of the next commission, which I'll be starting next week. 

Original photoby Lifetouch

Original photoby Lifetouch

When I start any portrait type of work, whether is people, animals or a combination. I do work from photos. When I am doing illustration work, I am less likely to use a source. But, portrait work is more precise. I use a technique that is hundreds of years old and was used by the great masters throughout the ages. I use a grid. I take advantage of modern technology when I do a layout of more than one image and will do my layout for a new portrait in Adobe photo-shop, that way I can manipulate the composition until it looks right and will work as a painting. 

grid layout

grid layout

Once I have a layout I'm happy with, I print it and grid the surface that I'll be working on to scale. Then I number the grids to correspond with each image. Then I do a rough sketch from the gridded layout, square by square.

When I'm happy with my rough sketch, I erase the grid-lines and begin to fill in the background. Then I start building layers of shadow and light. It doesn't matter what medium I am using, I begin blending and sculpting the pigments with my fingers as well as my brushes. It can get pretty messy. 

This particular portrait was meant to be in grey scale, but I started getting a bit carried away and added color accents as well as some pop culture imagery in the background. I sometimes get a bit carried away when it comes to "artistic license." 

Finished Portrait

I love seeing a portrait come to life beneath my fingertips. A swipe of a pastel here, a brush stroke there and both hands into the piece, molding, shaping contouring.  Sometimes it feels that I am sculpting a symphony of colors, where every shade and nuance gives the piece greater depth.


I like to finish a piece with some fine line work to enhance certain features such as the eyes, a lock of hair or maybe the curve of the nose. I also put in additional highlights to bring out the subjects personality and character.  

For more information be sure to contact us! We're always happy to do custom work and we also offer classes.

Be sure and check our calendar for upcoming classes and events. We also offer individual classes,  if you'd like to learn how to paint or draw