Joe Valasek, owner of Carveture, started his career as a wood sculptor over three decades ago. But in the past 20 years he has focused on harnessing the power of the computer to produce large scale woodwork of a scope and level of detail that would be difficult to imagine using manual methods.

 The carved artwork and architectural pieces that Valasek’s Eugene, OR company produces were in the past only accessible to very rich individuals and organizations. now, using CAD/CAM software and a CNC router, Valasek can produce breathtakingly large and detailed carved murals, doors and accent carvings even for customers even with modest budgets.

An example is  two 12-foot-wide by 6-foot-high murals shown here with enormous levels of detail and a wide range of different scenes that would have taken six months to carve with traditional methods Using Delcam’s artistic ArtCAM, CADCAM software and a Precix dual-head CNC router, the project took a relatively short two months to complete.

For the first few years of his career, Valasek worked purely with hand carving tools. Then one day he decided to try an electric router equipped with a bit he made himself. He was so impressed with the results that he decided technology would have a place in his tool chest from then on.

“Every classical artist has always used the full range of tools available to them,” Valasek said. “If Michelangelo were alive today, there's no reason to think he wouldn't be using the most advanced tools in existence.”

In his early years working with CNC, Valasek teamed up with a couple of others to carve grapevines onto the ends of wine barrels to make decorative faces for clocks sold through a wine accessories catalog.

“When I was sculpting and carving by hand, I found myself feeling jealous of bronze artists who produced a model and then cast 200 copies,” Valasek said. After spending six months hand carving a mural of a dawn forest, "I spent eight years searching for the right tools that would marry the power of the computer and CNC machinery with the freedom and creativity of manual sculpting."

He settled on a CNC router made by Precix with two heads that can quickly produce large jobs. After testing a number of different software packages, he selected ArtCAM. "It is the only one I have seen that can do what I was looking for.”

With two decades of CAD/CAM experience under his belt, Valasek is now taking on much larger projects for corporate and individual clients. A typical example is the series of murals that he produced for PeaceHealth, a group of hospitals in the Northwestern United States. 

The background of these murals is an undulating sine curve that repeats every ¼ inch across the mural. Valasek created the sine curve in ArtCAM by creating a 2-D sine curve with a period of one-quarter inch the length of the mural, then extruding the shape across its height.

The overall effect looks like corrugated sheathing. It took him about an hour to create the background in ArtCAM. To do it by hand would have taken about a month. 

Next, Valasek created the ornaments which are swirls that are based on foliage and appear on a larger scale than the sine curve throughout the background of the mural. He created two lines that represent the outer edges of the swirl and a series of cross-sectional shapes. He designated points along the swirl for the cross-sectional shapes.

Then he used ArtCAM’s ‘Two Rail Sweep’ feature to extrude the cross-sectional shapes along the lines while blending from one shape to the next. Valasek thought about creating an area of ornaments and duplicating it but decided it would look too static so he created each ornament individually. The ornaments all originate from a cross which is the corporate logo of Peace Health in the center of each mural.

Valasek created about 20 detailed areas in each mural with symbols of the geographical areas where PeaceHealth facilities are located. They include plants, animals and natural scenes. An example is a scene from Ketchikan of a mountain covered with fir trees and buildings on a waterfront.

He started by scanning a photo of the scene and importing it into ArtCAM as a guide for the profile of the mountain, trees and buildings. Then he created the buildings by using the software's ‘Angled Plane’ feature. The sides of the building are angled so that elevation off the canvas increases as they approach the centerline of the building where they meet.

 Valasek made three or four 12 inch tall wood carvings of trees. He scanned the carving on a 3-D Roland Pixca touch probe scanner and imported it as an ArtCAM relief file. He then copied the image to create groups of trees and made changes to the individual trees so they would not be all the same. Finally he copied the group of trees to cover the mountain.

It took him about two months to design the two murals. He then set up the CNC machine to cut out the mural in High Density Fiberboard, in about 80 hours with minimal supervision required on his part.

Finishing took about 30 hours including applying the base color and then a lighter metallic copper which is dry brushed onto the raised areas. The end result looks very much like metal. The hospital is now planning to have Valasek build two more murals and by re-using components he estimates that they can be designed in only two weeks

“Besides saving large amounts of time in producing the first iteration of your design, ArtCAM also lets you re-use parts of your art,” Valasek said. “You can also buy artwork on the web and incorporate it into your design. The result is that carved artworks and architectural pieces that were formerly out of  the range of all but the most lavish budgets are now becoming affordable. My hope is that carved murals, doors, and accent carvings will add delight, charm and value to my customers’ homes and businesses.” 

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.