When you live in a location as naturally beautiful as the Texas Hill Country, it's easy to look out your window and feel inspired. It's here, tucked into the hills and valleys just north of San Antonio, that wood carver Darrin Potter lives and works — looking out of his studio at miles of uninterrupted landscape.
But it's in the swamps of Louisiana, some 12 hours away, where Potter finds the real inspiration for his art. "Although I've been doing wood carvings for years, I really fell in love when I first took an airboat out into the swamps to look for wood," says Potter, who typically salvages old-growth cypress that was cut back at the end of the Civil War and can still be found drifting in the swamps. "When you're working with trees that have been submerged for that long, you're going to find lots of character and movement in the wood, which is what makes my artwork so unique."
And it's that character and movement that dictates the outcome of Potter's designs — a rule that gives Potter the freedom to only work with pieces that truly speak to him. "I generally won't even pick up a piece of wood unless I can look at it and know exactly what it's going to become," he says. And he means it. Whether he's wading waist-deep in an alligator-infested swamp or looking through the canyons near his home, tougher-to-get-to places provide the best backdrops for his artwork, making it important to pick and choose what driftwood he's going to take home with him.
Once he gets the wood back to his at-home studio, Potter gets to work, laying out everything perfectly on the wood before he ever begins to carve. He uses a relief-carving method, a process that involves removing wood with hand tools in such a way that a picture seems to almost rise out of the piece of driftwood. "Basically, it's like drawing with an eraser — you only get one shot," Potter explains.
Although he can be commissioned to create almost anything, Potter's bread and butter are animals native to the United States. To create a finished piece that looks as lifelike as possible, Potter paints the carving in realistic hues before applying a hand-rubbed oil finish to add some shine. Accuracy is very important to him in his designs. "I'm definitely a stickler for anatomy, so I make sure all of the proportions and color choices are spot-on," he says.
Although he does take special orders for his driftwood art, Potter's work is predominantly sold through local galleries and at art shows. He also takes orders directly, working with customers to create their desired design through their suggestions and the specific wood pieces he has available. Prices depend on the size and complexity of the design, and generally fall between $800 and $2,500. All pieces also come with a 500-year warranty.
For more information, contact Darrin Potter at 830-377-3029 or visit his web site, riverwoodart.com.