Aspiring Artist Is Busy Carving Out His Niche

It took Ian Freeze roughly 18 months to figure out that he was not cut out for a career in the culinary arts.

He says the restaurant industry’s lightning-quick pace and high-pressure atmosphere were simply not a good fit for an individual with his condition.

“For someone with autism, unpredictable isn’t a good thing,” the 24-year-old Harrisburg resident shared during a recent interview. “Perhaps baking, which is more precise and like chemistry, would have been a better fit for me.

“There’s too much flying by the seat of your pants in the culinary business,” he added.

Rather than remain in the kitchen, Mr. Freeze, who has Asperger syndrome, a highly functional form of autism, decided to switch gears and is now studying interior design at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. He expects to graduate in 2020 and, in the interim, will be putting the finishing touches on an assortment of handmade carvings that he is now working on.

His plan, in addition to earning his undergraduate degree, is to carve enough items so he can start selling them on his own Etsy page. He needs at least 10 finished works before he can launch, and expects to have enough inventory to meet that requirement within the next few months.

The main issue – in addition to the required patience once needs to carve scenes and structures from blocks of wood – is the investment of time. “Carving just doesn’t happen overnight,” said Mr. Freeze, who works for Blue-J Cleaning Solutions in Concord, and, when needed, also volunteers as a Sunday school teacher. “It takes a lot of work.”

Explaining that he began whittling wood in his late teenage years at the suggestion of his father, Mr. Freeze said he now prefers to make buildings – especially those that closely resemble hobbit homes one would see featured in the Lord of the Rings movies – and relief carvings made from flat pieces of wood. The Paraguay native – Mr. Freeze was adopted when he was 18 months old and settled in North Carolina with his parents – says he relies on a “motley crew” of hand-held instruments, including custom-made knives, chisels and gouges, to make his creations.

Most of his carvings are constructed from cottonwood bark and basswoods. He says those materials are ideal because they’re soft enough to carve with hand-held instruments, as well as the occasional Dremel, but still durable enough not to fall apart when adding intricate details. To help minimize mistakes on his carvings, Mr. Freeze typically makes several pen and pencil drawings and, in many instances, even carves miniature versions of his vision to work out potential kinks before diving in with a full-size piece of wood.

The artist’s suitcase of hand-held tools.

The 2013 Hickory Ridge High School graduate has already earned accolades for his creations, with a turtle carving earning him a first-place ribbon under the novice category in the 2018 Showcase of Woodcarvings hosted by the Charlotte Woodcarvers Club. One of his “Hobbit Hole” carvings earned an honorable mention in this year’s competition.

Now his sights are set on finishing enough carvings so he can start selling them online.

“A lot of people don’t have the patience for it,” Mr. Freeze said of his hobby, which he learned from watching instructional videos on YouTube. “I’m a visual learner.”