Here is another first for me: Welcome to the first of my Axe Art Features! With so much talent in our community (throwing talent, art talent, sheath making talent…the list goes
on) I really wanted to talk with some of the spectacular artists we have that make one-of-a-kind axes for our viewing (and throwing)pleasure. For my first feature, I reached out to Nick Bolhuis, an electrician by day and a member of BATL Ottawa by night, who does brilliant work with a variety of mediums. A friend of mine (shout out to Ashley) put the two of us in touch after I saw one of his axes at a charity event she was holding. My first thought was “Holy shit I need to talk to this guy!”. His unique style and blend of mediums bring axe art to a whole other level. Seriously, this blog isn’t even pretty enough to feature his work, it just won’t do it justice….but I’m gonna feature it anyways.
As I mentioned above, Nick is a member of BATL Ottawa. He’s been throwing in the inaugural Tuesday Black league since BATL Ottawa opened, and nearly as long in Wednesday Black as well. Seeing other league members decorating their own axes is what inspired Nick to start doing his own custom work. In his words: “Seeing other league members tooling up their own axes, seeing some of the excellent work other throwers had done , I couldn’t just half-ass my own. My first real custom was carved into a skull and copper-plated. Carved the handle into a sort of spinal cord and did some copper wire inlay for spinal discs. Sadly it didn’t throw very well because I’d cut a notch into the blade to make the nose of the skull and it just made throwing it horrible.”
Coming from a creative family, Nick always had art around him. His great grandfather began drawing later in life and it turned out he was a natural. You are NEVER to old to let your creative side show. Nick’s grandmother was a fashion designer and amazing with water colours. Both Nick and his sister always dabbled in any art they could get their hands on. From an early age, Nick was constantly doodling, even in the middle of class when he should have been paying attention. Taking every art class the school had to offer, he began to branch out and took water colour classes at a local art gallery as well. From there he got involved in making Warhammer models and prior to joining BATL he began woodworking projects (great timing!). He currently uses a combination of wood and metal carving tools, acids, stains, dyes, acrylic paints, water colours, blowtorch, electricity and science.
So how does the creative process begin with Nick? Usually, someone will come to him with an idea, he’ll sketch something out for them, they’ll go back and forth and then he gets to work! One of his favorite pieces is a Viking design (above) that he was told to “go nuts on”. Depending on the design, not including sketch time, Nick will put anywhere from 15 to 30 hours of work into his pieces. Inspiration can’t be rushed. At any given time he’s working on three or four axes, typically with similar techniques to streamline the process a bit. Comparing how much he’s done vs. how long he’s been doing it, it works out to a completed axe every week or two.
Interested in having Nick do some work for you? His wait list is about 8 months right now but this fluctuates from time to time. He really tries to stick to deadlines for his art as best he can. For example, he just completed an axe to cut the cake at a wedding and he couldn’t very well ask them to bump the date because it wasn’t ready.
Lastly, one question I always ask people is what their favorite BATL story is. Nick’s favorite isn’t what you might expect. In April of last year tragedy struck. Nick’s house burned down. Not only did he lose his possession and cherished memorabilia but he had just really started getting into his custom work, and everything was destroyed. However the aftermath of the fire really showed him how truly wonderful our community is:
“Luckily I was insured but it was still a brutal blow. A week or two later BATL hosted a fundraiser to help me out. It was amazing to actually see everyone come out to help one of their own, many of them didn’t know I was the subject of the fundraiser, they were all just there to help. It really got me back on my feet, the financial support was nice, but the emotional support invaluable. That’s really the reason I’ve dived so deeply into this custom axe operation, the support I’ve received from my home club just fills my heart.”
If you’d like to get in touch with Nick he can always be reached on Instagram @bladesbybolhuis or by email. He’s not huge on social media, but next steps will be to have his own website someday. Nick was kind enough to send me a ton of photos, and while I don’t have room for all of them here, I have included a number of them in the gallery so check them out!
Stay tuned! Next week you get to read all about The Little Axe Club With the Big Heart. Until then, Axes up!