Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Thanks for visiting Casanova Cigar Carvings.

Our site is under construction, we are working to make your visit a more enjoyable one by providing links to all of Brad Casanova's carvings. Meanwhile all work remains visible on the blog.

Thanks again!

Monday, November 07, 2011


After 6 months of overtime and long road trips for work (secret government hush hush stuff), it was finally time to travel and play. My wife Corina and I planned a over month long road trip from the northern tip to the southern tip. It was amazing. Soaking in secluded hot springs, climbing glaciers, eating huhu grubs at the wild foods festival, picking grapes on a vineyard, fishing for snapper, hiking the Milford Track...it seemed to never end.

Though my job contract didn't leave much time for being creative, I was able to smoke some great Havana products after work. But after 6 months of not having an outlet for my artistic side, I was ready to explode.

Luckily our road trip went through a little town called Hokitika on the West Coast of the South Island. Hokitika is in an area known for its greenstone (Pounamu). This stone is usually carved into intricate native designs that have deep spiritual meanings. Historically, the stone was painstakingly carved by hand using sandstone. The pieces were prized and passed down for generations. We had heard about Bonz 'n Stonz, a shop in Hokitika where they teach you to carve your own pounamu. This was my chance to create.

Corina arrived at the shop at the crack of dawn with our greenstone designs in mind. My design was Hei Tiki, seen as either a memorial to ancestors or the goddess of childbirth. The tiki is used to promote fertility and is much more intricate in design than other Maori (NZ native) designs like the fish hook, twists and spirals. The tikis are meant to be unique, and are adapted to represent your ancestry and local culture. I gave mine a spiked head to represent the mountains of Asheville, my home. My tiki was also holding three cigars. One for me, one for Corina, and one for my friends and family.

The owner of the shop, Steve Gwaliasi, is a master of pounamu carving and was our guide for the day. He's a great teacher, mastering the art of helping without intimidating. I was having trouble picking a piece of greenstone from the pile that was worthy of the design and had the weight and girth needed for such a piece. When he saw the design I had drawn out as my template, he claimed "Oh, you serious!" He then showed me his secret stash of pounamu that he keeps for his own pieces. I took out a great slab of rich green stone that had few inclusions.

Steve cut a chunk off the slab and let me do the rest. Considering the value of such a large quality slab, I was happy for him to make the first cut. The slab had a hefty price written on it, which Steve politely disregarded, as he was happy to give me material suitable for my design (phew!).

The first step was grinding out the basic outline of the piece before creating any depth. The diamond wheels Steve had in the shop cut through the stone like butter. Quite impressive considering the strength of the stone. Pounamu was partially prized for its strength, as the stone is composed of interwoven fibers. The native Maori used the stone for adzes, chisels, used to cut through the native hardwoods. After much of the greenstone had been cultivated, many of these adzes were then reclaimed and cut into tikis, since the adze shape could easily be remade into a tiki.

The main design finally took shape and it was time to create some depth to the piece. Using the same wheels, I cut out some of the negative space to make the detail work a bit easier.

In order to keep the stone from chipping and the diamond bits from wearing out, a constant stream of water needs to be run over the carving. This makes the carving a bit more difficult as the ripple of the water obscures the area being carved.

The main carving took me the good part of a day to finis, but it then required laborious sanding and polishing by hand as well as fitting the paua (a colorful abolone) shell eyes, as is customary.

I added a tattoo converse to the shoulder to give the piece a bit more character. It was also meant to give homage to the native art of moko, the tattooing art of the native. This tattooing is done by hand and consists of carving a design into the skin over days or even weeks. I was hoping to get one while I was there, but decided to stick with my tiki. Maybe when I return someday.

A light application of oil smoothed over some of the imperfections and gave it a nice glow. The piece was finally finished.

Corina and I posed with Steve, our carving mentor, after we finished our pieces. I was shocked at the weight of it. Tikis are usually worn around the neck, but are probably reserved for special occasions as they are quite heavy!

As we drove back to Auckland, I took the opportunity for a little tiki photo shoot with Lake Tekapo. The milky blue water and the surrounding moutains was a great backdrop for tiki. The carver in me was finally let back out!
AOTEAROA, land of the long white cloud

When it comes to making an epic journey, I couldn't have picked a better place. New Zealand is a natural wonderland. The subtropical climate ensured the natives had a plentiful supply of wood perfect for carving. Even the geology provided materials (Jade and Oamaru) that were destined to be painstakingly carved into intricate forms. The geographic isolation of NZ has kept the native art fairly unadulterated. All of these factors have contributed to NZ's esteemed spot in the carving world. I was in heaven.

Carved totem, Marlborough Sound

Meeting house, Waitangi Treaty Ground

Depiction of a Moko (facial tattoo mask), Gallery in Auckland
The Jersey Arbor

Before taking off to New Zealand, I did have one small (or large) project that I was a part of. My father had given plans for an arbor to my mom for Christmas. He purchased the lumber and contracted a local carpenter to build it. As skilled laborers go, he proved to be unreliable and the arbor was never built. On my last trip home to NJ before leaving, I promised my dad that we would get it done together. On the hottest day of the year, my dad and I plugged away, redesigning as we went, to create a beautiful addition to an already amazing backyard sanctuary.

B&B Tobacconists - The Taj Midor Cigar

My very good friends at my local pipe and cigar shop were planning a big move. They were moving up the street to a new spot and needed a big sign that indicated clearly that it was an establishment that sold cigars. After much pondering, I decided a big cigar with bright red letters that spelled CIGARS was the way to go. (You have just been introduced to the creative process).

I created the piece out of pressure treated lumber so that it could be hung outside. I used a 2x12 with layers of pressure treated plywood behind it to beef up the depth. Carving wood with such a strong grain proved to be much more difficult than MDF, but not much of a problem considering the gentle design. More detail and layering in the carving could have proved to be difficult.

Unfortunately, the move never happened. But a new humidor was built and aptly named the Taj Midor. The sign now hangs where it belongs, with all the other cigars in the humidor! This was my last project before leaving packing up and moving to New Zealand. Please visit David and Mike at B&B Tobacconists, located at 377 Merrimon Avenue in Asheville, North Carolina.
The Epic Return

I have now returned from quite some time away. Just over two years as it stands. I have been busy travelling the world, learning new skills, and doing my damnedest to determine the meaning of the words vocation, profession, job and most of all happiness.

Let me rewind a bit.......

I was 5 years into my stable government job when life threw a curveball. I attracted a certain opportunity, one that would make me leave my job and take me to the other side of the world. I was offered a life changing 6 month contract with a New Zealand government agency. Anyone that knows anything about New Zealand, knows 3 basic facts: It's hard to get there, even harder to stay(legally), and it's paradise!

My wife and I packed up and finally took off in the end of summer 2010. We returned this past summer with a lifetime of memories and stories (and photos to boot). Now here I sit in a cigar bar in Ybor City, the once mecca of the cigar industry pondering my life.

With much thought being given, and very few excuses left, it is now time to bring my artwork to the forefront. I have always wanted to give my work more time and effort, not just nights and weekends. Now is that time. The next few posts are a look back at the last two years of my life, travels and work.

Monday, July 27, 2009


This has been a project that has been in the works for several years now. It started as just a front piece. Then I decided to give it a carved back as well so the carving could be displayed in such a way that it was visible from both sides. But I still wasn't sure exactly how it should be presented...until now.

*Photo of carving dated 2004

Though I'll leave my vision a surprise for now, I wanted to show everyone the current state of the carving. I might actually be donating this piece for auction as a fundraiser for the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation and their school in the Dominican Republic. (www.cf-cf.org)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Hard work eventually pays off. After 6 years of carving cigar labels, I have amassed a collection of ten cigar label carvings for my personal cigar label collection. I am quite proud of it all and I hope something comes of the work I have produced.

Join me in celebrating. I might just have to pull out one of my special aged cigars and relish in this milestone.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Matt recently asked, and quite prudently I may add, how my two new carvings were coming along. As it turns out, I finished the mountings this past weekend and they are now ready for hanging.

The Avo came out nicely, though I have to admit I expected more from this carving. As it turns out, the label has very little depth in the center AVO design. It works on the label, but when I tried to paint the carving in the same manner, it just didn't seems right. I try not to stray too far from the original design, so I left it as it appears on the label.

Looking back, I probably should have chosen one of the AVO labels with a more colorful scheme on the center design so that more depth was given to the relief. All in all, I was happy with the finished product. I also used incuse carving for "Domaine AVO" where the subject is carved into the wood as opposed to the negative being carved away (relief). I first tried this on the scrollwork of the Camacho 10th anniversary label and then on the Montecristo label. Using this type of carving on two different pieces, I've seen the handiness in being able to plane a flat area and then coming back in later to carve out detail as opposed to painstakingly carving out the negative areas.

The Perdomo came out just as I had hoped. I knew that the wreath of tobacco leaves was going to be quite a project. And it was! It took quite a while to complete that portion of the carving, but it was well worth it. Perdomo really nailed their design when they put a wreath of gold tobacco leaves on their label. It is so eye catching, and I think the label carries the same quality. I am very happy with this carving, and have to say it is one of my best.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Scary are times like these. Well, that's at least what "they" say. You know...the infamous "they" that seem to have a response for anything. Take any situation and I guarantee that "they" will have something to say. Well, I like to think life is not as scare as they say it is. Take one day and do the following: turn off the news, put down the editorial, put away your 401K statement, don't pick up the call from your negative friend and I assure you, life will seem quite indistinguishable from life a year ago.

We all know things go through periods of growth and periods of atrophy. It's part of all healthy systems. We can't get caught in the thought that this is NOT natural. I came across an email from XIKAR that had a note from XIKAR CEO Kurt Van Keppel. His words couldn't have been more poignant, and I thought it too good not to pass on to others. Enjoy!

Dear XIKAR Friends,

As I write this, the market continues its roller coaster ride. The pundits say the sky is falling. The politicians say they are here to save the day.

To add to the pressure, we have to keep roofs over our heads and food in our families mouths. Between trying to get ready for the holiday rush and attending events like Cigar Aficionado's Big Smoke, there is little time to decompress.

Today I found solace in good, old-fashioned yard work - watching my kids play in the leaves.
Everywhere, we are taking stock of our standing in the world while trying to keep up. But before we get lost in the confusion, let us agree: we are victorious each time we stop and enjoy in what truly matters. Often, those most important reflections happen with a cigar in hand and friends or family near. These truly valuable moments - and the cigar aroma-filled memories that go along with them - will always be remembered over the daily panics. Why? Because they have no numerical or monetary measure. They are what truly matters.

So, should you find yourself overwhelmed, remember: there is no better time to take a step back, dig out those special sticks you've been aging for years and enjoy life.

Sincerely, Kurt Van Keppel