Carver Luke Anthony sometimes asked if he considers himself an artist or an artisan, but sees no reason he cannot be both.

His carved and painted re-creations of New Zealand native birds are not only life-size but so lifelike that a client took video of a real fantail interacting with the wooden facsimile Mr Anthony created.

The fine detail the Ranfurly artist puts into his work attracts a closer look from more than just birdbrains, and is a product of his introduction to carved birds as a schoolboy, honed by his subsequent work with museums.

He had always been creative, Mr Anthony said.

“I like using my hands, making flying model aircraft. I like the engineering and woodwork problems.”

Just before leaving school, he took a book about decoy ducks out of the library. A section in the back gave instructions on how to carve your own decoy duck.

It would be another 20 or 25 years before he started carving properly, and a copy of that book is now part of his own library on birds and carving.

In the interim, he worked as a farmhand, trained as a scuba diving instructor and worked as a graphic artist for museums, before moving sideways into building construction.

He took the opportunity to befriend curators of vertebrate zoology, and an academic approach to his subjects can be seen in his extensive research and finely detailed drawings of his subjects, their skelature, structure and feathers.

His workshop is filled with photos and unfinished carvings along with his tools, paints and books.

One of his goals is to carve every native New Zealand bird at least once before hanging up his tools for good.

“Everything about my life is not tidy and precise, which suits carving very well,” he said.

“But when it comes down to the birds, I’ll use callipers and the like and be very precise.”

Initially, Mr Anthony posed his completed birds in a museum-like diorama but, after advice from other artists, now mounts them in a way that does not distract too much, such as on pieces of driftwood or the tops of fenceposts.

Using driftwood fits with his ethos of using salvaged native wood for his carvings, welcoming old fence posts and slabs of wood from friends, local farmers and people who have read about his work.

“Farmers are fascinated that the wood post they might have used for firewood can be turned into something that neat,” he said.

He also preferred traditional tools and said 70% of his tools were old ones he had restored and given a new life.

“There’s an art to sharpening in its own right,” he said.

Mr Anthony is a member of Indigo Artists, an informal collaboration of eight Central Otago artists who curate and mount group exhibitions of their work.

His next exhibition will be with members Nigel Wilson, of Clyde, and Rachel Hirabayashi, of Cromwell, at Athol Gallery from April 9.