Clear Lake resident Jimmy Phillips makes living carving wood

Jimmy Phillips carves his work out of his Clear Lake home. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
Jimmy Phillips carves his work out of his Clear Lake home. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)

Jimmy Phillips carves his work out of his Clear Lake home. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)

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Phillips enjoys carving animals, such as this dog being hugged by a child. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
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This piece showing a bird in flight is called "Breaststroke." (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
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This piece Phillips calls "Disorganized Thoughts." (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Phillips recently carved art for League City, including this piece outside Helen Hall Library. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
After 30 years as a salesperson, Clear Lake resident Jimmy Phillips began his art career around 2005 while chopping down a tree in his front yard.

As he cut away the wood with his chainsaw, Phillips, who had always imagined himself as an artist since learning to draw from his mother, carved out a pelican sculpture.

From there, Phillips began making simple carvings that he displayed in a Galveston art gallery. Some of them even sold, he said.

Hurricane Ike destroyed the gallery in 2008, but the storm brought a new opportunity: Commissioned by the city of Galveston, Phillips began carving art out of some of the trees that were knocked down in the hurricane, he said.

Phillips’ art took off with opportunities to carve trees across the state, allowing him by 2013 to quit his job to be a full-time artist. In his Clear Lake home, he creates smaller pieces, which are then sold or displayed in Galveston’s René Wiley Gallery.


“You gotta have something to sell, and you don’t sell everything you make, obviously,” Philips said, gesturing toward the dozens of carvings displayed in his home.

One of Phillips’ most recent clients is League City. League Park was home to two diseased, century-old oak trees that were cut down in March. Phillips has since carved two chunks of the trees into a child reading with a dog, which is displayed outside Helen Hall Library, and a firefighter, which is standing in Hometown Heroes Park.

Phillips will carve a third piece that will also be displayed at the park. The public will decide what that carving will be. A fourth carving of a train conductor will be displayed at League Park, Phillips said.

Such large carvings allow Phillips to make a living off his art.

“I’m just so fortunate,” he said. “The planet is awash with talented people, and it’s hard to make a living.”

While some artists do not like the idea of spectators watching them work, Phillips said he thrives on it. He called the admiration of strangers his “mojo.”

“It’s important that there are people who are out there that can afford to buy things that have no use because that’s where all the beauty comes from in the world,” he said. “It’s where all the smiles come from.”

When asked what his favorite carving is, Phillips smiled.

“The next one,” he said.
By Jake Magee

Editor, Bay Area & Pearland/Friendswood

Jake has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper. Today, he covers everything from aerospace to transportation to flood mitigation.