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Traditional Woodcarving Basics
A DVD by Ivan Whillock
Reviewed by Matt Kelley


Sit down with a bunch of woodcarvers, ask them about teaching and learning traditional woodcarving, and one of the names that consistently comes up is that of Ivan Whillock. The Faribault, MN resident is a nationally know carver and teacher of traditional carving methods. A limited number of carvers, this writer included, have been fortunate enough to make the trek to Faribaugh to attend one or more of Ivan's 5 and 1/2 day classes. For those whom distance and time have prevented making the trip to Faribaugh, this DVD will be a welcome alternative.

As you prepare to go through the lessons in Traditional Woodcarving Basics, be warned: it's time to put away the bench knives and palm tools - all the lessons on this DVD utilize traditional long-handled mallet tools.

Disk 1 of this two-disk set, which was recorded in Ivan's studio in downtown Faribaugh, starts with the Introduction, a discussion of the various types of carving.

The second chapter, Workstation, is a review of the workstation as it supports traditional carving techniques, including the height of the bench, methods of securing the work, working with grain, and even the way tools are laid out on the bench.

Chapter 3, Tools, moves on to a discussion of mallet tools, distinguished by their length, a shoulder on the shaft where it meets the handle, and an internal or external ferrule. Chisels, skews, gouges, v-tools, short and long bent and other tools are reviewed, and gouge sweeps are discussed. Nosed, square and winged gouges are examined and their uses explained.

In Chapter 4, Tool Techniques, Ivan shows how the tools are held and used in both the right and left hands. He demonstrates various cutting techniques, using hands and the mallet to push the tool, uses of both the concave and convex surfaces of a gouge, and introduces the concept of tool specific carving.

The next four chapters introduce simple relief carving projects that build on upon the other. They are:

Ivan demonstrates each project, showing the tools and techniques used in some detail. The DVD case, by the way, includes an insert that shows tool sweeps, lists the tools used, and has patterns for the projects.

In the final chapter, Review and Preview, Ivan shows how relief carving techniques translate to in-the-round carving, then briefly reviews the information presented in the previous chapters.

Disk Two, Extra Features, includes three items:

While the sharpening segment is quite useful and the slide show contains many examples of Ivan's work, the Conversation with Ivan alone is almost worth the cost of the DVD. In this segment, Carolyn Nitz interviews Ivan, starting with how he began carving and going from there. Ivan chats about his transition from painter to carver, the impact of his life-long friendship with sculptor Angel Lilo and three years of work with master carver Eduardo Gutierrez. The interview also includes Ivan's thoughts about "product vs process", "art as expression" vs "art as imitation" and "trusting yourself" as an artist. It is a wonderful peek into Ivan's life as artist and treacher, and well worth watching. (Several times, as a matter of fact.)

As noted previously, the DVD was filmed in Ivan's Faribault studio. While this location makes perfect sense, it did present some challenges to the videographer. In several places natural light coming through the studio windows causes exposure problems. The careful listener will note the occasional passing train, emergency vehicle or heavy truck. These are all minor distractions, however, and really don't take from the value of the presentation.

One valuable addition to the presentation is the transition and background music performed by Steve Cloutier, who also produced the DVD.

For the carver interested in branching out into mallet tool carving, this DVD is an excellent introduction. For the intermediate to experienced mallet tool carver, including those who have had classes with Ivan, the DVDs will serve as a useful refresher. Whichever catagory you fall into, the DVD set is well worth the cost.

Traditioinal Woodcarving Basics is available for $29.95 plus shipping from Marnie Whillock Associates and Woodcarvers Warehouse.