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Fish Carving Reference

By Ron Bailey, London, Ontario

Good reference is very important for all fish carvers.  Without it, a carver is always guessing to some degree on various aspects of the fish.

The very best reference is the real fish. When fishing, be sure to take along your camera, paper and pen, and cloth measuring tape.  Take accurate measurements, color notes and photos of all the various views of the fish.  Ask yourself if you have all the necessary measurements and enough photos so that you can carve and paint the fish accurately.

The next best thing is a fiberglas reproduction of the fish you plan to carve.  These are available for a great variety of freshwater and saltwater fish, and can be obtained from various taxidermy supply houses.  Be sure to ask around to see which replicas are the most accurate before purchasing.  They can be a bit expensive, but they provide lots of information for the carver.  Instead of guessing from a photo, now you have a three dimensional object to view and take important measurements from, ie:  body width at various locations along the centerline of the fish;  exact body shape along the sides of the fish; fin details; contours which cannot be seen from a photo;  details of the head, etc.

Photos can be a valuable reference.  Try to find pictures of the real fish, not drawings or paintings.  I will mention though that sometimes drawings that are well done like scientific drawings can be invaluable. Try to collect as many photos as possible, showing various parts of the fish.  I will often go back to the internet to search for additional photos during the carving process.  You can never have enough good photos.

Another source of important reference is text.  The Breakthrough Fish Carving Manual  by Mark Frazier is excellent and has lots of information.  Also, reference material by Bob Berry should be checked out; Fish Carving Stuff You Gotta Know and  Stuff You Gotta Know To Compete.

When I just started fish carving, I purchased a set of fish patterns from Ed Walicki.  Carvers should check Ed's website, It has lots of helpful hints and information for fish carvers. 

I will also search on Google to find out as much information as possible.  For example, if I was planning to carve a rainbow trout, I would enter that in a Google search.  With a little patience, you can find web sites which will supply very detailed fish anatomy information.

If your just starting out, pick a common fish like a rainbow trout.  There is lots of good reference available.  When your skill and knowledge improves, then try something a bit more challenging, but be sure you have good reference. 

Try to learn good habits and go about your carving in an organized fashion. It is important to file all your reference materials wisely, so it can be retrieved easily and quickly at a later date.

The best carvers win awards not only because they have the carving and painting skills, but because they have taken the time to search out the best available reference. They have done their homework and gone the extra mile.

Have fun carving!

Ron was successful in winning Second in World Decorative Lifesize, and second in Open Class, at the World Fish Carving Championships, Reno, Nevada, 2007. You may see some of Ron's excellent carvings HERE.


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