First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my fellow carvers the best of the New Year. It has been a wonderful experience watching the carving community grow on the Internet and in my opinion we haven't seen anything yet!
What with all of the new carvers coming on board, I felt like this might be a good time to promote the back issues of WOM E-zine. These issues hold a lot of valuable information and should go a long way in helping the novice and experienced carvers take their carving to the next level. In addition, you might want to check out the archive files for all of the lists mentioned at the end of this article.
Carving The Human Head
First, lets talk about carving the human head. The following information came from the archive files of the Knotholes List. Robert Mace, the moderator of the List, re-published this information for a second time. The original author of the email was Mr. Gene Graham. Mr. Graham has additional information about carving eyes at his web site. You can view it at http://www.angelfire.com/tn/treetotreasure/index.html.
Subject: "Rules" for carving faces
1. The height of the face is about 1 1/2 times the width.
2. The side of the head fits roughly into a square.
3. The neck cuts straight back, then angles back & down, then straight down
4. The head sits forward on the shoulders.
1. The forehead-to-nose-to chin angle is approximately 120 degrees.
2. The left cheek-to-nose-to-right cheek angle is approximately 90 degrees.
3. The face is divided into three equal parts: the top of the head to the brow, the brow to the bottom of the nose, and the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin.
4. Both sides of the face are NOT symmetrical.
5. The forehead is the only place on the face that is allowed to be flat.
6. Narrow the temple area.
7. The face is "five eyes' wide.
8. The eye area is the widest part of the face.
9. Cut the cheek areas straight back.
10. Define the cheek muscles.
11. From the nose to the cheek to the side of the head should have a smooth rounded transition.
1. The "half in - half out" rule. Half of the nose should extend out from the face. The other half should extend into the face.
2. The outside edges of the nostrils line up with the inside corners of the eyes.
3. Taper the nostrils back NOT out.
4. The nose widens slightly then tapers back in about half way between the bridge and the tip.
5. The nose has a ball on the end of it.
6. Do not carve away the muscle structure that connects the nose to the cheeks.
7. DO NOT hollow the inside of the nostrils until the face is completely finished.
1. The eyes are in the middle of the head.
2. The eyes are one eye width apart.
3. Round the eyes and face back around the head.
4. Recess the bottom of the eyes farther back than the top.
5. Under normal circumstances, the eyes should be small slits.
6. The pupil of the eye makes up 80% of the eyeball.
1. The mouth line is 1/3 of the distance from the base of the nose to the base of the chin.
2. Dentures are not flat! Round the mouth area.
3. The corners of the mouth line up with the middle of the eyes.
4. The corners of the mouth should extend behind the nose.
5. The bottom lip should set back under the top lip.
6. The corners of the bottom lip should tuck under the top lip.
7. Add dimple lines at the corners of the top lip.
8. The mouth has little "pockets" at each corner.
1. Keep the ball of the chin small.
2. The chin sets back behind the lips.
3. The chin has two muscles on the end of it.
1. Hair has several levels. Carve them!
2. Hair must have a starting point and an ending point. It does not start and/or end in the middle unless it comes out from or goes in under something.
1. The veins in the neck disappear behind the ears.
2. The jaw turns into the ear.
Now that we have some rules to follow in carving a face, lets consider some methods of holding the wood in a vice. Joe Dillett said that when holding wood in a vice you might want to consider leaving some extra wood on the bottom of the carving to place in the vice and then cut it off when the carving is finished. He further stated that if you use a carving screw to hold the carving you can either fill the hole or cover it with felt when the carving is completed.
Joe suggested that it's best, when using a vise, not to clamp the piece hard surface to hard surface (wood to wood or metal to wood). It would be better if you use a pad in the vise like hard felt or leather. The vise makes more contact with the piece and is less likely to slip. Also the soft pad will be less likely to cause damage to the piece. Joe stated that he uses pads on all of his vices. Typically, he glues leather inside the vise jaws using silicone caulk. You can get the silicone caulk from any hardware store. It's used for caulking tile and works well in gluing leather or felt to wood or steel because it stays flexible like the pad.
Ivan Whillock, made further comments on methods of securing a carving to the vice. Ivan recommends that you retain extra wood on your carving to be used as a base after the carving is complete. The extra base will allow you to hold the carving by several different methods, as described by Ivan.
1. You can use a C clamp on the base to hold it on the bench in a prone position while you carve down into the wood as if it were a relief. You can carve the sides and back by simply turning the carving and re-clamping it. Use a shim between the clamp and the base to keep from denting it.
2. If you want to hold the carving upright you can cut a notch in a 2 x 2 and use a carver's screw to attach the 2 x 2 to the carving. Clamp the 2 x 2 to the bench. You can turn the carving to a variety of positions simply by re-clamping the 2 x 2 on any of its four sides.
3. An acceptable clamping system is a hand screw clamp used with a C clamp. The hand screw clamp has wooden parallel jaws that hold the carving. The hand screw clamp is then held to the bench with a C clamp. You can reposition the carving in a variety of ways in the hand screw clamp, giving you access to any part of the carving.
4. There are a zillion types of carving arms, carver's stands, and other contraptions made for holding carvings. Carvers are nothing if not inventive. Most use a carver's screw or regular screws to attach the base of your carving to the stand.
Now that we have explored carving the head and holding the carving in a vice let talk about relief carving. Maricha Oxley, a member of the Woodcarver's List and the Knotholes List from Australia, provided so good information on the Woodcarver's List concerning relief carving. Maricha states:
Relief carvings are great because in reality they are carvings in two dimension. If you have a bit of drawing knowledge it helps. If not, take it step by step.
1. Decide what you want to carve. Preferably a subject you know well. Then make a good linear drawing of it and transfer this design to your timber. Try to read the grain of your wood as well, if it has a good flowing grain and your carving is e.g. an animal, place it where the grain will benefit it the most, for fur, surroundings, and for strength. If the animal ears are against the grain and raised, they can become weak points. Thus use the grain, to help your carvings, for the ears, legs, specially thin legs, make sure they go with the grain. If the tail is too long make sure it is connected with some other part of the body so it does not break off easily.
2. After marking your pattern, then the areas you do not want high are marked with shadows, and after putting a stop cut around your animal and habitat, removed all the unwanted timber you have.
3. Mark the depth you want, if your timber is only 1 inch thick, carve only to a depth of 1/2 inch so that if you need a bit more you'll have a bit extra. Next, think masses. What is the biggest, largest, part of the animal should be the highest point, then the next one, etc. to the lowest point, which is your background? Think of the masses, curving downwards like an umbrella and you'll find the shapes and forms fall into place.
4. Start shaping your animal. Round it up, do not put in any detail. Leave the detailing for later.
5. Start shaping up your surrounds. Use sharp chisels to start your shaping. Maricha suggests a _ inch #1 (flat) or a 1/2 inch #3 gouge, or what ever you have, but use it wisely using the bevel, part of your chisel as well as the inside, which gives a slight rounded curve for rounding the animal. Sharpen your tools often. A sharp chisel will be safer, quicker, encouraging and more enjoyable.
6. Look at the entire picture, refine it and redraw your subject, if necessary. This ensures that you have the subject in proportion and all the square edges of the timber will be removed.
7. Refine your work, undercut if necessary to complete the roundness near the legs, stomach, ears, etc. At this stage, put in the detail of the eyes, hair around mouth, mouth etc. Carve details of fur, claws, etc.
When satisfied with the picture you have just carved, use a fine scraper to smooth it out. Sometimes some carvers use sanding paper to stylize or smooth the surfaces. If you wish to do so, be sure not to remove the crispness the tool marks, leaving them on some sections, such as ears, legs, tails etc.
8. Then put on your favorite finish or sealant, then wax and polish your carving.
The secret is to enjoy your work with sharp tools, and never put your hands or flesh in front of a sharp tool.
Paul Guraedy provided us with some good words of wisdom on the Knotholes List. Paul stated that if your are having trouble coming up with a pattern for a subject you want to carve, make your own pattern by completing a clay sculpture of your subject.
Paul states that you do not have to have any special tools for working with clay. He completed a clay class with Marvin Downing where the only tools used were your hands, some flat sticks, a pocketknife and such. He said that they did use a good grade of non-hardening clay. Paul bought a supply for the class and is still using his original purchase of clay.
Paul recalled, "making the model was much like carving, except you could put back where you had carved off too much. It was easy enough that he believes that anyone with a little effort could make there own models without a lot of instruction". (There are several good books on the market about clay sculpture.)
Paul suggests using a clay model because you are not limited to a two-dimension drawing. For instance, if you are sculpting a bird you can cut the head off and turn it to check the effect. Also, you can use your clay model for measurements.
When completed, the clay can be reformed into your next project.
Jeri Klein provided some very interesting data concerning the painting of a deer or fish carving. Jeri states, "In order to achieve realistic results you have to think in three dimensions and they are base coat, middle color and highlight". Furthermore, Jeri indicated that if you don't burn in the fur lines or fins with a wood burner the results won't be as realistic as you might want.
To start her painting Jeri applies white gesso with a bristle brush. (She emphasized that you need to be sure not to thin with water.) As soon as the gesso starts to dry, use a toothbrush to clean the gesso out of your burned lines so they won't be lost. (Don't use a hair dryer for drying the Gesso because it causes little craters from drying too fast.) Now the trick to get a realistic fur is to resist the urge to put your color on to heavy. Always apply color with the consistency of tea, in multiple coats, allowing to air dry or drying with a hair dryer between coats.
To mix her colors for a deer, Jeri said she "would start with burnt umber, add in a little cadmium yellow and a little red. By putting on the colors with the consistency of tea, you will be able to build up a little heavier around the muscles, backbone, and any other contours that you so meticulously carved in. To achieve the results you want I would guess you'd have to put on about 3 to 4 coats, being sure to dry each one thoroughly."
Furthermore, she added, "when applying
these coats be sure to coat the edge of the white areas inside
the legs, belly, eye rings, ears, muzzle and throat) with clear
water (not too wet because of running) which will create a very
Remember, acrylics when put on too heavy dry to look like shiny plastic, which is never desired by the realistic nature carver. For the middle color I would use burnt umber with just a touch of ultramarine blue and apply this first in the shadow areas, and when completely dry, apply overall very thinly to get down into the burning.
After the middle color is dry and to your liking, apply with a dry brush technique, a mixture of cadmium yellow and red (orange) lightly only on the highlight areas of the dear's coat to give it that summer look (russet).
Be sure to put one very light raw umber wash on all-white areas. Pure white on a nature carving tends to look chalky. Finish with light detail black and five or six coats of matte medium on the hooves and nose."
Well that just about wraps up this issue of "Notes From the Net". Again, I want to wish all of you carvers a very Happy New Year and may you always strive to reach the next level with your carving efforts.
Please take some time and check out the wood carving lists on the Internet. There is a lot of knowledge free for the asking on all of the list serves.
For information regarding the various email lists for woodcarvers, visit The Carvers' Companion Resource Files, or click the links below.