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Notes From the Net

By Loren K. Woodard
Email Loren at woodcarver@midmo.com or visit his web site at http://www.woodcarvers-gallery.com/

Welcome once again to Notes From The Net, a compilation of tips and techniques that were shared on the several wood carving Listserves on the Internet. As is the case every month, the topics are varied and many.








2-D Drawing to 3-D Pattern

Recently, there was a very interesting threads going on the Woodcarver mail list about converting a 2-D drawing to a 3-D carving pattern. Several folks provided some excellent information on this topic. The following data was abstracted from the threads of information. I hope you find it as enjoyable to read as I did.

Ivan Whillock wrote:

Because a two-dimensional photo gives limited information, in turning a two dimensional photo into a three dimensional carving you must rely either on further observation or a good visual memory.

To take the long route in an explanation, there are two basic ways an artist can work-- from direct observation or from memory. With direct observation, because the subject is right there in front of you--either in life or in photographs--the work tends to be specific--you see exact details. Working from memory tends to result in generalizations. Our memory of a face, for example, tends to be a composite of all the faces we've seen. (My "from memory" carvings of faces tend to resemble members of my family, since their imprint on my memory is very strong. Fortunately, that's not a problem because they all look fairly presentable since they take after their

Different artists can have varied memories. Because I've done hundreds of life drawings, my memory of human anatomy is quite strong. With this background I could easily take a two dimensional photo of a person and turn it into a presentable three dimensional carving. I know the "rules" of anatomy--the comparative measurements of the different features. The result would be a generalization, however. To do an actual portrait, I'd need more specific information--actual side view photos, and even a three quarter view photo, because, although I can generalize, the specific details of the profile are hard to discern from a front view photo.

On the other hand, because I've spent little time drawing birds, my recollection of a bird's anatomy would be very vague. In order for me to sculpt an owl accurately, for example, I couldn't rely on my memory. I'd have to do some research--to work from direct observation. I could get a single photograph of an owl. That would give me two dimensional information, but that would not be enough for a truly accurate representation because my memory of the an owl's thickness verses its width is not clear enough for me to fill in the gaps. I would have to search for more information--a profile photo would fill in some gaps in my memory of an owl--maybe even a book on bird anatomy. A variety of pictures from a variety of angles would really help.

Of course, If I simply wanted a generalized carving of an owl, I might be able to get by with just a two dimensional photo, because I could fiddle with the carving until it "looks right," relying on what memory I have of an owl to fake my way through. Since most viewers don't have specific memories of an owl either, my faking might get me by. However, if I were doing a sculpture of an owl for the ornithological society, I'd make darn sure I did my research!

That said, the nature of art gives leeway to the artist. My "impression" of an owl can vary from its actual anatomy. I can do a generalization on purpose or even a stylization. (Even then I personally would do research, because I'm more comfortable making a stylization on purpose rather than by accident.)

To help them fill in the gaps of their memories, I try to encourage my students to start a picture file. I suggest that they don't throw away a magazine or newspaper without first tearing out clear photos of people, animals, and other subjects that they may someday want to carve. You don't copy a specific photograph but use a number of them to refresh your memory of the subject you plan to carve. After you've acquired a number of photos, then separate them in categories-people, animals, birds, etc. (I don't use other works of art in my research file because they are already interpretations of the actual thing and I don't care to reinterpret Interpretations. That would be like doing a parody of a parody.) I have my research photos separated by subjects in notebooks, and I refer to them often.

Through the course of my writings, I've interviewed many excellent artists. For most of them the research is pleasurable, another step in their craft. I personally enjoy the research and think it is part of the fun of being an artist.

Ivan Whillock Studio
Faribault, MN 55021


Ol' Don Borgdorf wrote:

If I might be allowed to expand a bit on friend Ivan's excellent commentary... when designing a realistic bust or developing a caricature of a real person, if at all possible avoid working from photographs, especially studio photographs that have been retouched and often eliminate the little features or distinctions that make your subject unique. Shadows in a photograph can also hide key elements that add definition to your subject. As Ivan pointed out, it is always best, if possible, to get to know your subject up close here in the real world.

Ol' Don - You're invited to visit Don's studio/gallery at http://artofdon.com


I apologize to the author of the following comments concerning the conversion of 2-D pictures to a carving pattern. When I saved the information on my computer, I didn't get the author's name. In my opinion, the information was good and needs to be a part of this article. If you wrote the information please drop me a email at woodcarver@midmo.com and I will make some changes in my article and give you credit.

From another Woodcarver List member:

I think of resources in terms of "generations." The actual person is a first generation resource. A photo is a second-generation resource. A carving from a photo is a third generation resource. That's why I don't use art works in my reference file. They're at least one--maybe two or three--generations removed from the actual subject. Each succeeding generation adds its own noise to the subject, as when you tape a record and then make a tape of the tape, etc. That said, there are occasions when I have no choice but to use photographs for portraits. Some of my subjects are dead already or are otherwise unable (or unwilling) to pose in person.

Whenever possible, however, I like to do my own sketches in person. I will then augment those drawings with photos that I also prefer to take myself. The portrait is based on my drawings primarily and aided with photos which serve as a memory aid, since my impression of the person and the composition of the portrait have already been made in the sketching session. (Years ago I worked with the model exclusively, but in these days getting most people to pose a couple of times is about all you can expect.)

My reference preference is in this order: 1. Best--actual subject. 2. OK--photos of subject when subject isn't available. 3. Thanks, but I'd rather not do it then--works by other artists. I turn down any job where I'm asked to copy the work of another artist, living or dead. The one exception to number 3 is when I've been asked to do historical figures and the only resource available has been paintings or drawings of the subject. Then I'm careful to use the artworks as a reference to the features of the subject, but I never copy a specific painting, sculpture, or drawing itself. As an aside, in the past I have been commissioned to do portraits of Liszt and Napoleon and I was able to find actual death masks of both. Did I say I enjoy doing the research?!!

Fees for Teaching

Recently there was a question ask on the Woodcarver's List asking how to establish fees for teaching classes. Norma Nicks and Mike Bloomquist provided so information to the list member that I felt might be of interest to other as well.

Norma wrote:

I have been teaching for many years, both seminar and regular scheduled classes. I will share a formula that has worked fairly well for some. I guess the first thing you might ask yourself is, what am I worth an hour. Add some preparation time in and multiply the number of hours you will spend with an hourly rate, and then add the cost of the wood. You should get one lump sum. Divide it by a set minimum number of students. That is the least amount of students that you will give up your time for. You should come up with a reasonable number. The number of students can be adjusted a bit, (which you could adjust your cost for) if there is a commitment made for a certain number. Be sure to think of what a maximum number of students might need to be.
You should also have extra wood available for some that might be faster carvers and want to do more than one. Be sure to charge a reasonable rate for the extra blanks.

Mike Bloomquist added the following information to Norma's comments.

Norma, I like the formula, but would like to add just a little "fudge factor" for situations where you're offering a class for the first time at a location where you hope to teach more classes in the future. Twice I have opted to teach for a number of students that was below my "minimum" (once I had two students, every Wednesday night for 8 weeks). I guess the word gets out, or whatever because the next class was always above the minimum and stayed that way for following classes. I call it my "ice breaker" class, and just figure it's an easy investment as long as I'm having fun.

Norma relied to Mikes note as follows:

Yes, You're right! I have done the same as well. Just to get the waters tested and the word out. It also helps get used to teaching techniques.

Finishing Techniques

I'm going to complete my column in this issue by sharing a great finishing technique used by professional carver Greg Wilkerson. I have studied Greg's finishing techniques up close and personal. Greg does an excellent job of finishing his carvings and I believe this his technique can be mastered by all carvers. Greg recently placed a photograph of an Indian carving on his web page and invited list members to have a look at it an comment on the piece. The carving was well respected by the carving list community and some ask how Greg finished it. To explain his finishing technique Greg writes:

First, I brush on Minwax golden oak stain, wiping off the excess. Then I spray with Deft clear gloss. After it dries, I lightly go over it with #0000 steel wool to smooth up the raised grain. I then just apply the burnt umber oil paint with a dry brush to different features of the Indian to create a sort of contrast between various areas. With the stain and lacquer on the carving before the painting, it doesn't soak in very deep at all and it allows me to wipe off the excess paint and still have the grain show through. It's the same basic way I always do it, just this time I only painted one color and just in spots. If you want to view how I usually paint my carvings I have a page on my site that shows how I do it:

A couple of carvers asked Greg about finishing his project with a paper bag instead of the steel wool. Greg responded:

I have tried the paper bag and the emery. I like the steel wool because it easily gets into the little crevices with out having to fold it. One piece of steel wool will last me a long time, I probably only have to buy 2 or 3 bags of it a year and I finish each carving with it. I don't have any trouble with it taking the luster off the finish because I use it very lightly (just enough to smooth the raised grain). If I want to bring it back to a more glossy finish, I simply spray a light coat of Deft on it again, the grain usually won't raise again on the second coat. I've experimented a lot with finishing over the years, and this seems to work well for me.

More information of Greg's finishing techniques can be found on his web site at http://www.wilkersonwoodcarving.com/nlctarchive802.htm

As always, I hope that you have found something in this information that will be useful to you in your carving endeavors. One of the best places to find additional information concerning woodcarving is the archives found on The Carvers' Companion. Take some time and browse these web pages. I'm certain that you will find them more that just worthwhile. (WOM back issue HERE: Woodcarver Resource Files HERE)

Until the next issue, keep carving and strive to make each carving your best one yet!

Loren Woodard

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.

Woodcarver's List - Woodcarvers' Porch - American Stickmaker's - Knotholes List - Fishcarver's List