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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.

You will notice that all of the following hints for this issue came from the Fish Carvers list. There has simply been a tremendous amount of very helpful carving information published on the Fish Carver's List over the last couple of months. Most of this article deals with setting eyes, protecting eyes while painting, etc. While I surely don't want to slight the other carving lists in any way, I felt the information provided in this article needed to be shared. The information should be useful for fish carvers, bird carvers, and all others who use glass eyes, etc. In addition to the information on eyes, I have shared additional information on Dan Blair's technique of fast painting and scaling of a wood carved trout. I hope you enjoy this special issue of Notes From the Net.


Fish Eyes: From Dan Blair

Dan Blair, from the Fish Carver's List provided several different tips for fish carvers who use glass or flex eyes, and for those who prefer to carve their own in wood or Plexiglas.

Have you all taken note of the fact that "most" but not all fish-eye pupils are somewhat elliptical or tear drop shaped rather than perfectly round? I am often surprised at how many carvers AND taxidermists have not noticed that. In fact, that subject was a matter of discussion among me and a few other professional taxidermists a couple weekends back at the Idaho Taxidermist Convention and Show.

One taxidermist mentioned one of his old competitors had been putting them in backwards all his life, having never really looked closely at a real fish. He thought they looked more "natural" that way.

I mentioned the fact that the Berkley Line & Tackle Company in Spirit Lake, Iowa has a gigantic head mount (reproduction) of what was the World Record Great White Shark caught on Berkley Trilene fishing line. I saw it for the first time at a huge Fishing Expo in Atlanta, Georgia. My comments made no points with the company reps. from Berkley when I pointed out what I considered to be a major flaw in a display which should have been flawless considering it must have cost them several thousand dollars.

Yup, you guessed it! The eyes were totally wrong.

Most Sharks have eyes like a fox or your cat---totally elliptical with a point at each end and standing upright. Catfish almost always have round pupils. But the majority of other fish have an eye that is shaped like a pudgy tear drop---rounded on both ends with one end being noticeably smaller than the other.

In normal instances, unlike the shark who's pupil slits point up and down, the common fish eye has a pupil with the smaller end pointing straight forward. On fish with noses down like a carp, align the pupil with an imaginary line through the pupil which will run on the same parallel as the lateral line or spine of the fish.

One thing I have found seemingly universally consistent among all the fish eyes is in almost every instance the black pupil has a bright gold ring around it's outer edge.

The next time I talk about eyes, I will tell you how to use a cardboard box to paint glass fish eyes, and why it works best to paint them two at a time and backwards. I will include why I prefer the Wayne Cooper Flex Eyes over commercially finished Fired Glass or do-it-yourself, unpainted Flints. And how the artist hairbrush and airbrush work so well together to make neat effects happen.

I hope I have been a help and that I am not boring you with old, mundane, and common knowledge.


Fish Eyes, Part 2: More from Dan Blair

Here's the second part of Mr. Blair's comments on eyes for fish which I promised you all a couple of days ago.

First, I will discuss with you the pros and cons of glass versus flex eyes. As with other means and methods of carving and painting, each of you will probably have your own preferences for accomplishing your own level of satisfaction. As for mine, I prefer the most realistic look I can get and that leaves little choice.

The most realistic looking eye on the market today for fish comes from a Florida manufacturer named Wayne Cooper. They are available from most of the taxidermy supply companies in North America. In essence, they are best and simply described as a photo of a fish's eye encapsulated in a silicone-filled plastic cup preshaped in the same form as a fish eye. One of several great features of this eye is that it has a white sclerotic ring surrounding the eye which is naturally found on living fish. Another point in favor of this eye is that it is flexible, unlike glass eyes, which means it will not break, chip, or scratch. If there is any drawback to it, it is simply a matter of carving an eye socket that it will pop into which has recessed sides rather than straight walls like the kind we simply drill for glass eyes.

Using the Wayne Cooper Flex Eyes, I find that when I carve my convex sided hole to closely fit the eyes, I do not need to glue the eyes in place. If I am concerned the eye may pivot in place before I get to the clear coat which will also secure the eye, I can add a touch of white glue (I prefer Elmer's). A spot of clear silicone tile caulk under the eye works well too. I have also used super glue around the edge of the eye and found it works just as well, but be ready to wipe off the excess with a tissue before it sets.

There are a number of manufacturers of glass eyes available for fish made by companies like Tohickon, Van Dykes, West Coast, etc. Some artists prefer them in the order I have listed them. From experience, I have found that I like certain eyes for certain fish from all three companies. The eyes for bass from one may be best, where as the eyes for pike or pan fish may be better from another. Again, it is a matter of preference with the artist and only trial and error will teach you which eyes satisfy you most.

One advantage to glass eyes is that we can usually just drill a hole the same diameter as the eye and drop the eye in place. No extra carving (or concaving) required getting a good fit. This would be a good time and place for me to remind you that for an accurate placement of the eyes, please notice that on a living fish in a normal, at rest position, the eyes have a slightly forward slant rather than laying flat against the face. When the opportunity presents itself, watch aquarium fish and notice too that a fish can pivot the eyes around in the socket like we do, but can do so with each eye rotating independently of the other. One eye can look forward while the other looks backward, upward, etc.

For drawing the exact size hole for an eye, one can simply trace around the eye itself and then use the same sized drill bit to drill the hole. Or we can use a burr or bit to carve the hole out to size. I have found a hole drawing pattern available from office supply stores and used by draftsmen to be ideal. There are two versions, one to trace around, and the other to trace within. I use both. The pattern with holes in it makes it easy to drop an eye into to find the exact size of the eye hole. This also does a quick conversion for you to change millimeter eye sizes into fraction or decimal sized drill bits.

The pattern which you trace around circles has a small pin sized center hole which makes it very easy for us to find the exact center of each eye using pins to do a from the front and from the top alignment of the pins and then pin the circle pattern to that center and draw the circle. This is a perfect way to assure that both eyes will be in perfect alignment, one of the first things I check when I judge a fish in competition.

Now that we know what eyes we want to use and how to use them, let's consider the least expensive eye of them all, the unpainted glass eye called a flint. They are available from every dealer who makes or sells glass eyes.

There are two types, one having the black (or walleye white) pupil already fired in place, and the other being totally clear with no prepainted pupil. I quit using the unpainted pupil eyes so long ago, I can't even guess how long its been. I can think of no reason to use an unpainted pupil for normal fish with only ONE exception. Albino fish have a pink pupil in their eyes. In all my years of carving fish and fish taxidermy, I have only done two albino fish, one catfish and one trout.

With a prefired black or white pupilled flint, I begin by washing the eyes thoroughly with lacquer thinner. Using a fine tipped paint pen using gold paint, I paint a thin edge of gold around the pupil. If I am only doing one pair of eyes, I make an extreme effort to make the thin gold line the same on both eyes. If I am doing a quantity of eyes at once, I paint several and then pair them up with each other to match as much as possible. The gold edge can also be applied with a fine brush. If I get the line too thick, I just wash the eye off and start over. Like any other procedure in carving, etc. practice makes perfect.

Now that I have the gold rings painted, I can apply the suitable colors to match the specie of fish I am carving or mounting. The easiest way I have found to do this is to take the hole patterns I mentioned above and use them to draw enough holes to hold the same number of glass eyes you have to paint. Draw the circles on a piece of cardboard taken from a corrugated cardboard box and carefully cut the circles out with a sharp Exacto knife. The thickness holds the eye securely without restricting the application of paint.

With good references at hand, begin by applying an undercoat of misted gold or silver or pearl applied with an airbrush. An artist brush bristled and scruffy will allow you to splotch up the back side to give the eye a natural blotchy look. More splotches of black, brown, dark green, etc. can be added with the brush. It works best to apply the colors while holding the cardboard sheet with the eyes looking toward you while you apply colors from the bottom side. By painting the eyes in pairs, you can duplicate the colors and patterns by duplicating the actions it took to create them. Remember to do a right and left eye---the pointed ends pointing opposite ways.

When you are satisfied with the detailing of the eye (iris) you can put a final finish coat over the top of the paint by spraying gold, silver, brown, white, etc. from either a paint can or airbrush. That is usually sufficient to secure the paint to the eye, but if you want to be double sure, add a second coat. Be certain the eyes are completely dry before using them in a carving or mount because if they are still fresh, it is real easy to scruff the back side and disturb the paint.

There are times (like recently when I carved a 3 foot miniature of a Dolphin (Dorado) for which there are no commercially made eyes available) when we must make our own from flints. But given the choice, I am going to pick the variety of Wayne Cooper Flex Eyes for my fish, and then work down from there. I suggest you consider doing the same.

And as always, the final choice is yours alone. I hope I have helped you make it.

Good luck and good carvin'

Fish Eyes, Part 3: Painting Eyes

Continuing on with eyes, the following information talks about painting fish and the eyes you have now installed.

Andy Anderson from the beautiful Oregon Coast states:

In recent postings there was a discussion on putting Tack-It putty over eye's while you paint your fish... Sometime when you are not in a hurry, try painting your fish and not covering the eye's with putty about half-way through the painting process clean off the eye's with a sharp knife. Before you scrape the eye scribe around the eye with your knife. This allows you to use the paint on the upper eye to become the sclerotic cap. By doing this process half way thru painting further paint coats will cover any white base coat exposed by the cleaning process another cleaning of the eye just before the clear coats will give you a pretty decent eye...

Larry at Hide and Beak tells how he protects eyes from paint during his air brush painting.

I don't like to scrape paint off anything, especially eyes. The method I like to use is as follows: Go to any hardware outlet that sells plumbing supplies and buy a package of black O ring washers which usually contains an assortment of sizes. Stick duct or masking tape to one side of the washer and trim the tape to the edge. You can squeeze the washer slightly if you want an elliptical shape. Stick the O ring to the eyes and paint as usual. When finished, remove the O ring, clean the eye if necessary then apply your topcoat. You can use the O rings over and over again. When you get too much paint buildup on them, remove the tape, clean the rings and replace with new tape. The O rings are not affected by most solvents including lacquer thinner. They work great!


Fish Eyes, Part 4: Carving Eyes

In another discussion on carving fish and whal eyes, Ted Richmond give pointers on carving eyes.

For a carved eye you must plan ahead. They stick out of most fish and therefore you cannot round the head to shape then 'put in' a carved eye. Leave a little extra wood around the eyes and carve the sclerotic capsule and finish the details around the eyes according to your reference material. Clark Schreibeis had a wonderful article in Breakthrough a few issues ago about how eyes sit into the round sclerotic capsule and detailing. The trick to getting the eye to look right is not just the carving, but the painting. Depth is hard to get, but a couple of tricks help a lot. Between each different layer or color you put onto the eye remember to put some gloss in between and paint lightly! Repeat several times for more depth. Finally put gloss over the finished paint job in several coats (3-5). Also, for smaller eyes many of us put a drop of epoxy on the eye and let it drip out to give it a high gloss or wet look. This is very effective with smaller eyes, less so for larger ones.

Jeff Phares in Wood Carving illustrated has a detailed article on carving human eyes in the last issue. Using your reference material, 'borrow' his techniques if the eye is large enough. If not, then find the smaller gouges and turn it upside down and carve the round eyeball by simply putting the blade in place and raising the back of the gouge handle to create a rounded indentation on one-half of the eye. Carefully place the gouge in the opposite direction and repeat. This forms two upside down gouge marks that together give you the rounded eyeball. Using your reference material, carefully pencil in and detail the lid and folds around the eye.

Mark Frazier's book 'The Breakthrough Magazine's Fishcarving Manual' has information on carving eyes in it.

Ted stated that he found it "much easier to buy the clear ones and paint them specifically for the species I want. I haven't carved whales, but same thing would apply. Again, if the eye is too small for the commercially available eyes, carve in your own and use the epoxy drop method listed above after painting. Good luck!"

On the same topic, Larry at Hide and Beak noted:

I personally don't carve eyes because I feel that HIGH quality glass or acrylic eyes produce as good or a better effect than carved eyes with a lot less work. They are also comparatively inexpensive and easy to install. To get the depth of coloration on carved eyes, the colors are applied one at a time with a clear high gloss coating applied over each color. I also use this method to achieve depth of color on the body of a fish. I'm sure everyone who carves eyes has their own method(s). One that I know of is to use various size thin metal tubes that have had one end sharpened and perhaps even serrated. This tube can either be used in an electric drill or rotated by hand to cut a round ring into the carving. Knives, chisels and/or power cutters/stones are then used to enhance the shape of the eye using the round ring that was cut into the head as a guide.

Acquiring the size, style and coloration of an eye you need for a particular carving shouldn't be much of a problem. Eyes are being manufactured from 2mm to 70mm in diameter, depending upon the species you are carving. Have you only tried acquiring eyes from a carving supplier? If so, that's why you may not have been able to find the eyes you need for your carvings as carving suppliers usually only carry a very limited line of eyes. A taxidermy supplier usually stocks a much wider variety of eyes like we do. I can't speak for other suppliers, but if we don't stock an eye for a particular species in a particular size, we can usually get it and there is no extra charge for special orders of this kind.


Fast Painting and Scaling A Carved Trout

Here's Dan Blair's technique on fast painting and scaling of a wood carved trout.

Without a doubt, this is one of the most important discoveries (for me at least) that I ever made regarding fast scaling and painting of a wooden trout. For scales you can see and FEEL, it works! But I can assure you from having tried every other option with regards to different brands of paint, etc. that it ONLY works as I have described it here. If you try this method, follow my details closely. I know from extensive experimentation that if you attempt this with anything less than the materials I have described, it will be a study in frustration for you and you will not like this method at all. On the other hand, followed closely, I believe you will discover a new and quicker way to scale and paint fish. For best results, please read the entire instructions once or twice through to be sure you fully understand them before you actually begin painting/scaling your carved fish. Good luck.


One aerosol can of Wal-Mart store brand (blue label) Flat Black Paint
One aerosol can of Wal-Mart store brand (blue label) Flat White Paint
One aerosol can of Wal-Mart store brand (blue label) Clear Gloss Paint
One aerosol can of Krylon brand (18 Kt. Gold Plate) Gold Paint
One aerosol can of Krylon brand (Original Chrome) Silver Paint
One sheet of Crinoline netting sufficient to cover both sides of the carving
One sharp scissor for cutting and trimming Crinoline netting
One or more pairs of surgical type rubber gloves


Crinoline: the mesh or netting material used to make scales, also called "toole", "wedding veil", etc.

Tracing Wheel: A metal wheel and handle resembling the rowel on a spur used to transfer
a pattern from paper to fabric in the sewing/textile industry, and available from most fabric stores or fabric/sewing departments.

Wall Mount: A carved or skin mounted fish, etc. usually viewable only from one side with most attention given to the Show Side.

Pedestal Mount: A carved or skin mounted fish, etc. usually viewable from ALL sides, also referred to as "In The Round" and suitable for display on mantle, desk, etc.

Show Side: That side of an object from which the item is most commonly viewed.

Wall Side: That side of an object from which the item is least likely to be viewed.

Step One: When a completed carving has been sanded and is ready to paint, I begin by priming the carving heavily with a thick coat of Flat Black. This serves two purposes. First, it acts as a sanding sealer. And second, it helps hold the crinoline mesh in place in STEP #2 before beginning STEPS #3, 4, and 5.

Step Two: Before the Flat Black paint dries, imbed the crinoline netting into the wet paint. Press the netting into the paint from the base of the caudal fin (tail) to the gill cover. The paint should hold it well enough for you to take your scissor and trim away the extra length of netting so that none of the mesh actually touches the rays of the tail fin. Then trim away the excess mesh around the curvature of the gill cover being sure to allow for the two bones that lay just under the gill cover. (Depending on the size of your [life-size] fish, that may mean as little as an 1/8th of an inch up to 3/8ths of an inch.) Keep smoothing the netting into the paint as the paint dries. Over the top of the head, (forehead) cut the netting so it is rounded rather than straight across. At the area of the dorsal fin, from the top, center of the fin down to the back of the fish, cut a line in the mesh at a 90 degree angle where it intersects with the base of the fin. Then cut a line to the left and right from that cut at the fin base. Make this cut the same length as the dorsal fin. This allows the mesh to be folded around and over the back of the fish. Follow this same procedure at the adipose fin. (Keep working the mesh into the drying paint. If an area dries too quick or is not thick enough to hold the netting, spray a bit more Flat Black over the area and the netting.) At the area of the pectoral fin, cut a line straight towards the fin from the gill flap. Angle the cut to accommodate the same angle of the fin. Make this cut only as deep as the fin and body union. Press the netting into the paint around and under the fin into the belly. Follow the same procedures around the pelvic fins and the ventral or anal fin. Be sure not to allow scales to show on the fin guards at the base of the pelvic fins. Once you have trimmed away all excess mesh, and the netting is completely smooth over the entire length of the carving, you are ready to prime the fish in other colors. Be sure there are no wrinkles showing as they will also show in the finished painting. This may require making a few short cuts across the back or belly to relieve rolls in the fabric. Be sure not to make the cuts too deep so they do not extend down onto the side of the fish. Now that the crinoline is completely secured to the carving on one side, proceed to STEP #3.

Step Three: Using Flat White, spray a coverage over the belly of the fish and over the sides of all fins showing from the same side you have applied crinoline to. Allow the Flat White to overspray upwards towards the back of the fish to about midway up the side. The white should feather out from the belly toward the back at about the center of the fish's side or lateral line area. Then use True Chrome to paint the mid section of the fish from the edge of the tail to the tip of the nose. Be sure to get a good silvery look to the cheeks and head of the trout. Using 18 Kt Gold, spray the Dorsal and Adipose fins and the top 1/3rd of the tail fin. Spray the back of the trout from the top of the head to the tail and allow the gold to feather out down over the silver side of the fish. How much gold you apply over the silver will depend on what kind of trout/salmon you are painting as some show more of one color than the other.

Step Four: (If you have carved a lateral line before painting, proceed to STEP #5. If you do not have a carved lateral line, proceed with STEP #4.) BEFORE removing the crinoline, use a pattern tracing wheel to roll out the dotted line of a lateral line.

Step Five: Once the primer colors and the lateral line have been applied, carefully remove the crinoline from the painted primer. Start at the head or tail and at the back or belly and then work from your starting point toward the opposite end. I recommend starting from the lower, tail end and working up and towards the head. Any lifting of the paint will be at the back edge of the scale and will look more like the actual scales on a mounted fish. All though scale lift or curl may be accepted to a degree on some mounted fish, it is not acceptable on a competition fish carving, so for a smoother appearance, follow instructions in STEP #6.

Step Six: Raised scales can be patted back into place by gently "spanking" the paint where ever there are raised edges. Spanking, as opposed to firmly pressing the paint keeps the damp and still tacky paint from sticking
to your fingers and pulling away from the carving.

Step Seven: When you are satisfied with the appearance of the scales and primer on the first side of your fish, turn the fish over and repeat the entire process on the reverse side. If your fish carving is to be a wall mount with only one show side, you may not want or need to scale the wall side. However, it is recommended that you still spray the white, silver, and gold primers on the back side of the carving. Upon completion of the primer paints and scales to your carving, you are ready to begin airbrush painting. The best is yet to come, so let the magic begin:


I have a lot of great stuff from the Fish Carving List to share but feel this is enough for this issue. We'll provide additional information in a future article.

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 - Fishcarving List

Editor's Note: Endorsements of products mentioned by contributors to this article should not be construed to be endorsements by either the editor of this article or of Woodcarver Online Magazine, unless specifically so noted.