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  Carving Fantasy & Legend Figures in Wood

By Shawn Cipa

Reviewed by Mike Bloomquist


This is going be the toughest, most painful review I've ever written.  Want to know why?  No?? Too bad, I'm going to tell you anyway.  It's because, as I'm writting this, the green-eyed-monster has me by the throat with both claws.  Faithful readers, all three of you, have read this before, but in the first Santa carving contest sponsered by Woodcraft and Woodcarving Illustrated I was in the finals with Shawn Cipa (and 40-some others).  Shawn won and I (and 40-some others) lost... Since then Shawn gets to write woodcarving books... I get to review woodcarving books.  Jealously is unavoidable here, but thankfully, in this case, not fatal.  Bottom line?... Shawn, flat out, had the better piece.  I'll get over it... I'll get better... I'll be back.

Another reason this one is tough to write is that I've been expecting this book since the summer of '95. At that time, I was participating in a really fine woodcarving show in Morrisville, VT put on by the Green Mountain Woodcarvers.  It was very nerve wracking, not just because it was only my second show, but because my best piece was carved from a pattern I had taken some "liberties" with. A pattern from a book whose author was the show's guest carver and was only a few tables down from me.   Well, the case of nerves was unnecessary since he actually seemed to enjoy the modifications and proceeded to pick out every one and critique it... favorably in fact.  As we talked about the book I had taken the pattern from, he commented on how he was committed to so many books a year and would like to dedicate one exclusively to mythical creatures.  It's been a ten year wait, but someone else finally delivered.

The final reason... what?  Yeah, yeah, I'll get to the review... eventually.  The final reason this is a tough review is that Mr Cipa's first two books were easy to pass over.  Nothing bad about them, but their subject matter didn't grab me.  This one I NEEDED to have.  Not only is it's subject material  near and dear to me, but it's a fine book too.  So, even though everything is a little hazy and green, here goes the book review.

The Highlights:

The photography is top notch, and it's done by... opening to the credits page... Shawn Cipa and Greg Heisey?  Swell, not only does he write carving books, but he can do his own photography.  Dammit, there's that green fog again.  I know I harp on photography a bit much, but there's no way around it.  With instructional books, especially those with step-by-step sections,  the pictures will make or break it.

Without exception, all of the patterns are great.  Usually in any book with a good number of patterns, there are one or two that can be labeled don't-need-to-carve-that-one.  I honestly think these are all "keepers".  They all have wonderfully graceful lines, good balance and yet they're not overly complicated.  All are within reach of intermediate and beginnermediate wood carvers.

In many of  Shawn's human figures, the hands are carved seperate and inserted/glued into the figure.  This by design and it's a wonderful feature.  Hands are always a challenge, and I've used this trick on several Santas and one angel that I carved releasing a dove.  Not only does it allow you to run the grain in a direction that will make the hands stronger, but you can carve three, or four, or five of them until you get a pair that look right.  In my case, "look right" means there's one right hand, one left hand, and they look like they belong to the same figure.  On a shelf in my shop there's a small pile of "rejects" in various poses.  It probably would seem disturbing to some folks, but I'm saving them for a caricature project.  The image hasn't actually come to me yet, but it will.

A brief tour:

About the Author


Getting Started

The Wizard

The Dragon

  Each of these have an up front discussion, pattern, and picture(s)

Nit Picks:

Besides the fact that the author isn't who I expected it would be, I only have one nit pick.  All the humanoid figures have either closed eyes(female) or squinty shut eyes (male).  On the plus side, it makes the patterns more accessable to less experienced carvers who are intimidated by eyes.  And in the final analysis, those smug, jealous, know-it-all, woodcarving book critics among us could always "tweak" the pattern for themselves.  You know, I think I will... as soon as that green mist clears.

OK, I'm going to give this one a two stage rating.  If you're only mildly interested in mythical creatures, this book is well done but probably only a 3 thumber for you, and only because the subject matter is most of the book.  However, if you're just plain nuts about creatures and figures of myth and lore (Oooh! Oooh!... Me! Me!), or  you are an instructor who needs a reference library for students whose interests will not necessarily run in the same direction as yours, this is a "must have" four thumber of a book.

So fellow wizards and enchantresses of wood, keep them edges keen, the chips piled high, and continue practicing those sylvan spells.

Keep on Carvin'
-Mike Bloomquist->

Mike's mugMike Bloomquist is a carver and carving teacher, edits Notes From The Net, and is a regular contributor of other articles to WOM.

You may visit Mike's web site, Wooden Dreams Woodcarving HERE or email him at m.bloomquistATverizonDOTnet.