Woodcarving is simply the reflection of each individual carver’s expression and artistic interpretation of a given subject. This can come in many forms, ranging from abstract to realism. In todays carving environment there are many teaching aids available which enable the wood carver to develop the various skills necessary to progress their carving abilities. The vast majority of these carvers begin with simple projects where using the knife as the primary tool, which teaches them the fundamentals such as understanding grain direction, the characteristics of various species of wood, and the uses and practice of various knife cuts.
Unlike when I began carving, teaching aids are widely available. Today the new carver may elect to buy cut outs and rough outs as well as books and instructional DVD’s to assist them in developing their carving technique. They may spend countless hours on video websites or choose to search for pictures of other carvers’ work to give them ideas for their next project. In this context they soon may realize that what they carve are simply copies of what someone else has already done. There is nothing original about their carving. It is simply a duplication of someone else’s creativity.
One form of wood carving that I greatly admire, though I have never carved one, is caricatures. Why? Because the caricature carver can create endless possibilities, whether human or animal. The caricature carver is also bridging abstract and realism in a very unique way. If you ask any serious caricature carver what is their secret I suspect they will tell you: observation. They are constantly looking at facial expressions, body types, clothing types and a myriad of other features that enable them to transform an ordinary block of wood into an original carving.
This process of observation is relevant to all forms of woodcarving …
A good example of seeking originality is where recently I participated in a spoon carving contest, not as a competitor, but as a supporter. Like many of the entrants I searched the internet looking at countless spoons. While the vast majority of those who entered this contest were looking for ideas I took a different approach. What I was looking for was to produce an “original work” and was looking for something that had “not” been done. This is the same approach I, as well as countless others use for all carvings. If it is a bird, for instance, I develop an idea, then a drawing and finally a pattern to posture the bird in a unique way or provide an original habitat to make the carving an original work of art. If it is a relief carving I never look at pictures. I develop a scene in my mind and make little sketches and notes and then produce a drawing to serve as my pattern or guideline.
One asset that is invaluable to a woodcarver is the ability to make basic sketches. This assists them in fine tuning what the actual carving will become. If you desire to carve a face then learn to draw eyes, noses, lips, ears, wrinkles and variations of each these facial features. If you choose to carve birds then study birds and learn the physical characteristics of the species and then learn to draw the various aspects such as heads, beaks, wings, tails, feathers, and so forth. The same rings true for any given subject. This goes back to the fundamental of Observation.
As the woodcarver evolves his or her work begins to express specific traits and characteristics that distinguish their carvings from those of others. Of course this only occurs after many hours, months and years of practice but that is the true beauty of woodcarving. There are no masters! There are only carvers continuing a life-long educational process; a process plagued with countless mistakes, a bountiful supply of waste wood and a striving desire to become just a little better with each completed carving!
Perry A. Reynolds 2014
Perry Reynolds is a long-time carver from Mill Spring, NC. You may visit his Carving and Canvas web site HERE He also founding moderator of the Woodcarving 101 — The Joy of Woodcarving Facebook group HERE