Carving Flat-Plane Style Caricatures
By Harley Refsal
Reviewed By Matt Kelley
The art of flat-plane carving reached its peak of popularity in Scandinavia and America in the early decades of the 20th century, but by the late 1970’s most of the leading artists from that period has died, and, in fact, “the tradition of flat-plane carving had faded to near-extinction”.
It was around that time that Harley Refsal starting researching the history of the art, and in the 1980’s started to share that knowledge and his skill with carvers in North America and Scandinavia. He has written several books and authored book chapters and articles about flat-plane carving.
In recognition of his work, Refsal received the St Olav’s Medal from the King of Norway in 1996, and was named the Woodcarving Illustrated Carver of The Year in 2012. It is not hyperbole to suggest that Harley Refsal almost single-handedly saved flat-plane carving from that near-extinction.
Carving Flat-Plane Style Caricatures is a recently release volume that features step-by-step instructions for four figures and patterns for another forty-six projects. Contents include:
About The Author
- About Flat-Plane Carving
- Basic Carving Instructions
- Painting and Finishing
Carving and Painting Step-By-Step
- Troll King
- Troll Queen
- Java John
- Mocha Mary
- 49 pages of patterns to carve people, animals, etc
Although a flat-plane style Tomte carved by Mike Bloomquist sits in my office watching as I write, I am not as familiar with this style as perhaps I should be, and so found the information about the art particularly interesting. I also found the instructions fairly well detailed — the Troll King ran to 30 steps over 7 full pages. The remaining three step-by-step projects build on the lessons in the Troll King and are less detailed. The many projects in the Pattern section typically include a front and side view, with brief commentary on each.
This is a book that, I believe, belongs in the collection of any serious caricature carver. Even if flat-plane carving is not your particular style, understanding the nuances can’t help but improve your carving. It may be a challenge for an experienced carver to pull back from very detailed figures using many tools to this simpler style of broader, flat planes using only a knife and an occasional gouge. The style leads you to “try to say more by saying less”; to tell a story in simpler, broader terms — a skill all carvers should value.
Carving Flat-Plane Style Caricatures is available from many carving supply houses (see the Vendor side bar) or from book stores. Please consider supporting your favorite carving supply shop.