Archive for Sculpture

The Carving of Coral Reef

The Carving of Coral Reef

By Mark Doolittle

Mark Doolit­tle’s carv­ings are unusu­al and intrigu­ing, reflect­ing strong­ly of his aca­d­e­m­ic train­ing and career. In this arti­cle, Mark pro­vides an overview of the carv­ing process used in cre­at­ing Coral Reef.

Click on each image for a much larg­er, detailed view. If your cur­sor turns into a mag­ni­fy­ing glass, click the image for an even more detail. Close the detailed view to return.

The first step is to obtain a sin­gle piece of wood of the appro­pri­ate col­or, work­a­bil­i­ty, grain and size. For Coral Reef, the Amer­i­can hard­wood “Bass­wood” was cho­sen, a light-col­ored, straight-grained wood that is very work­able, mak­ing it a favorite among carvers. As shown in this pho­to, the size of the “Coral Reef” sculp­ture (24”h x 24”w x 4”d) was obtained by glu­ing togeth­er five pieces of 4” thick Basswood.


The sec­ond step is to obtain the over­all shape of the piece. This begins by cut­ting out the over­all pro­file of Coral Reef using a bandsaw.


After the pro­file is obtained, the shap­ing step is con­tin­ued using rasps, sanders, gouges and rotary burrs to achieve the final three-dimen­sion­al shape of Coral Reef.


The front of the shaped piece.


The final step is to add detail carv­ing that pro­vides a sense of growth like the col­o­niza­tion of mil­lions of coral polyps that build nat­ur­al coral reefs. This “sense of growth” was achieved by carv­ing holes & fis­sures using a vari­ety of rotary bits and hand-held rasps and files. Here is the start of the detailed carv­ing to obtain the desired organ­ic shapes, begin­ning on the small­er “wing”.


The bot­tom of the wings, show­ing the detail that was used to tran­si­tion the carv­ings from the small wings to the stem and larg­er wings of the piece.


The larg­er wing dur­ing detailed carved. Both through holes (called “pierc­ing”) and stopped holes were used to achieve the lace-like organ­ic look. Notice the pen­cil marks on the non-carved sur­face that were used to guide the carving.


The pierc­ing begins at the edge of the piece, as seen here on the right-hand wing.

The inter­nal pierc­ings are final­ly added.


All detail carv­ing is completed.


A three-quar­ter view of the com­plet­ed piece, before wood dyes were used to empha­size the edges of the wings.


Final piece with added edge col­or, fin­ished with polyurethane and final­ly mount­ed on a base made from African Padauk with an inset piece of Ari­zona sandstone.


Mark Hen­ry Doolit­tle earned a PhD in Biol­o­gy from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at Los Ange­les, and enjoyed a career there in bio­med­ical research.  While work­ing at UCLA, he also devel­oped a keen inter­est in art and wood­work­ing, recent­ly tran­si­tion­ing into a sec­ond career as a full-time wood artist.

Mark’s work is strong­ly influ­enced by his back­ground in biol­o­gy.  His work strong­ly reflects the growth and sym­me­try found in cells and tis­sue, as well as whole organ­isms.  He uses organ­ic shapes and abstract forms to fos­ter a per­cep­tion of bio­log­i­cal grow.

See more of Mark’s intrigu­ing work on his web site: or on his Face­book page: