Sunday, May 31, 2009

New Way of Carving Faces

Last time I mentioned that while carving at Territory Days I tried a new way of carving faces that I like better. I almost always carve faces "on the corner",  that is, with one corner of the block being the nose. I used to start with roughing out the nose, then move to rough out the eyes, then the mouth, THEN start to establish the width and depth of the head. I have now started to change the way I do things. I still begin with establishing the position of the nose and build the face around that. But now I establish the width and depth of the head before I begin on the eyes.

Those of you with sharp eyes will notice that this elf is being carved in Spanish cedar. "What?" you say. "Spanish cedar! Are you nuts? Don't you know that Spanish cedar DOES NOT HOLD DETAILS WELL?"

Well, yeah. I know that. But it was what was close to hand, and, since this was pretty much an experiment with new work methods, I figured that if I FUBAR'ed it I could blame the wood. And if I screwed it up just a little I could use the grain to hide the "design adjustment". So sue me!

Oh, by the way, this is my first elf. Talk about a glutton for punishment!

As it turned out, it wasn't all that bad. Sharp knives and tiny, tiny chips will allow you to carve in almost anything if you have the patience. Besides, I'm the kind of guy who is apt to say, "What the hell, let's try it and see what happens!" (See Kari Hultman's blog post on that kind of attitude and it's gender implications.) 

I also changed the way I do eyes. I normally use a straight "v" cut to establish the eye channels and refine from there. Here I have used a method similar to what Tom Hines uses. I made a stop cut alongside the bridge of the nose with the blade at a slight angle away from the center of the face (to establish the side slope of the nose), moved the blade up until it was almost vertical as I reached the beginning of the eyebrow, and then slanted the knife blade towards the bottom of the face to establish the slope of the upper part of the eye socket. I then started the second cut with the blade at a pretty acute angle up toward the top of the face at the beginning of the previous stop cut. I continued the cut up and around the top of the cheek trying to meet the previous stop cut. When the chip pops out you have established the upper slope of the eye socket and the upper slope of the cheek. Then (particularly if you are working with cedar) you take tiny, tiny chips out of the upper slope of the cheek, increasing that and defining the lower curve of the eye mound. You can see that in the four photos above. I hope. (Click on a photo to get a full size version.)

The point of all this change is that by rounding the face before hand and doing the eyes this way, I seem to be able to be more consistent in forming the eye mounds leaving me more leeway in how I choose to finish the eyes, whether open, winking, or happy squint as I have here.

(BTW, that wispy thing clinging to the elf's hat is NOT a cat hair. No. Absolutely not. It is, in fact, an artifact on the film . . . uh . . . digital imager. Yeah. That's it! An artifact. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Which brings me back to Spanish cedar. You can carve it. I made several boo-boos that cost me a chunk of the nose and another chunk of the beard (such as it is). I was able to save the piece with two strategies: Start off making things a little bigger than they need to be; cut tiny, tiny chips with a very sharp knife while you are doing details. Because, EVERYONE knows that cedar DOES NOT HOLD DETAILS WELL!. Well, almost everyone.

Speaking of eyes, I do several different types. Probably not good for my "brand", but it keeps me interested. The eyes on the Santa are a type most often seen on Scandinavian Flat Plane figures. Four cuts and pop out a chip. Careful not to pop out the wrong one!

Well, I think I've rambled enough for one day. Until next time, when we get back to the lovespoon (I hope), let the chips fly!


  1. wow! Great work on the elf! I have a bad habit of not going deep enough with the face so the nose looks flat. I don't use knives so I tacle the bigger faces, but it looks like the same principles apply. Your Ears turned out really good as well, I have been avoiding ears instead opting to cover them with hair ( Lazy cheat) It's true I probablyu just don't want to fuss with them. I love reading/hearing about people who "don't follow the rules" and find a better /cooler/ differant way of doing something. ALL the boosk and magazines show you carving with the nose in the corner of the block. Happy to hear you found another way.

  2. Great to see a bit more on the faces you carve, you are rekindling my desire to do more as the last time was over 10 years ago! Any chance of step by step photos?

    As regard to the comment you made on my blog about the scandi knives, yep do it how you want, as long as it works.
    Wait for it, I know you know there is a `but` coming up. I like to know the correct way or the traditional way of doing something, and learning how to do it well. I am then free to break the rules, finding new ways of doing stuff.
    Take Picasso, he was the most brilliant draftsman, could draw amazing, lifelike pictures, then he decided to change and break all the conventions and rules with cubism. I have a lot more respect for someone like that, than a modern art student, say, who does not have a firm foundation in the craft of art and just pops out childish conceptual pieces.
    But then again there is no `right` way, or great truth, just lots of different ways that have there place. We see and know it, why can not our political and religious leaders see it.
    Rant over, keep up the good work Bob

  3. Bob, Very nice! Very Very nice! Recently I asked a question about wood that was a better at holding fine detail for the relief carvers. Spanish Cedar came up often. Go figure!

  4. Love the Santa's. Great work.

    From your lat post: Kudos to you for working out in the open. I try to avoid the public whilst working in case I do something idiotic:¬)

  5. Thanks, Ethan. Ears aren't all that bad as long as you aren't going for hyper-realism. Think of the rim of the ear as a letter "C" and carve that. Then slope the ear from the top of the back of the "C" down to face level at the front of the "C". Voila, an ear!

    Thank you, Sean. I'm going to try to do a step-by-step on my next ornament. Trouble is, I get so involved in the carving that I forget to stop and take a picture. You've got a point about the scandi knives. If you want to do a traditional scandi knife, use the scandi method. But then if you were doing a traditional knife, what are you doing epoxy? :)

    Thanks, Tom. Spanish cedar is alright to work with if you're careful, especially cutting against the grain. Cut just a little too deep and you'll split out a considerable chunk of wood.

    Thank you, Chris. Doing idiotic things in public is just part of my life! :)