Sunday, October 18, 2009

It Ain't Fire Wood 'Til It's Kindling!

Fire wood is the term carvers and whittlers use to designate carvings that have gone wrong. Might as well use 'em for fire wood and get some utility out of 'em.

My view is that most carvings that go wrong can be saved with a little imagination, flexibility and perseverance. Witness my latest foray toward the female face.

As you can see, the eyes are a mess. The level of difficulty is a little higher on this one than on my last because of the hair drifting down over the face. Her right eye is partially covered and the space between the main hair falls is pretty narrow. This branch is about 4 inches long and about 1" in diameter. (And if anyone can identify the wood, I'd be most grateful.)

All of the carving up to this point was done with my self-modified Kissing Crane Four-Blade Congress pocket knife. It's a nice, well-built knife for $15, and performed admirably up to this point.

One of these days I'll get over being afraid of eyes, but that day ain't yet. I was too timid about the first set of eyes I gave her. They were too small and too shallow. I'll admit that I was also rather intimidated by the lack of space left by the hair. I could have redone the hair, but I wanted this kind of look, so I decided to redo the eyes. Lord knows there was enough wood left.

I couldn't get the pocket knife blades down in there at the angles I needed to make the cuts I wanted to make, so I switched over to my Ralph Long long knife. That narrow 2" blade was just what I needed. It may seem contra-intuitive that I needed a long blade to get into a tight spot, but the narrowness of the point and the curve of the blade allowed me to get down in there and cut around the eye without nicking (mostly) the eyebrows and hair.

I deepened the cuts above the eyes and moved the bottom of the lower lids much further south making them deeper as well. I used the very tip of the knife to make lots of very small chips while building the eye mounds.

While building the eye mounds I decided that a sleeping dryad fit this pose better, so I finished the eyes that way.

I think she turned out pretty well, but while looking at the photos I began to think she had a rather androgynous look. She could be either a pretty-boy rocker or a woman. I'm beginning to think it might have something to do with the lower lip where it meets the corners of the mouth. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.

Until next time, let the chips fly!


  1. Great stuff, I agree that a lot of stuff can be saved from the fire and that is one of the true skills of the a good crafts-person. As I say, I just sell very very expensive kindling and firewood.
    She does look very male, the lips look to big and solid, I am not the one to ask as I do not study the human form that much

  2. Good Post, Bob.
    I think the problem with most wood carvings is that folks chicken out and stop too soon, afraid of screwing it up. Pushing the material is where your skill improves, even if that particular effort becomes kindling. I always say it's one of the few crafts where your mess is as pretty as anything you make. :)

    If you want it to look more female than '80s GLam rocker, do another one with strict attention to proportions. Proportion is way more important than symmetry. Current one is 1/3 too long. You can check it by holding your thumb over the base of her nose. The eyes and 2/3 of nose read female.

    You probably started with the eyes and the face grew as you worked your way down. Long and narrow reads as male.

    Get a small dab of modeling clay (plasticine) and try a few quick female face 3D sketches. Remember that your male faces are highly stylized- if you actually met someone who looked like that, you'd run! So for the female face you've got to go exactly the opposite direction. Square to triangle rather than shoe box rectangle. Any harsh angle will age or make her read more masculine. ( I know because I've had my own share of tiny bonfires!) Good luck, keep at it.

  3. PS. Check your library for a book called the Dwiggins Marionetts. (sic) His women puppets are georgous! Carved but totally female.

  4. Thanks, Sean. It's good to see you're still hanging around. BTW, I've got a spoon coming up soon.

    Wonderful, Patrick! Just the kind of reasoned analysis I was looking for! Actually the eyes were the last thing I did. You should have seen how long the face was before I shortened it by a third! Another case of being too timid. I shortened it so much I thought I was overdoing it. Hmmm. That finish is only wax. I wonder if I can get away with a few more modifications?


  5. I like the hair and the trailing over the face. I have attempted this on several of my female faces and they usually do not turn out as well as I had envisioned them. YOu might be right on the lips, but I think your nose might be soemthing to focus on. It's kind of blocky and round. Maybe a sleeker feminine nostrils would help a bit.

    OOPS! I've done it! Gone critical. Ah well@ I'm starting my own version of another female tree carving so you will have plenty to taunt me with this week. Oh! Noses give me such a headache, I usually have the most trouble with them, but I found that thinning the nose almost to the point of "narrow" seems to help a bit. OH! Have tou checked out OutWestWoodCarvings? He has a great video on the eyes and mouth. Granted, its of a cowboy, but it waas very cool to watch.

  6. Boy, Ethan, you're in for it now! 8-)

    I spend way too much time on Lynn's site watching his videos. I loved watching him doing the mouth and seeing the character of the caricature (try saying that 3 times fast) come out with each cut.