Carving Tutorial - Part 2

Carving Faces in Cottonwood Bark

A) Wood Preparation:

Place your piece of wood in a plastic bag and spray Raid House/Garden in the bag. Tie the bag and leave 4 - 5 hours in order to kill any bugs in the wood. Carve off any loose wood or bark from the back of your wood. Trim the back fairly flat so that the carving sits against the wall when mounted. Brush the wood front and back vigorously, using a stiff bristle floor brush. This will help remove sand and dirt that will dull your tools. Finally, thoroughly vacuum the wood front and back.

Be familiar with your reference material. Learn as much as you can about the face you want to carve; the age of your subject; the shape of the face; the shape and size of the eyes, nose and mouth; the type of hair, beard, and mustache.

Decide what you like or don't like about all of the features you see in your subject. If there is an aspect of your subject you don't like and wish to change, be clear about what you want to change. You can become more familiar with your subject if you draw or trace from a picture that is similar to the one you want to carve. As you are carving you may change your mind about some of the details you want to put in but you will at least be starting out with a fairly clear picture of the finished product in your mind.

Wear a protective glove on your non carving hand. Keep your hands behind the tool or, if that is not possible, keep your holding hand as far from the end of the tool as possible. Use a thumb cover when using a knife. Set your wood in a vise or on a piece of non slip material to help maintain stability.

B) Rough Out (refer to model #1):

Model #1 - Photo

model 1 wood carving

Look at your piece of wood and visualize/imagine where you want the face to be and what kind of face would work with this piece of wood. Leave some bark at the top of your carvings for contrast and for hair.

Take a large fairly flat gouge (# 3 or 5), and cut into the bark at a 30 to 40* angle. Angle down toward the area of wood that will contain the Wood spirit face.

Using the same gouges, take the top layer of bark off where you decide you want your face to be situated. Round the face and beard area working from the center to the outside edge as you remove the top layers of bark. Try to keep the shape of the wood similar to the shape of the front and sides of a face - higher in the center and lower on the sides. Remove enough bark to eliminate cracked, brittle or flaking bark. Leave some bark along the outside bottom edge if you have enough wood.

Decide where you want the center of your face to be (usually about the center of the wood). Draw a center line (black line on Diagram A in the hand out ). Extend the line above the hair line and below the chin line of the face in order to keep yourself 2 reference points. Keep replacing the center line when it gets carved off.

C) Layout of the Face: (refer to Diagram A in the hand out:)

Determine where you want the half way point of your head to be (green line on Diagram A in the hand out). This line will be situated just below the brow of your carving. The top half of the head will include the brows and the hair line. The hair line will be just down a bit below the angled rise above the head in a Wood Spirit carving. Allow at least 1 inch down from the angled rise when placing the brow.

Allow enough wood to include hair above the forehead. In a Bark carving, the hair can extend above and beyond the outline of a regular head. Draw your outline to include a forehead and hairline. When considering the forehead, allow enough wood to include eyebrows and a few wrinkles between the brow line and the hairline. You may want large bushy eyebrows for character. I recommend leaving about the same space for the forehead that is allowed for the length of the nose. An inch to one and 1/4 inches is good on a small block that will contain only one face.

The lower half of the head contains the eyes, nose, mouth and chin. This area can be divided into 4 horizontal lines that will mark the bottom of the eyes, nose, mouth and chin.

With dividers on the center line, duplicate the distance you have between the hair line and brow line and mark the bottom of the nose and the bottom of the chin.

Other horizontal measurements are: Bottom of the entire eye ball (includes that which is under the skin) is 1/2 the distance between the brow and the bottom of the nose. Bottom of the lower lip is 1/2 the distance between the bottom of the nose and the chin.

Extend the lines that mark the bottom of the eyes, nose, lip and chin to the outside of the face.

Draw the outline of the head. A head is egg shaped. A bark head need not have a regular shape at the top.

Vertical measurements determine the position of the eyes and nostrils.
At the brow line use your divider to ensure that both sides of the face are equal. Place your divider on your ruler in order to know the measurement of the width of half the face. Multiplly that measurement by 2 in order to determine the entire width of the face.

The bottom half of the face can be divided along the horizontal green line into 5 equal units (green line extending slightly past the outside edges of the head). Determine the size of each unit by measuring the left or right side of the face from the center line and doubling that measurement. Ensure that both sides of the face are the same distance from the center line.

Divide the entire width of the face by 5 as there are 5 equal units across the face. With dividers, mark the first unit on each side of the center line at the brow line. The center unit must be divided in half by the center line of your carving.
With your dividers, mark identical units on each side of the center one. You will now have the center 3 units measured and marked.

With your divider, mark identical units on each side of the center one. You will now have the center 3 units measured and marked. The center 3 units are the ones we will concern ourselves with.

Extend your lines to the bottom of the nose.

The eyes can be a bit wider than the space of one unit and are separated by 1 unit.

The bottom of the nose is a bit wider than the space of 1 unit and can be wider yet if you want a large nose. The mustache can be drawn below the nose. The bottom of your outline will be your chin area. The mustache and beard will cover the area below the nose and the chin area but it is important to know where the chin would lie so that your face is not overly long.

Marking the nose bridge.

With dividers measure equal distances from the center line to show the width of the nose bridge. Mark lines about half way between the center line and the line marking the center unit (purple lines on Diagram A). Ensure that both sides are the same. Using these measurements, draw 2 lines (purple lines) parallel to and equidistant from the center line.

It is important that you leave this wood when you are removing wood along the sides of the nose as the nose bridge will give your nose its strength. Too narrow a bridge will give you a wimpy nose or too thin a nose. It's better to allow extra wood and trim again during the final details if you want a more narrow bridge.

Measure the width of the nostrils at the bottom of the nose. You can go a bit outside the center unit lines for a strong nose or stay along the unit lines for a finer nose. With your divider mark short lines equidistant to each side of the center line to ensure that the nostrils are the same width from the nose bridge.

Draw 2 vertical, angled lines (red lines on Diagram A in the hand out), each one extending from the outside points at the top of the nose bridge to the outside of the nostrils. These lines show the width and slope of the nose and the width of the nostrils. Stay outside this angled line when removing wood at the nostrils till you are ready to carve them.

D) Rough out the Face :

Model #2 - Photo model 2 wood carving
  1. (refer to model #2) Use a large V tool and outline your face between the mustache line and extending just a bit higher than the brow line. Carve a shallow grove on the outside of your outline.
  2. Use a Bench knife and make stop cuts along the bottom of the nose (blue line) and along the brow line (green line). Make the stop cut under the nose a bit longer than your line. This will allow you extra wood for the nostrils if you want it later. A stop cut is required, prior to using a gouge, as the wood is very fragile.
  3. Using a 9/20 gouge (or similar) remove wood from under the brow line. Replace your stop cut as needed. Take a few passes all the way across the brow line and then take wood away only where the eye sockets will be (just outside the nose bridge). Push your eye sockets out to the outside of the face. At this point do not remove any more wood across the nose bridge. Replace your lines. Take slicing motions by rotating your gouge as you go. A push/pull action will help you maintain control of your tool.
  4. Using the 9/20 remove about 1/4 inch of wood under the nose line (blue line). Only take a few passes at this time to ensure that you will have extra wood for the mustache. Replace the center line.
  5. (refer to model #3) Use a # 6 or 7 gouge to work both sides of the nose and face until you are even in depth with the eye sockets. Use a slicing motion with your tool, work from the top of the mustache line going up through the cheek and up along side the nose. Remove a little wood at a time - leaving a nice gradual slope up the nose and down around the cheek. Leave a nice transition between the nose and cheek. Don't take wood off past the parallel purple lines as doing this will weaken the bridge of the nose. Leave enough wood at the base of the nose for the nostrils by leaving the bottom wide.
  6. As you remove wood check for flaws. You may need to remove more wood overall. Should you need to remove more wood then go deeper in carving the eye sockets. This will maintain the mark for your eyes. You will need to repeat the above 6 steps after taking off the flawed wood. If you don't have enough wood to allow you to remove more then you may need to apply some CA glue in order to harden the fragile wood and allow continued carving.
Model #3 - Photo model 1 wood carving

Continue to Part 3: Carving the Nose, Forehead, Mustache, Mouth and Beard