Putting this knowledge base to use

For a while, I have been reading and following the carving projects on this site. I now have the time to really get into carving and started looking for a learning project. I’ve always liked the panel that you carved, Doris, but I don’t have a good place to start something that grand. When Mark posted his carving of Madonna and Child, it just hit me. Maybe it’s the time of year, or the religious symbolism or the fact that it’s so elegant in its simplicity – I wanted to try to carve a smaller version.

I went to our local lumber yard and picked up a slab of ‘mahogany’ – it felt pretty light, but I got it anyway. I think it’s actually called Philippine mahogany and seems prone to tear out. It does carve very easily. I sketched an outline of the ‘Madonna and Child’ on a 5-1/2 x 8 inch piece of 3/4 inch thick wood. I used a scroll saw to cut the outline and started making chips. I used these chisels – 2/5, 2/12, 5/8, 8/4 and occasionally a 5/12.

This is what the carving looks like at the present time. (Please click on fotos to enlarge)

I’m having a lot of problem getting the folds in the head-dress looking smooth and flowing. As you can see at the bottom of the head-dress, the folds do not look natural. I hung a towel and placed folds in it to use as a reference, but I’m having trouble getting the contours to flow into the right areas. 

The rest of the carving is not professional, but I feel pretty good about it. This wood is very prone to splitting – have to change direction many times when carving with the grain. The rest of the photos are trying to show the levels of relief in the carving. I had a lot of fun with the knees and bottom of the robe. Maybe I should push the carving more in this area?

I’m not done with the head/faces of the mother or the child, but I want to get you expert opinions before I go too far. Thank you for this opportunity and the time you all take to provide such great instructional material.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dorisfiebig
    Dec 07, 2010 @ 09:51:17

    welcome to our blog, doug ! i am happy to have you contribute, and happy to see our work on the blog inspires to pick up a chisel and really try what we show. you have a wonderful start, and, pushing it furhter is always a good idea. you have still lots of wood underneath the chisels


  2. Mark
    Dec 08, 2010 @ 09:57:25

    Hey Doug,
    Overall your carving is looking just fine. Where I do believe you are having a question is the bottom of the veil where the “S” shape is. This , if I understand correctly is where the stumbling block is. To my eye, the S shape is getting lost, and I love an S shape. Look at my carving as an example. If you follow the bottom of the S, it has a fullness to it, meaning roundness. Also, the line that leads off the belly of the bottom part of the S is a straight line leading up and away. This line is very important to show just what the veil is doing. Without it, the line and movement is lost. This line shows that the veil is folding back on itself and wraps under itself. Your line doesn’t take off at a tangent to the belly of the lower part of the S shape. Your line flows outward and doesn’t show a definite “rolling under” .
    The top part of the S shape on the veil has also lost it’s roundness. This too is crucial because if you don’t follow a smooth sweeping curve around the top of the S shape, you lose the billowed , flowing look of the veil. Granted , this isn’t an actual full carving with details, but because of that the carving is limited to the linear look to make it appear convincing. It almost has to be exaggerated because nothing else is there to support it.
    Even though this isn’t a detailed carving several things need to be accounted for to pull it off. There are left and right legs to consider. The arm and sleeve that is supporting the baby need to be accounted for. These depths need to be relative to each other to keep the carving in balance.
    For example, my carving was over 4 inches thick but the left leg was just under one inch thick. The right leg was just about 2 inches thick. That left 2 inches to have the arm , and veil to exist in. The arm had to be back quite a bit from the veil, or at least looking like it came from an area well behind the veil. The chest of Mary had to be back even further to look balanced. Meaning it had to fall somewhere between the left and right legs. Really, if you think about it, if the carving were in full 3 D, that’s right about where the chest would be in actuality.
    Besides the shape of the S at the bottom of the veil, the carving is coming along very well. One thing that I’ve always imagined in doing a piece like this is imagining it being a balloon. If you had a balloon of a full person, in this same pose, and then gradually started deflating it , it would get thinner and thinner until it was essentially flat. Ultimately it would be the model for carving a coin. But at each stage you could do a relief carving based on your deflating balloon. All surfaces would remain relative to each other in the same way just differing by degrees.
    That’s why I never agreed with some “carvers” who claim that reliefs are done in 3,, maybe 4 levels.Near, middle and far.
    That’s a load of Horse Manure.
    Show me 3 or 4 levels in a coin. That’s a relief in miniature. There are hundreds of levels. That’s why it looks good. Gradual shifts of one surface into another all relative to the adjacent surface. That’s all that matters. That, and getting the lines to flow correctly.
    Reliefs are popular because most think they’d be easier to carve than a full 3 D carving. In many respects, they present more challenges than a full carving because of the loss of perspectives and fullness. You have to think a bit more and beyond the normal ways of looking.


  3. Ralph Giarnella MD
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 00:12:13

    Doug, unfortunately the lighting does not do your work justice. Your effort is appreciated. By using such a thin piece of wood (3/4″) makes it very difficult to get the sense of depth as seen in Marks original work (4″).

    Thank you for posting. I particularly enjoyed reading and learning from Marks comments. If I were you I would get a thicker wood and attempt a re doing this piece following the comments made by Mark. I have learned a lot especially in the beginning by redoing a project several times always making corrections from the previous one until I the work came out the way I thought it should be. Perhaps a piece of Basswood which is significantly less expensive and easier to work with than is Mahogany.


    • Doug
      Dec 11, 2010 @ 05:23:40

      Ralph, thank you for your feed back on this project. I try to finish every project I start even though I’ve made mistakes. I try to correct the mistakes in the current carving, but alas sometimes it is not possible. Without trying to correct them, I can’t learn how to get out of a problem. Granted it will not be a carving that I will look at and think, “I done that one perfectly,” as if that would ever happen 😉 but I will have learned what not to do.

      The ‘mahogany’ I am using is commonly called ‘luan’ or Meranti. It is a substitute for mahogany in appearance only. It is very inexpensive, so I can do as you suggest and carve another from the remaining slab.

      As for the thickness of the material, Mark’s carving is 24 inches wide and 4 inches thick – a 6 to 1 ratio. I’m not off the ration that far as 3/4 inch thickness gives me a width of 4.5 inches to work with. However, the width of this carving is 5 -1/8 inches, so I’m a little too thick for the ratio. Yep, Doris is right – I need to carve deeper! Good eye, Doris!

      As Mark has stated in his comment, I’m working on a ‘coin’ relief. I still have a lot of wood left and will post the finished project.


  4. Mark
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 08:18:40

    Hey guys,
    Personally I believe Doug has more than enough wood for a project that size.
    I mentioned it to Doug before that my Prodigal son, which was right around 6 ft tall was done in one inch of wood. Take a look at the pages in that story and I like to think the carving reads well. So a small carving such as Doug is doing , 3/4 of an inch of wood is plenty.
    If I remember correctly, the 6 inch carving sample I did for this job was done in 1/2 inch of a similar mahogany that Doug is using as well. It too was very pale, almost white , stringy and wanted to run cuts in all directions.


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