Carve the form not the details
This is a common topic where here I will expand a bit on my reasons for carving a form and not the details as is so often the case. Many new carvers will see all sorts of details in a piece and in their efforts to carve will gravitate to these areas trying to mimic what they are looking at. They aren’t carving what they see in the essential form of the piece. Carving the form is what makes a carving good, if not great. Here is what I mean.
Lets take a square block of wood for example. If I plan on carving a cluster of grapes for example and I immediately start carving little balls to represent the grapes… I’ll end up with a square block of grapes not looking anything like a real cluster. Then too , if I start with a flat board as if I was doing a relief of grapes and carved beautiful grapes right on the surface I’d end up with what looks like a collection of bottle caps arranged into what should be a grape cluster. The overall form wasn’t found first.
Taking that same block of wood and turing it into a head. If the forms aren’t found first you’ll end up with a square block of wood covered with what should be hair. Even carving hair for example, all the bulk forms and shapes , without detail, should be arranged in the overall shape of the way hair falls. Only then do you think about actually carving in the hair details.
Or in the example that was in question , a bird. The determining factor in carving a bird ( or a human body for that matter) is all the major forms have to be in their proper place in order for the details to be added. If the piece is left completly smooth you should instantly recognize that the shape is either that of a parrot or a finch. What’s great as well as difficult about a bird is every Robin for example is exactly the same. They all fit the same pattern unlike a human body. Why is this difficult when you think this eliminates problems? Well, if it doesn’t fit that pattern exactly all the details in the world won’t make it look like a Robin.. it’ll look like a mutation. People don’t fit in the same patterns.. some are fat, short,tall etc. and variations can be written off. Not so with a bird. I’ve entered super detailed pieces in the World Championships and lost before the judges were within 20 feet of the piece. I didn’t understand how I lost with pieces more detailed than the next which won. Why,, my piece didn’t say “Mallard” to the judges from 20 feet away. It didn’t have the characteristics of how a mallard holds itself. Every bird carries itself in particular ways and fits in the same pattern.
Now here again consider this. Everyone looks for the details to judge a carving. I believe that’s wrong for many of the above mentioned reasons. Also,,details aren’t all that important and are the last thing to consider. Too many stop carving the form and start addding details way too early and spoil what could otherwise been a great carving without details. Why don’t you need details especially early on? Simply because they fall with the boundaries of the major form itself. There is always plenty of wood left to include details if the forms define a shape. Details don’t define a piece or shape,,they only serve to accent it.
This philosophy is everywhere in our lives.
You have a badly planned yard but a nice rose bush…. does it make the yard flow in harmony?
You have a bad piece of steak,,soggy vegetables but a nice garnish,, does it make the meal palatable?
Put a custom made Italian suit on the Elephant Man,,, does it work?
You get the point. So,, If I carve basically forms that without any details you can say that could be a cluster of grapes if you carved actual grapes… THEN it’s ready for me to carve in the grapes. Think about it,, all the grapes fall within the major shapes of the clusters of grapes. If you could wrap plastic wrap around a cluster of grapes, this is the form you should be carving grapes into..because all the grapes are within the perimiter of the plastic wrap. All the wood is still there for you to carve grapes .
Carve a bird . Are the wings originating where they belong. Are the cape feathers grouped where they belong before you actually carve them in. On a duck , are the side pockets where they should be as a major group indicated by their distinctive bulge before you carve a single feather? Is the bird standing on it’s display in a natural position without looking like it’s ready to fall over? These things have to be planned ahead to make the most natural looking bird and pose. Too many times the base is an after thought with a bird stuck on something just to hold it and it looks that way,, just because someone wanted to carve a bird.
And this takes the most knowledge if you want to make good carvings,, birds, humans, pretty much anything. In the case of the bird you need knowledge to produce the basic pattern that says “Robin” Without it you have what is a generic bird that you’re trying to pass off as a Robin.
Or a square block of wood you’re trying to pass off as a cluster of grapes.
You need to see the major forms and carve only them. The details which everyone seems to love,, but ignores the forms,, makes so-so carvings. The forms are the most difficult. The details are the easiest to learn.
If you can carve a form that says Robin so clearly that even if you painted it black people would ask ” Why did you paint that Robin black” before you put in the details ,,, you’ve got it right. That takes knowledge to carve what you see,,,not what you know to be a Robin,, or feathers.
Why didn’t you carve grapes into that grape cluster? Ahh,, your viewer sees the form. They already know they are grapes and guess what,, their imagination already saw the “details” of the grapes already there without carving a single grape. Do you need details? Not really ,,your mind fills them all in.
Play a song one note at a time.. you know the song. All the other instruments fill it out. If you don’t follow the form of the melody,, nobody will recognize the tune
As I said,, this philosophy is all around us and what makes our world recognizable.