The Creativity of References

there are different approaches for carving.

you can try to let the wood inspire you, and find in the wood what you think you see there. this might be fun and satisfying, but is not the sort of carving i want talk about …

i want talk about carvings having an “aim”, like “i want carve a horse”. so, before we grab the suitable wood and the chisels, we know what we want to produce. a horse, say. basically two approaches exist : “carving from the mind” and “carving with references”

often it is said “carving from the mind” is creative, while “carving with references” is not fun since copying references is boring and it is not creative copying just what you see on the fotos …

this statement bugs me more than i wanted admit to me, so i want discuss both approaches. and since another statement often is made : “we want learn with each carving” and this is related to my discussion i want to include that too. so i am going to talk about

“carving from the mind” versus “carving with references” and what this has to do with creativity, and with learning from each carving…

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bob Squarebriggs
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 14:09:39

    “Carving from the mind” vrs “Carving from References” ….. It is my belief that to be a good technical carver you first must study the subject that you wish to carve. If for instance, you wish to carve that horse, you must study as much about horses as you can to understand : 1. what they look like, 2. how they move, 3. understand their character, physical attributes and make up. Photos, drawings and studying the/an actual horse all help. To carve realisticaly, one must know your subject, even to do characture.

    “Carving from the mind”, is more an artistic expression of what a horse means to you, expressed in a wooden shape. To preform a good expression, you still have to know your subject, so reference is necessary. The technical skills of a good carver are even more important in an interripation too, as it must be as pleasing as possible to get the expression from your mind into the wood.

    Many beginner carvers depend on the license given to “artistic expression” to cover their lack of skills, but the lack of skills are evident to a good carver. Skills come with practice, experience and some ability. Good tools will help, but there has to be some ability and lots of practice.

    Just an opinion and some thoughts. Good topic Doris.



    • dorisfiebig
      Jul 22, 2009 @ 15:12:43

      thank you bob for your interesting comment…

      you make a very good point here, which i did not work out clearly enough in my text, you point out that artistic expression does rely on knowledge (!) of the subject in the same way as carving from references does provide to you. yes, so right, without the deep knowledge of the human figure, bernini, or michelangelo, just to name my favourites, would never had been able to carve pieces so deeply moving, carrying emotions and meanings, and not “only pretty” anatomy … o, yes, i agree so much…

      why i came to this topic is, however, as you point out too, that many artists try to cover lack of skills with artistic expression. happens not only for carvers, but in painting, it is even more obvious, for example… and rely on that the skill will come just with repeating carving the horse, say, over and over from the mind. that will never happen, since, as i tried to enlighten, in this pure repition practice from the mind, no insight is gained. no learning appeared…

      i believe strongly, that one grows as a carver when in each piece one tries to stretch further than in any before, and to gather the necessary knowledge by using all information available. “carving from mind” is not a tool to learn…


  2. Bill Bartmann
    Sep 18, 2009 @ 09:46:36

    Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)

    A definite great read…:)



  3. Ralph Giarnella "doc"
    Nov 15, 2009 @ 15:13:46

    Another great topic. I am glad you used the horse as an example, as horses, for now have become my preferred topic of carving. I agree with everything you posted. Thanks to the internet and Google photos it is easy to gather hundreds of photos of every type of horse as well as close ups of the various parts.

    Thanks to the computer I have these photos and grouped them by type of horse, pose and parts and refer to them all the time.

    I have also used realistic toy horses as reference, especially for proportions- Photos don’t always give you a good reference for width or depth.

    I agree with the concept that before you can become truly creative you first need to learn the skills required to do the work and that includes not only how to use the chisels but an intimate knowledge of the subject at hand. As you pointed out in your another topic we need to be able to “see” the details as well and reference material will help.

    There is a saying “The devil is in the details”.



    • dorisfiebig
      Nov 16, 2009 @ 11:19:18

      hi doc, hehe you made me smile, yes i have realistic toy horses too, and found them particularly helpful for the top view. i was not aware before looking from top how narrow horses are at the front part.
      i believe many want be creative first, before learning the subject… sure it is more fun to just play, and see what comes out,,,but, for me, this is not rewarding, it might become a good work, or it might not. i rather prefer to aim to get my carvings the way i envision them…agreed, i don´t meet this aim either every time but i like to believe that i come much closer to my vision than if i had just jumped head over heals into a project where i have no thourough knowledge of the subject. and, as said, it does not hinder the creativity at all, but even increases it… thank you for your input, is very appreciated.


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