Relief-Carvng-art - 9/7/99
Class handout from a class at Pennsic XXVIII called Relief Carving 101 taught by Lord Valdis of Gotland (mka Ken Koll).
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
[This is a copy of the class handout from a class taught at Pennsic XXVIII]
Relief Carving 101
by Lord Valdis of Gotland (mka Ken Koll)
Welcome to relief carving 101, given by Lord Valdis of Gotland (mka Ken Koll), at Pennsic War. We are going to cover some of the basics of relief carving, from picking your wood, to the required tools and care of those tools. As we go into this class, feel free to ask questions and if I do not have an answer for you, hopefully I will be able to point you into the right direction. We are working on getting a Society wide Carving Guild together. I am merchanting at space #118, feel free to come over and ask questions and have a look around.
Picking your wood ‑
I have used firewood that my father‑in‑law had beside the stove for burning, not even knowing what type of wood it even was or even caring. I was just happy to save it from the flames of Hades and give it life, for isn't that what we do as carvers... breath new life in a bland piece of wood? The wood that we are going to see in class and that is the most widely used and desired in carving today is Basswood. Basswood has a nice grain that takes the blade with little effort. I also enjoy Poplar, for it is softer than most hardwoods yet is stronger than pine with an appealing appearance. Pick a piece of wood that is about the size and shape you want to start with, this will require less cutting and effort later. If you get your lumber from a mill or lumber yard, check it for knots and cracks... you may want to use the knot in your piece or you may choose another piece of wood that is knot free. Depending on your piece you may want to choose a lighter or darker piece of wood also or perhaps stain the one you have. For very detailed pieces you would not want to use a white wood or light in color, for it will wash out your detail in light, unless you stain it. For big bold lines that you want to stand out, you may want to choose a white wood that will have deep shadows that will contrast with your wood and end up highlighting your work.
Preparing your wood ‑
Preparing your wood before you carve it is very important and will save you pain in the end. You want to plane or sand down your wood on the back and sides before you start, the last thing you want to do is have to turn your beautiful carving upside down and sand the back down while the front is getting bruised. Figure out which way the grain is running and if the grain switches up on you, you can take your chisel and try shaving little pieces in each direction to see which one goes smoother, that way you know that you are working with the grain. Now you have to lay out your artwork, you can either freehand your piece on in pencil or copy if off of paper using carbon paper. Once you are satisfied with the appearance of your layout, you can trace it again in ink, that way it will not wear off while you are working on it. We are about ready to begin.
Outlining your artwork‑
Now we start to work our piece, you can either outline your piece with a chisel, V‑tool or a knife blade. If you use a chisel, you want to use a narrow chisel that is not too thick... if your chisel is too big you will notice that it scars the wood instead of cutting it. A V‑tool allows some control into detailed area. Be sure to stay 1/4 of an inch or so away from your artwork to make allowance for the "top width" of your V‑tool. If you choose to use a knife, you can outline detail easier, you may choose to use each of these tools as I do. With all of these tools you may have to go through the next few steps a couple of times before you get down to the level you want. Remember that you need to go deep enough so that you have enough room for all your detail to stand out from your background in the proper proportions
Removing background ‑
Now for the muscle part of our project. I prefer a spoon chisel at this point, but if you do not have a spoon, any old chisel will work. You will use your spoon chisel now to remove all the wood from around your artwork, leaving your artwork standing out from the rest of your piece. Be sure to figure out before you start to remove your background, exactly how far you want to drop it back. I generally drop my background a half inch to an inch for most of my work. Take careful attention when you are removing the background that you do not scar your artwork when you get in close to it. Take controlled cuts when you are close to your piece, and stronger, bolder cuts when you are on the outside of your work. Do not worry about your background being perfect for now, we will go back later and touch it up when we finish.
Rounding and detailing ‑
Now that our piece is standing out from the background all by itself, we can go back and detail it. Before you pick up your blade, look at your piece and figure out what is to be at the forefront of your work and what is to be the furthest back. Then take your chisel or knife and slowly start to round off the outside edges of your work to meet the background.
Do not worry if you scar the background a little, we can fix that later. Now slowly and with control go back and begin to outline the details with your knife and start working your layers into separate detail, remembering what you want in the foreground and farther back, you can always take a piece down a little farther later, but it is hard to add layers if you make a mistake. Take your time and sit back every once in awhile and look at your piece from a distance and see how it is forming. At this point I should remind you that it is okay to make mistakes, you will hack off a nose once in awhile, make a three legged horse and so forth. You will learn how to work these into your project, and work around your mistakes, remember that you are carving an original piece and the mistakes are yours... you will not carve an exact duplicate of another's work.
Now that we are finished detailing our piece we can now go back and touch up our original outline of our piece. Your original outline will now have little gouges and such around your piece from you working on it, do not worry, this is normal. We can take our chisel and take these out with a little effort and then use the knife to get a clean cut along the edges. At this point you may wish to do some undercuts to further highlight your work. An undercut is where you decide you want to give the illusion of a rounded structure that is separated from the background or if you want to abruptly end and not blend a piece into the background. By doing this you will have a longer shadow, giving the illusion of separation, again I will demonstrate this in class.
Now we are finished with carving and it is time to pick our finish. If you carved your wood green, you will want to finish with an oil base finish that will soak into the wood and replenish the moisture before it cracks on you. If you used kiln dried or seasoned wood, then you may choose any type of finish you like. Talk to your lumber man about appearances and what would look best on your piece ... take your piece in to the lumber yard when asking him and he will know exactly what you are talking about and be able to hook you up. You will also find that you may get quicker service if you walk in with a carving and a smile.
Tips and Tricks: Tip number one... identify your workmanship, you want to pick out something that will be easily noticeable, but that is not too complicated to duplicate. You do not want to put your full name in cursive with a felt tip pen on the front of a beautifully carved piece, try to incorporate carving your name or your mark into the piece. Tip number two... Keep your tools very sharp, the sharper your tools the easier it will be to carve. I keep a strop and some compound near me when I carve and continually resharpen my tools before they get dull, that way I do not have to put a whole new edge on the tool. Remember that a barber only stropped his razor throughout the day and the only time he had to hone it down was when there was a nick in it or to reshape the cutting edge ... can you shave with your tools yet....don't try. Tip number three ... do some research into your work, get books and read, go to your local library, use the internet for info and hop onto a carving newsgroup. Find a local group of carvers in your area and sap all of the older guys for their wisdom, remember to filter out the bad habits of others. You can find a local group through another local carver, Chamber of Commerce, craft or wood shows ... ask around.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy your hobby as much as I do.
If you have any questions or wish to contact me, you may do so through E‑mail or my web page at: http://members.xoom.com/Lordvaldis/index.htm Ivaldis at mail.cvn.net
Lord Valdis of Gotland (mka Ken Koll)
Copyright 1999 by Ken Koll. <Ivaldis at mail.cvn.net>. Permission granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and
receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.