Wood Carvings by Mark Sheridan

Clay Version of Michael

Here’s the start to a clay model of Archangel Michael.  I’m just about ready to start carving these clay renditions into the basswood box sides…maybe I’ll be able to get started next week.


My Version of Michael

Here’s a sketch of what I’m planning for Michael based on a number of renditions of Michael found in oil paintings and stained glass windows.

Saint Michael, or Archangel Michael, is believed to be the head of all angels.  Although there are a number of references to Michael, he’s probably best known as the leader of God’s army against evil.  In the bible, Michael defeats Satan in heaven.  So…that’s why you are able to find so many versions of Michael with swords, shields and wearing armoured breast-plates.  He’s the protector.

My version, hopefully, is a bit gentler than some but I did include him holding his sword and wearing armour.


Similar to the other two figures, I’ve depicted Michael as a bust rather than a full figure.  Had I elected to carve a full figure, his features would have been too small and stick-like given the size of the carving, plus, I feel that the overall box will look better with four figures that are roughly the same size and in perspective with each other.

I’ll do this figure up in clay and make some modifications once I see it in 3D.  All feedback is appreciated!


Archangel Michael

My work on the clay models of Jesus and Mary with child are pretty much as far along as they are going to be prior to carving.  Although each of them could use some additional work, I think that they’ll give me all of the reference that I’ll need to carve the figures into the basswood box.  For now, I’ll store them with a damp paper towel over them and sealed in a large ziploc bag so that they don’t shrink and crack too much.


Now, on to Archangel Michael…which is a bit tougher religious figure to portray.  I searched around for a depiction of Michael, however, there aren’t many to choose from and most of them I really didn’t care for too much.

But, recently, you may have read in the news that an individual in Lisbon, Portugal, actually damaged an ancient statue of Michael in their Museum of Art.  Unbelievably, the individual was trying to take a “selfie” when he upset the statue and broke it.  Can you believe it?  Anyways, a photo of the statue ( prior to the damage ) showed up in a news article and I plan to take some features of that image for my rendition of Michael.

I’ll get started now on a pencil sketch of what I’d like to add to the chalice box.


Today’s Progress

I have to admit that I spent more time cleaning leaves out of the yard than I did planning my carving…but, here’s the progress that I’ve made on the one image.

I still have a bit more to go before I’ll be satisfied with the model for the carving.  It’s interesting how your brain works when it comes to artwork.  I find that as I’m working on something like this, “my brain” gets used to how things are looking and sort of accepts it.  It’s not until I take a photo of the carving, or in this case, the clay, that I start to see what else needs to be done before it looks right to me.  Another trick that I’ve used to similarly change my view of something is to hold the carving ( or clay ) up in a mirror to look at it.  The reverse image almost immediately points the things out to you that just aren’t right or  are out of proportion.

So, a bit more that I want to do on this figure before putting it aside.  It’s all fun…

Second Figure of Jesus

The chalice box will have a depiction of Jesus holding a chalice in one hand and a small loaf of bread in the other hand.  There are actually quite a number of ancient pieces of artwork of Jesus in this particular pose and I used a number of combined sources to come up with my own depiction.  Again, the relief is about 5/8″ deep which produces enough of a shadow effect to give you a sense of 3D but it’s not deeDSC_1029.jpgp enough to allow you to get the perfect perspective from all angles that you’d get out of looking at a true “in the round” carving.  So, it’s a bit of a trade-off.

I built up the clay model bit by bit and then, once it was dried somewhat, I used some sharp sculpting tools to shave away pieces until I was happy with the contours.  I still have quite a bit of work to do on the hands yet as I want a good clay model before I attempt them in wood.

This clay work is actually well timed as it’s easy on the wrists and arms and I’m just in the midst of recuperating from some bothersome tendonitis (tennis elbow ).  If you ever think about cutting up and ripping out all the carpets in your house on your own to prepare for hardwood floors…don’t.

Clay Modelling

Here’s a clay model of the figure of Mary and child that I’ll eventually use as the 3D model for the relief that I’ll be carving.  I’ve found while doing my last several carvings that a quick clay model is really helpful in the carving process.  The wood carving ends up being a bit different, of course, but the clay really gives you a much better sense of how to carve than does the 2D sketch.  The relief is fairly shallow with the difference from the base to the highest point being a little over 1/2″…but, the effect is pretty nice, I believe.


I built up the clay right over top of the drawing that I had produced earlier.  Once that was done, I flattened out about a 1/4″ thick piece of clay and laid the built up clay over top of that.  This gave the clay model a little bit more strength and also allowed me to carve out a bit more depth in a few spots.

As the clay that I use is water based ( not oil-based ), I need to keep it moist so that it doesn’t fully dry, shrink and crack.  I’ve placed the figure in a zip-lock plastic freezer bag with a moist paper towel covering it and will check on it now and again before I use it to begin the carving.

My plan is to model each of the four clay figures that I’ll need before putting too much attention into creation of the box carvings.

Religious Figures – Chalice Box

For some time I’ve wanted to try my hand at carving a religious figure.  As a boy , I probably spent more time studying the carved figures at our church than I did paying attention to the sermons!   I suppose that’s just being a boy and doesn’t have much to do with someday becoming a wood carver.

The figures at our neighbourhood church were painstakingly carved and sanded smooth without a hint of showing any of the knife and chisel marks.  Some were lightly stained, but a few had only hints of colour added to highlight and deepen the shadow effect in flowing robes and garments.  Although I would never have been close enough or had enough nerve to touch one of the carvings,  I know now that they were constructed of fairly soft materials like pine, but mostly basswood.  I hesitated to say that they were constructed of fairly soft wood because basswood for all of it’s “carve-ability” is actually a hardwood.

Anyways, some fifty years later, here I am fortunate enough to have been asked to design a chalice box and to carve a number of religious figures into each of its four sides.

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-2-42-07-pmThe box, itself, was rather simple in construction and was more likely to include painted sides, as in the example, here.  Although the chalice is within the box, it actually protrudes through the top of the box and many of the boxes have a split top with hinged sides so that the chalice can be lifted easily from the box.

The box that I will make and carve will be about 12″ tall and 11″ wide to accommodate a chalice that is 13″ tall.  The top will have an opening and also be hinged as I’ve described.  The four sides will have relief carvings of a single figure per side and I plan to chip-carve some traditional designs along the edges of the box.


I’ve done a fairly quick sketch of one of the figures based on a variety of traditional depictions of Mary with Jesus.  I’ll use this concept sketch only to create a clay model of the relief that I’ll base my carving on.  I fully expect once I start the clay model that the depiction will change slightly.

As the sides of the box are large, the figure will be quite large and I’m picturing it to be framed within a carved arch.  As the basswood will be naturally light in colour, as I’m finishing the project I may add some colour to the figures as well as a bit of darkening with brown tones to give it an older and more traditional feel.

I think that this is going to be an interesting project that will take me some time to complete and I hope you’ll enjoy it.   Your feedback and ideas are always appreciated.

“Learn by Doing” Bassets

A couple of the participants in the “Learn by Doing” session where we created a Basset Hound at the Magic in Wood Show have sent in a photo of their versions of this little guy.

Wes is still pondering on the final finish and whether he’ll add some more decorative painting to the bag before he applies a clear coat.  I like his version with the bulbous nose.


Wendy sent in her completed Basset where she dry-brushed the bag to pick up the high points.  I think that looks really nice.  Wendy’s been busy and she also sent me in another project that she just completed…and just in time for the Ontario weather to change.



Learn by Doing

The “Learn by Doing” crowd at the recent Magic in Wood Show asked me if I would provide them with a few close-ups of the little hound-in-the-gift-bag carving that they started at the show.  Here are a few additional photos, below, for this group and any others that might want to try this project.  Of course, you can look back in these posts to find a few more photos of the little dog.

Click on the image to make it bigger…

Magic in Wood Show

This past weekend, we all enjoyed the Magic in Wood competition and show in Pickering, Ontario.  We battled Toronto traffic to drop Paul off at Emily’s house for a couple of day’s visit and then Peggy and I returned to Pickering for the two day show.  I set up a few of my carvings along with some information on the Ontario Woodcarvers Association website (, Peggy volunteered in the kitchen and Emily and Paul visited on the Sunday of the show before we headed back to Kingston.

This was the show that I had the chance to lead a small group in the carving of the little Basset-in-a-Bag idea that you saw earlier.  I think that it went pretty well and I’m looking forward to seeing a photo of the finished carvings from the participants.  Next year, I think I’ll prepare just a single aspect of caricature carving as the two hour period we were given wasn’t nearly enough to finish even the roughed-out version that I  had provided.  Plus, the number of rough-outs that I could complete limited the class size and I know that there were several others that would have joined the class had I enough rough-outs.

Here are a few photos of some of the carvings that were displayed at the show.  Just click on the photo to make it bigger.  If you can make it to this show next year, you won’t be disappointed.

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