Wood Carvings by Mark Sheridan

A Bit of Sculpting

I’ve mentioned in the past that I have a group of people who meet monthly on the Zoom conferencing platform to talk about caricature carving. We call ourselves the True North Caricature Carvers ( TNCC ) …our farthest northern member is in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada and our least farthest northern member is in Brisbane, Australia! So, don’t read too much into the name…all are welcome!

Since I’m planning on using this little project to emphasize some of the things that we’ve been talking about, I’ve decided to do a clay sculpture as part of this project. I guess that you could argue that this particular carving is a bit static in it’s pose and wouldn’t necessarily need a starter-sculpture, but the sculpting is helpful when you could benefit from having a three dimensional model to carve against.

I started off by twining a couple pieces of copper wire together with my battery operated drill to make up the spine and legs as these two elements will need the greatest strength. I don’t know why but it’s somehow fun. The arms are simply one strand of copper. I used an anatomy guide that I found on Pinterest for the dimensions and soldered the copper in a couple of places so that the model would be nice and rigid. The copper came from a scrap box where I had some household copper wire leftover from a project…so, I didn’t have to cash a bond to afford the current price of copper wire!

I use a latex/water based clay to model the carving. The pro’s are i) it’s inexpensive, ii) easy to use, and iii) you can use it with your bare hands and clean everything up with water. The biggest con is that it dries, shrinks and cracks to pieces. The way around it is to drape some wet paper towels over the sculpture at the end of the day and cover it under a plastic grocery bag to retain the moisture/humidity. Once you’ve used it to make your wood carving, you can just let it dry and break away the clay and keep the copper form for your next similar pose.

The value of the clay sculpture is captured somewhat in these next photos. The first photo looked a bit static to me, so by just grabbing the clay and twisting and bending it a bit, it sort of came to life.

Then it was just a matter of smoothing things out with a wet paint brush and adding some detail. I didn’t go overboard with the detail but added just enough to give me an idea of what I wanted to do with the carving.

By taking a few photos of the front and side views and, after a few attempts, I was able to print these off at the size that matched the clay sculpture. I cut these paper templates out and transferred them to the basswood block that I would use and cut everything out on the bandsaw. The things that I liked least about the clay sculpture were the boots so I intentionally made them a little bigger on the paper template so I’d have more wood to play with. Also, note that I could have left the arms on as they’ll be well supported eventually by the banjo but I decided to attach them later to, again, give the TNCC another element of carving to talk about.

And that’s where I am with this project and that’s where we’ll leave things for now!…

Pickin’ and a-grinnin’

Well, we’ve been pretty busy with a whole lot of things…but the best pastime has been visiting and watching my little granddaughter grow. The less interesting items have included finally getting around to clearing out our basement of thirty years of collection and putting a fresh coat of paint on the house interior.

But, now it’s time to get to some caricature carving…so, here goes…

Some time ago, I carved a little female caricature head and have spent a fair amount of time just looking at her and trying to guess what she might become. It turns out…she’s a cowgirl and she can play a banjo!…or, at least, she’s going to learn real soon.

Lynn Doughty has a real neat way of adding a hat and I used that method once again. It starts with basically cutting away the head where the brim of the hat will rest, drawing in the side and plan view of the hat and then taking that pattern to the bandsaw.

What follows is shaping the brim and crown and using a piece of graphite to etch one side of two mating surfaces such that an impression is left of all of the “high spots” that need to be removed in order to get a tight mating surface. The dowel that you see is handy in that the two surfaces are always placed back in the exact same spot as you continue to transfer the graphite high spots to the adjoining surface. Without using the dowel, you’d be chasing the high spots all over the place as the two mating surfaces keep landing in different spots. It’s a quick and brilliant method of getting a nice tight seam, and, in the case of hats, leaves the impression that the hat surrounds the head rather than just sits on top of it. Thanks Lynn!

I start with the hat brim. After I’ve cut out the plan view, I tack the pieces back together with a bit of carpenter glue so that I can cut the side view with a flat surface to run along the bandsaw table. Once it’s cut out and I break away the previously tacked pieces of wood, I begin gouging out the top of the brim and I also shape the underside. Notice that the grain of the wood is running front to back.

Using the “graphite transfer” and locating-dowel-method, I slowly carve away the high spots until the head sits nicely within the brim of the hat. The crown is cut with the grain preferably running top to bottom ( I find it easier to carve this way. ) With the dowel now drilled up through the brim and into the crown…the head, brim and crown are all aligned and will stay that way while you graphite the top of the brim and let the high spots transfer to the bottom of the crown. Now, just cut away the high spots marked on the bottom of the crown until you are happy with the fit.

Add in a little band around the crown, use a nail brush and hand soap to scrub away all the left over graphite and then sit this part of our little gal aside while we consider the body posture.

A Bit of Catch-Up!

I haven’t been very faithful to my blog, have I? I’m not sure that I have a lot of great excuses for my absence, but I have been busy with a few projects that I can share with you.

One of the things I’ve been busy with is starting up a Caricature Carving group here in Ontario and working on a “Virtual Show” week with the Ontario Wood Carvers Association. By the way, if you’d like to learn more about how you can join our Caricature Carving group…the True North Caricature Carvers…and be part of our monthly Zoom calls, contact me at

Most of these projects were done around the Christmas period as gifts and just fun items to quickly carve.

Pinnocchio is actually about thirty years old and was a gift for Paul. He basically wore it out and it spent many years in a “fix-it someday” drawer! Well, Pin got refurbished this past Christmas and Paul was just as thrilled as the first time around.

A friend has been feeding me with his off-cut pieces of wood from his fine woodworking projects and I’ve been turning them into Christmas tree ornaments. It’s been pretty straight-forward…gluing various wood segments up, putting it on a lathe and then very gently turn these down to as thin a profile as I can manage without breaking everything in the process!

Maple, Walnut and spalted Birch make up the pieces. They were stained with Danish oil and the brass and gold pieces are acrylic paint. Everything got a light coat of satin urethane.

Lighthouse Bark Carving

I’ve done a few Cottonwood Bark carvings that have incorporated lighthouses and I think that this may be my fourth or fifth. On this one, I decided to use some Cottonwood Bark from the west coast that was considerably thicker than I’ve used in the past. It turned out that the bark was quite a bit harder than the one’s that I’ve carved so far, so I made good use of a Foredom tool with a Typhoon ( carbide ) bit for the initial roughing out.

Does this look like a lighthouse to you? You have to squint a bit…

The Typhoon bit is a very aggressive bit made up of multiple carbide “pins” that remove material in a hurry. If you ever try one out, be sure to protect your body, eyes, hands and arms with protective gear. I started with the hexagonal outline of the lighthouse and then followed up with a very shallow profile gouge to smooth things out. The horizontal planks were made with a combination of knives, gouges and a nail punch to imprint some “nail holes” where needed in the resulting siding. I left some wood to make a bit of a railing and then marked out and hollowed out the lighthouse lens and added some shingles to the lens house.

Then I just got carried away and forgot to take some more pictures along the way…sorry about that! I added some entrances and alcoves, some additional windows and a combination of wood columns and various size bricks and blocks that kept the structure solid on the rocks on which it was built. When you do this, just have fun with it.

I don’t try to make things too straight as the various odd angles just add to the interest in the wood. Keep your tools very sharp and try to slice the bark rather than use a blunt pushing action that could tear or break the bark. If you do break a bit of bark away, either carve around the void or just glue the piece back in place with some white carpenter’s glue.

I hollowed out the back of the carving at the window locations so that you could see through the windows. Once the carving is hanging on the wall, the hollowing just leaves a nice impression rather than being really light and open. For the first time, I epoxied an old lamp bulb inside the lens house. Nope…it doesn’t light!

Anywhere that was carved and where the bark was removed, I applied a single coat of clear satin polyurethane with a small brush. This coating automatically adds a nice softly darkened colour to the wood. I prefer to keep the polyurethane away from the uncut, “raw” bark as it darkens it a bit too much for my liking.

And here’s how it turned out…You should be able to click on the lower grouping of pictures to make them appear bigger.

A New Addition – Ada’s Carving

Not just a new addition to my carving website…but, most importantly a new addition to my family!

My daughter, Emily, gave birth to Ada on July 1st…Canada Day. With the quarantine going on, we’ve been extra careful so that we would be able to manage to safely get in a few visits over the summer. This weekend, we had a terrific visit with the new Mom and Dad where Ada received her first carving from her Papa. I’m banking on her growing up to really like carvings!

I wanted to do something from a Canada Day / Ada’s Birthday standpoint so I carved another rendition of my little 150th Canada Day beaver that you might recall.

I started with the body roughed out on the bandsaw followed by a Typhoon bit on a Foredom tool. The combination makes pretty quick work of the roughing out process. The tail was added separately so that the grain of the wood aligned along the length of the tail for strength and all of the detail followed with a knife, a few small gouges and a wood burning tool.

This little fellow’s handiwork had to be a cut log fashioned into a sign from Papa to Ada and just had to include a maple leaf. I used the centre section from a piece of Butternut that somewhat already looked like a log. The maple leaf that I added is made from Basswood. The wording was pretty easy…July 1st was definitely the best Canada Day ever for all of us. A bit of carving followed with some wood burning and acrylic paints doing the trick.

The base was made on a lathe from two pieces of Bloodwood ( beautiful grain ) laminated together and hollowed out like a bowl to accommodate a music box. I used water based Carpenter’s Glue to glue down some sawdust and wood chips on the top of the base where the little beaver had been doing his carving.

” You Are My Sunshine ” is a song that I sang often to Emily as a baby and as Ada has already heard repeatedly in our few visits together! I didn’t show it in the photo below, but opposite the side where I placed the music box, I drilled a number of holes in the bottom plate so that the sound could resonate somewhat like a guitar.

The first of Papa’s finished gifts for my Ada…

Some Fun With Lighting

I just needed to post one more picture! I used some lighting behind the carving to make it look like the lamp is on. Combined with a bit of vignetting in the Mac Photo program, it looks pretty convincing.

Might be Finished

I’m never quite sure when I’m finished a carving. I can always think of something extra to add and, in this case, it’s probably going to be a little dog. But for now, I’m going to call this one complete enough to put into a cabinet and move on to some serious gardening.

A friend gave me a piece of bloodwood. I’d never heard of it either. It’s a South American wood, very red in colour and when it’s cut on a power saw it has a very nice odour…something like coconut butter. I used a dust mask but could still smell the fragrance of the wood. Oh…and it’s hard as nails…I would imagine if you were making something substantial from bloodwood, you’d need to buy some new saw blades and router bits after the project was complete.

I used the bloodwood for the base and carved/chiseled/ground/dynamited a few lines in it to represent cobblestone. I then added a little flower bed at the back made from basswood ( which felt like carving butter after carving the bloodwood ) and included a brickwork wall. I added a couple of evergreen bushes and it all ended up looking like a nice backdrop.

I drilled a hole through the lamp post and inserted a brass tube. A couple of screws and washers on the end covered in epoxy made nice little end spindles. Of course, a couple of little blue birds needed to be added to this bar. I also used some light metal sheet to make straps at the end of the accordion.

Before everything was epoxied in place, everything got a light coat of satin urethane.

So, now it’s on to the gardening!

A Straw Hat and Some Painting

Well, I continue to dabble with a number of projects around the house during our “social distancing” period. I’m not sure if it’s the amount of news we’re watching that consumes our days or just the fact that I have too many projects to play with…but, it seems that I’m not focusing on one thing to any great degree lately.

I did do a bit of carving and painting on my romantic couple scene, though. I decided on a wooden bench with cement support legs and cut that out on the bandsaw as one piece. With a very fine v-tool, I engraved grain marks into the wooden slacks of the bench that will look pretty nice once I paint the bench. I probably did a lot of work for nothing as the two figures will be sitting on much of the grain that I carved…but, I’ll know it’s there! Here’s a photo of just the centre section engraved so that you can see how I went about progressing with it.

I carved and painted the little guy to look a bit ragged but not too ragged. The girl on the other hand was finished with sandpaper to make her smooth and delicate and then painted with bright, clean colours. The little guy has been left with all of the angularity of the knife cuts with wrinkles cut into place…and then painted with a bit of off-colour spots and dry brushed highlighting to make him look just a wee bit dusty.

But the real fun was when I decided he needed a hat. So I made a nice straw hat for him in my usual way with the crown and brim as separate pieces for strength ( thanks to Lynn Doughty for this tip ). After carving it up and glueing the two pieces together, I used a wood burning tool to make a spiral wound weave and then painted the whole thing with a combination of whites, beiges and a honeycomb colour. Of course, the top of the little guy’s head needed to be lopped off to accommodate the hat. Looks pretty nice, I think…

So, here’s how everything is looking so far…

Take care of yourselves, everyone…regardless from where you’re reading this post, we’re all in this together.

Lord Stanley

Peggy has two brothers who happen to be Maple Leaf fans. Although I’d like to apologize to you for this, that would only make them mad and both are bigger than I am.

To keep them calm in the midst of how this year’s hockey season ended (they both firmly believed that the Leafs would go all the way this year ), I’ve made them both a little carving.

I used a lathe to initially rough out the cup. I tried initially to carve the concentric circles/levels of the cup…but it’s just too hard to get it right. I left the centre portion that would house the face and then just carved away three of the four corners. The last corner left, of course, was there for the face and particularly the nose.

I did carve over the portions that were turned down on the lathe just because I like to see the angular knife marks in a sculpture. Following the carving, I painted the face and the silver portions of the cup, blending the two together. After sealing everything with satin urethane, I applied a bit of antiquing stain just to bring out some of the detail that would have been hidden by the silver paint.

Lots of Projects

Thank goodness that I have lots of projects to keep me occupied. Like most communities around the world, those of us who can stay indoors are doing just that. We’ve been out to walk Rosie and pick up a few groceries but other than that, we’ve been trying to help out the situation by staying pretty much to ourselves. I hope that all is well at your homes.

I’ve done a bit of lathe turning since my last post on Some friends that I’ve been carving with have been giving me little scraps of some nice exotic woods that are just big enough to turn into Christmas tree ornaments. I’ve been enjoying that. The pickle ornament isn’t exactly exotic wood…but, certainly out of the ordinary!

I’ve also been making some progress on my little romantic scene. A street lamp and an accordion has been added to the scene along with a set of oversized shoes for the romantic fella.

My intent all along was to try to make the gal very delicate and her fella kinda rough around the edges. So, I spent a lot of time getting her hands and feet carved quite dainty and then I sanded and smoothed away all of the knife marks. This is the first time that I’ve intentionally sanded away the gouge and knife marks on one of my caricatures. I’m hoping that the contrast between her smooth features and the rougher features of the fella come across well in the final carving.

Here’s how she’s looking all painted up. The painting was pretty straight forward although I added just a bit of silver to her blouse to make it sparkle a bit and I used alternating washes of flesh colour and yellow ochre on her legs to make it look like she’s wearing nylons.

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