It’s great to be back to the tributesinwood blog and I’ll start by saying that I got caught up in having a lot of fun enjoying my family and carving…and didn’t get around to telling you about it!
So, you’ll forgive me a bit if I take you back to a few Christmas carvings that I created for the grandchildren. Now, the little ones are really little and have no idea whatsoever as to what I just helped them unwrap and why some of the stuff gets parked on a shelf…but someday they’ll get it.
I really enjoyed making a number of Christmas Bell caricature carvings that ended up on my daughter’s and a few friends’ trees this year. It’s a real simple idea that starts off with some roughing out on a lathe…although you can do the roughing out by hand as well…the lathe just makes it easier to keep everything concentric.
Here’s a photo of the end result but you should take a few minutes and check out the Youtube video that I made to describe the steps in making this little ornament. Just search my name, Mark Sheridan, or the True North Caricature Carvers, which is something that I’ll describe to you in the next post. You’ll find four videos but two will be specific to this carving…one for carving the ornament and the other for painting the ornament. Watch them, give the carving a try and don’t be too critical of my video recording attempts. I’ll get better with time!
The second Christmas carving for the little family was this elf, below. The head of the elf was inspired by a drawing that I saw somewhere on the web. I sure would like to credit the artist…if I ever find the photo again that I looked at, I certainly will. The rest of the carving was just based on what I thought that Al, the Procurement Elf, would have planned for Ada, Henry and their parents.
I decided to paint the base in a way that it looks like it’s been around for a lot of years and has seen its share of use.
The wooden base started off with several thin, wash coats of ‘red barn’ which gives it a nice reddish-brown look. I hand painted the lettering with a fine brush and tried to keep the paint a bit translucent to make it look like the letters were fading. Later, I added small dry-brush scuffs of ‘burnt sienna’ and ‘raw sienna’ to show some dirt and wear everywhere on the box, including over top of the lettering. I mixed up a light beige colour using white, brown and a tiny bit of yellow and dry brushed some broader areas to make it look like the paint had worn down completely to the wooden structure.
For the two cylinders that support the horse, I painted them black with a few dry brush marks of ‘burnt sienna’ and then added some touches of silver to make it look like bare metal beneath. I added some aluminum metal tape with an adhesive backing to the bottom hinged cylinder ( simulated hinged! ) and then coated the two cylinders in a light wash of ‘Payne’s grey.’ This grey colour when put on lightly really makes things look like the real McCoy, especially when applied over the metal tape.
The coin return was painted a dark grey, scuffed up with some ‘burnt sienna’ and dabbed with a few spots of silver. Once again, a very light coat of ‘Payne’s grey’ was used over everything.
All of the above got a coat of satin finish urethane. I still use the method that Lynn Doughty has demonstrated and wipe the urethane off before it dries with a single ply kitchen wipe. This gives the urethane a nice dull look rather than too shiny an appearance. The trick is to find a lower quality paper towel that isn’t too “fluffy” as all of that extra fluff that you pay for in a softer towel will come off on the drying urethane and make a mess.
The pony was painted predominantly with ‘raw sienna’ and I lightened and darkened it with browns and yellows. I used washes throughout this process to build light coats on top of dark coats. The effect lightened the pony’s coat on the top and darkened it toward the bottom and in recesses beneath the head, legs, etc. I added a bit of off white for markings and just above the hooves and for the teeth. Again, I showed a number of worn areas by dry brushing “scuffs”of beige here and there. The mane and tail are black with some dark grey highlights. Some final dry brushing with a light beige finished it up. Once dry, I added some satin finish urethane but did not wipe it off this time so that it would have more of a shiny finish as you’d expect from a riding horse.
As is the case with most of my carvings, my ideas change as I go along. It seems that once I see a portion of the carving, a new idea or, at least, a modification of the original idea comes along that appears to be a better fit for the final project. I’m not sure if that’s a common approach or not but it’s certainly what happens in my brain.
With this one, although I started off thinking that a grown woman would be a comical candidate for riding the mechanical horse, I ended up with the idea that a little girl in cowboy dress would be nicer. So, because I had started some time ago on a head and face of a woman, I cheated a bit and made that original head more girl-like. Basically, I kept the big eyes but rounded the face considerably for some “baby-fat”, reduced the depth of the eye sockets, shortened the chin and changed the hairdo from something fairly stylish to something with pigtails.
The pigtails were done separately, again to ensure that the grain of the wood was running along the length of the pigtail for strength. Of course, a couple of shallow ( maybe 3/16″ ) holes were drilled in to the head where the pigtails would eventually be glued.
The pigtails started out as worm-like shapes being cylindrical with some random waves or curves. My intent was to make the pigtails look like they were jostling around from the motion of the horse ride but not necessarily pinned back like she was riding a real horse in the breeze.
Once the cylindrical shapes were carved, I drew in a herring-bone pattern on the front and back and alternated between carving and using a wood-burning tool to create the valleys. I’m not sure if I have some kind of spatial orientation problem, but was it ever hard for me to imagine how one side of the herring-bone pigtail would mate with and look like the other side. I ended up carving the one side and then struggling with matching the pigtail pattern with pencil before carving the other side. I don’t know why this was so hard to picture…I guess I shouldn’t have always left it to Peggy to make our daughter Emily’s pigtails when she was a little girl.
A bit of wood burning followed to accent the hair on the head and in the pony tail. An interesting thing that I noted, as I went along, was that I had originally carved the hair on the head very flat and when I drilled the hole for the pigtails and attached them, they just didn’t look right. So, I went back and dished out the head hair around the pigtail so that it looked like the hair was being pulled up from the head rather than looking like it was a sharp 90 degree angle from the head to the root of the pigtail. That looked better. Oh, I also added a band-aid to her forehead by carving out some relief shallow relief from her forehead. I figured that her trick riding skills didn’t come without some failed practice sessions.
Painting was done in my normal fashion using acrylic paints followed with a light coat of satin finish urethane ( polyurethane ). White eyes and teeth were first added followed by flesh tones in several washes ( thin coats ). I reddened the flesh colour for around her cheeks, her forehead, tops of the ears and end of her nose as a bit of a sunburn. I used Payne’s grey as a very, very light wash under her eyes, beneath her chin and inside of her ears. Lynn Doughty suggests this method on his cowboys to indicate shadow and a bit of a five-o’clock shadow. I chanced using it on the little girl’s face to indicate shadow and it worked well as long as I kept it very thin and light. I used a combination of burnt sienna and orange in washes for her hair and eyebrows and then used basically the same colour for her freckles. I chanced using a very, very light wash of orange over her cheeks and forehead to indicate a little girl’s freckled complexion and it worked out pretty well.
And, then, the best part…I dug into one of my several boxes of broken things that I keep even though I know that I’ll never use them…and pulled out a broken guitar “b” or, second string, and made a set of braces for her beautifully forming teeth! Ha!
I won’t go into a lot of detail in regard to painting, but I’ll post some photos of the various sections of the carving showing the painting.
I use latex acrylic paints that you can buy at any store that sells art related items. I probably have something like thirty or forty small bottles of a variety of colours and spend some amount of time mixing various colours together to get the tone that I’m looking to achieve for a particular part of the carving.
In general, I try my best to apply “washes”, or very thin coats of paint. Too thick an application, like directly from the container, would hide all of the detail work that you carve and certainly obliterate the wood burning. A good example in this carving is the blue jeans that the little gal is wearing. You’ll notice that the several wash coats that I applied provided ample colour but never was thick enough to hide the stitching that I had burned with the wood burning tool.
Where there are wrinkles in clothing, I add a bit of a darker tone in the valleys of the folds and wrinkles to provide a darker contrast. This makes the carving look more realistic ( take a look at the folds in your own clothing and you’ll see the darker tones ) and it also makes the wrinkles and folds look deeper. I follow Lynn Doughty’s advice and keep away from using black to darken colours…I always use a darker tone of the same colour and avoid greying-out that colour with black.
An additional of a small amount of white to shoulders, elbows and knees make things look nicely worn. In this case, I wanted her clothes to look pretty crisp so I just added the whitening to the jeans wherever you’d expect her designer jeans to be worn! Once everything is painted, I added some light dusting / dry brushing using a beige to add another dimension to the painting. A light, clear, satin urethane was used as a final finish.
Just click on the photos, below, to expand them.
So, she’s complete! It was a fun carving project and I appreciate you following along with me.
I used a wood burning tool with a razor sharp tip to add in some detail prior to painting.
The burning process is a really good way to get nice crisp lines and boundaries in your painting. As an example, I basically cross-hatched in some very fine squares to represent beading on this gal’s leather vest. Later, you’ll see how this cross-hatching basically made small valleys or boundaries for the painting process. Now just a drop of paint in any one of the tiny squares will flow no further than the boundary that was burned, making a nice crisp final painted pattern.
Similarly, a burned line around the belt loops, hat design and boot designs prevents the paint from bleeding from one section of the carving into the next.
Finally, the burning tool is great for adding detail lines representing seams and stitching. If you keep the paint thinned, the dark marking will show through the colour nicely for some added interest. With some very minimal burning, you can really enhance the painting process.
As usual, just click on the photo, below, to make it larger for viewing.
Now that I had decided on the fiddle rather than the original banjo idea, I had to reconfigure what I needed to do with the arm position. Using a combination of the anatomical sketch of the girl that I started with for determining overall size of the limbs as well as the clay model that was still pliable, I sketched out a couple of arms and cut them out on the bandsaw. I made sure to add in some extra material as I wasn’t quite sure about the hand position…plus, I was thinking about adding a “frill” along the arms ( which I later decided against ).
I used the same method to attach the arm to the shoulder as I did with attaching the crown of the hat to the brim. I drilled a shallow 3/16″ hole in the arm and glued a dowel in place. I drilled the mating hole in the shoulder, marked the position of the arm that I wanted against the shoulder and then with some graphite “colouring” and mating of the two surfaces by cutting away the transferred “high spots”, starting mating the two surfaces to a tight fit. Following that, it was a matter a temporarily attaching the arm and fiddle with a hot-glue gun and working away at the arm and hand positions and detail.
The arm holding the bow was carved in the exact same way. Note the little pencil marking on the arm and shoulder. This helps you make sure that you’re positioning the arm in the same place every time you remove it to carve away a bit of the transferred graphite. This is a method that I learned from watching Lynn Doughty’s videos…check them out on Youtube and you’ll get a better sense of how this works.
Following this, I once again hot-glue gunned the parts in place to double check for positioning and fit. A bamboo meat skewer was my make-shift fiddle bow at this point. Next step will be some more detailing. I’m pretty happy with the way it’s looking at this point.
Now that I had the cowgirl form smoothed out with some “rough” detail, it was time to add in some finer detail.
I started with the boots and added in the heel and sole followed by some leather pattern at the front and top and a boot strap. I also added a more pronounced “v” shape to the front and back of the very top of the boot. None of this was done from my memory of what a cowboy boot looks like. I went to the computer and searched for “women’s cowboy boots” and selected one to model my carving after. Remember, also, to get the bottom of the sole right. Pick up one of your dress shoes from the closet and take a look at the bottom noting how the instep of the shoe curves differently from the outer side of the shoe. Once you carve the boot in a similar fashion, etch that onto a piece of paper and transfer the identical but opposite profile to the other boot. Now you have two boots of the same size!
My daughter, Emily, came up with the idea of some frill ( cowgirls surely use a better word than frill ) on the vest. So I marked where the frill would go, cut in a line to indicate the border between the frill and the vest and then used a gouge to make some random vertical cuts in the frill section to make it look like it was wavy rather than just hanging straight down. I could have used a v-tool, I suppose, to cut the individual frill but I used a knife instead. I eventually followed up with some undercutting with a gouge and will probably do a bit more later on to make the fringe look nice and thin. I think that it ended up looking kinda nice.
From there, I used a combination of some shallow knife cuts and a light use of a burning tool to add pockets, seams, folds in the scarf, belt line, etc.
At this point, I started to think about the exact placement of the arms. Of course, I had the clay model to refer to but I had to get the exact measurements for the arms to fit and look right against the banjo that she’d be playing.
So, I cut out a paper banjo to hold up to her…and, I hated it. No matter how I placed that darn banjo…I hated the way it blocked out her waist and the detail of the vest and frills. I had to go for something smaller…a ukulele! I cut out a paper ukulele…and, I hated it too. Whew! A fiddle then…and, bingo, the fiddle looked great to me and it only blocked out a bit of her scarf and shoulder.
So, back to the computer search to find a fiddle ( by the way, I learned that a violin and a fiddle are the exact same instrument ). I printed out the fiddle this time to the exact size that I wanted and cut that out as a pattern to bring to the bandsaw. After a bit a carving, it was ready to place under her chin temporarily with a dab from a hot glue gun.
I’ll note a couple of things. Because the fiddle will be eventually permanently glued to the head and arm as well as the hand, it represents a “structural” part of the carving to me…it has to be strong. For this reason, I made it from maple rather than basswood. Probably overkill, but that’s me. Also, note that I replaced a section of her right foot. I just didn’t like the way it originally turned out so I carefully cut out a chunk and even more carefully fitted and glued another piece of basswood in as a tight fit. Some carvers don’t like that sort of thing and view it as a bit of cheating some how. I think that it’s the only reasonable thing to do…if you don’t like something, why let the whole carving suffer when you can just make a quick change that you’ll never see?
Next step…create that arm holding the fiddle. I’m having fun with this carving.
Once I had the body cut out on the bandsaw, I began the roughing-in process. This is most often done with a knife but I also like to use a Foredom tool with a Typhoon bit to remove material quickly. A Foredom tool is like a Dremel tool with a flexible hand-held shaft and a Typhoon bit is a cutter that has many small carbide “pins” that cut away the wood. It leaves a very rough finish that you then follow-up with a knife to smooth things out and generally get the shape that you’re after. If you use this method, just be very careful as the cutter can do a lot of damage to you if it’s contacted. I wear gloves, heavy sleeves, a leather apron, safety glasses and a dust mask when roughing-in a carving in this fashion. You should too.
Note a couple of things in these photos…first, I always pencil in the centre lines and carve from one to the other…this ensures that I end up with rounded limbs and avoid just rounding off the square edges and thinking that it’s “round enough.” You’ll often see caricature carvings where arms, legs and bodies still have the squareness of the original bandsaw cut only because the carver didn’t picture the full centre lines and carve/round out between them. Second, as you can see in the third photo, I also keep pencilling in the joint markers ( in this case, ankle, knee and hip ) so that I maintain the right limb section lengths.
Because I wanted the head to rest at a bit of an angle and tight to the shoulders, I used the same graphite method of fitting as I did with the hat brim/crown and head carving. In this case, I knew that I didn’t have the shoulders in the final carved state but that I could go ahead and approximate what the shoulder would look like. By alternating between putting graphite on the shoulder and transferring those graphite marks to the underside of the hair ( and removing those marks ) and then doing the opposite…graphite on the underside of the hair and removing those marks left on the shoulder, I eventually got the head situated down and to the side. You’ll also see that I started to carve in a knot and scarf that would help hide the neck…and look nice, too.
With some carving, now with a knife and several sized gouges, I took away all of the roughened wood from the Typhoon process and started to get the shape that I wanted in the sculpture. In doing this, I took some measurements from the clay model that I had made as well as the paper patterns that I had developed and used those to make things fairly true to my original idea of sizings and shape. I didn’t try to absolutely replicate the clay model, but I did use it to refer to the general body position that I wanted.
Remember when you’re at this stage of your carving, be mindful of the direction of the grain and keep your tools extremely sharp so that your cuts will be accurate and crisp. Because the sculpture is becoming curved in different directions, the grain can fool you and all of a sudden you are cutting against the grain and wood is beginning to split rather than cleanly cut away.
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!…
I’ve been busy with a million things but did get some time to start a caricature of a boyfriend for our little gal. She’s been patiently waiting and it seems that Valentine’s Day might be the right occasion for a formal introduction.
This little fellow will be a bit geeky when finished, so I started with a facial expression that was a bit distant and a wide-open mouth singing a love song at the top of his lungs. I stuck that head in what became a clay figure that would accommodate an old fashioned accordion. I thought an accordion would be the least likely instrument that even a love-struck boy would bring with him on a date…
There’s not a lot of detail in the clay figure, just enough to give me a sense of the right posture and a bit of an image to trace onto paper and bring to the bandsaw. After some bandsaw work and some roughing-in with a Foredom and knife, I set the two figures together to get a sense of positioning.
I’ll add shoes later, but needed this rough image to determine the orientation of the hands and the space that I needed to fit the accordion. After adding a bit of detail…including a bow-tie, of course…here’s how it’s coming along.