Carve a Christmas Elf with Justin Gordon – Part IComments (0)
This three-part How-To carving series, just in time for the holidays, will guide you through the steps to Carve a Christmas Elf with accomplished multimedia carver and sculptor Justin Gordon of Groveland, Mass.
Part I will focus on blocking out the carving on the wood, Part II will detail instructions for the carving process, and Part III will show the process for painting and finishing your elf.
PART 1: BLOCKING – 5 Steps to Prepare for Carving Your Elf
“When I find a nice picture and say ‘that would make a great carving,’ I save the picture,” Justin said. Someday is now, and the first step in this carving series is making the picture into a usable pattern.
Justin’s reference picture is shown here – a cute Santa’s helper with a long striped cap, festive tunic with jingle bells, pointy elf boots and gnome-ish features.
In the case of the elf, the feet in the reference picture are angled. The feet have to have the same plane in order to have a flat bottom for the carved piece. The rest of the picture can almost remain the same, but some minor changes can be made to accommodate your carving as you wish. “Ultimately, you just want a good front view,” Gordon said.
Most of Justin’s carvings have vertical grain. “The only reason I would use a horizontal grain direction is for a relief carving or if I needed structural strength in the carving that required a horizontal grain,” Justin shared.
In addition to the vertical grain, Justin always puts the grain curve convex to the face side, as seen in the photo at right, with the “flat bottom sketch” attached to a4x6x12 piece of basswood.
“This allows me to have nice grain lines going through the face of a figure. Uniform grain lines help outline features on the face like the nose, cheeks or forehead. Concentric grain circles on those parts look great when it works out that way.”
Justin notes it’s also important to NOT undercut or cut behind any detail at this stage. The rounding off part comes later – this step is to just locate the details, not finish them. “If you finish them with an undercut or back-cut too soon, then you could lose materials behind the detail that you may wish you had kept when everything comes together where it’s supposed to be. For instance, you might realize that the arm or hand should be back a little more but because you back-cut it, you can’t move it in a little closer.”
In the photo at right, Justin illustrates how the elf’s left puffy shoulder ring, arm, hat brim and ear have been cut straight in from the side and straight in from the front, back or top to block out each detail. “This whole process is like having a rough-cut machine but a bit slower,” Justin said.
The second photo, at left, also shows how the elf’s right arm, hand, puffy shoulder, ear, nose, hat brim and pointed hem of his tunic have been cut in from the side to block out each feature.
Justin offers this reminder: “Only go as deep as the lines dictate, because in each corner of the blocking you are reaching the depths where the actual detail’s surfaces will be. You don’t want any tools marks where your finished surfaces will be.”
It’s important to understand the placement and location of your details in carving or sculpting. By following Justin’s guidelines, you can avoid having features displaced or the wrong size when you get to the final location, size and details of a feature.
This final image, at right, shows the carving all blocked out. Justin said he rounded out the beard and face a little to show what the rounding does after all the blocking is done. We will get into more detail about that in Part II of this How-To carving series.
“The curves are not that great when blocking so these few tools do quite well,” Justin stated.
Sneak peek of Part II….
About Justin Gordon
Justin Gordon carves and sculpts in eight mediums – wood, sand, wax, snow, ice, stone, clay and foam. He concentrates on commissioned fine woodcarved figures, architectural carving, restorations, and custom clock cases. He teaches carving classes in Groveland and Randolph, Mass. See more of Justin’s work on his web site: www.ElwinDesigns.com and in our recent blog on his sand sculptures.
Stop in your local Woodcraft store, and let them help you with the tools, supplies and knowledge you need to start your next carving project.
Watch for Part II of this series to see our elf come to life when Justin adds more details in the carving, and then Part III for the painting session! We hope you’ll be inspired!
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