Carving the Green Man with Micheal Zelonis-Part 1

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Green Man

Relief carving, otherwise characterized as carving pictures in wood, can be both relaxing and rewarding, yielding some of the most extravagant and beautiful portraits, even for a first time carver.  With a little investigation, planning, time, patience and some sharp pfeil carving tools, you can be on your way to creating works of art that will impress not only yourself, but everyone else too! In this first part Green Man carving blog, we’ll take you through the first 4 of 8 stages in relief carving.  First, we begin with these carving steps, followed by introducing you to a novice, yet very talented carver:

  1. Create a pattern, drawn on paper.
  2. Prepare with a clamping method or carving jig, a single piece of wood.
  3. Transfer the pattern to the wood, using spray adhesive.
  4. Remove wood around the objects that comprise the pattern and begin some modeling with depth contouring.

Through our social media channels, we have come across a carving enthusiast, Micheal Zelonis.  Micheal has been an artist all of his life, working in oils, black and colored pencils, inks and   being a professional tattoo artist for 10 years.  Micheal said, “Wood carving is new to me, a true gift from God as I have only done one other carving before this Green Man project with hand tools.  I have always found the image of the Green Man fascinating, though until now I have never gotten around to creating one myself.”

Green Man

This piece was inspired by Chris Pyes‘ video lessons on his Woodcarving Workshops’ site, where the master carver gives step by step, in-depth instructions, to create a piece similar in nature to this one. You may also benefit from Chris Pye’s Woodcarving Course & Reference Manual, found at Woodcraft, Item #413097.  We’ll show you how Micheal began this project, the end result and everything else in between.

For this Green Man carving project, Micheal choseCatalpa wood because he learned from other carvers that it was a pleasure to carve with.  He stated, “I found this to be true, however one only needs to keep carving tools sharp and maintain awareness of grain direction changes to keep the work going smoothly.”  The drawing dimensions for this project are 11.5″ x 15″ and the wood is 3.75″ thick.

Micheal photocopied the original drawing (left), and then using photo mounting spray adhesive, he affixed the copy to the smooth sanded surface of the Catalpa wood, applying pressure from the center out to the edges then let the glue set for a few hours.  Once dry he used the bandsaw to cut off the excess wood from around the print, leaving only four corner pieces for clamping the work to his table.  As you will see, these were removed shortly thereafter when he figured out a better way to hold the piece stable by making a jig out of scrap wood.

Green Man

Next, Micheal drilled relief holes around the edges of the outline to allow easier removal of wood as he carved the outer boarder, (see above photo right, left side and bottom) and began to remove wood from the lower right side of the image with a #3, 1″ gouge, a #9, 1/2″ gouge, and a #11, 1/4″ veiner for the tight spots.

In this set of pictures, he begins shaping the outer edges of the piece.  Micheal explained, “I put together the vertical jig from scrap wood, using 2″ x 10″ yellow pine for the vertical piece, and 2″ x 8″ white pine for the horizontal pieces that bolt to the table.  I used 6″ bolts to secure the jig to the table, and 3.5″ wood screws to put the jig together.”

 In shaping the outside edges Micheal used a #3, 1″ gouge, #9, 1/2″ gouge and a #11 1/4″ veiner to get into the deep indentations of the leaves.  As he begins to learn this art form, he came up against some unforeseen problems. The bar clamps used here, held well when carving straight down, but shifted constantly when he carved horizontally.  Micheal said, “I did not realize at this time how to secure the work with lag bolts.  I had looked at some carvers screws, but their cost was beyond my limited budget!  I also ran up against some difficulty when carving into the deep indentations of the leaves.  I could not, after a certain depth, keep the gouge at the proper angle to cut into the wood anymore.  This frustrated me, so I did the best I could and eventually figured out that as I carved the leaves to depth, I could get into the recesses and finish the cuts I needed to make to get the proper consistent radius for each indentation.  These problems cost me a lot of time, but they turned out to be lessons well learned.”

Green Man

After some hours over three days the outer edge is cut to contour and ready for carving on the surface plane.  Using a highlighter Micheal marked out the highest points on the carving to keep his depth bearings in mind.  With the piece now mounted on the horizontal jig, again made of scrap wood, 6″ bolts and 3.5″ wood screws, he is ready to carve.  Beginning with a #9, 1″ gouge he cut from the highest point edges to the lowest, removing large chips with deep cuts, working toward the levels indicated by pencil markings on the side of the work.  Starting on the left side, keeping the right untouched so that a divider can be used to transfer the detail back when the depth desired has been attained.

 After transferring the detail from the right side to the left cut side,  balancing out the carving cuts on the right side is completed.  Redrawing the detail on the right half is required to cut this area, followed by using a #3, 1″ gouge to smooth out the area around the cheeks.  Working to the mouth area,  the same process is repeated, cutting away one half, and transferring the detail from the other side.  This is necessary to keep the facial features symmetrical.  When working the details of the chin and lips, a #3, 1/2″ gouge, 90 degree V-tool in 1/2″, and a #11 1/4″ veiner under the bottom lip is used.  Michael wrote to us asking about what type of tool that could be used for shaping and depth detail.  He discovered, “An awesome pfeil #8 10mm gouge that I got from my local Woodcraft store here in Roanoke, VA for shaping the leaves of the chin.”

Green Man

Moving along in the modeling process, Micheal cut in the top center leaf pattern as a balance point to the chin, cutting deep with a #6, 3/4″ bent gouge and finishing with the #8, 10mm Pheil.   Approaching the nose with all it’s angles and planes, he commented, ” it seemed daunting.  I began with a #3, 1″ gouge to make sure I was cutting evenly across the front, and smoothed the sides with the same.  I used a #9, 3/16 gouge to put in the dimple at each side of the nose, then finished with a #3 1/2″ sweep gouge, making sure the structure was even all around.”

Final steps in modeling were cutting in the eye sockets with a #9 1/4″ spoon gouge, to bring out the top of the cheeks, and then worked the leaf details on the lower cheeks, again from right to left, but because there was no need to keep exact symmetry on each side with these features.  Micheal claimed, “I had a little liberty to play with curves and edges.  Primary gouges used were; #5, 1/2″, #8, 10mm, #11 1/4″ and #3, 1/2″.

Green Man

To keep an even flow and depth progression, Micheal re-worked and deepened the outer planes of the piece to add greater contrast.  By increasing the depth from surface to surface, the shadows add more contrast, making the features of the work stand out more and creating a greater sense of form.

Green Man

 So go out and get a chunk of wood suitable for carving and begin your sculpture.  Then come back for Part 2 of this blog continuation, where we’ll cover these steps, bringing The Green Man to life:

6 -Detail the objects
7 -Cut the background behind the objects for a 3D effect
8 -Apply a special finish to the panel

auf Wiedersehen!…Frank

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