Relief Carving Classes

One of the things I love about woodcarving is how many people are interested in learning it. In my other life at university, I teach a few courses every year and I find teaching to be something I love. Teaching carving classes is also something I do quite often and I find a lot of fulfillment in watching students get excited as they think about the endless possibilities of carving.

Recently, I have taught two different types of carving classes. The first was a lettering class at Lee Valley Tools in Coquitlam. In that class, we learned some basic principles of lettering – such as what is a serif? We didn’t dwell on this part, but moved on quickly to learn how light and shadow works for letters and how important it is to have tools that match the  curves of the letters. We learned that a 60 degree incised angle can be difficult to cut but it can make a large difference to the look of the letters. We learned that it is important to “give the wood a place to go or it will find its own way” and so we started each letter with stab cuts in the middle of the letter. Then we also learned how much easier it is to cut the serifs before cutting the rest of the letters. The students went home with a completed project and some ideas for how to apply their new-found carving skills to other carpentry projects.

The second class was an introductory relief carving class which I taught at our club location – the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers Club. We meet at Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford on Wednesday nights.

Relief Carving Class Brochure

What I found most interesting was how much the students seemed to take to carving with large gouges hit with a mallet. They learned just how easy it is to control a carving gouge with a mallet and how fine details can be cut by light taps with a mallet on the tools. We also learned how every carving gouge can cut a circle and how much difference it makes to use a slicing action when carving by hand. My goal is to show the students how to finish a carving right from the gouge, with no sandpaper needed. This method of carving is quite quick, and with the correct techniques and some artistic vision, can create a unique piece of artwork that shows the individual carver skill. I compare this to a painter whose brushstrokes set him or her apart from every other artist. The marks left by the carver show the skill of the carver, the sharpness of the tools, and are what shows the uniqueness of each woodcarver.

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No sandpaper was used on these relief carvings!

 

If you are interested in taking a course, contact me by email at gvmcmillan(at)gmail.com

 

Herald Angels or Heraldry?

It has been quiet on this site but not because it has been quiet in my carving studio! It had been crazy busy with carving work such that I have neglected you, my loyal readers! 

The Christmas season always sneaks up on me and I have to be careful not to overcommit. Must leave time to sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and other Christmas carols.

Some projects I am working on include a blanket ladder with dovetail joinery. 


It isn’t really carving work, per se, but I wanted to show old Roubo that his rants about carvers being imprecise are misplaced. I was building furniture and doing complex joinery long before I picked up a carving tool. 

I carved two other pieces that I have done before: a lettercarving piece (the first photo above) and a stylized acanthus leaf in relief. 

And on the heraldry front, I am working on a large family crest that is getting close to being finished. The short video below shows some progress. 


Stay tuned for more updates. I have a very large lettercarving project that I am on the verge of starting. In the new year I am picking up the wood for an ornately carved lintel over a front door in a large foyer. And I have another family crest in the works. It’s nice to have work, but I am feeling the pressure to get things completed! 

Trout Carving in High Relief

Inspired by a painting done of me and for me by my good friend and artist, Len Schmidt, a while back I carved a trout out of pine, in high relief. The idea was to test out several artistic concepts. I wanted it to be a minimalist type of carving – no scales, just a hint at the eyes and gills – but I also wanted it to give the impression of a fish that is half-in and half-out of the water, and one that clearly has some movement going on. It hang on my wall straight up and down for about a year, and I wasn’t happy with it.

Then, recently I thought about grouping some of the art I have on my office walls, and I decided to put this carving next the painting that inspired it. I also decided to hang it at an angle to create more visual interest. The twist of the tail and the curve of the tail fin show so much more like this. I like it a lot better!


I’m still not particularly happy with the carving overall, but I’ll chalk it up to experimentation and learning. As a result, it’s not for sale. Someday I’ll redo it and resolve the issues I have with it and then I’ll consider selling it. Until then, I hope you can enjoy it for what it is.

 

Acanthus Leaf Study

Finished Acanthus Leaf

I call this relief carving “Acanthus Leaf Study” because it is the one I use as a model to teach introductory woodcarving classes. It has all the elements of a classic low relief sculpture. It has a level foundation, some high sides, some low, some slopes, deep vees, undercuts and undulations. It has curves like Venus de Milo and is evocative of Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. It throws a lovely shadow and will gradually warm to an antique shade over time.

Unfinished Acanthus Leaf

It is carved in Aspen wood. The dimensions are 6 inches by 4 inches, by 3/4 inches thick. It is signed as an original with my brand initials.

Owned by a private collector.

Van Dyk Family Crest

Van Dyk Crest

The Van Dyk family crest carving is now complete. I carved it in a solid piece of yellow pine, approximately 8.5″ x 11″ and 3/4 of an inch thick. It is finished in two coats of Danish wax oil, and hand rubbed to a warm glow. This will hopefully be a family heirloom.

This was a commission from a local realtor friend. Contact me if you would like something similar. I have access to heraldry records for your family name (as long as you have an official crest).

Update. Here is a comment from the client:

“Hey Grant !!! Wow the crest looks even better in person… What a fantastic craftsman you are!!!!! I’m going to hug you next time I see you be prepared…
It will be a Christmas gift and I’m certain the Van Dyk family will Love it For generations to come…..
Thanks Grant!”

Acanthus Leaf Finials

If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you may be wondering what all those acanthus leaf panels are for and where they will go. They are for a client’s grand entry to his home. The entry is quite large – two stories (ten-foot ceiling stories) tall, and large enough that an eight-foot wide chandelier could be bigger and you wouldn’t notice. 

The panels are part of the board that covers up the stair stringer and the board that runs under the handrail of the balcony. The client called me up to show me the carvings that he had temporarily installed until they could be stained and lacquered. I took a few photos to share with you.

Stair Stringer Acanthus Leaf Panel
Stair Stringer Acanthus Leaf Panel
Balcony Acanthus Leaf Panel
Balcony Acanthus Leaf Panel

But there’s more! The client wanted some finials (sort of an upside down post cap) carved as well. One is a full square, the other is only half of a finial. They are to be installed under his balcony to look as though the post for the hand-rail continues right through to the finial. In the picture below, you’ll see four wood clamps. The full finial is to go between the two middle clamps underneath the post for the handrail with the point of it aiming at the ground. The half finial is to go just to the right side of the 4th clamp on the right. 

 postcap location

 Here’s what the finial looks like mostly finished – there’s still some final smoothing, burnishing, and sanding to do to it.

Square Finial
Square Finial

Note that I am holding the finial upside down compared to how it will be installed.

The two finials were quite challenging to carve, as they are primarily end grain after they begin curving toward the point. The design had to be modified slightly because I found that undercutting a point of a leaf to give it shadow meant I was cutting all the fibers underneath the tip that were holding the point in place. They may not have held up under the pressures of sanding, staining and lacquering, so I had to do a little redesigning on the fly. What I like about low-relief carving is that it is basically a trompe l’oeil, so I was able to create a little illusion instead of actually undercutting the leaf tips. The only way you can tell the difference is by actually running your finger tips over the carving. 

That completes this part of the job and now I can move on to some completely different carving. I’m working on a hummingbird “in the round,” some posts for an entry way to a home, and a large sign complete with trees, ocean, lettering, etc. Sign up to receive an email that alerts you every time I post some new pictures of another project. 

Acanthus Leaf Panel Carvings Completed

Finally, after some long and challenging carving sessions, the acanthus leaf panels are complete. The client was very particular about the style he was looking for and the level of sanding required (smooth, down to 320 grit). I actually prefer the carved look versus the sanded look, but these will pop when they’re stained and varnished. The installation also required a very consistent depth of carving (3/8ths of an inch deep). Setting the depth was relatively easy. Maintaining it was not. It took some steely nerves and strong wrists to carve to the edge of the leaves but not let the carving tools slip over the edge and into the background. That would leave a mark that would have to be carved and sanded out, lowering the depth in that spot.

Acanthus 1

The various panels all have a similar theme and look to them, but the leaf patterns are all different. I can’t wait to see them installed.

Acanthus Panel 2

They are all carved in 3/4 inch thick red oak. I like this wood for carving as it can hold a lot of detail. Sometimes the grain of red oak can be distracting for highly detailed carvings, but in this case, the grain actually highlights the carving. I like it!

This was an interesting job because the client had been unable to find exactly what he wanted, but upon contacting me found that I could offer a solution. No one else will have anything like this in their home and I’m excited for him. His unique home (really, an English style manor) in the Fort Langley area will be a show piece when it’s finished.

I’ll post more pictures when these carvings are stained, varnished and installed.

Til then,

Grant