figurehead – how to carve, an occasional series

OK, so I think I will put together an occasional series on basic figurehead carving, a sort of how-to carve faces/heads/torso/limbs.  This will probably not be a carve-along, more likely thoughts and technicals about aspects of carving this most demanding of subjects, but we’ll see how things devolop over the coming months. We will, of course, begin with carving faces.

The Beginning

Before we begin, a sculptor working in three dimensions needs a different approach to any other art-form as far as patterns and plans are concerned.  A painter only needs a single view-point, but a carver needs to understand how the front-view, side-views and rear-view tie together, and this necessitates a top, and bottom view too.  Usually we hold much of this information in our head, or make a small maquette (model); lots of sketching and preliminary drawing is always a good idea, but best of all is a real model – either a living person, or something like a porcelain figurine or child’s toy.  None of the great artists would dream of working from their imagination!

If you are taking photographs of your subject, stand back and use a zoom – close up lenses distort the subject to get it all in – fish-eye lenses are an extreme example of this phenomena.

To carve a face, you will need a minimum of a front profile, top view and side-profile and outline of the underneath of the lower jaw. The human brain interprets a face, concentrating on expression not its three-dimensional shape. We tend to look at a face as a flat, rather than a round, object.  Look at the inside of a mask, you will interpret it as being the correct shape, even though it is reversed, dimensionally !  This interpretting process makes life very hard for a carver starting out on carving realistic faces, the face contains some very steep edges – the jaw bone is almost a v-shape (from below) with the point rounded off where the chin goes, not the rounded or curving shape you might be visualising.

Hopefully this quick sketch will help illustrate my meaning; as you can see the front and side profiles generate a jaw profile that is essentially the cut-off v-shape I was trying to describe


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