Figureheads – part 3

Wow, a whole year has past since the last entry on this series, now that’s what I call ‘occasional’!

OK, so if you recall, I made a big thing about the importance of the jaw-line.  Well, now that I have finally taken some photos of the Brest Tiller, I can illustrate the point with the view of the face from under the neck.   The image also nicely illustrates the prominence of the nose, and, if you look very carefully, the curve of the forehead is just about visible too. dscf3772

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tiller to Brest – update

Things are progressing, slowly, but I am still more-or-less on schedule, having managed to cobble together somewhere near 20 hours carving on the tiller in between and around other work.  I know I felt I would leave the rope-work until the whole thing was roughed out but in the end I have concentrated on getting it done and now the ropework is nearing completion; I think about 5 more hours should see it done.

Hopefully you can see that the work is much deeper and more fully rounded.  You might also see where I have started some fancy ‘whipping’ on the one end: more of that in a later post.  Incidentally the only tool I am using at the moment is a 10mm skew-chisel – the pointed end is essential for getting into the tiny spaces

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tiller to Brest

The tiller is coming along, the pictures say it better than my words – about half the length of the knotwork is roughed out, progress is working out at just over an inch an hour – so 12 more hours carving will finish this stage, then I guess about another 15 hours to refine the carving.

The first picture shows the whole length, the spiral roughed out to the left, the pattern marked out and the roughed-out knots in the second, and the third shows the depth of carving the whole length will be carved to eventually. The only tools needed are a small chisel and a v-tool (aka parting tool)

 

Tiller to Brest

The Brest International Maritime Festival, 2016, is one of the biggest in the world (https://www.brest2016.fr/en) and they have invited craftsmen from all over the world to demonstrate in the international craft village, including a contingent from the UK.  Unfortunately I can’t go due to work commitments but the team have agreed to take some of my work to display in the British Craft Village.

The schedule is a little tight, at six weeks, but I am going to try and carve an elaborate tiller, about 48 inches long covered all over with decorative knot-work and with a lion-headed handle I carved a few years ago – about time it was mounted on something.  Current estimate for the work is about 200 hours, plus the time already spent on the lion-head!

So, here is the tiller roughed out from a hawthorn log, you can see the other half of the log beneath it to show how the curve is natural not steam-bent.  Time taken at this point was about 4 hours working with a hatchet, hand-planes and Shinto rasp – no power tools in this project!

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Figureheads – part 2

If you’re completely new to figure carving then you need to know that carving a bearded male with a hat on is the easiest type of face to carve, followed by androgonous (neither male nor female) followed by young male, and finally female – old is easier than young – beautiful female is the hardest of all – its all to do with a perfection of symmetry and no imperfections – lines, creases, sags, folds, wrinkles; all distract the viewer to some extent – you read the character of the face rather than its perfect structure.

The bearded male face, at its simplest, is really quick to carve as only the area around the eyes and the ridge of the nose are there to carve, the rest is hidden under beard, moustache and shaggy eyebrows – woodspirits and father Christmasses are a good way into this.

One thing to make sure you always do is to carve stroke for stroke each side of the face – it is really tempting to carve one side of the face and then try to replicate that on the other side but this approach never works as you will not remember what you did well enough to replicate your approach and the symmetry will suffer.  This applies to errors too.  If you make a mistake on the left side you have to deliberately make the same mistake on the right and then correct the left and then correct the right. Every cut on one side should be repeated on the other and that way the symmetry of the face will be maintained.

 

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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one of my faves

I hate to say it, and it is a sweeping generalisation, but many female figureheads follow something of a formulaic approach to both their design and carving – they are good but they are not great, they don’t really ‘light my fire’. Royal pleasure barges are always exceptional, however, as this, the figurehead of Queen Marie Antoinette’s barge shows, the treatment of the hair, in particular is technically stunning. Find her at the Musee de la Marine, Paris.

musee de la marine paris figurehead