I found this sweet little figurehead upstairs in the Victoria Inn in Salcombe, South Devon (highly recommended by the way). I really don’t know if its a restoration, reproduction, or new carving but I do know I really like it, the tilt of the head just gives the whole piece a lift. I did ask the staff for any information about her but I’m afraid they were none the wiser.
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.
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.
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.