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High and Low Relief Carving

low and High relief Carving

Relief carving has historically been the primary form of decorative carving. There is still a strong market for both high and low relief carvings for decorating items and wall hangings.  Relief carving is done onto a flat wood board, with the board cutaway from the carved object.  The object is only partial cut from the board, as opposed to "in the round" carving were the object is cut completely from the board.


Relief Carving Cuts

The stop cut is a very simple but extremely useful technique in any relief carving. Along any definable area where one section of the design intersects with another area or the background, the stop cut will help you to establish the different layers of work. 
Begin by drawing your bench knife or skew along the pattern line. Make several strokes until you have reached your estimated depth of this area. Now with a gouge or skew the background can be carved away by pushing your tool into the stop cut. At this point the wood will flake away instead of splintering. A stop cut can be recut many times, slowly developing the depth of the intersect. With careful work this technique will create crisp division lines between the different areas of your carving.


Laminating for High Relief Carving


High Relief is one of the many areas that the carver can be both bold and dramatic. When planning your pattern establish not only how long and wide your blank will need to be but also how deeply you wish to carve into the wood. Many carving woods can be purchased in 8/4 thickness or two inches. Basswood can be obtained up to six inches thick. If your design will need more depth than your blanks provide, you will want to laminate two or more boards together. Lamination simple means to glue two or more boards into one.



Low Relief Carving


Most of the carving example that we have from the early Egyptian and Greek artists are done in a style called Low Relief. In this technique the edges of one carved area slants down to the next intersecting level. The joint between the two areas can easily be seen. Low Relief is a carving that is done in definable layers and the entire carved surface has a shallow look to it. Low Relief is not necessarily carving that is done to a very small depth into the wood surface, it refers to the visual impression that the carving creates. In the image below you can see that the carved edges meet where they can be seen and no area casts a definite shadow onto the next to imply deep carving.



High Relief Carving


High Relief carving creates a more dramatic depth effect than does Low Relief. The basic creation of the carved design is the same as with Low Relief except for the use of the Undercut Stroke. Today's carving trend toward more realistic and detailed work often is created with High Relief. Dragons literally jump out of the wood surface towards you and floral petals reach above the background to turn and curl in free air.



Relief Carving


Essentially, relief carving is an illusion. A good example will give the impression of depth when it isn't really there because commonly it will be done with a piece of wood that is not actually very thick. Most relief panels that you will see have been carved into a board probably less than 50mm (2in) thick. We will start with a simple project that will get you going and we will deal with the learning elements as we go along. Obviously, the first thing we need to do is sort out some kind of design and for this I have drawn up a simple country cottage that will include most of the basics of relief carving.



How to Carve in Low Relief


When you carve a low relief wood carving you don't have to worry about a frame, as the wood frames your picture or design. Here are some tips for carving in low relief.  Relief carving is carving pictures in wood. Instead of standing on their own, figures are only slightly raised from the background. While low relief carving is usually carving no more than ½” from the wood, there are other types of relief carving. For example, medium relief, also known as bass relief, is typically ½” to 2” deep. Deep relief is even higher, with about 2” of depth or more. When there are no cast shadows from one object to the next, the relief is usually a deep carving.



How to Do Relief Wood Carving


Relief wood carvers create carvings that seem to be raised, or are in relief, on a flat panel of wood. These carvings can be intricate geometric chip carvings, landscapes or even portraits. In addition to being displayed as wall plaques, they are made to decorate any number of articles, such as wooden chests, jewelry boxes and gun stocks. Instructors recommend relief carving as a first step in wood carving because it requires a minimum of tools and supplies to begin and can be very satisfying to the carver.



Decorative Relief Carving in Wooden Spools


But here is one clever person whose artist’s eye recognized the potential for ornamental. And what decorations they are. Introducing the carving artistry of Barbara Ziolkowski, this month’s guest columnist. A spool is a spool is a spool, or so I thought for the last 35-45 years. Just as we might not notice the special nuances in the barks of trees when we pass them in a park or on the street, so too it was for me about my spools of threads whenever I sewed.  Only within the last few years have I come to appreciate the beauty of old wooden spools, their labels, and their alternative value for me as a woodcarver. About four years ago, a client who has regularly bought my carved wooden spoons, asked me if I had ever carved on wooden spools. I had not; however, I’d seen one other carver’s handiwork. How difficult could it be? Also at that time, I didn’t have a good supply of empty old spools.



What Is Relief Carving?


The type of carving I use is called full relief carving. This means I have a smooth piece of wood, like a gun stock, that I carve part of the wood away. The end result is the place where the picture is and there is no part of the original gun stock left in the area of the picture. In other words, the front side of a picture in 3D. There is 2D carving, or semi relief carving, which is a carving you would get if you left part of the original wood in the picture. You usually will see this from carving which has been completed by a laser. You do not get much shaping, (dimension) to your picture/carving. There is also full round carving. This would be when you take a block of wood (say 4 inch by 4 inch) and carve the entire animal or object out of the wood. Like carving the complete elk, legs and all. Like the status of animals, etc. Here are a few of examples.



Relief Carving



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