How to Carve Faces in Wood

How to carve a face

Helpful advice including guidance on using tools, carving head-wear and hair,and carving to resemble the shape of skin and muscles under the skin.  Carving a wooden face is often daunting to a new wood carver, but by learning the correct technique and skills you can quickly become skilled at it. There are many styles and methods available depending on the result you expect, and level of realism you expect from your finished piece.


Carved Faces

A face says so much; that it is important we learn to carve them. I have never known a carver that didn't want to carve faces well. Reading this article probably wont make you a great face carver; but you may learn a thing or two about carving better faces.

The first thing to realize is that faces may be carved in many different levels of reality.  The face at right is fairly realistic.  The eyeballs are not quite round; in fact they are rather flat; otherwise a carved face to be proud.  Quite often, professional carvers develop a few faces that they will use over and over again. Each carving may seem different than the last; and have its own expression, but the face remains very similar. Similar enough that the carver is easily identified.

 
Face Carving Layout


I thought I would sit down and explain how I go about laying out faces that I carve. I mainly use the “Rule of Thirds” when I set out to lay out a face. This rules states that the face can be broken up into three areas and that they are all equal. I use dividers to get my measurements, you could use a ruler but dividers are easier to use.
I start by deciding the length of the nose, from the bottom of the nose to the start of the brow. I then use that measurement to determine the other two dimensions, the bottom of the chin and the point of the hair line. (Note that the top of the head is a little higher; this top line is where the hairline is located.)  The location of the mouth is half way between the bottom of the nose and the bottom of the chin, and the width of the nose  is the same as the width of the eyes.


Rules For Carving Faces


When I talk with other people about carving faces I try to explain to them about the "rules" for carving faces. These "rules" explain the placement of features on the face or how to carve these features to make them look realistic. I continue to carve faces today. I do stray away from the faces from time to time to carve something else but I always return to the faces.



Caricature Carving, An Introduction


You have certainly all seen caricature drawings as political cartoons in newspapers and magazines. Making a caricature of a real person entails identifying features of the person one can exaggerate. For instance, today, we see pictures of President Obama with exaggerated ears. No public figure, and especially politicians are exempt from being “caricatured” by artists.  The art of caricatures is flourishing in the world of wood carving today but it rarely entails carving caricatures of real people.  More often, a caricature wood carving is simply an exaggerated type of person such as cowboy, etc.  I think all carvers would agree that carving caricatures of real people is difficult.  Caricature carving is probably the most popular form of carving today.  It is more akin to whittling than wood sculpture and one typically uses knives and palm sized gouges with caricatures.  And, it is a lot of fun!  With caricatures, one does not need to worry about perfect anatomy or facial features.  It seems the funnier, the better.



Carving the Wood Spirit Face


For carvers, the Wood Spirit is a wonderful theme to use for experimentation with new techniques and image ideas. These delightful little creatures come in an unlimited variety of shapes, styles, and forms. You will find Wood Spirits used as cane handle ornamentation, free standing statues, and even wall hanging. 
Wood Spirits combine the human face and nature into one image. Flowing hair may turn into autumn leaves, or a beard may blend into the texture of the tree bark. The physical features of the face become exaggerated. Noses can be long and narrow taking up over three fourths of the facial area or they may be broad and flat, spanning deeply toward the cheek and jaw line. Eye brows can arch high into the
forehead and become willow leaves.


Ship's Figurehead Carving

The ship's figurehead. There is a certain magic about a figurehead which has never entirely faded. A ship without a figurehead was like a ship without a sail, making the figurehead a lasting symbol of the ship's permanence. Of all the objects made by man, the ship almost achieves a life of its own. When considering a figurehead, therefore, it is important to remember the ship that bore her. The ships have gone, but these wooden angels remain to tell their tales to those who care to listen. The carver's shop of old was located in a discarded sail or mold loft, often upstairs, so that he could rub elbows constantly with shipbuilding folk keeping abreast of activities on the wharf. He lived among those who went to sea and those who built and equipped vessels. The window of the workshop usually looked out over the water.


How to Carve a Face in Wood

Carving faces from wood is an enjoyable pastime for carvers of all experience and skill levels. Beginners can acquire the necessary skills required to fashion a face from a block of wood with a little patience and a lot of practice. The art and craft of carving masks and three-dimensional faces out of wood is a time-honored tradition in the United States and around the world. Some notable examples include Iroquois False Face Society carvings and the semi-abstract masks made by African tribal woodcarvers.



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