The term “BLOCK HEAD CARVING” is coined to describe the carving process of carving from a “block” of wood and using one’s “head” in the carving process to shape the wood into a carving project. The use of “head” refers to the carver’s imagination partnering with the carver’s creative carving ability to figure out how to carve an envisioned image. This approach of opening up a block of wood being guided by imagination is to discover in the shaping process the “design by carving”. Often in the process of removing wood chips the remaining carved facets on the shaped block will suggest an innovation in design of the envisioned image.
The carving project that is the subject for Block Head Carving is an old curmudgeon sitting on a stump reading his bible. It is a commission carving done for a longtime friend who lives now in New Hampshire. Gene Mocabee and I were students together at Lexington Theological Seminary, Lexington, KY in the mid-sixties. Fifty years ago, in June, 1967 we graduated and were ordained together.
The WOOD BEE CARVER carves mostly in a solid block of wood by opening up that block using carving knives to sculpt a rough out of the basic form and then refine that basic form by carving in the details. BLOCK HEAD CARVING is a term that describes what has been the normal process for most carving projects. The carving subject for this BLOCK HEAD CARVING begins as a mental image of an “old curmudgeon sitting on a tree stump reading the bible.”
The first step in this sculpting process is to establish a base for the eventual carved subject by making corner notches followed by connecting the corner notches with a notch between the corners. [Basswood block measures three inch square by six inches tall.] The second step is to remove the corners at the top of the block in anticipation of shaping a dowel in preparation for the hat and the head on the subject. This beginning sculpting phase is “rounding the corners” using three sculpting knives named “SIDE KICK” knives of the Signature Series of HELVIE KNIVES. Further sculpting begins to shape the angle of the shoulders and back of the figure as well as the chest area. This sculpting process is following the imagined basic form of figure sitting on a tree stump.
Once the hat and head dowel is established along with the shoulders established as a larger form, the layout for the seated figure is mapped out using the Rule of Three for Body Proportions. The Rule of Three is divided into three proportions of Shoulder to Waist, Waist to Mid Knees and Mid Knees to Bottom of Feet. Since the figure is seated the formula follows the bend of the seated figure. Keep in mind that the Rule of Three is concerned with “proportions” rather that precise measurements. Figuring out these proportions involves “measuring with the eyes” by eyeing the width of the block of wood in which the width will house the “back of hips to front of knees” which should then equal the “top of knees to bottom of feet.” Each of those two proportions are then used to determine the proportion from “top of shoulder to waist” so that each of the three proportions are about equal. Once these proportions are determined then guidelines can be drawn with the arms bent and hands holding onto the side of an open bible. Guide lines are drawn for the hips seated on a stump, legs bent in seated position and the feet are indicated to guide the shaping stage.
These guidelines will guide in removing the wood in the sculpting process to begin to bring the basic form into shape although it will be much larger at this stage of the roughing out phase. Gradually as each section of the overall carving is thinned down in the shaping progression the design becomes more refined and begins to look “just right” to the blending of the eye and imagination. Imagination is imagining the image coming into focus as each stage of the carving process is refined.
[~eye study beginning with the flat plane of the glasses with eyes carved through the frames of the glasses as in the two face study carvings in the last two photos~]
In this “design by carving” stage of the Block Head Carving there is that tug-of-war between imagination and the technical side of carving to figure out how the hands will be shaped holding on to the side of the bible, how the head will be shaped so that the face will appear to be reading, how to carve the eyes within the form of the glasses and how to blend the wrinkles and folds of the clothes. It is this tug-of-war that strengthens the carver’s creative ability to guide the act of guiding the knife to shape the wood. It is also an affirmation that every carving project is a learning project filled with unexpected discoveries and the humbling awareness of the creative process at work to bring out the best in a carver’s potential.
Many carvers have cut their carving teeth on carving rough out projects that present the basic form of the subject already shaped. Cleaning up the rough out’s machined markings and carving in the details is about all that is required. Rough outs speed up the process for instructional classes and provide a ready catalog of carved ideas ready to be finished. But what rough outs do not provide is that creative phase of developing an idea nor how to sculpt the idea in its beginning stage depriving the carver of those serendipity discoveries of creative wonder. A carver who carves from a rough out always has a nagging question of how to carve the rough out in the way that the originator of the rough out would want it carved. In other words, the carver will carve to try to please the creator of the rough out rather than to please the carver’s creative self.
While carving from a block may be awkward at first yet with the exercise of learning to open up the block while developing imagination guiding the carving process will become an adventure of a new chapter in the carving journey. Give it a try by becoming a BLOCK HEAD CARVER.