Posted by: woodbeecarver   in Carving Projects


Twenty-five years ago, the Wood Bee Carver coined this instructional phrase for woodcarving instruction ~ “Wood carving is Agony and Ecstasy, but Ecstasy always follows the Agony.” This saying helped to explain a common experience this carver had with almost every carving project in its beginning stage of development.  Even after almost fifty years of carving, this experience occurs at the beginning stage of any carving project.  It is an experience of a feeling that the project will not turn out the way it has been imagined and that it will be a mess or a disaster.  This feeling is called the “Agony” stage.  Likewise, once this Agony feeling is accepted for what it is as the “tension of the creative process,” the next stage of “Ecstasy” comes to the forefront as the “creative process opens to the fix” by turning the chaos into a path forward.  The lesson to be learned, is not to give up too soon but to trust the creative process to work with the tension of challenges by allowing imagination to guide towards the “fix” as the carving project develops on its way to it finishing touches.  Ecstasy always follows the Agony, so relax to continue to carve out of chaos.


The carving being featured in this posting is a female artist holding her paint brush and palette as her cat is curled at her right leg and foot.  It is a classic example of the Agony and Ecstasy experience of the creative process.  This was a commission carving guided by a brief verbal description. A rough drawing was made on paper while the true design is an imagination mental image that will guide during the carving process.

This carver carves from a block of wood choosing to open up the block in the carving process by carving towards an imagined image inside the block of wood.  During this initial opening up of the block of wood or rough shaping to basic form- as the wood chips are removed a design image begins to form. This “design by carving” aids in matching up with the imagined mental image and as the two meld together the design forms before the carver’s eyes.  Or as old timers used to say that carving was removing wood to expose the subject that is hidden inside the block of wood. It helps to know the subject by study of subject to feed imagination.  Imagination guides throughout the carving process while it helps to do research on the subject to refine imagination.  The cat is an example in that our mind may have a fuzzing image of a cat but it helps to bring into sharper focus the cat image by studying pictures of cats to refine the anatomy form of the body, head, legs and tail of a cat.  What is carved may not be an exact duplicate of a photographic image of a cat but as long as it is close to how a cat should look, the carved interpretation will pass the artistic test.

It helps to keep in mind a “proportional” guide like the Rule of Three so that the subject will fit the visual image.  The Rule of Three simply divides sections of the subject into three equal proportions. For example, the human face proportions divides the face into third divisions ~ Hairline to Eyebrow; Eyebrow to Tip of Nose: and Tip of Nose to Bottom of Chin.  Once the human face is determined, the rest of the human body is divided into third divisions: Shoulder to Waist; Waist to Mid Knees; Mid Knees to Bottom of Feet.  Any subject can be divided into three proportions as a visual rule of thumb observation.  These proportional guides help the imagination see proportions that make the subject look natural.



Establishing the proportional guidelines will help in laying out the positions of arms and hands, position of paint brush and palette, clothing fit and position of cat. Following this layout, the basic form of the entire subject is carved using the mantra: “Form follows function and detail follows form.”  This means that 90 % is carving to basic form and 10% is carving the final details.

Sections of the subject are carved to basic form, first form as boxy mass, then refine the form and finally refine with details.  Examples of boxy mass: arm holding palette, cat along right leg, legs and shoes, hands, beret tam and head and round framed glasses.


Once the entire carving has been carved to basic form of its various parts, the next step is to concentrate on one area, for example, the cat and carve it by finessing the form towards the finished detailed carving.  Then finesse the form of the shoes towards detailed carving.  Do the same with the arm, hand and palette, the hand that will hold the paint brush (paint brush is carved separately and inserted into the closed fist). The face requires careful finessing of the form to lay in a good foundation for carve the details.  The round rim glasses once carved to final detail receive a soaking of super glue to strengthen the wood fibers.  Once the glue has dried sufficiently, then the eyes can be carved using the tip of a curved small knife blade very carefully to carve within the opening of the glasses. Detail carving is continued on facial features, the hair, the tam beret, the blouse and skirt and any other area that needs a finishing touch to clean up any errant cuts or fuzzies.

Painting is done with artist oil paint thinned with boiled linseed oil and when dry an application of Deft is applied.  In every step along the way there will be many little experiences of Ecstasy over taking any momentary Agony anxiousness.  It is all part of the process of learning by doing especially that as soon as Agony appears, look forward to Ecstasy to jump in to do its thing.

The use of imagination is so important during the carving process where the carver sees with imagination what needs to be done to create the final look. Imagination envisions the initial design of the project in the mind and that image is used in the removal of wood to begin shaping the wood to look like the mental image. It is a back and forth ~ yin and yang ~ of the creative tension between imagination and acting out imagination of mind and hand working together. The more that the carver exercises this tension the more the unexplainable creates the art that becomes a serendipity happening.  That is why this old carver says over and over, The more one carves the better one carves,” by allowing the “force be with you,” or the “muse of creativity” or the “accident of art” that happens unplanned and is a surprise.  Which leads to another saying, “If it can be imagined, it can be.”  And that is why one carves to BEE CARVEFUL.


This entry was posted on Saturday, November 7th, 2020 at 9:31 am and is filed under Carving Projects. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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