Posted by: woodbeecarver   in Carving Projects


Rich and Holli Smithson, owners and operators of HELVIE KNIVES Commissioned the WOOD BEE CARVER to carve a Depression Era Gangster.  Research was made of several historic photographs and images with a few chosen to be a visual and inspirational guide while the block of basswood was being shaped into a gangster figure.  The visual images were fed into the imagination mixing machine of the mental image workshop of creativity to come up with an image toward which to release in the block of basswood.  Essential in the design was to have the gangster holding a Tommy Gun, a shoulder holstered pistol, a cigar in the corner of his mouth and wearing a pin striped suit, fedora hat and wing tipped shoes. The gangster was carved in a basswood block nine inches tall, three inches wide and two and a quarter inch thick.

The photos below are a panoramic tour of various angles and a close up of the gangster’s face and the hand holding a Tommy Gun.




The first stage of carving the basic form is to begin with carving the hat and head while establishing the top of the shoulders. A notch is carved a quarter of inch at the bottom of block on all four sides to establish a base for the figure.  The second stage is to divide the body portion of the basswood block using the Rule of Three for body proportions which are ~ Shoulder to Waist, Waist to Mid Knees, Mid Knees to Bottom of Feet.  A line is drawn on all four sides of the block at the waist and the mid knees while the bottom of the feet has been designated by the notch carved for the base.  The first photo below shows the base carved, the hat and head with shoulders carved to basic form and the two lines designating the waist and mid knees division points for the body proportions. The Second photo has a portion of the facial detail form established along with three knives that are being used ~ GREEN HORNET 2 (green handle) TURNIP BEE (purple handle) ZIG ZAG (orange handle).


The next four photos show four views of the guideline drawings within the three divisions of the body proportions that will guide the carving to basic form of the gangster.  The drawn guidelines help to determine those areas where extra wood is left so that when the detail carving process begins there is enough wood to accomplish the desired effect.  In other words, the carver carves “towards” the guidelines and not “to” the guidelines to allow for the actual design to be dictated during the slicing away of wood in the shaping phase. This is why the Wood Bee Carver carves from a block of wood rather than a sawed out blank or a machined roughout which has already determined the design in a predetermined manner that handcuffs the creative development of the design. The Wood Bee Carver uses the “design by carving method” by allowing creative imagination guide the sculpting of the basic form while allowing the carved facets offer the serendipity design to explode while carving.



The next five photos offer illustrations of the three knives used to carve towards the basic form of the gangster.  The first photo shows the three knives ~ BUZZARD 2 (blue handle) ZIG ZAG (orange handle) TURNIP BEE (purple handle). The second photo shows the ZIG ZAG being used to shape the side of the coat at the inside elbow crook of the sleeve. The third photo shows the ZIG ZAG using the reversed skewed end shaping the inside of the elbow sleeve. The fourth photo shows the BUZZARD 2 making a slicing cut along the side of the coat, while the last photo shows the TURNIP BEE also making a slicing cut on the coat.


The first photo below shows the TURNIP BEE being sliced forward with a push stroke to shape and clean up the shirt between the tie and the coat lapel as an illustration of the versatility of this knife for reaching into areas when other knives can not reach. The second photo is like manner shows how the GREEN HORNET 2 can reach between the tie and the shirt collar to slice the shirt and another illustration of this blade’s versatility.

The first photo below shows the back side of the gangster shaping up and note how the suggestion of the Tommy Gun’s stock is carved between the coat and sleeve. The second photo shows the handle of the pistol and shoulder holster peeping out behind the coat’s lapel.  Also notice how the lips are carved around the cigar for a natural look. The third photo is a close up of the detail carving showing the hand pulling aside the lapel of the coat to expose the handle of the pistol.  The hash marks of the gun handle and the pin strips of the suit were done with a wood burning tip. The divisions between each segment of the fingers were done with a stop cut followed by an angled cut on either side of the stop cut to round over the finger segment as well as establish the knuckles.  This is more appealing that a simple V cut the full length of each finger.  Notice also the undercutting of the sleeve cuff that creates a shadow accenting the appearance of the hand going up and into the sleeve cuff. The last photo in this series is a close up of the hand holding the Tommy Gun, the front of coat draping around the front of the gun and the detail carving of the wing tip shoes.



The last three photos are close up views of the face and hat without any coloration or simply the bare basswood.  These photos highlight the facet of the slicing cuts that detailed the various features of the face, the detail carving of the lips around the cigar and the detail of the carved eyes which have been sealed with super glue to strengthen the fragile cross grain area of the eye lids.  The suggestion of unshaven whiskers was detailed by pushing the tip of the blade into the side of the cheeks, the chin and mustache area.  When the mixture of boiled linseed oil and Raw Siena oil paint is applied, the cuts for each whisker will be amplified.


Detail carving was done using the BUSY BEE, BUSY BEE 2 and the BUZZ BEE knives (not pictured in this post).  Artist oil paint mixed with boiled linseed oil colored the gangster and Deft sealed after the oil dried.

The completed HOOSIER GANGSTER is now at home in the private collection of HELVIE KNIVES.  Rich, Hollie and daughter Skylar are the friendly and helpful people who are HELVIE KNIVES.


This entry was posted on Friday, March 15th, 2019 at 12:53 pm 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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