Relief carving a hummingbird: Beginning the Modeling Process

After another couple of hours of refinement the tile has developed into a fairly clear and complete design.  There is still a great deal of work to accomplish, but the majority of the removal of the “waste” material is now done:  I can see my way through the entire sculpture to the full depth of the background and, for the most part, the elevations and the angles and perspectives have been defined.  This is where the real fun begins as I endeavor to impart the life of the hummingbird and the flowers to the carving.

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I hear over and over “I could never do that”.  “I don’t have the patience to do that”.  Most people, I think, don’t have the patience to be a carver… when they start.  For many, such negative self-talk prevents them from ever discovering the creative soul that hides within them longing to be released.   Carving makes you patient.  You just have to desire to want to accomplish the project, to have the courage to begin.

After all, here I am removing material from my design with a small hand-held tool one single chip at a time:  There is no reason, really, why I can’t accomplish this except that I don’t believe that I can do  it, or that I grow impatient and make mistakes with my tool that I can’t correct.  The worst-case scenario is that I throw the piece away and start over again.   I have found my art to be a process of learning both how to overcome impatience and how to gain self- control and self-confidence.

When the Lord Jesus made me a sculptor, I didn’t even know that I could carve, and I was probably one of the most impatient persons on the planet.  But I was forced to do the work because I could not find another job and I had kids to feed.  I had to learn to carve and to do it well enough to be able to sell my work, and over time I started to become patient and disciplined.  Today I don’t think that there is much I cannot do, within the boundaries of my art at least.  I have accomplished two pieces of work that took above a thousand hours each to carve…one chip at a time.

There is no quick way to create high quality art or sculpture:  Here I am working my way deeper into the tile using small gouges that fit the specific outlines of the design.  My goal is to release and to clarify all the major elements of the design until they look well from every point of view and every shadow line is clean and works to accent and define the hummingbird and the flower group as realistically as is possible.

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Among the most important carving tools is the pencil.  I have a printed copy of my pattern pinned next to my tile, and I refer to it constantly to redraw my lines on the tile as I carve them away during the modeling process.  Otherwise I would immediately become lost and the carving would suffer.  One of the things that happens with a carving of any sort is that the pattern, drawn on paper in 2D, immediately distorts as it stretches into the added depth dimension of the carving.  The design instantly begins to expand and morph with the addition of 3D, and I have to use my eye and the pencil to continually adjust the carving so that it works visually.  Very quickly the pattern becomes just a secondary reference source and the carving itself begins to “take over” until, at a certain point, it, and not I, is primarily in control.

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Here you can see my efforts to explain the Catchflies, which are very densely grouped and which have turned out to be much more complex than I expected.  This whole area of the carving is going to take a lot more work than I originally thought.

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This is one of the small spoon gouges I use to level the ground on these tiles.  It is an antique Addis tool probably two hundred years old.

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The hummingbird is almost fully modeled.  At this stage I will most likely begin to use my Mastercarver flexible shaft tool with its array of special cutters and burrs to fine detail the contours of the bird’s body, and then I will use my Detail Master burning system to create the fletching of the feathers.  The flower group will require a lot of time to detail so that each element has vitality and the group does not appear “muddy” to the eye.

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