Brown Bear


Brown Bear

Wide, concave cuts make this woodland creature as fluffy as he is frightening


By James Miller
Photography by Allison Cully

See the full step-by-step project in James Miller’s book, Whittling Flat-Plane Animals.

There once was a man traveling through a dark forest known to be inhabited by shape-shifting trolls. Worse, these trolls were attracted to the scent of Christians. As he hiked on and on, his eyelids began to droop. His head nodded down, and when his chin hit his chest, he woke up just enough to notice a large brown shape a few yards ahead of him. His eyes focused, and, with a jolt, he realized it was a massive brown bear. This must be a troll bear, he thought with growing fear; only God can save me now. He pulled out his trusty wooden cross, a known troll-repellent, but then the bear bowed down before him. Thank the Lord, it’s a Christian bear! he thought to himself. With the threat gone, he began to walk around the bear. While doing so, he saw that the bear’s lips were moving; it was saying: “And please bless this food as it enters my body, Amen.”

   Whether you want to carve a troll bear or a Christian bear, this project will suit your needs. Though many caricature representations of bears are depicted with wide, blocky muzzles, I encourage you to draw more upon their natural form by narrowing the muzzle and tapering it in a bit toward the nose. The blockiness can be saved for the legs of this figure.

Getting Started

Sketch the side and front view patterns onto an appropriately sized block of wood—the front view goes on the 3 1/4″ by 6 3/4″ (8.3 by 17.2cm) face and the side view goes on the3″ by 6 3/4″ (7.6 by 17.1cm) face. Using a band saw or coping saw, rough out the front view, leaving little tabs of wood between cuts so that wood does not fall off at this point. Saw between the ears, and then all the way around the perimeter of the side view pattern. Remove all waste wood.

   Even though bears might seem big and scary, this one is actually relatively simple to carve. There are few defining shapes and lines, but that means that each line carries additional weight in making the bear look awesome. Notice how the front paws are angled opposite to the lines formed by where the legs meet the body. This is just a small trick to add visual interest.




Carving the Bear

Using a knife, remove wood from under the muzzle and narrow the face toward the muzzle with flat planes. NOTE: Always wear a carving glove and thumb guard. The photos were taken without them to clearly show hand and knife positions.Carve a deep stop cut into the back of each leg, and then carve down and up to it until you reach your desired depth. Round the legs up to a large and bold V-shaped junction and the belly into this junction slightly on both sides. Then round the legs downward into the feet and meet this cut from the top of the feet.

With the entire edge of your knife, cut long, V-shaped channels around the arms. Slice wood away from the sides of the chest, and then use the top half of the knife to further shape the arms and chest, cutting up toward the neck as you hold the figure upside down. Join two bold, slanted stop cuts in the middle of the chest to add a scruffy roll of fur under the chin, and then carve up to those stop cuts. Add additional lines to the backs of the legs.

Scoop out the eye sockets by cutting in from the muzzle and twisting your wrist to guide the knife out before cutting through the eye sockets. Carve between the ears. Carve out simple, triangular chips from the ears, carve a horizontal line for the mouth, and add a few nostril incisions. Carve the eyes and separate the claws.




Painting & Finishing

Paint the bear. Start with a base coat of thinned brown oxide and follow that with your preferred accents. Add the final white eye dot with the tip of a toothpick. Let dry and spray with your finish of choice. 



Paint Notes

Base coat: brown oxide, black

Iris: melted chocolate

Rest of eyes: black

Eye reflection: white

Muzzle: country tan

Body: burnt umber, toffee (toffee is drybrushed on)




•Basswood, 3″ (7.6cm) thick:
 3 1/4″ x 6 3/4″ (8.3 x 17.1cm) 

•Acrylic paints, such as Apple Barrel®: black, brown     oxide, burnt umber, country tan, melted chocolate,     toffee, white

•Finish, such as Danish oil, boiled linseed oil (BLO),     or Howard Feed-N-Wax®

• Cloths

• Toothpick


• Band saw or coping saw

• Pencil

•Carving knife

• Paintbrushes (assorted)


About the Author

James Miller started carving at the age of 11 after being inspired by family members who dabbled in woodworking. A software developer by trade, James enjoys the creative challenge of simplifying and abstracting forms in unique ways. For more of his work, visit


Get the Winter 2021 Issue

Purchase the Issue

For more articles like this, subscribe to Woodcarving Illustrated magazine.

Magazine Subscription
Plus! Get digital mini magazines in your e-mail between printed issues.

Comments are closed.