The Design Process

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The Design Process

Taking a caricature from concept to completion

by Marv Kaisersatt

This article was first published in issue 38 of Woodcarving Illustrated.

By relying on commercially available patterns, your scope of subjects is very limited. It’s actually quite simple to design your own caricature by determining proportions and positions with models before beginning the carving.

By making a model of your carving, you can anticipate many problems and change the design to remove them. Many people resort to using add-ons when they realize that the arm they planned to carve will break off because of the way the grain runs. With proper planning, you’ll be able to foresee obstacles like these and plan around them.

I go through a thorough planning process that starts with a drawing and ends with a clay model. Not every carving requires such an intricate plan, but since I carve most of my pieces from one block of wood, I don’t want any surprises.

1. Sketch your idea down on paper. This is just a rough idea to get you started. Experiment with alternate poses.

2. Make a chenille stem mannequin. Chenille stems, or pipe cleaners, work great to get the basic armature from a sketch.

3. Make a basic wire frame armature. Use the pipe cleaner mannequin as a guide to get your basic bends and curves.

4. Apply clay to the armature. I use plasteline (an oil-based clay) . It doesn’t dry, so I can shape the figure during the design process.

5. Make a pattern. Trace around the clay with a pencil if it isn’t an involved carving. If it is a more involved carving, I add a centerline string to the clay model to make sure the balance is correct.

6. Cut out the pattern. Trace the pattern onto the wood. Cut the pattern out on a band saw. Drill out any large open areas. On some carvings, I band saw the side and front profiles; other times, I just cut one profile.

7. Block out the major masses. I use a mallet and large chisels to remove wood fast. Make sure you secure your carving for safety. Continually sketch in your centerlines and landmarks during the roughing out stage.

8. Add the details. I use carving knives and palm chisels to detail the carving. Major masses are refined by carving them into smaller masses, which are in turn carved into smaller masses, etc., until the final details appear.






Detailed features. I’ll sometimes carve the hands and face out of Sculpey clay, which can be baked hard.

About the Author

Marv Kaisersatt of Faribault, MN, is an award-winning carver, author, and instructor. In addition to being a member of the Caricature Carvers of America, he was the 2006 Wood Carving Illustrated Carver of the Year.

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