I Carved a Lion

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Blog entry by helluvawreck posted 08-19-2011 08:40 PM 6419 reads 0 times favorited 45 comments Add to Favorites Watch

About 3 or 4 weeks ago I tried to carve this same lion. I began carving it on a Saturday morning and just before I started I told my wife that I would probably be sorry that I carved it. I haven’t gotten very good with eyes yet and if the eyes are not right then the carving will not be right either. Sure enough, after having carved for several hours I was not happy with it at all. However, I pressed on for some more time but after an hour or so I saw that there wasn’t any use in continuing. It just wasn’t right and I couldn’t correct it. I went out onto the patio outside of my shop and thought about it. I actually became very depressed over it and began to ask myself a lot of negative questions. I thought to myself why I was trying to teach myself how to carve at 61 years of age. How am I going to be able to learn if I have only the weekends? I thought of a hundred reasons why I should just quit and go back to my regular woodworking and just give up on carving all together. The more I thought the worse it got and I didn’t sleep very good that night. However, I got up early the next morning and went into the shop and picked out something a little more simple to carve but at least I didn’t talk myself in to quitting.

This past Saturday I thought that I would carve this lion again but this time finish it no matter how bad it was. I hadn’t forgotten about it and how much not being able to do it had upset me. During the week I looked at the pattern for a number of times and tried to figure out where I had gone wrong.

The pattern came from Lora S. Irish’s book 101 Artistic Relief Patterns for Woodcarvers, Woodburners, and Crafters. It’s one of my favorite carving books actually. I love most of the patterns that are in this book.

This is normally the way that I set up to do a relief carving. I go ahead and lay out all of my tools even though I know that on any given carving I won’t need more than a third of them. I use this rig that the carving is laying on for most relief carvings. When I’m not using it it just stands in the corner but when I use it I just clamp it to the bench top.

BTW, the large box with drawers in it is rivergirl’s tool box. It has been 95% complete for months now but she has been so kind and patient with me to allow me to pursue my woodcarving while I am driven so much to learn. There’s just a couple of details on it to complete and then the finish. There are a lot of boxes inside this main box so that rivergirl will have a place to put her tools and hair curlers. :) Thank you, rivergirl. I’ll never forget what you have done for me and I’ll get it to you pretty soon now. :)

I have a good work light that I can swing all around my carving and it’s very important because my eyes are not the best and they get worse as I grow older.

The picture above was taken a little while after I started. I have gouged out some of the background and have partially completed the eyes. I wanted to get those going as soon as I could so that if they turned out to be a disaster I could start over. The eyes are not all that good but much better than my first attempt so I chose to keep going.

I began raising up the lions hair on the left side and cleaning up the face a little.

I worked on the face some more and began carving the details into the lion’s nose.

I began shaping the left ear and roughing out the top patch of hair. You’re always seeing things that are not right so all through the carving you are jumping around to correct something or polish it up a bit.

Next I worked on the right hair and the right ear. Of course your always seeing stuff that is not right or not finished and need some more work even where you have gone over before so you jump around quite a lot. This may not be the most efficient way but it’s the way that I’m doing it right now. I would love to be able to take some lessons from a wonderful carver so that I could acquire some of the tricks of the trade.

After a little more clean up I thought that it was coming along but I still see things that are not quite right and need more polishing.

I then proceeded to put in some hair details with a small v-tool and a little more clean up and sanding of the the pencil marks on the flat frame.

This is the finished lion after a couple of coats of satin polyurethane. The only finishes that I have used in my carvings are tung oil or polyurethane. I’ll have to experiment with some other finishes.

Now, I say this carving is finished. To be honest it’s not. I still see many flaws in it and it has things on it that could have been cleaned up a little more or given a more polished look. You could probably work on it another day or so but I stopped here. I will carve this lion again because I’ve learned some things that I didn’t know before. There are some fundamental things that I will do differently on the next one but that is the nature of learning. I know that this is not a very good carving but I don’t think that it is terrible either. Most importantly, I did carve the lion instead of quitting and I will carve it again and the next one will be better.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

45 comments so far

View David Dubs's profile

David Dubs

2 posts in 3522 days

#1 posted 08-19-2011 09:03 PM

Very cool lion carving keep up the good work!

-- David Dubs, Illinois,

View patron's profile


13717 posts in 4390 days

#2 posted 08-19-2011 09:13 PM

i see life and character in these eyes

even it’s mother would be proud

you should be too

keep up the good work

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View MShort's profile


1798 posts in 4468 days

#3 posted 08-19-2011 09:15 PM

Fantastic job. Thanks for posting the transition photos. I am just starting to work on carving and this is great to see work in progress.

-- Mike, Missouri --- “A positive life can not happen with a negative mind.” ---

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10961 posts in 5102 days

#4 posted 08-19-2011 09:16 PM

I think you did a wonderful job on it!

You really have a wonderful shop setup for carving… Nice place to hangout & carve…

There is only one thing that I thought you were going to do… but, didn’t…
I thought you were going to round-off the nose area resulting in the nose sticking out more… before proceeding the way you did… Just a very minor thing…

Overall, I still think you dod a GREAT job on it…

Thank you for taking the time to remember to take pictures, etc. so you could report your progess/project to us!

Sure beats a Donkey or Elephant! LOL

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:

View Napoleon's profile


788 posts in 3859 days

#5 posted 08-19-2011 09:22 PM

What a great lion you have made there :) No doubt about you got the skills to do carving. The best part is you did NOT give up!

Well done mr carver ;)

-- Boatbuilder&blacksmith

View Bertha's profile


13615 posts in 3742 days

#6 posted 08-19-2011 09:27 PM

I love it! Strong work!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Rustic's profile


3257 posts in 4645 days

#7 posted 08-19-2011 09:28 PM

Everyone has said what I was going to. Keep practicing. Having said that I need to follow my own advice. LOL

Very Nice carving BTW

--, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

View Bertha's profile


13615 posts in 3742 days

#8 posted 08-19-2011 09:35 PM

I love it! Strong work!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5147 days

#9 posted 08-19-2011 10:21 PM

Very good. Your doing better than I am at the important part (carving consistently). Keep after it and it will come. :)

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View steviep's profile


233 posts in 3696 days

#10 posted 08-19-2011 11:34 PM

looks like a helluva lion to me!

-- StevieP ~ Micheal Tompkins - you were not here on earth long but left a giant mark on us. RIP Brother

View mafe's profile


13053 posts in 4138 days

#11 posted 08-19-2011 11:47 PM

I love first of all the story, to read about the thoughts you make as you go, this is really telling a important story. I also love your endless rows of carving tools, but that is my Achiles I guess…
Finally I think you have done a wonderful job on that lion, so you should and cand be really proud.
Dont ask your self why, just go for it, with that learning curve you will reach the skys.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View mpounders's profile


995 posts in 3945 days

#12 posted 08-19-2011 11:54 PM

Looks good to me! Susan Irish was a big influence on me when I started carving and is really a wonder artist, I hope one day to buy her CD that has pretty much every pattern she has designed. It can be discouraging when you don’t progress as fast as you think you should, but I feel good if I can just improve in some way with each carving. It can be difficult also if you are isolated and have to re-invent the wheel in trying to learn things, but the Internet can provide a lot of resources. But sometimes I learn better if someone shows me, if I can ask direct questions, and make sure I understand what they are saying. I wanted to jump start certain areas of my skills and decided to spend the time and money on a one week seminar last year. It was fantastic to study with a renowned carver and to pick up techniques and tips from everyone there. So much so, that I will attend again in just a few weeks. Something you might consider!

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

View ellen35's profile


2749 posts in 4482 days

#13 posted 08-20-2011 12:26 AM

looks like you are making great progress.

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View terrilynne's profile


836 posts in 3943 days

#14 posted 08-20-2011 12:26 AM

I don’t think an artist is ever completely happy with their work. My Michael is the same way with his carvings, “I should have done this or should change that…”. There are no mistakes in art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and what I see here is beautiful.

-- Terri, Rocky Mountain High Colorado!

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9239 posts in 3969 days

#15 posted 08-20-2011 12:51 AM

In reading your story, first of all I am very proud of you for getting up and trying again. Throughout the years of my teaching, nothing is so disheartening to me when a student doesn’t like their first attempt and gives up. It makes me so sad because all of that potential goes to waste.

It took courage to tackle this project again. Lots of guts and desire. I am so happy that you feel you improved and are happier with your second attempt. I, for one, think it is incredible for just a second piece. I know I wouldn’t be able to do it that well.

The best part of all of this is that you are learning that the learning process takes time and being more realistic in your expectations. It took Jordan and Dennis Zongker years and years to be able to do what they do. They started somewhere too. Grandma Moses was in her 70’s when she started painting and had a wonderful ‘career.’ You are never too old to learn and your carvings are truly beautiful.

Thank you for sharing your whole story with us. It really made my day!

Sheila :)

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

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