"Carving a Tree Spirit" #2: Beard and Eyes

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Blog entry by mpounders posted 12-27-2011 05:28 AM 10320 reads 3 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Face and Nose Part 2 of "Carving a Tree Spirit" series Part 3: Cottonwood Bark »

We left off with the mustache and lip sketched in. I use the knife to outline the mustache with a straight-up stop cut and then make angled cuts up to that cut, so that the mustache is higher than the beard. Then use the knife to round over the edges of the mustache.

Draw the lower lip in again and then cut out a c-shaped section underneath. Make a deep shallow cut between the mustache and upper part of the lip. A shallow cut makes the mouth look slightly open, while a rounder shape gives a surprised or singing look.

On each side of the face, I define the edge with a kinda reverse-3 shape. This will give a rounded shape to the cheeks and will establish the edge of the beard.

Now I use a gouge to make the beard by cutting a sort of sun-burst shape around the face. I try to stay outside the lines for the cheek and fore head I drew earlier. I make the hair swoop upwards from the area of the eyes on around the top of the face. And it swoops downward and swirls to the left for the beard. I used about a 1/4” u-gouge for this. Normally when I do beards and hair, I start with a large gouge for the basic shapes of the beard, follow with a smaller gouge to put in more complex patterns, and then follow with a few cuts in various places with a smaller gouge to add the final details. I might continue with decreasing sizes of v tools to add hair, but trying to add too many details on a small carving like this would not look quite right. Sometimes less is better!

As shown above, draw the eyes in. Just draw a line staright across from the low part of the nose to the corner of the “3” as shown. Slanting this line up or down can create a completely different look to the eyes.
Make a v shaped cut to outline the 3. I want to create ball shaped mounds for the cheeks and eyes. Remove a little triangle shape at the outside corners of the eye to define the top of the cheekbone. Round over the upper eye lid a bit to make a smooth flowing shape from the deep corner by the nose to the outside corner.

There are a lot of ways to do eyes, but we’ll keep these simple. Not going too deep, cut along the line you drew in to establish the bottom of the upper lid. Very carefully cut from the bottom up to this stop cut to establish a slight overhang that is the upper eyelid. It doesn’t have to be much to create a shadow. Now make that first stop cut deeper and a little wider. This makes a darker shadow that looks like an eye slit. You can make it look more like an eye by making a small c-shaped cut to indicate the pupil. If you put both pupils in the middle, he stares straight ahead. I have moved the pupils to one side on mine to make it look like he is peering over his shoulder at something.

Spend a little time cleaning up the carving by doing some cleaner cuts and cleaning up any little strings or fuzzies. I like to lightly sand hair and beards to give a softer, realistic look, but don’t over-do it! The facets and other aspects of being hand-carved add to the facial features.

I finish the piece with satin polyurethane that I brush on and then immediately wipe off with paper towels. It really makes the colors of the bark and the details of the carving pop! You can see why I wanted to make sure the yellow-orange cambium bark didn’t intefere with the features of the face. It looks better as part of the hair!

That pretty much finishes up this guy. I hope you try carving some of these! I’m going to continue this series with carving a wood spirit in bark, so that you can see some similar and dirrerent techniques used with that material. Thanks for looking!

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

6 comments so far

View Pimzedd's profile


645 posts in 5486 days

#1 posted 12-27-2011 05:57 AM

Thanks Mike.

I have tried a couple of Santas. I really appreciate your work and your passing on the technique.

-- Bill - Mesquite, TX --- "Everything with a power cord eventually winds up in the trash.” John Sarge , timber framer and blacksmith instructor at Tillers International school

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14193 posts in 5326 days

#2 posted 12-27-2011 06:02 AM

well done Bud … photography is expert and fun to ready

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 5589 days

#3 posted 12-27-2011 01:39 PM

Thanks from all us wanna be carvers. You sure make it look easy.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View flintbone's profile


217 posts in 4499 days

#4 posted 12-27-2011 01:55 PM

Good job Mike. I like how you do his eyes.
Thanks for sharing.


-- If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. - Albert Einstein

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4210 days

#5 posted 12-27-2011 08:26 PM

It’s a nice carving, Mike. I’ll try to follow this.


-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Roger's profile


21055 posts in 4147 days

#6 posted 12-27-2011 09:34 PM

very gooda

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

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