This is my current carving project, a 15" x 15" basswood relief based on a 1937 woodcut of M. C. Escher. The design combines some near objects (still life) on a window ledge with a street scene of buildings, shop fronts, and people. It is difficult to see the separation of the things. The books among the still life line up with the buildings beyond. The street is an extension of the window ledge. Escher was famous for these visual tricks.
A woodcut is a flat design. Portions are cut away, leaving parts that collect ink that is rolled across the surface and a sheet of paper is pressed onto the inked pattern. But in this case (relief) the design is carved to various levels to represent the depth of various parts of the picture. The deepest point is where the street turns near the center, so I start by carving down to that level.
After carving the wood to the depth at the bend of the street - 3/4" - then the building fronts are sloped down to that point. One has to think only of the main shapes, ignore the windows, building lines, people, hanging laundry. Also, don't cut into those shapes that will later become the objects in the foreground. Keep your tools sharp!
When we signed up for some time at this beach house, I vowed to make some progress on this carving. (Don't look at the date of this note vs the previous one!) After a week of visitors, I got my stuff out on the deck and made a few shavings. We also took some photos of the "shop" and its setting. I've continued to deepen the center to its eventual depth - 3/4" The basswood has ripples of chatoyance all through the 15" square blank.
The slow progress continues. The building fronts are close to the final depth. Next step will be to locate the windows, etc. Many of the fine details like people on the street will be incised into the surface and emphasized with gel stain. The book covers in the foreground will be detailed by etched patterns in the stains. I decided to make the mountaineer figure much larger (right foreground).
Here is one of the current challenges of this relief. This photo shows the lower right corner of the carving. The mountaineer figure is stacked on some books which are in front of the street scene building. In terms of depth, all of these objects have fit within 3/4" of wood depth. But they each have to have some recognizable shape.
This how the depth is achieved - in the lower right corner. The separation of the figure from the books has started in just 1/4" of wood. This demonstrated that the corner of the building needed to be cut back that quarter of an inch. It will keep getting deeper as I give shape to the mountaineer and the books. Note that I don't worry about clean, flat cuts at this point.
Project review - (for those seeing this for the first time) This is a relief woodcarving based on a graphic design by M. C. Escher. It is 15" square, 1-1/4" thick basswood. I have replaced some of the "still life" in the foreground with other personal objects. It was started in May 2022 and is half done. This is the 32nd woodcarving I have attempted based on graphic designs of Escher. In the foreground are (left to right) a suiseki (Japanese viewing stone), humidor, bowl of fruit, mountaineering figure. The books blend into the buildings behind. See post #1 for the original.
At this stage in the carving process little changes can have a big impact. To visually line up the building fronts with the books, for example, a slight tipping of a surface can greatly change the appearance. I've started placing some of the windows on the buildings. Since I didn't trace them on, I have to measure carefully. It wouldn't have made sense to trace them in the early stages because the lines would have been carved away by the shaping of the buildings.
The mountaineer figure at the lower right is a relief version of an in-the-round figure carved over 50 years ago (and described in my showcase projects). I plan to carve some mountain names on the base, probably the ten Colorado "14ers" climbed during twelve days in 1996: Windom, Sunlight, Eolus, North Eolus, Sneffels, Shavano, Tabequache, Belford, Oxford, Princeton. Will they fit on one side of the base? We'll see. The figures are the same height - 6-1/2"
I've gotten to the stage of "tiny cuts" (details that no longer require clamping the carving down), so I've tapered he backside so that the edges are about 5/8" wide and the carving will mount flat to the wall. This was done on a table saw with the blade raised to max height, tilted about 10 degrees. The carving was run through, face to fence on all four edges.
I was hoping you could see the chatoyance in this basswood - iridescent waves through most of it - but the photo doesn't show tt.
Here's an example of the challenges in this relief carving. We're looking only at the windows of the building on the right. This photo shows the original graphic (left) and the corner of the carving. Look at how Escher did the windows in his woodcut - the opening, the window panes, the sills. On the carving, I have cut shallow recesses, and may incise the outline of the window panes, but this is to prepare for gel stain that will emphasize the windows. They will not be solid black.
Consider also the book covers in front of the building. How will I represent the texture? Will I actually carve all those fine lines? Probably not, but I have to plan now for how they will be finished.
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