Painting vs Clear Coat on carved work

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Forum topic by John Smith posted 08-03-2018 12:30 AM 1631 views 0 times favorited 26 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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John Smith

2981 posts in 1323 days

08-03-2018 12:30 AM

Topic tags/keywords: carved carving handcarved painted gilded cast pattern cedar mahogany basswood gold hand carved

first of all, let me say, I am a purist and really enjoy the beautiful natural characteristics of wood.
but – 90% (or more) of the time, my projects are required to be painted, gilded or cast into metal.
when I show this “painted” work in different forums, the painted carvings are frowned upon,
scowled at and often receive less than favorable responses. (from the camps of Clear vs Paint).
the same amount of planning, layout and craftsmanship goes into the objects that would be
clear coated or painted. but yet – the painted items fall short of acceptance.
this holds me back from sharing some of my work due to this cliche’ of “Wood Finishing”.
so ~ to run a poll ~ what are your views of carvings that are painted vs clear coated ???

here are a few examples of what I am talking about.

-- there is no educational alternative to having a front row seat in the School of Hard Knocks. --

26 replies so far

View mjheck's profile


66 posts in 2310 days

#1 posted 08-03-2018 12:37 AM

I’m one of those purists – I like wood in its natural state….BUT, in the case of your projects i think the painting enhances its beauty. That’s some beautiful work John. I for one would love to see more of your work.

View mel52's profile


2158 posts in 1425 days

#2 posted 08-03-2018 12:55 AM

I would also like to see more of your work. Anyone with any woodworking ability should be able to see the craftsmanship used whether it’s painted or not.

-- MEL, Kansas

View TravisH's profile


777 posts in 3096 days

#3 posted 08-03-2018 01:50 AM

Nothing wrong with painting something and when done well shines.

The issue is the tendency to “cheapen” the look. Frequently hides the craftsmanship and highlights misses in the same piece. It can end up making something look plastic in my opinion and at that point seams to defeat the idea of a hand carved piece.

View Tom Regnier's profile

Tom Regnier

512 posts in 3707 days

#4 posted 08-03-2018 01:51 AM

Great topic John. I recently started carving small boxes after seeing Michael Cullen’s amazing work and I hesitated to put paint on the first few.
I think most of us woodworkers are “purists” when it comes to natural finishes….oils, shellac, wax…they’re all great when done well and matched up with the right build. In my opinion, paint is in the same category and can really enhance a project. You can create depth to carvings with contrasting colors that otherwise might flatten out with a traditional finish.
It all comes down to personal preference but in my book paint is a great option.
Beautiful work John…you should be proud to display it here and everywhere!

View bilyo's profile


1376 posts in 2263 days

#5 posted 08-03-2018 03:19 AM

I agree That is some beautiful work. However, as the saying goes, there is a time and place for everything. Most of the work examples you provide are about the message not the wood. The paint or other coating is there to enhance the message as are the shapes created in the carving. Anyone who criticizes the work because it is painted is missing this point. Without the paint and with a clear finish that emphasizes the grain, the message would be less important and purpose for the work would not be successfully achieved. In the work you have shown, the quality of both woodwork and painting is obvious and should be appreciated.

Contrast this with a beautifully done marquetry scene or a piece of burl turned into a vase. There would be no purpose in painting such a pieces. In such work as this, the wood color and grain is of utmost importance.

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4723 posts in 4269 days

#6 posted 08-03-2018 03:36 AM

I carved Russell Scott’s Model T with the tree on top for my wife as an xmas present (a few months late). The car and tree are painted. I also carved the couple holding a heart (also by Russell Scott), which has yet to be painted. If it is the style of the finished product, I have no heartburn with painting it. But then I am not averse to using every tool available to make a project. At its basics, a carving can be made with a sharp rock, but if anyone thinks I’m knapping my own flint or obsidian to make a carving, they’ll have to think again!

My wife quilts, and she tells me stories about the arguments some women get in over as to whether a quilt is better hand- or machine-stitched. Both methods have their place.

I like your work, John! Don’t let the purists dictate what you do.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View Woodknack's profile


13564 posts in 3541 days

#7 posted 08-03-2018 05:47 AM

Paint doesn’t bother me at all. Some people set artificial limits on themselves like no paint, no metal, no modern finishes, no electricity, no green power tools, no white after labor day, whatever; that’s fine if it makes them happy but to me it means their cup is full.

-- Rick M,

View Roccolino's profile


9 posts in 1093 days

#8 posted 08-03-2018 10:38 AM

Great projects and topic. I know that I get anxious about finish selection. I get even more anxious during the execution of the finish. In the end, it comes down to what you determine is required. I bet you are more critical than you need to be of your projects. I would love to see more of your work, and sharing it may encourage others to put up their painted work.

View Redoak49's profile


5325 posts in 3149 days

#9 posted 08-03-2018 11:13 AM

Beautiful work. !

If the customer wants paint that is what they get. On you first project..Tomahawk Island…the painting and applique looks great.

View jeffswildwood's profile


4927 posts in 3138 days

#10 posted 08-03-2018 11:40 AM

John, your carvings are beautiful! As for paint or not to paint, it really depends on the project and the skill of the painter. Going by your carving of the 4th Cav. shield, I can see it either way. It would look great as natural and it looks great painted. Expertly carved and the painting is precision. Nice crisp lines and coverage. Painting is just another tool in our toolbox to use and to master. Sir, you have definitely mastered it!

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View johnstoneb's profile


3167 posts in 3333 days

#11 posted 08-03-2018 11:50 AM

I like the beauty of wood and usually use a clear finish. There is a time and place for paint and your projects require paint and your ability with paint turn them into art forms.
Keep Posting.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View OSU55's profile


2801 posts in 3150 days

#12 posted 08-03-2018 12:30 PM

Wonderful work! From my perspective once the wood is covered up I lose interest from a ww aspect. The object could be plastic, stamped metal, etc. Im not a carver which Im sure plays into it. I also lose interest when a cabinet or furniture piece is painted. Doesnt mean your examples here should be clear coated – the nature of the project required the finishes used.

Many comment that wood should not be colored, select the right wood to get the color. Transparent color done properly adds enhances the beauty of the wood, and doesnt fade to brown with time (interior). JMO

View Wildwood's profile


2959 posts in 3295 days

#13 posted 08-03-2018 01:12 PM

Fantastic work but bottm line is where will these items live indoors or out! At the end of the day depends upon customers desires! Our job is advise that customer on pros & cons but give them what they want!

Paint could look and live longer outside than clear film or oil finish!

While oil or film finish excel for indoors color of paint could captures the eye more readly.

-- Bill

View d38's profile


142 posts in 1423 days

#14 posted 08-03-2018 01:16 PM

Very nice looking signs!
My opinion is it depends on the sign’s purpose. A military design needs to be the colors of the original – because the colors normally have a meaning in the design. And painting those requires a specific skill set also.
Award plaques are normally not painted, and look nice with clear coats and brass plates.
Sometimes as wood workers we need to accept that what the end user wants may not tie directly to our passion and design preferences. But if it allows us to make wood chips and dust, that’s a good thing.

View AAL's profile


91 posts in 2587 days

#15 posted 08-03-2018 01:42 PM

Be yourself & present your work as you see it & do it.

Incredible work, actually art. Keep it up, wonderful to look at.

-- "Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery." Winston Churchill

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