THE ARTISTIC CRAFTS SERIES OF TECHNICAL HANDBOOKS EDITED BY W. R. LETHABY
WOOD-CARVING: DESIGN AND WORKMANSHIP ARTISTIC CRAFTS SERIES OF TECHNICAL HANDBOOKS.
Edited by W. R. LETHABY.
The series will appeal to handicraftsmen in the industrial and mechanic arts. It will consist of authoritative statements by experts in every field for the exercise of ingenuity, taste, imagination—the whole sphere of the so-called "dependent arts."
BOOKBINDING AND THE CARE OF BOOKS. A Handbook for Amateurs, Bookbinders, and Librarians. By DOUGLAS COCKERELL. With 120 Illustrations and Diagrams by Noel Rooke, and 8 collotype reproductions of binding. 12mo. $1.25 net; postage, 12 cents additional.
SILVERWORK AND JEWELRY. A Text-Book for Students and Workers in Metal. By H. WILSON. With 160 Diagrams and 16 full-page Illustrations. 12mo. $1.40 net; postage, 12 cents additional.
WOOD CARVING: DESIGN AND WORKMANSHIP. By GEORGE JACK. With Drawings by the Author and other Illustrations.
CABINET-MAKING AND DESIGNING. By C. SPOONER.
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK.
WOOD-CARVING DESIGN AND WORKMANSHIP BY GEORGE JACK WITH DRAWINGS BY THE AUTHOR AND OTHER ILLUSTRATIONS
NEW YORK D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 1903
COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
All rights reserved
Published October, 1903
In issuing these volumes of a series of Handbooks on the Artistic Crafts, it will be well to state what are our general aims.
In the first place, we wish to provide trustworthy text-books of workshop practise, from the points of view of experts who have critically examined the methods current in the shops, and putting aside vain survivals, are prepared to say what is good workmanship, and to set up a standard of quality in the crafts which are more especially associated with design. Secondly, in doing this, we hope to treat design itself as an essential part of good workmanship. During the last century most of the arts, save painting and sculpture of an academic kind, were little considered, and there was a tendency to look on "design" as a mere matter of appearance. Such "ornamentation" as there was was usually obtained by following in a mechanical way a drawing provided by an artist who often knew little of the technical processes involved in production. With the critical attention given to the crafts by Ruskin and Morris, it came to be seen that it was impossible to detach design from craft in this way, and that, in the widest sense, true design is an inseparable element of good quality, involving as it does the selection of good and suitable material, contrivance for special purpose, expert workmanship, proper finish, and so on, far more than mere ornament, and indeed, that ornamentation itself was rather an exuberance of fine workmanship than a matter of merely abstract lines. Workmanship when separated by too wide a gulf from fresh thought—that is, from design—inevitably decays, and, on the other hand, ornamentation, divorced from workmanship, is necessarily unreal, and quickly falls into affectation. Proper ornamentation may be defined as a language addressed to the eye; it is pleasant thought expressed in the speech of the tool.
In the third place, we would have this series put artistic craftsmanship before people as furnishing reasonable occupations for those who would gain a livelihood. Although within the bounds of academic art, the competition, of its kind, is so acute that only a very few per cent can fairly hope to succeed as painters and sculptors; yet, as artistic craftsmen, there is every probability that nearly every one who would pass through a sufficient period of apprenticeship to workmanship and design would reach a measure of success.
In the blending of handwork and thought in such arts as we propose to deal with, happy careers may be found as far removed from the dreary routine of hack labor as from the terrible uncertainty of academic art. It is desirable in every way that men of good education should be brought back into the productive crafts: there are more than enough of us "in the city," and it is probable that more consideration will be given in this century than in the last to Design and Workmanship.
* * * * *
This third volume of our series treats of one branch of the great art of sculpture, one which in the past has been in close association with architecture. It is, well, therefore, that besides dealing thoroughly, as it does, with the craftsmanship of wood-carving, it should also be concerned with the theory of design, and with the subject-matter which the artist should select to carve.
Such considerations should be helpful to all who are interested in the ornamental arts. Indeed, the present book contains some of the best suggestions as to architectural ornamentation under modern circumstances known to me. Architects can not forever go on plastering buildings over with trade copies of ancient artistic thinking, and they and the public must some day realize that it is not mere shapes, but only thoughts, which will make reasonable the enormous labor spent on the decoration of buildings. Mere structure will always justify itself, and architects who can not obtain living ornamentation will do well to fall back on structure well fitted for its purpose, and as finely finished as may be without carvings and other adornments. It would be better still if architects would make the demand for a more intellectual code of ornament than we have been accustomed to for so long.
On the side of the carver, either in wood or in stone, we want men who will give us their own thought in their own work—as artists, that is—and will not be content to be mere hacks supplying imitations of all styles to order.
On the teaching of wood-carving I should like to say a word, as I have watched the course of instruction in many schools. It is desirable that classes should be provided with casts and photographs of good examples, such as Mr. Jack speaks of, varying from rough choppings up to minute and exquisite work, but all having the breath of life about them. There should also be a good supply of illustrations and photographs of birds and beasts and flowers, and above all, some branches and buds of real leafage. Then I would set the student of design in wood-carving to make variations of such examples according to his own skill and liking. If he and the teacher could be got to clear their minds of ideas of "style," and to take some example simply because they liked it, and to adapt it just because it amused them, the mystery of design would be nearly solved. Most design will always be the making of one thing like another, with a difference. Later, motives from Nature should be brought in, but always with some guidance as to treatment, from an example known to be fine. I would say, for instance, "Do a panel like this, only let it be oak foliage instead of vine, and get a thrush or a parrot out of the bird book."
In regard to the application of carving, I have been oppressed by the accumulation in carving classes of little carved squares and oblongs, having no relation to anything that, in an ordinary way, is carved. To carve the humblest real thing, were it but a real toy for a child, would be better than the production of these panels, or of the artificial trivialities which our minds instinctively associate with bazaars.
W. R. LETHABY.
TO THE READER,
Be you 'prentice or student, or what is still better, both in one, I introduce the following pages to you with this explanation: that all theoretical opinions set forth therein are the outcome of many years of patient sifting and balancing of delicate questions, and these have with myself long since passed out of the category of mere "opinions" into that of settled convictions. With regard to the practical matter of "technique," it lies very much with yourself to determine the degree of perfection to which you may attain. This depends greatly upon the amount of application which you may be willing or able to devote to its practise.
Remember—the laws which govern all good art must be known before they can be obeyed; they are subtle, but unalterable. The conditions most favorable to your craft must first be understood before these laws can be recognized. There yet remains at your own disposal that devotion of energy which is the first essential step, both in the direction of obtaining clearer views and in conquering technical difficulties.
I have to thank the following gentlemen for their assistance in providing photographs for some of the illustrations: Messrs. Bedford Lemere & Co.—H. Sandland—Charles C. Winmill—W. Weir—J. R. Holliday and F. K. Rives.
Editor's Preface 7
Author's Preface 15
Student and Apprentice, their Aims and Conditions of Work—Necessity for Some Equality between Theory and Practise—The Student's Opportunity lies on the Side of Design 25
Average Number of Tools required by Carvers—Selection for Beginners—Description of Tools—Position when in Use—Acquisition by Degrees 31
SHARPENING-STONES—MALLET AND BENCH
Different Stones in Use—Case for Stones—Slips—Round Mallet Best—A Home-Made Bench—A Makeshift Bench—Cramps and Clips 42
WOODS USED FOR CARVING
Hard Wood and Soft Wood—Closeness of Grain Desirable—Advantages of Pine and English Oak 48
SHARPENING THE TOOLS
The Proper Bevel—Position of Tools on Oilstone—Good and Bad Edge—Stropping—Paste and Leather—Careless Sharpening—Rubbing Out the Inside—Stropping Fine Tools—Importance of Sharp Tools 52
Its Savage Origin—A Clue to its only Claim to Artistic Importance—Monotony better than Variety—An Exercise in Patience and Precision—Technical Methods 63
THE GRAIN OF THE WOOD
Obstinacy of the Woody Fiber—First Exercise in Grounding—Description of Method—Cutting the Miters—Handling of Tools, Danger of Carelessness—Importance of Clean Cutting 69
IMITATION OF NATURAL FORMS
Difficulties of Selection and Arrangement—Limits of an Imitative Treatment—Light and Distance Factors in the Arrangement of a Design—Economy of Detail Necessary—The Word "Conventional" 82
Necessity for every Carver Making his own Designs—Method of Carving Rounded Forms on a Sunk Ground 88
THE PATTERNED BACKGROUND
Importance of Formal Pattern as an Aid to Visibility—Pattern and Free Rendering Compared—First Impressions Lasting—Medieval Choice of Natural Forms Governed by a Question of Pattern 96
CONTOURS OF SURFACE
Adaptation of Old Designs to Modern Purposes—"Throwing About"—Critical Inspection of Work from a Distance as it Proceeds 103
Dangers of Imposing Words—Novelty more Common than Originality—An Unwholesome Kind of "Originality" 108
Exercise in Background Pattern—Care as to Stability—Drilling and Sawing out the Spaces—Some Uses for Pierced Patterns 110
Carvings can not be Independent Ornaments—Carving Impossible on Commercial Productions—The Amateur Joiner—Corner Cupboards—Introduction of Foliage Definite in Form, and Simple in Character—Methods of Carving Grapes 115
Old Work Best Seen in its Original Place—Museums to be approached with Caution.—Methodical Memoranda—Some Examples—Assimilation of Ideas Better than Making Exact Copies 137
False Impressions Fostered by Fragmentary Exhibits—Environment as Important as Handicraft—Works Viewed as Records of Character—Carvers the Historians of their Time 149
STUDIES FROM NATURE—FOLIAGE
Medieval and Modern Choice of Form Compared—A Compromise Adopted—A List of Plant Forms of Adaptable Character 153
CARVING ON FURNITURE
Furniture Constructed with a View to Carving—Reciprocal Aims of Joiner and Carver—Smoothness Desirable where Carving is Handled—The Introduction of Animals or Figures 161
THE GROTESQUE IN CARVING
Misproportion Not Essential to the Expression of Humor—The Sham Grotesque Contemptible—A True Sense of Humor Helpful to the Carver 180
STUDIES FROM NATURE—BIRDS AND BEASTS
The Introduction of Animal Forms—Rude Vitality better than Dull "Natural History"—"Action"—Difficulties of the Study for Town-Bred Students—The Aid of Books and Photographs—Outline Drawing and Suggestion of Main Masses—Sketch-Book Studies, Sections, and Notes—Swiss Animal Carving—The Clay Model: its Use and Abuse 191
FORESHORTENING AS APPLIED TO WORK IN RELIEF
Intelligible Background Outline Better than Confused Foreshortening—Superposition of Masses 205
UNDERCUTTING AND "BUILT-UP" WORK
Undercutting as a Means and as an End; its Use and Abuse—"Built-up" Work—"Planted" Work—"Pierced" Work 214
PICTURE SUBJECTS AND PERSPECTIVE
The Limitations of an Art not Safely Transgressed—Aerial Perspective Impossible in Relief—Linear Perspective only Possible in a Limited Way 219
The Necessity for Variety in Study—A Carver's View of the Study of Architecture; Inseparable from a Study of his own Craft—Importance of the Carpenter's Stimulating Influence upon the Carver—Carpenters' Imitation of Stone Construction Carried too Far 223
Tool Marks, the Importance of their Direction—The Woody Texture Dependent upon Clearness of Cutting and Sympathetic Handling 234
CRAFT SCHOOLS, PAST AND PRESENT
The Country Craftsman of Old Times—A Colony of Craftsmen in Busy Intercourse—The Modern Craftsman's Difficulties: Embarrassing Variety of Choice 240
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COOPERATION BETWEEN BUILDER AND CARVER
The Infinite Multiplicity of Styles—The "Gothic" Influence: Sculpture an Integral Element in its Designs—The Approach of the so-called "Renaissance" Period—Disturbed Convictions—The Revival of the Classical Style—The Two Styles in Conflict for a Time; their Respective Characteristics Reviewed—Carvers Become Dependent upon Architects and Painters—The "Revival" Separates "Designer" and "Executant" 249
NOTES ON THE COLLOTYPE PLATES 265
THE COLLOTYPE PLATES 271
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Page A Suggestion from Nature and Photography Frontispiece FIG. 1. 37 FIG. 2. 37 FIG. 3. 39 FIG. 4. 43 FIG. 5. 46 FIG. 6. 46 FIG. 7. 47 FIG. 8. A. ANGLE FOR SOFTWOOD B. ANGLE FOR HARDWOOD 52 FIG. 9. C. GOOD CUTTING EDGE D. BADLY FORMED EDGE. 54 FIG. 10. 58 FIG. 11. 61 FIG. 12. 68 FIG. 13. 74 FIG. 14. 74 FIG. 15. 78 FIG. 16. 88 FIG. 17. 91 FIG. 18. 94 FIG. 19. 94 FIG. 20. 96 FIG. 21. 100 FIG. 22. 103 FIG. 23. 105 FIG. 24. 111 FIG. 25. 113 FIG. 26. 113 FIG. 27. 116 FIG. 28. 119 FIG. 29. 120 FIG. 30. 120 FIG. 31. 120 FIG. 32. 123 FIG. 33. 123 FIG. 34. CARVING IN PANELS OF FIG 33 126 FIG. 35. 127 FIG. 36. 127 FIG. 37. 131 FIG. 38. 131 FIG. 39. a. 131 FIG. 39. b. 131 FIG. 40. 133 FIG. 41. 133 FIG. 42. 135 FIG. 43. 135 FIG. 44. 137 FIG. 45. 137 FIG. 46. 139 FIG. 47. 145 FIG. 48. 145 FIG. 49. 145 FIG. 50. 145 FIG. 51. 145 FIG. 52. 145 FIG. 53. 151 FIG. 54. 166 FIG. 55. 166 FIG. 56. 168 FIG. 57. 170 FIG. 58. 174 FIG. 59. 174 FIG. 60. 176 FIG. 61. 179 FIG. 62. 179 FIG. 63. 183 FIG. 64. 187 FIG. 65. 187 FIG. 66. 190 FIG. 67. 190 FIG. 68. 199 FIG. 69. 199 FIG. 70. 202 FIG. 71. 208 FIG. 72. 209 FIG. 73. 209 FIG. 74. 213 FIG. 75. 229 FIG. 76. 229 FIG. 77. 229
THE COLLOTYPE PLATES 271 I. Old Carved Chest in York Cathedral.
II.—Figure from the Tomb of Henry IV. in Canterbury Cathedral.
III.—Aisle Roof—Mildenhall Church, Suffolk.
IV.—Nave Roof—Sall Church, Norfolk.
V.—Portion of a Carved Oak Panel—The Sheepfold.
VI—Portion of a Carved Oak Panel—The Sheepfold.
VII.—Preliminary Drawing of a Lion for Carving. By Phillip Webb.
VIII.—Book Cover Carved in English Oak—"Tale of Troy." (only carved portion shown.)
IX.—Book Cover Carved in English Oak—"Tale of Troy." (only carved portion shown.)
X.—Book Cover Carved in English Oak—"Reynard the Fox." (only carved portions shown.)
XI.—Carving from Choir Stalls in Winchester Cathedral.
XII.—Carving from Choir Screen—Winchester Cathedral.
XIII.—Font Canopy—Trunch Church, Norfolk.
XIV.—Two designs for Carving, by Philip Webb. One executed, one in drawing.
XV.—Leg of a Settle, carved in English Oak.
XVI.—Pew Ends in Carved Oak—Brent Church, Somersetshire.
Student and Apprentice, their Aims and Conditions of Work—Necessity for some Equality between Theory and Practise—The Student's Opportunity lies on the Side of Design.
The study of some form of handicraft has of late years become an important element in the training of an art student. It is with the object of assisting such with practical directions, as well as suggesting to more practised carvers considerations of design and treatment, that the present volume has been written. The art of wood-carving, however, lends itself to literary demonstration only in a very limited way, more especially in the condensed form of a text-book, which must be looked upon merely as a temporary guide, of use only until such time as practise and study shall have strengthened the judgment of the student, and enabled him to assimilate the many and involved principles which underlie the development of his craft.
If the beginner has mastered to some extent the initial difficulties of the draftsman, and has a fair general knowledge of the laws of design, but no acquaintance with their application to the art of wood-carving, then the two factors which will most immediately affect his progress (apart from natural aptitude) are his opportunities for practise, and his knowledge of past and present conditions of work. No one can become a good carver without considerable practise—constant, if the best results are to be looked for. Just as truly, without some knowledge of past and existing conditions of practise, none may hope to escape the danger of becoming, on the one hand, dull imitators of the superficial qualities of old work; or on the other, followers of the first will-o'-the-wisp novelty which presents itself to their fancy.
If use of the tools and knowledge of materials were the only subjects of which a carver need become master, there would be no way equal to the old-fashioned one of apprenticeship to some good craftsman. Daily practise with the tools insures a manual dexterity with which no amateur need hope to compete. Many traditional expedients are handed down in this way that can be acquired in no other. There is, however, another side of the question to be considered, of quite as much importance as the practical one of handicraft skill. The art of wood-carving has also to fulfil its intellectual function, as an interpreter of the dreams and fancies of imagination. In this respect there is little encouragement to be looked for in the dull routine of a modern workshop.
There are, therefore, two widely separated standpoints from which the art may be viewed. It may be looked at from the position of a regular craftsman, who regards it primarily as his means of livelihood; or it may be dealt with as a subject of intellectual interest, based upon its relation to the laws of art in general. As, in the first instance, the use of the tools can not be learned without some accompanying knowledge of the laws of art, however slight that acquaintance may be, the method of apprenticeship has the advantage of being the more practical of the two; but it must be accepted with all the conditions imposed upon it by the pressure of commercial interest and its usages: conditions, which, it may easily be imagined, are far more favorable to the performance of dull task-work, than to the adventurous spirit of curiosity which should prompt the enterprise of an energetic student.
On the other hand, although an independent study of the art offers a wider range of interest, the student is, for that very reason, exposed to the risk of involving himself in a labyrinth of confusing and ineffectual theories. The fact is, that neither method can at the present time be exclusively depended upon as a means of development; neither can be pronounced complete in itself nor independent of the other. The only sure safeguard against the vagueness of theory is constant practise with the tools; while, to the craftsman in the full enjoyment of every means for exercising and increasing his technical skill, a general study and intelligent conception of the wide possibilities of his art is just as essential, if it were only as an antidote to the influence of an otherwise mechanical employment. The more closely these contradictory views are made to approximate, the more certain will become the carver's aims, and the clearer will be his understanding of the difficulties which surround his path, enabling him to choose that which is practicable and intrinsically valuable, both as regards the theory and practise of his art.
If the student, through lack of opportunities for practise, is debarred from all chance of acquiring that expertness which accompanies great technical skill, he may at least find encouragement in the fact that he can never exhaust the interest afforded by his art in its infinite suggestion to the imagination and fancy; and also that by the exercise of diligence, and a determination to succeed, he may reasonably hope to gain such a degree of proficiency with the tools as will enable him to execute with his hands every idea which has a definite existence in his mind. Generally speaking, it will be found that his manual powers are always a little in advance of his perceptions.
Thus the student may gradually work out for himself a natural and reliable manner of expressing his thoughts, and in a way, too, that is likely to compensate for his technical shortcomings, by exciting a more lively interest in the resources of the art itself. The measure of his success will be determined partly by his innate capacity for the work, and partly by the amount of time which he is enabled to give to its practise. The resources of his art offer an infinite scope for the exercise of his powers of design, and as this is the side which lies nearest to his opportunities it should be the one which receives his most earnest attention, not merely as experiments on paper, but as exercises carried out to the best of his ability with the tools. Such technical difficulties as he may encounter in the process will gradually disappear with practise. There is also encouragement in the thought that wood-carving is an art which makes no immediate calls upon that mysterious combination of extraordinary gifts labeled "genius," but is rather one which demands tribute from the bright and happy inspirations of a normally healthy mind. There is, in this direction, quite a life's work for any enthusiast who aims at finding the bearings of his own small but precious gift, and in making it intelligible to others; while, at the same time, keeping himself free from the many confusions and affectations which surround him in the endeavor.
Average Number of Tools required by Carvers—Selection for Beginners—Description of Tools—Position when in Use—Acquisition by Degrees.
We will suppose that the student is anxious to make a practical commencement to his studies. The first consideration will be to procure a set of tools, and we propose in this place to describe those which will answer the purposes of a beginner, as well as to look generally at others in common use among craftsmen.
The tools used by carvers consist for the most part of chisels and gouges of different shapes and sizes. The number of tools required by professional carvers for one piece of work varies in proportion to the elaborateness of the carving to be done. They may use from half a dozen on simple work up to twenty or thirty for the more intricate carvings, this number being a selection out of a larger stock reaching perhaps as many as a hundred or more. Many of these tools vary only in size and sweep of cutting edge. Thus, chisels and gouges are to be had ranging from 1/16th of an inch to 1 inch wide, with curves or "sweeps" in each size graduated between a semicircle to a curve almost flat. Few carvers, however, possess such a complete stock of tools as would be represented by one of each size and shape manufactured; such a thing is not required: an average number of, say seventy tools, will always give a sufficient variety of size and sweep for general purposes; few pieces of work will require the use of more than half of these in its execution.
The beginner, however, need not possess more than from twelve to twenty-four, and may even make a start with fewer. It is a good plan to learn the uses of a few tools before acquiring a complete set, as by this means, when difficulties are felt in the execution of work, a tool of known description is sought for and purchased with a foreknowledge of its advantages. This is the surest way to gain a distinct knowledge of the varieties of each kind of tool, and their application to the different purposes of design.
The following list of tools (see Figs. 1 and 2) will be found sufficient for all the occasions of study: beginning by the purchase of the first section, Nos. 1 to 17, and adding others one by one until a set is made up of twenty-four tools. The tools should be selected as near the sizes and shapes shown in the illustration as possible. The curved and straight strokes represent the shape of the actual cuts made by pressing the tools down perpendicularly into a piece of wood. This, in the case of gouges, is generally called the "sweep."
Nos. 1, 2, 3 are gouges, of sweeps varying from one almost flat (No. 1) to a distinct hollow in No. 3. These tools are made in two forms, straight-sided and "spade"-shaped; an illustration of the spade form is given on the second page of tools. In purchasing his set of tools the student should order Nos. 1, 2, 3, 10, 11 in this form. They will be found to have many advantages, as they conceal less of the wood behind them and get well into corners inaccessible to straight-sided tools. They are lighter and more easily sharpened, and are very necessary in finishing the surface of work, and in shaping out foliage, more especially such as is undercut.
Nos. 5, 6, 7 are straight gouges graduated in size and sweep. No. 8 is called a Veiner, because it is often used for making the grooves which represent veins in leaves. It is a narrow but deep gouge, and is used for any narrow grooves which may be required, and for outlining the drawing at starting.
No. 9 is called a V tool or "parting" tool, on account of its shape. It is used for making grooves with straight sides and sharp inner angles at the bottom. It can be used for various purposes, such as undercutting, clearing out sharply defined angles, outlining the drawing, etc., etc. It should be got with a square cutting edge, not beveled off as some are made. Nos. 10, 11, 12 are flat chisels, or, as they are sometimes called, "firmers." (Nos. 10 and 11 should be in spade shape.) No. 13 is also a flat chisel, but it is beveled off to a point, and is called a "corner-chisel"; it is used for getting into difficult corners, and is a most useful tool when used as a knife for delicate edges or curves.
Nos. 14 and 16 are what are known as "bent chisels"; they are used principally for leveling the ground (or background), and are therefore also called "grounders." These tools are made with various curves or bends in their length, but for our present uses one with a bend like that shown to tool No. 23, Fig. 2, and at a in Fig. 3, will be best; more bend, as at b, would only make the tool unfit for leveling purposes on a flat ground.
No. 15 is a similar tool, but called a "corner grounder," as it is beveled off like a corner-chisel.
No. 17 is an additional gouge of very slow sweep and small size. This is a very handy little tool, and serves a variety of purposes when you come to finishing the surface.
These seventeen tools will make up a very useful set for the beginner, and should serve him for a long time, or at least until he really begins to feel the want of others; then he may get the remainder shown on Fig. 2.
Nos. 18, 19, 20 are deep gouges, having somewhat straight sides; they are used where grooves are set deeply, and when they are required to change in section from deep and narrow to wide and shallow. This is done by turning the tool on its side, which brings the flatter sweep into action, thus changing the shape of the hollow. Nos. 21, 22 are gouges, but are called "bent gouges"—"front bent" in this case, "back bent" when the cutting "sweep" is turned upside down. It is advisable when selecting these tools to get them as shown in the illustration, with a very easy curve in their bend; they are more generally useful so, as quick bends are only good for very deep hollows. These tools are used for making grooves in hollow places where an ordinary gouge will not work, owing to its meeting the opposing fiber of the wood.
No. 23 is a similar tool, but very "easy" both in its "sweep" and bend—the sweep should be little more than recognizable as a curve. This tool may be used as a grounder when the wood is slightly hollow, or liable to tear up under the flat grounder.
No. 24 is called a "Maccaroni" tool. This is used for clearing out the ground close against leaves or other projections; as it has two square sides it can be used right and left.
In the illustration, Fig 3, a shows the best form of grounding tool; b is little or no use for this purpose, as it curves up too suddenly for work on a flat ground. It is a good thing to have the handles of tools made of different colored woods, as it assists the carver in picking them out quickly from those lying ready for use.
When in use, the tools should be laid out in front of the carver if possible, and with their points toward him, in order that he may see the shape and choose quickly the one he wants.
The tempering of tools is a very important factor in their efficiency. It is only of too common occurrence to find many of the tools manufactured of late years unfit for use on account of their softness of metal. There is nothing more vexatious to a carver than working with a tool which turns over its cutting edge, even in soft wood; such tools should be returned to the agent who sold them.
With a selection from the above tools, acquired by degrees in the manner described, almost any kind of work may be done. There is no need whatever to have a tool for every curve of the design. These can readily be made by using straight chisels in combination with such gouges as we possess, or by sweeping the curves along their sides with a chisel used knife fashion. No really beautiful curves can be made by merely following the curves of gouges, however various their sweeps, as they are all segments of circles.
Tools generally come from the manufacturer ground, but not sharpened. As the student must in any case learn how to sharpen his tools, it will be just as well to get them in that way rather than ready for use. As this process of sharpening tools is a very important one, it must be reserved for another place. Should tools be seriously blunted or broken they must be reground. This can be done by the carver, either on a grindstone or a piece of gritty York stone, care being taken to repeat the original bevel; or they may be sent to a tool shop where they are in the habit of grinding carving tools.
Catalogues of tools may be had from good makers; they will be found to consist mainly in a large variety of the tools already mentioned. Those which are very much bent or curved are intended for special application to elaborate and difficult passages in carving, and need not concern the student until he comes to find the actual want of such shapes; such, for instance, as bent parting tools and back bent gouges.
In addition to the above tools, carvers occasionally use one called a "Router." This is a kind of plane with a narrow perpendicular blade. It is used for digging or "routing" out the wood in places where it is to be sunk to form a ground. It is not a tool to be recommended for the use of beginners, who should learn to make sufficiently even backgrounds without the aid of mechanical contrivances. Carvers also use the "Rifler," which is a bent file. This is useful for very fine work in hard wood, and also for roughly approximating to rounded forms before finishing with the tools.
A few joiner's tools are very useful to the carver, and should form part of his equipment. A wide chisel, say about 1-1/4 in. wide, a small iron "bull-nose" plane, and a keyhole saw, will all be helpful, and save a lot of unnecessary labor with the carving tools.
SHARPENING-STONES—MALLET AND BENCH
Different Stones in use—Case for Stones—Slips—Round Mallet Best—A Home-Made Bench—A Makeshift Bench—Cramps and Clips.
The stones which are most generally used for the purpose of sharpening carving tools are "Turkey" and "Washita." There are many others, some equally good, but "Washita" is easily procured and very serviceable. It is to be had in various grades, and it may be just as well to have one coarse and one fine, but in any case we must have a fine-grained stone to put a keen edge on the tools. A "Turkey" stone is a fine-grained and slow-cutting one, and may take the place of the finer "Washita." The "India" oilstone is a composition of emery with some kind of stone dust, and is a useful stone for quickly rubbing down superfluous steel before putting an edge to the tool. It is better to get these stones without cases, as they can then be used on both sides, one for flat tools and one for gouges, which wear the face of a stone into grooves. A case may be made by hollowing out a block of wood so as to take the stone loosely; and if at one end a small notch is made in this block, a screwdriver may be inserted under the stone when it is necessary to turn it. Two brads or pins should be inserted in holes, having their points just appearing below the bottom of the block. These prevent it slipping about when in use. These stones should be lubricated with a mixture of olive oil and paraffin in equal parts. Bicycle lubricating oil is very good for this purpose.
For sharpening the insides of tools, "slips" are made with rounded edges of different sizes. One slip of "Washita" stone and one of "Arkansas" will be enough for the present, as they will fit moderately well most of the gouges in the beginner's set of tools; the "Arkansas" being used for the smaller tools. The "Arkansas" slip should be what is called "knife-edged." This is required for sharpening such tools as the veiner and V tool; it is a very fine marble-like stone, and exceedingly brittle; care must be taken in handling it, as a fall would in all probability be fatal.
THE BENCH AND MALLET
The Mallet.—The carver's mallet is used for driving his tools where force is required. The most suitable form is the round one, made of beech; one 4 ins. diameter will be heavy enough.
The Bench.—Every carver should provide himself with a bench. He may make one for himself according to the size and construction shown in the illustration, Fig. 5. The top should be made of two 11 x 2 in. boards, and, as steadiness is the main feature to be aimed at, the joints should have some care. Those in illustration are shown to be formed by checking one piece of wood over the other, with shoulders to resist lateral strain. Proper tenons would be better, but more difficult to make. It must have a projecting edge at the front and ends, to receive the clamps. The bench should have a joiner's "bench-screw" attached to the back leg for holding work which is to be carved on its edges or ends. The feet should be secured to the floor by means of iron brackets, as considerable force is applied in carving hard wood, which may move the bench bodily, unless it is secured, or is very heavy. Professional carvers use a bench which is composed of beech planks, three or four inches in thickness, and of length according to shop-room.
Should it not be possible to make or procure a bench, then a substitute must be used. Fig. 6 gives a suggestion for making such a temporary bench. The top is composed of one piece of board, 11 ins. wide and 1-1/2 in. thick. It should be about 2 ft. 6 ins. long and rest on two blocks fixed about 1-1/2 in. from the ends, which must project, as in Fig. 6. This may be used on any ordinary table, to which it should be secured by means of two 3-1/2-in. clamps. The height from the floor should be 3 ft. 2 ins. to top of board. This gives a good height for working, as carvers invariably stand to their work. The height can be regulated by making the blocks, a, higher or lower to suit the table which is to be used.
Cramps.—Cramps for holding the work in position on the bench are of several kinds. For ordinary thicknesses of wood, two 4-1/2-in. screw clamps, like the one in Fig. 7, will be sufficient. Wooden blocks may be also used to hold one end of the work down while the other is held by a clamp. These blocks are notched out to fit over the thickness of the board being carved, as in Fig. 7. Carvers use for their heavier work a "bench-screw," as it is called; that is, a screw which passes through the bench into the back of the work, which may thus be turned about at will; also, if the work is very thick, they hold it in position by means of a bench "holdfast," a kind of combined lever and screw; but neither of these contrivances is likely to be required by the beginner, whose work should be kept within manageable dimensions.
WOODS USED FOR CARVING
Hard Wood and Soft Wood—Closeness of Grain Desirable—Advantages of Pine and English Oak.
The woods suitable for carving are very various; but we shall confine our attention to those in common use. Of the softer woods, those which are most easily procured and most adaptable to modern uses are yellow pine, Bass wood, Kauri pine, and Lime. These are all good woods for the carver; but we need not at present look for any better qualities than we shall find in a good piece of yellow pine, free from knots or shakes.
The following woods may be considered as having an intermediate place between soft and hard: Sycamore, Beech, and Holly. They are light-colored woods, and Very useful for broad shallow work.
English Oak.—Of the hard woods in common use, the principal kinds are Oak, Walnut, and occasionally Mahogany. Of oak, the English variety is by far the best for the carver, being close in the grain and very hard. It is beyond all others the carvers' wood, and was invariably used by them in this country during the robust period of medieval craftsmanship. It offers to the carver an invigorating resistance to his tools, and its character determines to a great extent that of the work put upon it. It takes in finishing a very beautiful surface, when skilfully handled—and this tempts the carver to make the most of his opportunities by adapting his execution to its virtues. Other oaks, such as Austrian and American, are often used, but they do not offer quite the same tempting opportunity to the carver. They are, by nature, quicker-growing trees, and are, consequently, more open in the grain. They have tough, sinewy fibers, alternating with softer material. They rarely take the same degree of finish as the English oak, but remain somewhat dull in texture. Good pieces for carving may be got, but they must be picked out from a quantity of stuff. Chestnut is sometimes used as a substitute for oak, but it is better fitted for large-scaled work where fineness of detail is not of so much importance.
Italian Walnut.—This is a very fine-grained wood, of even texture. The Italian variety is the best for carving: it cuts with something of the firmness of English oak, and is capable of receiving even more finish of surface in small details. It is admirably suited for fine work in low relief. In choosing this wood for carving, the hardest and closest in grain should be picked, as it is by no means all of equal quality. It should be free from sap, which may be known by a light streak on the edges of the dark brown wood.
English walnut has too much "figure" in the grain to be suitable for carving. American walnut is best fitted for sharply cut shallow carving, as its fiber is caney. If it is used, the design should be one in which no fine modeling or detail is required, as this wood allows of little finish to the surface.
Mahogany, more especially the kind known as Honduras, is very similar to American walnut in quality of grain: it cuts in a sharp caney manner. The "Spanish" variety was closer in grain, but is now almost unprocurable. Work carved in mahogany should, like that in American walnut, be broad and simple in style, without much rounded detail.
It is quite unnecessary to pursue the subject of woods beyond the few kinds mentioned. Woods such as ebony, sandalwood, cherry, brier, box, pear-tree, lancewood, and many others, are all good for the carver, but are better fitted for special purposes and small work. As this book is concerned more with the art of carving than its application, it will save confusion if we accept yellow pine as our typical soft wood, and good close-grained oak as representing hard wood. It may be noted in passing that the woods of all flowering and fruit-bearing trees are very liable to the attack of worms and rot.
No carving, in whatever wood, should be polished. I shall refer to this when we come to "texture" and "finish."
SHARPENING THE TOOLS
The Proper Bevel—Position of Tools on Oilstone—Good and Bad Edge—Stropping—Paste and Leather—Careless Sharpening—Rubbing Out the Inside—Stropping Fine Tools—Importance of Sharp Tools.
Having given this brief description of the tools and materials used by carvers, we shall suppose a piece of work is about to be started. The first thing the carver will require to do is to sharpen his tools. That is, if we may assume that they have just come from the manufacturer, ground but not yet brought to an edge. It will be seen that each has a long bevel ending in a blunt ridge where the cutting edge should be. We shall take the chisel No. 10 and sharpen that first, as it is the easiest to do, and so get a little practise before we try the gouges. The oilstone and oil have already been described. The first thing is to well oil the stone and lay it on the bench in a position with its end toward the operator.
Tools which are going to be used in soft wood require rather a longer bevel and more acute edge than when they are wanted for hard wood. Both angles are shown in Fig. 8. Lay the flat of the tool on the stone at an angle of about 15 deg., with the handle in the hollow of the right hand, and two fingers of the left pressed upon the blade as near to the stone as possible. Then begin rubbing the tool from end to end of the stone, taking care not to rock the right hand up and down, but to keep it as level as possible throughout the stroke, bearing heavily on the blade with the left hand, to keep it well in contact with the stone. Rocking produces a rounded edge which is fatal to keenness. C (Fig. 9) gives approximately, to an enlarged scale, the sections of a good edge, and D that of an imperfect one.
Practise alone will familiarize the muscles of the wrist with the proper motion, but it is important to acquire this in order to form the correct habit early. It should be practised very slowly at first, until the hands get accustomed to the movements. When one side of the tool has been rubbed bright as far as the cutting edge, turn it over and treat the other in the same way. Carvers' tools, unlike joiners', are rubbed on both sides, in the proportion of about two-thirds outside to one-third inside. When a keen edge has been formed, which can easily be tested by gently applying the finger, it should be stropped on a piece of stout leather. It will be found, if the finger is passed down the tool and over its edge, that the stoning has turned up a burr. This must be removed by stropping on both sides alternately. A paste composed of emery and crocus powders mixed with grease is used to smear the leather before stropping; this can either be procured at the tool shop, or made by the carver. When the tool has been sufficiently stropped, and all burr removed, it is ready for use, but it is as well to try it on a piece of wood first, and test it for burr, and if necessary strop it again.
Before we leave this tool, however, we shall anticipate a little, and look at it after it has been used for some time and become blunt. Its cutting edge and the bevel above it are now polished to a high degree, owing to friction with the wood. We lay it on the stone, taking care to preserve the original angle (15 deg.). We find on looking at the tool after a little rubbing that this time it presents a bright rim along the edge in contrast with the gray steel which has been in contact with the stone. This bright rim is part of the polished surface the whole bevel had before we began this second sharpening, which proves that the actual edge has not yet touched the stone. We are tempted to lift the right hand ever so little, and so get rid of this bright rim (sometimes called the "candle"); we shall thus get an edge quicker than if we have to rub away all the steel behind it. We do this, and soon get our edge; the bright rim has disappeared, but we have done an unwise thing, and have not saved much time, because we have begun to make a rounded edge, which, if carried a little farther, will make the tool useless until it is reground. There is no help for it: time must be spent and trouble taken in sharpening tools; with method and care there need be very little grinding, unless tools are actually broken.
To resume our lesson in tool-sharpening: we can not do much carving with one chisel, so we shall now take up gouge No. 2 as being the least difficult. This being a rounded tool, we must turn the stone over and use the side we have determined to keep for gouges, etc. We commence rubbing it up and down the stone in the same manner as described for the chisel, but, in addition, we have now another motion. To bring all the parts of the edge into contact with the stone the gouge must be rolled from side to side as it goes up and down. To accomplish this the wrist should be slowly practised until it gets into step with the up and down motions; it matters very little whether one turn of the tool is given to one passage along the stone, or only one turn to many up and down rubbings. The main thing is evenness of rubbing all along the circular edge, as if one part gets more than its share the edge becomes wavy, which is a thing to be avoided as much as possible. When the outside has been cleanly rubbed up to the edge, the inside is to be rubbed out with the Washita slip and oil to the extent of about half as much as the outside. The handle of the tool should be grasped in the left hand, while its blade rests on a block of wood, or on the oilstone. Hold the slip between the fingers and thumb, slanting a little over the inner edge; and work it in a series of short downward strokes, beginning the stroke at one corner of the gouge and leaving off at the other (see Fig. 10). Strop the outside of the tool, and test for burr, then lay the leather over the handle of another tool and strop the inside, repeating the operation until all burr has been removed, when probably the tool will be ready for use.
The Veiner requires the same kind of treatment, only as this tool is not part of a circle in its section (having straight sides), only one-half must be done at a time; and it is as well to give the straight sides one stroke or so in every half-dozen all to itself to keep it in shape. Care must be taken with this tool as it is easily rubbed out of shape. The inside must be finished off with the Arkansas knife-edged slip, one side at a time, as it is impossible to sweep out the whole section of these deep tools at one stroke. Stropping must follow as before, but as this tool is so small that the leather will not enter its hollow, the leather must be laid down flat and the hollow of the tool drawn along its edge until it makes a little ridge for itself which fills the hollow and clears off burr (see Fig. 11); if any such adheres outside, a slight rub on the Arkansas stone will probably remove it. When the edges of the tools begin to get dull, it often happens that they only require to be stropped, which should be frequently done. As the treatment of all gouges is more or less like what has been described, practise will enable the student to adapt it to the shape of the tool which requires his attention. There remains only the V tool, the Spoon tools, and the Maccaroni, which all require special attention. The point of the V tool is so acute that it becomes difficult to clear the inside. A knife-edged slip is used for this purpose, and it is well also to cut a slip of wood to a thin edge, and after rubbing it with paste and oil, pass it down frequently over the point between the sides. Unless a very sharp point is obtained, this tool is practically useless; the least speck of burr or dullness will stop its progress or tear up the wood. In sharpening it, the sides should be pressed firmly on the stone, watching it every now and then to see what effect is being produced. If a gap begins to appear on one side, as it often does, then rub the other side until it disappears, taking care to bear more heavily on the point of the tool than elsewhere. If the sides get out of shape, pass the tool along the stone, holding it at right angles to the side of the stone, but at the proper angle of elevation; in this case the tool is held near its end, between fingers and thumb. Spoon tools must be held to the stone at a much higher angle until the cutting edge is in the right relation to the surface, or they may be drawn sidewise along it, taking care that every part of the edge comes in contact and receives an equal amount of rubbing. These may be treated half at a time, or all round, according to the size and depth of the tool. However it is produced, the one thing essential is a long straight-sectioned cutting bevel, not a rounded or obtuse one. Strop the inside by folding up the leather into a little roll or ball until it fills the hollow of the tool.
For the small set of tools described in Chapter II one flat oilstone and two slips will be found sufficient for a beginning, but as a matter of fact, it will be advisable, as the number of tools is enlarged, to obtain slips of curves corresponding to the hollows of all gouges as nearly as possible. Many professional carvers have sets of these slips for the insides of tools, varying in curves which exactly fit every hollow tool they possess, including a triangular one for the inside of the V tool. The same rule sometimes applies to the sweeps of the outsides of gouges, for these, corresponding channels are ground out in flat stones, a process which is both difficult and laborious. If the insides are dealt with on fitting slips, which may be easily adapted to the purpose by application to a grindstone, the outsides are not so difficult to manage, so that grooved stones may be dispensed with.
Before we leave the subject of sharpening tools it will be well to impress upon the beginner the extreme importance of keeping his tools in good order. When a tool is really sharp it whistles as it works; a dull tool makes dull work, and the carver loses both time and temper. There can be no doubt that the great technical skill shown in the works of Grinling Gibbons and his followers could not have been arrived at without the help of extraordinarily sharp tools. Tools not merely sharpened and then used until they became dull, but tools that were always sharp, and never allowed to approach dullness. Sharpening tools is indeed an art in itself, and like other arts has its votaries, who successfully conquer its difficulties with apparent ease, while others are baffled at every point. Impatience is the stumbling-block in such operations. Those most painstaking people, the Chinese, according to all accounts, put magic into their sharpening stones; the keenness of their blades being only equaled by that of their wits in all such matters of delicate application. To make a good beginning is a great point gained. To carefully examine every tool, and at the expense of time correct the faults of management, is the only way to become expert in sharpening tools.
Its Savage Origin—A Clue to its only Claim to Artistic Importance—Monotony better than Variety—An Exercise in Impatience and Precision—Technical Methods.
One of the simplest forms of wood-carving is that known as "chip" carving. This kind of work is by no means of modern origin, as its development may be traced to a source in the barbaric instinct for decoration common to the ancient inhabitants of New Zealand and other South Sea Islands. Technically, and with modern tools, it is a form of the art which demands but little skill, save in the matter of precision and patient repetition. As practised by its savage masters, the perfection of these two qualities elevates their work to the dignity of a real art. It is difficult to conceive the contradictory fact, that this apparently simple form of art was once the exponent of a struggling desire for refinement on the part of fierce and warlike men, and that it should, under the influence of polite society, become the all-too-easy task of esthetically minded schoolgirls. In the hands of those warrior artists, and with the tools at their command, mostly fashioned from sharpened fish-bones and such like rude materials, it was an art which required the equivalent of many fine artistic qualities, as such are understood by more cultivated nations. The marvelous dexterity and determined purpose evinced in the laborious decoration of canoe paddles, ax-handles, and other weapons, is, under such technical disabilities as to tools, really very impressive. This being so, there is no inherent reason why such a rudimentary form of the art as "chip" carving should not be practised in a way consistent with its true nature and limitations. As its elemental distinctions are so few, and its methods so simple, it follows that in recognizing such limitations, we shall make the most of our design. Instead, then, of trusting to a forced variety, let us seek for its strong point in an opposite direction, and by the monotonous repetition of basket-like patterns, win the not-to-be-despised praise which is due to patience and perseverance. In this way only can such a restricted form of artistic expression become in the least degree interesting. The designs usually associated with the "civilized" practise of this work are, generally speaking, of the kind known as "geometric," that is to say, composed of circles and straight lines intersecting each other in complicated pattern. Now the "variety" obtained in this manner, as contrasted with the dignified monotony of the savage's method, is the note which marks a weak desire to attain great results with little effort. The "variety," as such, is wholly mechanical, the technical difficulties, with modern tools at command, are felt at a glance to be very trifling; therefore such designs are quite unsuitable to the kind of work, if human sympathies are to be excited in a reasonable way.
An important fact in connection with this kind of design is that most of these geometric patterns are, apart from their uncomfortable "variety," based on too large a scale as to detail. All the laborious carving on paddles and clubs, such as may be seen in our museums, is founded upon a scale of detail in which the holes vary in size from 1/16 to something under 1/4 in. their longest way, only in special places, such as borders, etc., attaining a larger size. Such variety as the artist has permitted himself being confined to the occasional introduction of a circular form, but mostly obtained by a subtle change in the proportion of the holes, or by an alternate emphasis upon perpendicular or horizontal lines.
As a test of endurance, and as an experimental effort with carving tools, I set you this exercise. In Fig. 12 you will find a pattern taken from one of those South Sea carvings which we have been considering. Now, take one of the articles so often disfigured with childish and hasty efforts to cover a surface with so-called "art work," such as the side of a bellows or the surface of a bread-plate, and on it carve this pattern, repeating the same-shaped holes until you fill the entire space. By the time you have completed it you will begin to understand and appreciate one of the fundamental qualities which must go toward the making of a carver, namely, patience; and you will have produced a thing which may give you pleasant surprises, in the unexpected but very natural admiration it elicits from your friends.
Having drawn the pattern on your wood, ruling the lines to measurement, and being careful to keep your lines thin and clear as drawn with a somewhat hard pencil, proceed to cut out the holes with the chisel, No. 11 on our list, 1/4 in. wide. It will serve the purpose much better than the knife usually sold for this kind of work, and will be giving you useful practise with a very necessary carving tool. The corner of the chisel will do most of the work, sloping it to suit the different angles at the bottom of the holes. Each chip should come out with a clean cut, but to insure this the downward cuts should be done first, forming the raised diagonal lines.
When you have successfully performed this piece of discipline, you may, if you care to do more of the same kind of work, carry out a design based upon the principles we have been discussing, but introducing a very moderate amount of variety by using one or more of the patterns shown in Fig. 12, all of which are from the same dusky artist's designs and can not be improved upon. If you wish for more variety than these narrow limits afford, then try some other kind of carving, with perhaps leafage as its motive.
THE GRAIN OF THE WOOD
Obstinacy of the Woody Fiber—First Exercise in Grounding—Description of Method—Cutting the Miters—Handling of Tools, Danger of Carelessness—Importance of Clean Cutting.
It is curious to imagine what the inside of a young enthusiast's head must be like when he makes his first conscious step toward artistic expression. The chaotic jumbles of half-formed ideas, whirling about in its recesses, produce kaleidoscopic effects, which to him look like the most lovely pictures. If he could only learn to put them down! let him but acquire the technical department of his art, and what easier than to realize those most marvelous dreams. Later in his progress it begins to dawn upon him that this same technical department may not be so very obedient to his wishes; it may have laws of its own, which shall change his fairy fancies into sober images, not at all unlike something which has often been done before by others. But let the young soul continue to see visions, the more the better, provided they be of the right sort. We shall in the meantime ask him to curb his imagination, and yield his faculties for the moment to the apparently simple task of realizing a leaf or two from one of the trees in his enchanted valley.
With the student's kind permission we shall, while these lessons continue, make believe that teacher and pupil are together in a class-room, or, better still, in a country workshop, with chips flying in all directions under busy hands.
I must tell you then, that the first surprise which awaits the beginner, and one which opens his eyes to a whole series of restraints upon the freedom of his operations, lies in the discovery that wood has a decided grain or fiber. He will find that it sometimes behaves in a very obstinate manner, refusing to cut straight here, chipping off there, and altogether seeming to take pleasure in thwarting his every effort. By and by he gets to know his piece of wood; where the grain dips and where it comes up or wriggles, and with practise he becomes its master. He finds in this, his first technical difficulty, a kind of blessing in disguise, because it sets bounds to what would otherwise be an infinitely vague choice of methods.
We shall now take a piece of yellow pine, free from knots, and planed clean all round. The size may be about 12 ins. long by 7 ins. wide. We shall fix this to the bench by means of two clamps or one clamp and a screwed block at opposite corners. Now we are ready to begin work, but up to the present we have not thought of the design we intend executing, being so intent upon the tools and impatient for an attack upon the silky wood with their sharp edges.
The illustration, Fig. 13, gives a clue to the sort of design to begin with; it measures about 11 ins. long by 7 ins. wide, allowing a margin all round. The wood should be a little longer than the design, as the ends get spoiled by the clamps. This little design need not, and indeed should not, be copied. Make one for yourself entirely different, only bearing in mind the points which are to be observed in arranging it, and which have for their object the avoidance of difficulties likely to be too much for a first effort. These points are somewhat to this effect: the design should be of leaves, laid out flat on a background, with no complication of perspective. They should have no undulations of surface. That is to say, the margins of all the features should be as nearly as possible the original surface of the wood, which may have just the least possible bit of finish in the manner I shall describe later on. The articulation of the leaves and flower is represented by simple gouge cuts. There should be nothing in the design requiring rounded surfaces. The passage for tools in clearing out the ground between the features must not be less than 1/4 in.; this will allow the 3/16 in. corner grounder to pass freely backward and forward. The ground is supposed to be sunk about three-sixteenths of an inch.
As you have not got your design made, I shall, for convenience' sake, explain how Fig. 13 should be begun and finished. First having traced the full-size design it should be transferred to the wood by means of a piece of blue carbon paper.
Then with either the Veiner or V tool outline the whole of the leaves, etc., about 1/8 in. deep, keeping well on the outside of the drawing. Ignore all minor detail for the present, blocking out the design in masses. No outline need be grooved for the margin of the panel at present, as it should be done with a larger tool. For this purpose take gouge No. 6 (1/4 in. wide), and begin at the left-hand bottom corner of the panel, cut a groove about 1/16 in. within the blue line, taking care not to cut off parts of the leaves in the process; begin a little above the corner at the bottom, and leave off a little below that at the top. The miters will be formed later on.
In this operation, as in all subsequent ones, the grain of the wood will be more or less in evidence. You will by degrees get to know the piece of wood you are working upon, and cut in such a way that your tool runs with the grain and not against it; that is to say, you will cut as much as possible on the up-hill direction of the fiber. This can not always be done in deep hollows, but then you will have had some practise before you attempt these.
Now take chisel No. 11, and with it stab into the grooved outline, pressing the tool down perpendicularly to what you think feels like the depth of the ground. The mallet need not be used for this, as the wood is soft enough to allow of the tools being pressed by the hand alone, but remember that the force must be proportioned to the depth desired, and to the direction of the grain; much less pressure is wanted to drive a tool into the wood when its edge is parallel with the grain than when it lies in a cross direction; small tools penetrate more easily than large ones, as a matter of course, but one must think of these things or accidents happen.
When you have been all round the design in this way with such gouges as may be needed for the slow and quick curves, get the wood out nearly down to the ground, leaving a little for finishing. Do this with any tool that fits the spaces best; the larger the better. Cut across the grain as much as possible, not along it. The flat gouge, No. 1, will be found useful for this purpose in the larger spaces, and the grounders for the narrow passages. This leaves the ground in a rough state, which must be finished later on.
Now take gouges Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and chisels Nos. 10, 11, 12, and with them cut down the outline as accurately as possible to the depth of the ground, and, if you are lucky, just a hair's breadth deeper. In doing this make the sides slope a little outward toward the bottom. If the gouges do not entirely adapt themselves to the contours of your lines, do not trouble, but leave that bit to be done afterward with a sweep of the tool, either a flat gouge, or the corner-chisel used like a knife.
Now we have all the outline cut down to the depth of the background, and may proceed to clear out the wood hanging about between the design and the ground all round it. We shall do this with the "grounders," using the largest one when possible, and only taking to the smallest when absolutely necessary on account of space. This done, we shall now proceed to finish the hollow sides of the panel and make the miters. Again, take No. 6 gouge and drive a clear hollow touching the blue line at end of panel, and reaching the bottom of the sinking, i.e., the actual ground as finished, see a, Fig. 15. To form the miter at top of left-hand side of panel, carry the hollow on until the tool reaches the bottom of the hollow running along the top; as soon as this point is gained, turn the tool out and pitch it a little up in the way shown at c, Fig. 15, in which the tool is shown at an angle which brings the edge of the gouge exactly on the line of the miter to be formed. Beginning as it does at b, this quick turn of the handle to the left takes out the little bit of wood shown by dotted lines at b, and forms one-half of the miter. The cross-grain cut should be done first, as in this way there is less risk of splintering. Now repeat the process on the long-grain side of the panel, and one miter is in a good way for being finished.
A word now about these sides of sunk panels. They always look better if they are hollowed with a gouge instead of being cut square down. In the first case they carry out the impression that the whole thing is cut out of a solid piece of wood, whereas when they are cut sharply down they always suggest cabinet-making, as if a piece had been glued on to form a margin.
We have now got the work blocked out and the ground fairly level, and we are ready to do the little carving we have allowed ourselves. Before we begin this I shall take the opportunity of reminding you that you must be very careful in handling your tools; it is a matter of the greatest importance, if the contingency of cut fingers or damaged work is to be avoided. The left hand in carving has nearly as much to do as the right, only in a different way. Grasp the chisel or gouge in the left hand with the fingers somewhat extended, that is, the little finger will come well on to the blade, and the thumb run up toward the top of the handle; the wrist meanwhile resting on the work. The right hand is used for pushing the tool forward, and for turning it this way and that, in fact does most of the guiding. Both hands may be described as opposing each other in force, for the pressure on the tool from the right hand should be resisted by the left, until almost a balance is struck, and just enough force left to cut the wood gently, without danger of slipping forward and damaging it or the fingers. The tool is thus in complete command, and the slightest change of pressure on either hand may alter its direction or stop it altogether. Never drive a tool forward with one hand without this counter-resistance, as there is no knowing what may happen if it slips. Never wave tools about in the hand, and generally remember that they are dangerous implements, both to the user and the work. Never put too much force on a tool when in the neighborhood of a delicate passage, but take time and eat the bit of wood out mouse-like, in small fragments.
Now we are ready to finish our panel. Take the grounders, according to the size required, always using the biggest possible. Keep the tool well pressed down, and shave away the roughness of the ground, giving the tool a slight sideway motion as well as a forward one. Work right up to the leaves, etc., which, if cut deep enough, should allow the chips to come away freely, leaving a clear line of intersection; if it does not, then the upright sides must be cut down until the ground is quite clear of chips. Grounder tools are very prone to dig into the surface and make work for themselves: sharp tools, practise, and a slight sideway motion will prevent this. Tool No. 23 is useful in this respect, its corners being slightly lifted above the level of the ground as it passes along. Corners that can not be reached with the bent chisels may be finished off with the corner-chisel.
Now we come to the surface decorations, for the carving in this design consists of little more. This is all done with the gouges. Generally speaking, enter the groove at its widest end and leave it at the narrowest, lowering the handle of the tool gradually as you go along to lift the gouge out of the wood, producing the drawing of the forms at the same time. A gouge cut never looks so well as when done at one stroke; patching it afterward with amendments always produces a labored look. If this has to be done, the tool should be passed finally over the whole groove to remove the superfluous tool marks—a sideway gliding motion of the edge, combined with its forward motion, often succeeds in this operation. To form the circular center of the flower, press down gouge Nos. 5 or 6, gently at first and perpendicular to the wood. When a cut has been made all round the circle, work the edge of the tool in it, circus-like, by turning the handle in the fingers round and round until the edge cuts its way down to the proper depth. (See A, Fig. 15.)
Carve the sides of the leaves where necessary with flat gouges on the inside curves, and with chisels and corner-chisels on the outside ones. These should be used in a sliding or knife-like fashion, and not merely pushed forward. Finish the surface in the same manner all over between the gouge grooves and the edges of the leaves, producing a very slight bevel as in section a, Fig. 13, and this panel may be called finished.
Fig. 14 is another suggestion for a design, upon which I hope you will base one of your own as an exercise at this stage of your progress.
Before we begin another, though, I shall take this opportunity of reading you a short lecture on a most important matter which has a great deal to do with the preparation of your mind in making a suitable choice of subject for your future work.
IMITATION OF NATURAL FORMS
Difficulties of Selection and Arrangement—Limits of an Imitative Treatment—Light and Distance Factors in the Arrangement of a Design—Economy of Detail Necessary—The Word "Conventional."
Broadly stated, the three most formidable difficulties which confront the beginner when he sets out to make what he is pleased to call his design for carving in relief, are: Firstly, the choice of a subject; secondly, how far he may go in the imitation of its details; thirdly, its arrangement as a whole when he has decided the first two points.
Just now we shall deal only with the second difficulty, that is, how far may likeness to nature be carried. We shall do this, because until we come to some understanding on that point, a right choice of subject becomes practically impossible, consequently the consideration of its arrangement would be premature.
There is, strictly speaking, only one aim worthy of the artist's attention, be he carver or painter; and that is the representation of some form of life, or its associations. Luckily, there is a mighty consensus of opinion in support of this dictum, both by example and precept, so there is no need to discuss it, or question its authority. We shall proceed, therefore, to act upon it, and choose for our work only such material as in some way indicates life, either directly, as in trees, animals, or figures, or by association, and as explanation thereof, as in drapery and other accessories—never choosing a subject like those known to painters as "still life," such as bowls, fiddles, weapons, etc., unless, as I have said, they are associated with the more important element.
You have already discovered by practise that wood has a grain which sets bounds to the possibilities of technique. You have yet to learn that it has also an inordinate capacity for swallowing light. Now, as it is by the aid of light that we see the results of our labor, it follows that we should do everything in our power to take full advantage of that helpful agency. It is obvious that work which can not be seen is only so much labor thrown away. There is approximately a right relative distance from which to view all manner of carvings, and if from this position the work is not both distinct and coherent, its result is valueless.
Then what is the quality which makes all the difference between a telling piece of carving, and one which looks, at a moderate distance, like crumpled paper or the cork bark which decorates a suburban summer-house? The answer is, attention to strict economy in detail. Without economy there can be no arrangement, and without the latter no general effect. We are practically dealing, not with so much mere wood, but unconsciously we are directing our efforts to a manipulation of the light of day—playing with the lamps of the sky—and if we do not understand this, the result must be undoubtedly failure, with a piece of wood left on our hands, cut into unintelligible ruts.
But what, you will say, has all this to do with copying the infinite variety of nature's detail; surely it can not be wrong to imitate what is really beautiful in itself? You will find the best answer to this in the technical difficulties of your task. You have the grain of the wood to think of, and now you have this other difficulty in managing the light which is to display your design. The obstinacy of the wood may be to some extent conquered, and indeed has been almost entirely so, by the technical resources of Grinling Gibbons, but the treatment demanded by the laws of light and vision is quite another question, and if our work is to have its due effect, there is no other solution of the problem than by finding a way of complying with those laws.
If I want to represent a rose and make it intelligible at a glance from such and such a point of view, and I find after taking infinite pains to reproduce as many as I can of its numerous petals, and as much as possible of its complicated foliage, that I had not reckoned with the light which was to illuminate it, and that instead of displaying my work to advantage, it has blurred all its delicate forms into dusky and chaotic masses, would I not be foolish if I repeated such an experiment? Rather, I take the opposite extreme, and produce a rose this time which has but five petals, and one or two sprays of rudimentary foliage. Somehow the result is better, and it has only taken me a tenth part of the time to produce. I now find that I can afford, without offending the genius of light, or straining my eyesight, to add a few more petals and one or two extra leaves between those I have so sparingly designed, and a kind of balance is struck. The same thing happens when I try to represent a whole tree—I can not even count the leaves upon it, why then attempt to carve them? Let me make one leaf that will stand for fifty, and let that leaf be simplified until it is little more than an abstract of the form I see in such thousandfold variety. The proof that I am right this time is that when I stand at the proper distance to view my work, it is all as distinct as I could wish it to be. Not a leaf-point is quite lost to sight, except where, in vanishing into a shadow, it adds mystery without creating confusion.
We have in this discovery a clue to the meaning of the word "Conventional": it means that a particular method has been "agreed upon" as the best fitted for its purpose, i.e., as showing the work to most advantage with a minimum of labor. Not that experience had really anything to do with the invention of the method. Strange to say, the earliest efforts in carving were based upon an unquestioning sense that no other was possible, certainly no attempts were made to change it until in latter days temptations arose in various directions, the effects of which have entailed upon ourselves a conscious effort of choice in comparing the results of the many subsequent experiments.
Before I continue this subject further, I shall give you another exercise, with the object of making a closer resemblance to natural forms, bearing in mind the while all that has been said about a sparing use of minute detail with reference to its visible effect. We shall in this design attempt some shaping on the surface of the leaves and a little rounding too, which may add interest to the work. In my next lecture to you, I shall have something to say about another important element in all designs for wood-carving. I mean the shapes taken by the background between the leaves, like the patches of sky seen behind a tree.
Necessity for Every Carver Making his own Designs—Method of Carving Rounded Forms on a Sunk Ground.
Fig. 16, our second exercise, like the first one, is only to be taken as a suggestion for a design to be made by yourself. It is a fundamental principle that both design and execution should be the work of one and the same person, and I want you to begin by strictly practising this rule. It was indeed one of the main conditions of production in the best times of the past, and there is not a shadow of doubt that it must again come to be the universal rule if any real progress is to be made in the art of wood-carving, or in any other art for that matter. Just think for a moment how false must be the position of both parties, when one makes a "design" and another carries it out. The "designer" sets his head to work (we must not count his hands at present, as they only note down the results in a kind of writing), a "design" is produced and handed over to the carver to execute. He, the carver, sets his hands and eyes to work, to carry out the other man's idea, or at least interpret his notes for the same, his head meanwhile having very little to do, further than transfer the said notes to his hands. For very good reasons such an arrangement as this is bound to come to grief. One is, that no piece of carving can properly be said to be "designed" until it is finished to the last stroke. A drawing is only a map of its general outline, with perhaps contours approximately indicated by shading. In any case, even if a full-size model were supplied by the designer, the principle involved would suffer just the same degree of violence, for it is in the actual carving of the wood that the designer should find both his inspiration and the discipline which keeps it within reasonable bounds. He must be at full liberty to alter his original intention as the work develops under his hand.
Apparently I have been led into giving you another lecture; we must now get to work on our exercise.
Draw and trace your outline in the same manner as before, and transfer it to the wood. You may make it any convenient size, say on a board 18 ins. long by 9 ins. wide, or what other shape you like, provided you observe one or two conditions which I am going to point out. It shall have a fair amount of background between the features, and the design, whatever it is, shall form a traceable likeness to a pattern of some description; it shall have a rudimentary resemblance to nature, without going into much detail; and last, it shall have a few rounded forms in it, rounded both in outline and on the surface, as, for instance, plums.
In setting to work to carve this exercise, follow the same procedure as in the first one, up to the point when the surface decorations began. In the illustration, there is a suggestion for a variety in the background which does not occur in the other. In this case the little branches are supposed to lie along the tops of gentle elevations, and the plums to lie in the hollows. It produces a section something like this, Fig. 17. There is a sufficient excuse for this kind of treatment in the fact that the branches do not require much depth, and the plums will look all the better for a little more. The depth of the background will thus vary, say between 3/16 in. at the branches and 3/8 in. at the plums. The branches are supposed to be perfectly level from end to end, that is, they lie parallel to the surface of the wood, but of course curve about in the other direction. The leaves, on the other hand, are supposed to be somewhat rounded and falling away toward their sides and points in places. The vein in the center of the leaves may be done with a parting tool, as well as the serrations at the edge, or the latter may perhaps be more surely nicked out with a chisel, after the leaves have received their shapes, the leaves being made to appear as if one side was higher than the other, and as though their points, in some cases, touched the background, while in others the base may be the lowest part. The twigs coming out from the branches to support the plums should be somewhat like this in section, and should lie along the curve of the background, and be in themselves rounded, as in Fig. 18, see section a a. The bottom of the panel shows a bevel instead of a hollow border: this will serve to distinguish it as a starting-point for the little branches which appear to emerge from it like trees out of the ground. The plums should be carved by first cutting them down in outline to the background, as A, Fig. 19. Then the wood should be removed from the edge all round, to form the rounded surface. To do this, first take the large gouge, No. 2, and with its hollow side to the wood, cut off the top, from about its middle to one end, and reversing the process do the same with the other side. Then it will appear something like B (Fig. 19). The remainder must be shaped with any tool which will do it best. There is no royal road to the production of these rounded forms, but probably gouge No. 1 will do the most of it.
Here it may be observed that the fewer tools used the better, as if many are used there is always a risk of unpleasant facets at the places where the various marks join each other. Before you try the plums, or apples, or other rounded fruit which you may have in your design, it would be as well to experiment with one on a piece of spare wood in order to decide upon the most suitable tools. The stems or branches may be done with flat gouge No. 1, or the flat or corner chisel. A very delicate twist or spiral tendency in their upward growth will greatly improve their appearance, a mere faceting produced by a flat gouge or chisel will do this; anything is better than a mere round and bare surface, which has a tendency to look doughy. The little circular mark on the end of the plum (call it a plum, although that fruit has no such thing) is done by pressing gouge No. 7 into the wood first, with the handle rather near the surface of the wood, and afterward at a higher inclination, this taking out a tiny chip of a circular shape and leaving a V-shaped groove.
Now I am going to continue the subject of my last lecture, in order to impress upon you the importance of suiting your subject to the conditions demanded by the laws of technique and light. Practise with the tools must go hand in hand with the education of the head if good results are to be expected; nor must it be left wholly to hand and eye if you are to avoid the pitfalls which lie in wait for the unwary mechanic.
THE PATTERNED BACKGROUND
Importance of Formal Pattern as an Aid to Visibility—Pattern and Free Rendering Compared—First Impressions Lasting—Medieval Choice of Natural Forms Governed by a Question of Pattern.
By a comparison of the piece of Byzantine sculpture, Fig. 20, with the more elaborate treatment of foliage shown in Fig. 21, from late Gothic capitals, in Southwell Minster, it will be seen how an increasing desire for imitative resemblance has taken the place of a patterned foundation, and how, in consequence, the background is no longer discernible as a contrasting form. The Byzantine design is, of course, little more than a pattern with sunk holes for a background, and it is in marble; but those holes are arranged in a distinct and orderly fashion. The other is a highly realistic treatment of foliage, the likeness to nature being so fully developed that some of these groups have veins on the backs of the leaves. The question for the moment is this, which of the two extremes gives the clearest account of itself at a distance? I think there can be little doubt that the more formal arrangement bears this test better than the other, and this, too, in face of the fact that it has cost much less labor to produce. Remember we are only now considering the question of visibility in the design. You may like the undefined and suggestive masses into which the leaves and shadows of the Southwell one group themselves better than the unbending severity of the lines in the other, but that is not the point at present. You can not see the actual work which produces that mystery, and I may point out to you, that what is here romantic and pleasing on account of its changeful and informal shadows, is on the verge of becoming mere bewildering confusion; a tendency which always accompanies attempts to imitate the accidental or informal grouping of leaves, so common to their natural state. The further this is carried, the less is it possible to govern the forms of the background pattern; they become less discernible as contrasting forms, although they may be very interesting as elements of mystery and suggestive of things not actually seen. The consequence is a loss of power in producing that instantaneous impression of harmony which is one of the secrets of effectiveness in carving. This is greatly owing to the constant change of plane demanded by an imitative treatment, as well as the want of formality in its background. The lack of restful monotony in this respect creates confusion in the lights, making a closer inspection necessary in order to discern the beauty of the work. Now the human imagination loves surprises, and never wholly forgives the artist who, failing to administer a pleasant shock, invites it to come forward and examine the details of his work in order to see how well they are executed.
These examples, you will say, are from architectural details which have nothing to do with wood-carving. On the contrary, the same laws govern all manner of sculpturesque composition—scale or material making no difference whatever. A sculptured marble frieze or a carved ivory snuff-box may be equally censurable as being either so bare that they verge on baldness and want of interest, or so elaborate that they look like layers of fungus.
Do not imagine that I am urging any preference for a Byzantine treatment in your work; to do so would be as foolish as to ask you to don medieval costume while at work, or assume the speech and manners of the tenth century. It would be just as ridiculous on your part to affect a bias which was not natural to you. I am, however, strongly convinced that in the choice of natural forms and their arrangement into orderly masses (more particularly with regard to their appearance in silhouette against the ground), and also in the matter of an economical use of detail, we have much to learn from the carvers who preceded the fourteenth century. They thoroughly understood and appreciated the value of the light which fell upon their work, and in designing it arranged every detail with the object of reflecting as much of it as possible. To this end, their work was always calculated for its best effects to be seen at a fairly distant point of view; and to make sure that it would be both visible and coherent, seen from that point, they insisted upon some easily understood pattern which gave the key to the whole at a glance. To make a pattern of this kind is not such an easy matter as it looks. The forms of the background spaces are the complementary parts of the design, and are just as important as those of the solid portions; it takes them both to make a good design.
Now I believe you must have had enough of this subject for the present, more especially as you have not yet begun to feel the extraordinary difficulty of making up your mind as to what is and what is not fit for the carver's uses among the boundless examples of beauty spread out for our choice by Dame Nature.
Meantime, I do not want you to run away with the impression that when you have mastered the principles of economy in detail and an orderly disposition of background, that you have therefore learned all that is necessary in order to go on turning out design after design with the ease of a cook making pancakes according to a recipe. You will find by experience, I think, that all such principles are good for is to enforce clearness of utterance, so to speak, and to remind you that it is light you are dealing with, and upon which you must depend for all effects; also that the power of vision is limited. Acting upon them is quite another matter, and one, I am afraid, in which no one can help you much. You may be counseled as to the best and most practical mode of expressing your ideas, but those thoughts and inventions must come from yourself if they are to be worth having.
In my next lecture I shall have something to say with regard to originality of design, but now we must take up our tools again and begin work upon another exercise.
CONTOURS OF SURFACE
Adaptation of Old Designs to Modern Purposes—"Throwing About"—Critical Inspection of Work from a Distance as it Proceeds.
Here are two fragments of a kind of running ornament. Fig. 22 is a part of the jamb molding of a church in Vicenza. If you observe carefully, you will find that it has a decidedly classical appearance. The truth is that it was carved by a Gothic artist late in the fourteenth century, just after the Renaissance influence began to make itself felt. It is an adaptation by him of what he remembered having seen in his travels of the new style, grafted upon the traditional treatment ready to his hand. It suits our purpose all the better on that account, for the reason that we are going to re-adapt his design into an exercise, and shall attempt to make it suitable to our limited ability in handling the tools, to the change in material from stone to wood, and lastly, to our different aims and motives in the treatment of architectural ornament. Please do all this for yourself in another design, and look upon this suggestion merely in the light of helping a lame dog over a stile.
In this exercise (Fig. 23) you will repeat all you have already done with the others, until you come to the shaping of the leaves, in which an undulating or up and down motion has been attempted. This involves a kind of double drawing in the curves, one for the flat and one for the projections; so that they may appear to glide evenly from one point to the other, sweeping up and down, right and left, without losing their true contours. Carvers call this process "throwing about," i.e., making the leaves, etc., appear to rise from the background and again fall toward it in all directions. The phrase is a very meager one, and but poorly expresses the necessity for intimate sympathy between each surface so "thrown about." It is precisely in the observance of this last quality that effects of richness are produced. You can hardly have too much monotony of surface, but may easily err by having too much variety. Therefore, whatever system of light and shade you may adopt, be careful to repeat its motive in some sort of rhythmic order all over your work; by no other means can you make it rich and effective at a distance.
It is well every now and then to put your work up on a shelf or ledge at a distance and view it as a whole; you will thus see which parts tell and which do not, and so gain experience on this point. Work should also be turned about frequently, sidewise and upside down, in order to find how the light affects it in different directions. Of course, you must not think that because your work may happen to look well when seen from a little way off that it does not matter about the details, whether they be well or poorly carved. On the contrary, unless you satisfy the eye at both points of view, your work is a partial failure. The one thing is as important as the other, only, as the first glance at carved work is generally taken at some little distance, it is the more immediately necessary to think of that, before we begin to work for a closer inspection. First impressions are generally lasting with regard to carved work, and, as I have said before, beauty of detail seldom quite atones for failure in the arrangement of masses.
The rounded forms in this design may give you a little trouble, but practise, and that alone, will enable you to overcome this. Absolute smoothness is not desirable. Glass-papered surfaces are extremely ugly, because they obtrude themselves on account of their extreme smoothness, having lost all signs of handiwork in the tool marks. We shall have something to say presently about these tool marks in finishing, as it is a very important subject which may make all the difference between success or failure in finishing a piece of work.