Carving a Red Grouse


Carving a Red Grouse

Mike Wood takes flight with a red grouse in lime

The red grouse (Lagopus lagopus) is a mid-sized bird typically found in heather moorland and uplands in the north and west of the UK and across Ireland, although its population is in decline. The adult red grouse is particularly distinctive with wings that make a whirring sound when taking off in flight. The grouse has reddish-brown feathers over its body, highly visible red combs above the eyes (although on females the red is not so bright) and white legs. Its diet consists of heather flowers, seeds, shoots, cereal and berries.

Things you will need
• Rotary power carver
• Rotary burrs – a flame, a straight cutter and a diamond ball-ended cutter or similar
• Rotary drum/bobbin sander
• Plastic Wood
• Eyes
• Legs
• Adhesive
• Pyrography unit
• Brushes or airbrush
• Paints – various colours
• Lime: 40 x 60 x 80mm

1. Create a cutout of the pattern, select your piece of wood – I used lime (Tilia vulgaris) – and use two parts, one for the head and one for the body. Cut them roughly to shape with a bandsaw, large-frame or coping saw or similar. It does not matter which method you use to cut the blank, but trimming it now to get closer to the size you will use is a big time saver. It is much easier to saw it at this point than carve it off later

2. Starting with the head, use a rotary carving unit with a tapered burr or hand carving tools and rasps to achieve a rough shape

3. Next use a sanding bobbin in a rotary unit to sand the head smooth. If you do not have one
of these, use a fine rasp or similar followed by fine grades of hand abrasives. Once smooth, draw in the grouse’s eye and head detail

4. Now fit a parallel burr in your rotary carving unit and cut in the eye holes. You can use a gouge or even a drill with the right-sized bit, followed by abrasives, to do the same job. Also start to create the texture on the cheeks and the combs above the eyes. You can use hand carving tools and any suitable files and knives for this stage. The route to creating these details is not important unless time is an issue. For many, it is not that hand carving the piece isn’t viable just that it is slower

5. Refine the head detail with a small diamond ball in a rotary carving handpiece. Rifflers or ‘V’- and ‘U’-shaped gouges of various sizes work well, too. Now use Plastic Wood or a similar compound to fit the eyes, which I bought pre-made. You can purchase them from specialist suppliers and they come in all shapes, sizes and colours to suit various projects. Once the eyes are embedded in the Plastic Wood, remove and squeeze out any excess before blending and refining the shape around the eyes

6. The next stage is to refine the main body. You can use an angle grinder with a toothed wheel/disc files and carving tools, but aggressive abrasives will also work. After the initial shaping, which should include all the main undulations of the body form and the large shapes of the wings, draw in the wing feather positions. With a taper or flame cutter burr in a rotary carving tool, rough carve the side feathers

7. Use a sanding bobbin to get the body smooth before drawing in the feather detail

8. Use a high-speed unit and a bull-nosed stone (ceramic or diamond) to soften the edge of the feathers

9. With a ruby point or similar, carve in all back feathers and tail

10. For the final stages, use a small white stone to soften all underfeathers. Remember other types of cutters and tools can be used to create the same effect

11. Fit the head in place using glue. Make sure that the meeting faces are flat and smooth so you can get a good bond. Once secure, blend the head feathers into the body feathers

12. The base is a piece of pine (Pinus sylvestris) first shaped like a rock and then scorched. Next, wire-brush to create an undulated surface. The feet are cast. I do this myself but feet can also be bought to suit the bird being created. Once cast they are positioned but not affixed to the base. Drill a small 3mm hole through the feet and place a length of 3mm copper rod through the foot into the base and on this rod, drill and fix some shaped lime to create the legs

13. Glue the legs to the foot and leave to dry. Then, cover the cast feet in Epoxy Sculpt – white in this case – and texture to look like fine feathers. This should all done with the feet off the stone base

14. Begin to apply the bird’s very fine detail. Using a pyrography unit fitted with a scalpel-edge tip and a fine wire tip as required, define the shape of the feathers and burn in all of the shafts on the back of your grouse

15. Now deal with the side feathers…

16. … and then burn in undertail and belly detail

17. Once the body detail is completely burnt in…

18. … draw in all head feathers

19. If all has gone well, you should have a finished head with all the feathers marked and ready for painting

20. Your carved bird ready to be painted

21. A close-up of the finished painting on the feet. Note the addition of a small stine-like effect top layer on the rock. Such detail is up to you, but if you intend to try to create something realistic, it’s worth going the extra mile to create these details

22. Undercoat the bird using white gesso and a small amount of yellow ochre to make a pale cream. Coat the whole bird. Once done, mix burnt sienna mixed with a small amount of red violet paint in the edges of the main feathers. I use an airbrush for this but a brush can be used, too

23. Using the same colour blend give the bird several washes to achieve your desired effect. The initial feather detail will still show through the colour washes and be darker than the areas that were not highlighted. You’ll need to use burnt sienna to create the mottling detail on the neck and feathers. Next, using an airbrush and template, edge all feathers with white. Then paint all shafts in dark brown with a fine rigger

24. Now you need to start painting the vermiculation

25. Paint the edges of the primaries pale grey

26. The breast vermiculated is a mixture of black and burnt umber. I have created light ‘barring’ with the colour I used as the undercoat. As always, check your reference material. It is the fine detail that can make or break a project visually, so it’s worth spending the time to get it right

27. Your finished red grouse

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