Abyssinian Roller


Abyssinian roller:
Mike Wood carves a beautiful blue Abyssinian roller

Mike Wood carves a beautiful blue Abyssinian roller

The Abyssinian roller (Coracias abyssinicus) is a beautiful bird that is found in the tropical areas of Africa and are seen wider afield as far as temporary migration is concerned. The Abyssinian roller mainly feeds on insects, small rodents and invertebrates and some call them ‘sit and wait, or ambush hunters’. Their flight patterns give rise to the name ‘roller’.

Things you will need
• Rotary carving unit
• Handpiece to hold various cutters and sanding units
• Drum sander and abrasives to fit hand unit
• Coarse and medium grit tapered rotary cutter
• Medium grit ball rotary cutter
• Fine grit small ball rotary cutter
• Fine grit pointed ruby rotary cutter
• Fine grade flame/tapered cutter
• Medium sized fine grade ball-ended cutter
• Airbrush/brushes as appropriate
• Coloured artists paints
• PPE  – facemask/goggles, dust mask and extraction
• Pyrography unit and shading and incising/scalpel-type tips
• Selections of acrylic colours shown in the palette
• Airbrush and/or brushes to apply the colours
• Sand/grit or other textured material for the stand
• PVA or similar adhesive
• Jelutong (Dyera costulata) – 300 x 100 x 100mm
• Driftwood/branches to form a stand
• Material for the base
• Two 100mm long thin strips of holly (Ilex aquifolium)

Colour swatches

1. Turquoise with a small amount of white to block in the blue on the head breast flanks, leave under tail covets white
2. The back is painted cream, add yellow ochre to white gesso for this
3. Burnt sienna is airbrushed on all the back
4. Ultramarine blue is painted on the rump and front edge of the wings
• Mixing a light blue edge these feathers and finish with thin washes of base colour
• The shafts are painted in adding a small amount of back to the burnt sienna (I also used this to paint in some splits)
5. Yellow ochre was used to paint the feet, thin washes of burnt umber with satin varnish added to finish
6. Black for the bill and eye stripe

Carving the Roller

1. First cut out the bird shape on a bandsaw, coping saw or similar, following the template. Once cut, mark the main large features on the bird and then rough cut the shape of the body and head to represent the main profile lines and sections as best you can. Note that I cut a separate head section and join it to the main body. You can of course use a slightly wider piece of wood and create the bird in one piece. Once the bird is finished, one will not be able to tell the difference, either way

2. Rough down the bird following your previous markings using coarse rotary burrs. Once the main features are in place, further refine the head and body shape using a rotary carving unit fitted with a tapered burr – or using handtools – to achieve a rough shape. Make sure all of the main body forms and shapes on the top, sides and underneath are correct and in place before moving on to the next stage

3. Sand the bird all over using a drum sander. Remember, any dust is potentially harmful to health so use PPE and suitable extraction to minimise inhalation. The other problem with power sanding is that one can very quickly remove too much wood so be careful

4. Now mark the positions of all the feather patterns. I cannot stress enough to check reference material. Not all feathers are the same size and it is but one of those details that clearly make a given bird identifiable. Using a high-speed grinder and a small ruby point cutter carve in all feathers, main head and throat details details and use a round ball cutter to create the eye socket. Once done, use the ruby point cutter to create the fine detail on the head and feathers to better detail and define the shapes and detail required

5. Now use a sander or hand sand the top very gently to remove any harsh raised grain or fuzzy bits. Make note of where the area where the sanding bobbin rests this area needs to be slightly depressed to delineate the top rear section of the main body of the bird and the wings

6. Using a small round diamond burr put in splits on the feathers and ‘soften’ all edges of to create the effect required, paying particular attention to that depressed area mentioned previously

7. Now to the underside. Having already created the main forms of the underside – make any adjustments now to get the look right. You want the main body to have that soft pillow-like effect a bird’s feathers usually have and have the interesting areas of  where the wings and tail feathers meet the main body and refined a little head shape. One done, set your eyes in place in the eye sockets. you can buy eyes or make your own from various materials. You can set in the eyes using Plastic Wood and other such two-part materials. shape to create a fully defined eye area

8. The next stage is to mark the feather detail in the underside of the bird

9. Use a white – medium to fine grade ceramic stone to create the fine detail on feathers and once done, lightly sand that area

10. The next stage – once all the detail is done as far as can be done on the main section of the bird – is to shape and affix the long tail feathers that create this distinctive look on this bird

11. These feathers are abutted to the underside of birds body and glued to the underside of the tail feathers. Once dry, sand and clean these extended feathers and make sure the shape is right. Then, using a pyrography unit fitted with a combination of a standard wire tip and scalpel-type tips – you need to use a wire tip for rough outlining and the scalpel-edge blade to incise and score precise detail into these feathers – start burning in and refining the look of them. The pyrographed lines will create the required feather pattern on these tail feathers and surrounding area and also disguise the join

12. I make my own feet, but you can buy them ready made. But you need to have some, so decide where to drill the holes in the underside of the body to give a  bird that looks natural when perched on a branch or other perch. You can adjust the shape/bend of the leg to give exactly the look and stance you require. Do not fix the feet in place to the body yet – this is done once all the pyrography is done – but when it is time to do so, use Plastic Wood or similar and blend in the body and leg hole area as required. The feet are fixed to the perch of some sort by drilling two holes – once for each foot – to allow the pin under the feet to bed into it and be fixed with abrasives

13. You need to choose a perch or resting place on which your bird will sit. I chose to use branch wood where all of the bark was removed, washed it and then when dry scorched  it. The timber was then gently brush and a light coat of matte fixative spray – a cellulose lacquer will work well – was applied to minimise carbon transfer if touched. Since the branch section was not self supporting,a base will need to be made. You can use ply or solid wood for the one seen here. It is carved and then coated with sand, grit and other bits I need to make it look nice. There are numerous materials that can be used. The branch can be affixed to the base by a screw or two driven into the branch from the underside of the base

14. Now, remove the bird from the feet and use a scalpel-edge blade fitted in a pyrography unit to define the detail on the feathers

15. Work all the way round the bird…

16. … and continue at your pace until all of the bird is pyrographed with the correct detail. Note that the feet have been given a coat of mid grey primer as a base coat. The bird is then fixed to the feet

17. First paint the bird with a thinned coat or two of gesso then, block in the main colours following the colour swatch for the correct colours and the locations

18. Now paint the feet with yellow ochre, the bill is painted black and black airbrushed/or brushed round the eye. Then, using a fine rigger paintbrush, paint in some white feather edges

19. On the underneath breast feathers use a small template to shield areas you do not wish to colour and also define a given shape, airbrush edge the feathers with burnt sienna. In this picture you can see the template/shield I use

20. The back requires thin washes of burnt sienna, and the shafts to be painted in. The rump is edged with light blue and the tail feathers are painted with thin washes of turquoise

21. Here is a  view from the side showing the side profile very clearly and the boundary lines of the coloured feathers which accentuate the shape of the bird clearly

22. The tail needs special attention as the colours gradually merge from the main tail feathers into those two long tail feathers. So the blue moves into black, tinged with black sienna

23. The last job is to give the feet a few thin washes of burnt umber

24. Here is the finished bird in all its colourful glory


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