Carp Swimming Through Reeds


Carp Swimming Through Reeds:
Duane Cartwright shows how to carve an aquatic scene in relief.

Duane Cartwright shows how to carve an aquatic scene in relief

I’ve carved this stylised carp swimming through the reeds as a deep relief, Some of the reeds bend over at the top to give an impression of the water’s surface. They are also weak spots as the grain runs across them so to keep strength they will need to stay in contact with the other reeds. You could just have the reeds all pointing upwards – the main thing is to have movement to the reeds so they appear to be flowing in water. You can use spoon and fishtail chisels to aid in gaining access in the undercutting, but if you don’t own spoon and fishtail chisels the design could also be carved as a shallow bass relief. Only carve as deep as your tools will allow to cut cleanly.
Start by printing the design at the required size for your chosen piece of wood, then either trace or glue the design on to the wood. Now draw a line around the sides and top about 10 mm from the back – this will be the rough thickness of the back of the carving. Then draw a line 25mm from the back and this will be the rough depth of the reeds. Secure the project ready for carving. If attaching the carving to a carver’s vice or similar, make sure that any screws will not affect the areas to be carved. If you’re carving a shallow relief or unsure then use glue and paper to attach a scrap piece of wood to the back of the carving, then secure the vice to it.

Things you will need
• No.2, 20mm
• No.6, 10mm
• No.7, 14mm
• No.8, 20mm
• No.9, 5mm
• No.11, 3mm & 10mm
• No.3, 6mm fishtail gouge
• No.7, 6mm fishtail gouge
• No.1, 2mm and 6mm spoon gouge
• L & R 3mm skew gouge
• No.3, 5 mm spoon gouge
• No. 11, 3mm spoon gouge
• No.39, 2 mm & 10 mm
• Hooked skew
• Drill and drill bit
• Basswood (Tilia americana) 250 high x 185 wide x 50 mm thick

Drawings and how to resize them
To enlarge or reduce the size of drawings right click on the image to download it and then go HERE to watch a video on how to use paper with a grid to do exactly that.

1. With the carving secure, use a deep gouge – an 11 sweep or similar – and start to sketch out , carving around the top of the carp’s head and dorsal fin plus the front reeds

2. Use a large gouge to take down the background by about 20mm. Keeping the background reasonably level/flat as you carve will help when redrawing the carp’s tail and reeds back in place

3. Using a deep gouge, start to remove some of the wood between the pectoral fin and the front reeds, so the body of the fish will appear to go behind these reeds. Using the design, either use some dividing callipers to aid or trace the reeds back on to the carving. Here is where you can change the layout of reeds if needed to allow for any imperfections in the wood, say, a knot

4. Once you’re happy with the rough layout of the reeds use a deep gouge, 11 sweep, and sketch them in. Just do it roughly for now to help in setting in the tail –  they can still be adjusted if needed later

5. With a medium sweep gouge take out the waste wood between the reeds and make the area of the tail flat so you can redraw the carp’s body and tail back in place

6. Using a deep 11 sweep gouge, carve down along where the dorsal fin joins the body, creating a groove. Then, leaving the top edge of the dorsal fin, use a shallow sweep gouge and angle the fin into the groove

7. Do the same with the pectoral fin. Use a deep gouge to separate the fin from the body, then, leaving the outer edge of the fin, angle it into the body so the fin appears to stick out

8. Use a deep gouge to carve around the top of the carp’s head, defining its shape. Then use a shallow gouge to round over the head, giving it its rough shape

9. While shaping the head, use a deep gouge to carve around the eye and barbel, then continue with the shallow gouge, shaping the head and body and leaving the eye standing proud

10. While shaping the fish you’ll need to continue lowering the background and shape the reeds. By leaving the top tips of the eye, dorsal/pectoral fins and the front reeds at the original level you can rest a depth gauge on them to help keep all of the background at an even depth

Top tip: When bolstering in and lowering the background leave a few areas at the original surface level, such as the eye, dorsal/pectoral fins and the front reeds. This way you have these points to rest a depth gauge on to help with perspective in terms of ensuring the background depth is kept even. 

11. Remember to add the ventral fin and the tip of the tail in-between the reeds as you lower the background. Using small skew spoon chisels will help in gaining access to these difficult areas

12. Use a medium to deep sweep gouge and, from the barbel carve in the top lip, blend it into the head. Then cut in the mouth creating a hollow that follows around to the barbel

13. Draw on the layout of the gills and sketch them in with a veiner or V-tool, then start to carve them in while shaping the side of the fish as it goes under the pectoral fin and finish giving the fin its final shape

14. To finish shaping the body and tail you’ll need to undercut the dorsal fin. Use a deep gouge and follow the fin around to the tail. Stop and check regularly to keep an eye on the perspective. After undercutting the dorsal fin, parts of the reeds that go behind the fish will become visible that will need to be carved

15. Use a hooked skew and spoon chisels to carve between the reeds. Drawing guidelines where reeds under and overlap each other will help to keep the reeds in line

16. Draw in the pebbles. Making them different shapes and sizes will give them a more natural look. Once happy, sketch them in with a veiner or similar then, with a fishtail gouge and hooked skew, carve them in

Top tip: Use a fishtail to carve the pebbles with the pointy corners. This tool is perfect to get into the crevasses between the pebbles and the middle of the chisel will shape the rest.

17. With the pebbles carved you can now carve in the reeds under and behind the fish and undercut the pectoral fin from both sides until it’s hollowed out underneath, being careful not to lever and dent or mark the rest of the carving while undercutting

18. To give the reeds depth, they will need to be undercut – some will only need a sliver taken from underneath while others will require a lot of undercutting. Using a drill can help in clearing out some areas. Drawing the placement of the hidden parts of the reeds can  also help to guide on how far and where to drill and undercut

19. Using a deep gouge or veiner to undercut some of the reeds will help to gain access and clear out some of the larger areas, plus it keeps the undercutting looking clean and free from stab marks

20. With the eyeball roughly rounded over, draw on the iris. Using your gouge that will best create the circumference of the iris, create a stop cut, then carve up to the iris, rounding over the inner and outer parts of the eye

21. Roughly draw the scales in place, with the best-fitting gouges for the size of the scales (remembering that they will get smaller as they reach the tail). Add a twist/slice to the cut and create  stop cuts for the first row of scales. Use a hooked skew or similar to carve between the scales, then repeat

22. Draw on the reeds’ veins now, using a deep 11 sweep veiner to carve in the centre vein. Then, with a shallow fishtail or similar, angle the reeds’ blades into the vein

23. Draw some fin rays on to the tail and fins. Once you’re happy with how the rays look, use a small V-tool to carve them in. A spoon V-tool may help on the ventral fin. When the detail is finished check over the carving – looking at it in a different light can help to show up areas that are easily missed. Once you’re happy with your carving, you have the choice of whether to sand or not. Sanding is a personal choice and for this style of carving I prefer to leave it with a tooled finish as it adds to the overall effect of the carving. Now give the whole carving a coat of sanding sealer and, once dry, check over the carving again as the shine from the sanding sealer will show up any imperfections. Once happy, cut back with your finest abrasive to remove any raised grain, then apply your chosen finish  – and you’re done

24. The finished item showing how deep the relief carving is and also the undercutting of relevant parts


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