Leaf Face


Leaf Face:
Duane Cartwright shows how to carve a fun leaf-based face

Duane Cartwright shows how to carve a fun leaf-based face

I thought I would carve this fun leaf face as it makes a great weekend project, plus it’s a great way to practise carving various facial features in different styles and expressions. The advantage of carving a face on a leaf or even a green man is if you carve a wonky nose, for example, it can often add to the caricature of the carving, rather than looking odd or wrong as it would on a bust of a family member you’re attempting  to carve. That said, it’s always best to practise a new technique or method on some scrap wood before committing to your carving project itself.
There are as many different shapes of leaves as there are faces and no two are the same, which makes them perfect to blend together in a fun, creative way.
The shape of the leaf can have an adverse effect on how the face may look – a long, thin leaf can limit the amount of room for the facial features, which would either have to be a small face placed somewhere on the leaf or a long, thin face working with the features of the leaf. A big, broad leaf will allow for more types facial features and expressions, which can work with the features of the chosen leaf.
If you decide to design your own leaf face using a different leaf shape it’s worth considering which way up the leaf is going to be, as its veins and stem can all affect  how the face will look. For example, here the leaf stem is at the bottom so the veins will point upwards, which can help to give the face a smiley look. If the leaf stem is at the top the veins and tip of the leaf will point downwards, which could help in carving a face with a frown. So try to incorporate the leaf’s veins into the facial features, or the face could look like it’s just been placed on to the leaf rather than being part of it.
The main thing is to have the facial features work with the various parts of the leaf so they blend together seamlessly, so it all looks as if it was created by nature itself

Things you will need
• No.2, 5mm skew
• No.2, 20mm
• No.3 18mm
• No.3, 6mm fishtail
• No.5, 4mm & 16mm
• No.7, 6mm
• No.8,18mm
• No.9, 7mm
• No.11, 3mm
• No.39, 2mm
• Bandsaw
• Carving knife
• Bass wood (Tilia americana)
• Sanding sealer
• Microcrystalline wax
• Abrasives 120, 180, 240, 320 grit

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. Start by printing out the pattern at the required size for your chosen piece of timber, then either glue or trace the pattern on to the wood. Now use a bandsaw or jigsaw to remove the waste wood. With the leaf shape cut out you can now mount it on a carving vice. Either use glue and paper to attach a scrap piece of wood to the back of the carving to fix a vice to, or use a peg board or similar to secure the project ready for carving

2. Use a large deep No.8 or similar to carve out and hollow the eye areas by about 5mm deep or so, then carve down the sides of the nose and under the nose area, clearing the waste so only the nose and brow are at the original level

3. Using the pattern as a guide, draw a vertical centreline down the nose and a horizontal line across the eyes, then draw on two rough circles for the placement of the eyes. Dividing callipers can help ensure the eye circles are the same size and the gap between the eyes is roughly equal to the width of the eye

4. Using a No.9, 5mm, carve around the eye sockets and out the corners of the eyes and face, giving the top of the cheek some shape. While carving around the eye sockets carve the inside, outside and under the eyeball deeper, than around the top of the eyeball. Using a medium No.5, cut down from the brow into the root/bridge of the nose, level with the horizontal line that goes across the eyes…

…Using the same gouge, slope the nose back from the apex into the bridge, giving the nose its profile

5. Slope and round over the eyeball into the corners (see arrows). Getting the rough shape of the eyeballs before carving in the detail will make for a more realistic eye. Keep the eyes round, the same size and circumference

6. Roughly shape the nose by using a medium gouge to round it over, removing the flat area on the apex/tip of the nose, then draw a ball on the apex and two half-circles, one on each side for the nostrils. Using a deep No.11,carve around the nostrils to give the nose its shape

7. While carving in the nose use a No.9 to carve in the nasolabial folds (smile lines), then blend in the folds and carve out across the cheeks to give the face its contours and shape. Use a No.6 to carve in the philtrum up to the nose…

…then use a veiner or similar to clean up where the philtrum joins the nose. Don’t worry about the shape, you’ll refine it later

8. Using appropriate gouges for the nostrils, start to cut them in, defining their shape. Make sure that both sides are equal, then continue shaping the nose and cheeks. Redraw the rough placement of the mouth, then use  a shallow gouge to carve in the top lip…

…Carve up from each side of the nasolabial folds to the nostrils to help give the philtrum its shape, which is wide at the lip and narrow at the nose

9. Use a V-tool or a knife to separate the lips by creating a stop cut between them. Reverse a shallow fishtail gouge and use the corner of the chisel in the stop cut to carve in the top lip into each corner of the mouth. Use a deep gouge to carve in the bottom lip. Start by carving under the bottom of the lip, then carve from each corner of the mouth out and under the bottom of the lip and down towards the chin area. Use a shallow gouge to round over the bottom lip to give it its final shape

10. Draw the horizontal centreline across the eyes. Then use dividers to mark the centre of the eyes and draw on the shape of the top eyelids. Use your best-fitting gouge to cut in a stop-cut. A few millimetres back, carve up to the stop cut…

…Then use a skew to downwards cut from inside the top eyelid towards the cheek, keeping the rounded shape of the eye

11. Once both eyes are cut, draw on the position of the lower eyelids and use your best-fitting gouges or a knife to carve them in. Then, using a skew chisel or similar, carve down into the stop cut, carve in deeper into the corners of the eyes, but keep aware that the eyes need to keep their round shape. Now you can carve the upper eyelid into the superior palpebral sulcus. Draw on the placement of the pupil – the placement of the pupils on the eyeball will effect the overall look of the face, so make sure you’re happy with the position and both pupils are the same size and look in the same direction. Once happy use a skew chisel to cut in, creating a section of the circle…

…Then use a small 6 gouge or similar to carve in the pupil up to the stop cuts just created

12. Take a look at the carving in a different light and from different angles to see how it looks. This will help to show up any areas that may still require attention. Once you’re happy with how your carving looks you can either carve in the leaf veins and any wrinkles around the eyes you want to add, or you can sand the carving through the various grades of abrasives and give it a good brush down before moving on to the next grit size. After sanding you carve in the leaf veins – this way they will remain crisp

13. With the front of the carving finished you can now start to back carve. Start by drawing a line at about 4mm from the front around the edge of the carving – this will be the rough thickness of the leaf. Too thin and you’ll make the edge weak, too thick and the leaf could look chunky. Try to keep the thickness in proportion to the size of the leaf. This line will help while back carving to keep the edge an even thickness. Now use something soft to rest the carving face down while back carving. Stop and check regularly that the back follows the contours of the front and thickness is good

14. With the back carved and the side of the carving nice and thin, it’s easy to use a knife or skew chisel to clean up any saw marks around the edge of the leaf’s blades. Just be aware of the grain direction of the leaf’s serrated edge or you could break a tip. If you sanded earlier you will need to sand around the sides to finish off. Once you’re happy with how the carving looks it’s time to apply some sanding sealer all over to seal and protect the carving

15. Once dry, cut back and apply your chosen finish, then attach a picture hook to the back and your leaf face is ready to display and bring a smile to everyone

Top tip: Try carving more than one leaf face, but with each face try a different facial feature or expression, example a different shaped nose or mouth, a few simple changes can make a massive difference even when using the same pattern or design. Also try carving the leaf with different thickness of timber as the thicker the wood the more undulations and contours you can carve into the leaf.


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