Looking at Freeform Chip Carving


Looking at Freeform Chip Carving:
Murray Taylor opens up the world of freeform chip carving, introducing a new tool and taking you step by step through a basic freeform carving and on to a project idea.

Murray Taylor opens up the world of freeform chip carving, introducing a new tool and taking you step by step through a basic freeform carving and on to a project idea

In this article I will introduce you to the wonderful world of freeform chip carving, from the basic to the more advanced. I will introduce a new tool, work through freeform carvings from putting the drawing on to the wood to the completed pieces, and finally suggest some ideas for a project.

An overall look at freeform chip carving
Having so far been constrained by the formality of geometric forms, borders and rosettes etc., we can now explore freeform chip carving. Everything you have done so far will help you with knife control and fluidity of movement when carving flowing forms or the demands of carving fine detail.
Your choice of subject with freeform is infinite – you can work from your own sketches, photographs or copyright-free design source books.
Freeform designs can take a asymmetrical form, such as plants, animals or buildings or they can have regular motifs in a symmetrical form.

Two carvings in the Japanese style inspired by ideas from The Complete Book of Oriental Designs by Search Press

Two carvings in the Japanese style inspired by ideas from The Complete Book of Oriental Designs by Search Press

Choice of design
Drawings you choose can be of a general nature and not specifically designed for freeform. The accompanying photographs of the Draig Goch, or Red Dragon – the emblem on the flag of Wales, where I live – is one I often use in relief carving or piercings in lovespoons, but here you can see how it can be easily adapted for a freeform chip carving.
For more complicated subjects I tend to plan and draw my design on to tracing paper then apply the drawing to the wood using a preparatory graphite paper, I prefer this to carbon paper as unwanted lines can easily be removed with an eraser. Drawings for freeform carving are not as exact as they are for geometric work. so lines can be added or removed at will.

The dragon and Celtic knot corners drawn on to the wood

The completed dragon finished with a coloured wax

A simple design
Let’s now take a look at carving a simple design, I have chosen a turned lime plate, but you can just as well use a plain board or even practise on a piece from your scrap box. The floral and leaf design is drawn freehand on to the wood or you can use a tracing.
When you are cutting the flowing curves of the floral design remember to raise your knife to get round the tighter bends and alter the thickness and depth of the cuts to give more expression to the design. I have included the pencil marks where the stab marks will be, just to give you an idea of the design, but they will be erased before I use the stab knife in order not to drive the graphite into the wood – it looks unsightly in the finished piece. You don’t have to follow the design exactly, you can try anything for your practice pieces. Just remember not to complicate the design and to adapt the tight curves in your drawing to your ability with the knife.

The floral design drawn onto the plate

The completed floral design

A more advanced design
We are now going to have a look at a more advanced freeform carving, in this case a cherry tree with birds in the branches. In the drawing you will notice some areas marked with an X. This is a slight divergence from the normal chip carving style as these areas will be pierced, which gives a more open and natural feeling to the picture.

The Cherry Tree, inspired by ideas from a pattern book by Dover Press

The outer shape and piercings are now cut out

A new tool
Now I am going to introduce you to the European-style chip carving knife. It is not essential, but is useful when cutting long, curving lines as we will see when I carve the tree.
This style of knife is more usually used in mainland Europe but is available in the UK. It is held with both hands and is used for long flowing curves as you can see in the photograph.
It can be seen in this carving that I have gone a little deeper into the wood to define the trunk of the tree and give more definition to the piece. The piercing allows us to put more expression into the interlacing branches of the old tree. The finish was one coat half-and-half sanding sealer and thinners, then a liquid dark wax was brushed on, left for 10 minutes then wiped off with a cloth.

Two examples of the traditional freeform carving knife

Using the freeform carving knife

The completed Cherry Tree

Another plate carved with traditional designs depicting the elements of nature

A freeform chip carving of a Japanese lady inspired by drawings from The Complete Book of Oriental Designs by Search Press


An idea for a project


The completed drawing, the rocks and plants etc, are all drawn in freehand

For the project connected to this article I have come up with a DIY idea. The fish in the drawing is based on an angelfish, which I have chosen because its overall shape, markings and flowing tendrils lend themselves to a freeform chip carving picture. I have arranged the fish of different sizes to form the scene and included some rocks and plant forms to bring it all together. You could, of course, draw any fish, a variety of fish or something completely different. To create the scene, I have drawn and cut out different sizes of fish from coloured card, then these can be moved around on your piece of wood until you are satisfied with the result. I have drawn a freehand rope-style border for this piece. Remember to try to make the border connect to the picture.
Now it’s time to carve, but unlike the geometric forms it does not matter if you leave out something that you think does not work or just add things as you see fit. After sealing the wood, I have used a dark liquid wax to define the design. This wall piece is not meant to exhibit great artistic merit – on the contrary, it is quite simplistic. My intention is just to give you an idea of how to put it together and I hope it will inspire you to use your own designs and produce some interesting pieces.
Remember to strop regularly and alter the width of the cuts to add interest and define your work. Try experimenting with piercing and deeper cuts as I have done in the Cherry Tree and remember – there are no rules, just have fun and experiment with new ideas.

The completed picture


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