Step-by-step carving the Green Man

I published this page as I carved, so it was a real step by step. At the end of a piece of work, some of the ideas, problems and solutions have got lost in the mist of time and don’t get mentioned. I hope this record will be more complete, a blow by blow account warts n’all. I also will give the time taken as this is one of the most frequent questions asked when I am out demonstrating, and I never have a realistic answer.

Stage one is actually finding some way of holding the wood firmly. The wood is 2 x 3 foot and 6 inches thick at the thickest and just about lift able without back strain. I will be working with it fixed to a wall on some wooden uprights that were already in place. I have fixed a batten to the uprights and to the back of the wood. The battens have had a slight angle cut on to the edges that will meet so that the actual weight of the wood holds the wood into the wall. All this took an amazing 0.45 hours!! That did include dismantling the previous batten etc.

When the Lancashire and Cheshire Woodcarvers (a club I belong to) was at the Woodland Festival in Towneley Park, Burnley in 2005, we were offered some wood from a lime tree that was being planked by one of the other exhibitors. I took a slice from the edge of the tree with the bark left on as I do not like carving squared off pieces of wood. It has been standing in my basement with a plastic bag draped loosely over it to allow the moisture to drain and evaporate without drying out.

Stage Two is taking the bark off. This is done by hand as it is important to find what’s under there and not lose any of the interesting features of the wood.

Time taken 0.30 hours.

Stage Three is blocking out the face. I am using a 2-inch gouge and a  mallet made from a crown green bowling ball, heavy and solid. I have not gone too near the final surface as I want to leave room for the leaves. I do not like the traditional green man with leaves coming out of the mouth so I am just doing the hair in leaves.  I have picked some ivy leaves from the garden which I will be used as models for the carving.        

Time taken 0.30 hours.

Stage Four is when some decisions have to be taken. I try to start with the most awkward bit because if it goes wrong at the start there is a chance of getting back on a line that will lead to a satisfactory end, if not the end I had in mind. The big problem is that lump of burr which I designated as an eyebrow in stage two. That now   looks impossible and I have carved it into ivy leaves as though the “hair” is hanging over one eye.

Time taken 0.45 hours

Stage Five and time for more decisions. The side profile looks wrong as the nose is too flat. I have cut a bit of the same wood from the lower left-hand side and glued it on in the area of the nose. I have used a rub joint so needed to get the two surfaces reasonably flat. The wood I was adding, I smoothed on a sander. The original nose area I smoothed with a plane and finished with glass paper.

Time Taken 0.30 hours

Stage Six and time for even more decisions. Looking at the profile again and it is obvious that the forehead and “ivy hair” needs to slope backwards and be rounded off. Quite a quick job. Outlined some leaves with a gouge and rounded off the top with an arbour tech.  

Time taken 0.15 hours.

Stage Seven and time for the final decisions. The image left below is a copy from Stage Two and shows my first thoughts. The red line was the edge of the face and the blue circle was an eyebrow. The wood for the eyebrow became an ivy leaf covering the eye but the red line has become the edge of the face. I have also cut the wood for a beard and used a bit of burr as more ivy leaves.  

All this work was done with an electric chain saw and took 0.15 hours.

So the total time to date is only 3.5 hours, and I have got a basic face shape roughed out. There has been no mention of measurements because I have not taken any. In the back of my mind, I have a schematic of the human head with the possible variations. I have got this from constant drawing the human face (and body). From here there will be a long slog of detailing the ivy and the facial features, which will take a lot longer.

Stage Eight is blocking out the hair / leaves and a bit of attention to the nose and cheeks to get them at the right levels. There is a need to get things at the right depth. nose to cheek, and cheek to hair / leaves. The leaves are based on a number of actual leaves in order to get a variety in size and shape. They were drawn on to a thick plastic sheet a bit bigger than life-size. There is an equation between the size and number of leaves. I would need smaller leaves and less big ones. I am not down to the final surface anywhere but in places within cleaning up skim of it.

This stage took 2.00 hours.

Stage Nine and I have spent the time getting the face sorted out. The eyes needed to be pushed back a bit to allow the cheeks to develop correctly. This then allowed me to get the mouth and the beginning of the chin. The rest of the chin will be hidden under more ivy leaves.

This took another 2.00 hours

Stage Ten and the leaves on the beard have been completed, so all the roughing out has been done. In some places, I am within a hairbreadth of the final surface and in others, I may have to take quite a thickness off, but all the shapes have been established.

This last bit took 0.45 hours, so the whole roughing out process took 8.15 hours over several days

Stage Eleven was the final skim on the leaves around the face. The leaves were originally drawn on the wood in a very soft pencil. During the carving process, the pencil lead transferred to my hands and then back on to the carving. So I carved from the top-down, removing the stained wood and not working over a carved bit. The leaves have been treated quite simply with only three veins per leaf and no attempt to produce a smooth surface. The face will be smooth so there will be a contrast in the treatment of the surfaces.

This took an amazing 4.00 hours and I have still got to do the beard leaves.

Stage Twelve is the eyes. I hate doing eyes. They are said to be the ‘Window to the soul’ and are what we look at first. You have to get them right and equal but opposite. I use a template cut from stiffish plastic. It is flexible so it will bend to the shape of the wood so better than cardboard. I have used templates for the ivy leaves. I just drew around an actual leaf and cut the shape out with scissors. I had the additional problem of hitting some very soft crumbly wood, see the yellow marks between the red marks on the ‘Before’ picture below. These were caused by the superglue I have used to harden the wood.

Time taken 2.30 hours

Stage Thirteen and the face is finished and the only ivy leaves on the beard to do! Those who have not dropped asleep by now may be wondering why there is no mention of any reference material; photos, etc. That is because I have not used any. The face is a slightly abstract realistic carving governed by the shape of the wood. The outside of the right-hand cheek is just a skim away from the natural surface, and all I had to do was make the left-hand side match it. I say ALL but that is not easy as it was difficult to get the tools in under the ivy leaves. The realism part of the carving came from memory aided by the occasional peek in the mirror.

Time taken 3.45 hours

Stage Fourteen and it is finished. Well, as finished as I want to go at the present time. This last stage took 3.00 hours and that makes a total of  8.15 for roughing out, plus 13.15 for finishing, equals 21.30 hours in total. If this was going into a competition where marks are deducted for every edge that is not crisp, I could spend another 8 hours going over the work and sharpening up edges. Life is too short for that and at this moment I have had enough of this carving and want to get on with something else. There is also no mention of glass paper! I hate glass paper. Its use produces a cheap shiny plastic look and can very easily destroy the shape that I have tried so hard to achieve.   

Thank you for your patience and I hope that you have enjoyed the carving process.