Learning to carve a bear from wood

Although my art background is in painting, I have always wanted to try woodcarving and other forms of sculpture. This is the first time I have seriously set about the task of carving an object so I was determined to do at least some preparatory work.


I have invested in the right tools and managed to clear a nice area in the studio so that I can work in comfort. I also made sure that I started work on the right material and bought a discounted block of lime wood from a site dealing in specialist carving materials and equipment. I did not want to risk starting work on one of the hardest woods to carve, in which case my efforts would almost certainly be doomed to failure!

The block was 300mm x 100mm x 80mm, so a decent size if not a little ambitious! The next question was what to carve? I love painting and drawing animals so that was easy enough but I didn’t think it a good idea to start with a thoroughbred racehorse. After searching through a few ideas online and in my collection of woodcarving books (bought on my previously aborted attempt to find time to carve) I decided that a bear would be a suitable challenge.


I was so keen to actually start work that I skipped some of the preparation and decided that I would create my own bear, something of a mixture of the various examples and ideas that I had been looking at. That was a mistake and one that I won’t make next time. Wood is not like clay where you can easily add bits on and I didn’t really plan out the depth of the bear with regards to proportions at all.


I began by marking out a few areas that would definitely need to be cut away and tried out my new gouges and chisels. I quickly discovered why it is always a good idea to wear a glove on your free hand! It is a very different experience from painting. I find that I work quite quickly on a canvas and the basic image can be established in the first couple of sessions.

With carving, I was still looking at an ugly lump of wood with chunks hacked out of it for several days! It was not until my fourth or fifth session where it actually started to resemble a bear. I’m finding the palm tools suit me best and it is quite surprising how smoothly they go through the wood. I am now reaching the stage of attempting to add details such as the claws and the features so I will have to learn to be a bit more patient.


I have done very little with the carving knives as yet so that should be interesting. Considering it was meant as a test piece and is effectively my first actual carving, I cannot really be too disappointed with how it’s going so far. I am certainly enjoying the process and already have plans for at least two further carvings, putting into practice the lessons already learned.

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One Response to Learning to carve a bear from wood

  1. NYK Media says:

    Just testing the comments feature and reminding Frugaldom’s resident artist that we are all eagerly awaiting further progress reports with more photos of the carved bear. 🙂

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