Monday 9 July 2018

Last year I was contacted by the South Devonshire Bull Society to produce a sculpture of one of their show bulls. As South Devon Bulls are a beautiful deep red colour, this made the choice of timber quite easy, as I had a suitable piece of American cherry (Prunus serotina) that I had been hanging on to for just such a commission. When this is oiled, it takes on a beautiful rich red colour that would be perfect for this project.

Reference & templates

As this was going to be owned by specialists in the field – no pun intended – I really had to try and get the details as accurate as I possibly could. This involved a trip to one of the members of the society that had a good example of the beast in question, and the taking of many photographs from all angles, which I could use as reference to use when back in the studio.

From a couple of side view shots of the whole bull standing in the desired pose, I was able to produce a side view template. On this plan I was able to draw-in a distillation of the key features and details that I wanted to apply to the finished sculpture. This is helpful in that it lessens the chances of becoming swamped in the minutia within features of the 'real animal' photographs. The photographs are also very useful for calculating the relative width of the bull in comparison with the height and length.

Removing waste

After scaling the side view template to the desired size – making sure that the available timber was large enough not only in length and width, but thickness as well – it was cut out, laid on the timber and the outline was drawn onto the wood. In order to save time, I removed the bulk of the wood outside of this silhouette using a bandsaw as can be seen in photo 2.

As the head of the bull was to be turned slightly to the right, it meant that there was a strip of wood to the right of the body that could be marked for easy removal (see photo 3).

Drilling holes

I had drilled a series of holes through the wood that would assist in removing the waste material between the legs, body and base. I decided to carve the base as an integrated part of the sculpture as this would give extra strength to the legs. By joining these holes up, using a chopping cut from a gouge and mallet, this waste area was easily removed with a series of oblique cuts from the same gouge.


By working from both sides and meeting in the middle, the depth that was trying to be cut through was halved. I did however decide to leave a section near the middle intact to give some additional strength during the bulk of the carving process (see photo 4).

The waste area to the right of the body was then removed using a large 1in gouge (see photo 5).

The head

As well as a centreline being drawn for the body, one was also marked in for the head. The obvious waste wood to be removed each side of the head was marked, making certain to leave a generous amount in the area of the ears (see photos 6-7). The waste wood below the ears was also marked and then removed with a No.10 14in gouge. A more refined outline for the profile of the head could then be drawn in (see photos 8-9).

Adding detail

Using various photographs of the head for reference, more detailed features were carefully carved in (see photos 9-11).

Hindquarters & muscles

The regions around the hindquarters were tackled in a similar way to the head. The areas that could obviously be removed were marked, edged around with a V-tool, and then taken out. Note the areas that were left to accommodate the tail and dangly bits (see photos 12-15). The low points in-between the muscle peaks were marked and then removed with a suitable gouge (see photo 16).


At this point the bulk of the wood has been removed, and therefore the high stresses put on the legs caused by bulk wood removal are over. This allows the legs to be thinned down to the final dimensions and detail carved in (see photos 17-18).

Further detail

Moving back to the head – the wrinkles of the skin and refinements to the ears, nose and mouth were added (see photos 19-21).

Once happy with the general shape of the head, the eyes could be carefully marked in and checked for symmetry. The general eye area was then carved in by a small (No.11 3mm) gouge, and the eye ball is carved within this area then domed over using a fine knife or scalpel (see note on scalpels in “tips” section). The nostrils were hollowed out using a small diamond burr in a mini drill (see photos 22-23).


After the tail had been completely exposed and the final detail carved into the muscled areas, the whole piece was sanded over, first with 180grit abrasive and then through grades 240, 320 and 400. Last of all, the base area was carefully tooled over and cut down to the required thickness (see photos 24-25).