Monday 9 July 2018
The floral garland is one of those timeless decorative forms that carvers have used since ancient times. In this design
I have tried to emulate the Baroque style. With a three-dimensional foliage carving the challenge is in positioning the elements in such a way that they bunch naturally around and over one another, as though tied together. Working from a traced pattern, you will have to fight the tendency to carve too flat. The pattern is only a rough guide to position. To transfer it to three dimensions, you need to look at it from the sides as much as the front.
Limewood (Tilia europa) is the traditional choice for carving natural foliage. It is not, however, a particularly attractive wood in appearance – although Gibbons nearly always left it in its natural finish. I have gone for a more ornate Baroque gilded finish using imitation gold leaf. This is entirely a matter of choice – you decide which finish you prefer.
Trace the pattern onto your piece of lime and mark your cutting lines in red.
Cut round the inside of the pattern with a jigsaw. The 50mm (2in) thickness will cause some flexing of the blade at the bottom end, so allow room for this. Use a bandsaw or jigsaw for the outside to avoid the flexing.
Fix the carving to a backing board by screwing through from the back, clamp it to the bench, and start by lowering the level of the 'briar and leaf' sections around the top bunch of roses to isolate the individual flowers. Bring the ends of the leaves down to about 25mm (1in) from the backing board at this stage.
To rough out the roses, start by layering the petals away from the central 'dome' of each flower – this requires thinking in three dimensions. Think about how the flower lays in the bunch. Does it face up, down, left or right? Work the outer petals down to the edges of the carving and to the points where they lay over the briar and leaves.
Continue roughing out round the rest of the carving. Some of the flowers slope at a steep angle, such as the two daffodils at the bottom of the garland. They have a deep central ring of petals, and their outer petals extend from the highest to the lowest points. Carve these in from the sides of the carving.
Stand the carving up and look at it from all angles to make sure the shape, position and lay of each element looks natural before you proceed to carving the detail. The original traced pattern has gone, having served its purpose. From now on you will be carving using the drawing and the finished photographs as your guide.
Carving the detail
Return to the bunch of roses at the top and refine the shape of the petals. Carve the inner 'dome' of petals so they overlap each other and curl around the centre hollow. The surrounding petals curl outwards, undercutting the 'dome' at their inner edge and curling over at their outer edge. Layer the petals so their edges overlap each other. Refine the edges and overlaps of all the petals with a sharp tool like this hooked skew chisel. Undercut the overlaps slightly and get the edges as sharp as you can.
We want to create the illusion that the petals are very thin – this is achieved by undercutting them deeply with a fishtail gouge then the skew chisel to create a sharp edge. Away from the edge the thickness is much greater, but this is not noticeable from the front, so the illusion succeeds. The cleaner you cut the edges and overlaps, the thinner the petals will look.
On the outer edges of the carving, cut extra layers of petals into the side, sloping out and down towards the back of the carving. Roughly undercut the lowest level of petals into the backing board.
After the flowers are formed, start on the leaves and briar. Some are partly obscured by petals so access can be difficult and you have to cut against the grain at times. Refine the leaf shapes so they flow from under the roses and, in most cases, swirl down towards the outer edges of the carving. Scoop out a series of hollows along each leaf to create a vein pattern with a natural flow and curl. Use a skew chisel to cut fine veins along the ridges and serrations around the edges of the leaves.
Among the briar there are several little rosebuds. Carve the outer husk, curling either side and overlapping at the base, with the tightly closed bud of petals in the middle. A third part of the husk curls underneath the bud, which we will complete when we dismount the carving from the board later
These rosebuds on the right-hand side are more separated from the leaves and need deep excavation around them. Note how the wild rose flower on the right edge faces sideways and is deeply undercut behind it.
Continue round the carving in the same manner, refining the flowers, leaves, briar and rosebuds. Gallery image 14 shows the left middle section and 15 the right middle section.
When you get to the bottom, pay particular attention to the two daffodils. The outer petals are more separated than the rose petals, and in the centre of each daffodil you have to hollow out the central 'trumpet'. At the top edge, the grain is very short and likely to crumble – go carefully.
To finish undercutting, unscrew the carving from the backing board and turn over onto a soft surface. Cut away the underside carefully and gently, using small tools. Open out certain areas where the carving is deeply excavated to create 'piercings' right through the carving. Create an underlying structure that looks light and natural from the front. The smoother surfaces like the petals, usually benefit from being sanded smooth, while the textured surfaces of the leaves require only a light touch. The carving is now finished. If you prefer the natural look then simply apply a finish of choice and youâ€™re ready to position the garland on your wall. If, however, you want a more ornate 'antique Baroque' finish, then the next steps explain how to gild your garland.
Gilding – the easy way
Seal the wood with a suitable sealer, then give the whole carving, front and back, a coat of a gold lacquer as an undercoat for the gold leaf. Put it on thinly so you don't clog the carving, and leave to dry thoroughly.
Get a pack of imitation gold leaf and some gilding size – available quite cheaply from most art stores. Apply some gilding size thinly with a brush to a section of the carving, only on the facing surfaces – don't bother with the undersides. Leave it for about 10 minutes until it is dry but slightly tacky to the touch.
Take a sheet of gold leaf, still in its cover papers, and cut it into pieces a bit bigger than the leaves and petals you want to cover. Fold a small piece of paper and use it to pick up a piece of leaf, then slowly and carefully – it is very thin and delicate – place it on the sized area. Press it down gently with a soft brush, then brush away any loose pieces of leaf. Don't worry about small gaps or tears, but go over larger gaps with more leaf. This is a bit tricky at first, but you will soon get the hang of it.
Imitation gold leaf is basically brass, so it needs a sealer to stop it tarnishing. To 'antique' and seal it at the same time, you can use French polish. Apply the French polish thinly by brush, letting it settle in the crevices and leaf veins. Work quickly as it dries fast, and avoid going over the same bit twice, or you will build up a muddy looking patch – if it all goes horribly wrong, wipe it off with methylated spirit and start again. The combination of imitation gold leaf and French polish gives a rich 'antique' gilded finish that could grace a Baroque mansion. Hang it where the light will sparkle off its leaves and petals.