If you find yourself screaming and cussing while carving caricature eyes you are not alone. This skill does not come easily for many carvers.
This article provides helpful information for carving eyes, simple steps you can follow, and visual examples.
One challenge when carving caricature eyes is that you are carving across the grain. As a result, wood can easily tear out and crumble.
Geahk Burchill suggests thinking of an eye as a mountain. Try to carve downhill when you can, and turn your work as needed, to avoid tear out. It can make a big difference in getting clean cuts (see photo 1).
Here's a secret: a method for carving eyes that works well for one carver may not work well for every carver.
If you have been trying to mimic another carver's style, and are continually unhappy with your results, don't give up. You may need to experiment to come up with a method that suits your style of carving.
There are 3 P's to carving caricature eyes successfully:
Eyes that look good on one caricature may not be ideal for another.
If you take a look at the wonderful roughouts on caricature carver Chris Hammack's website you will see that he does not use the same eyes for every one of his carvings.
If you want to inject a little realism into your caricature, you can carve a common human eye shape, like these illustrations below.
Some caricatures are enhanced by eyes that are more cartoonish than realistic. Cartoon eyes may also be a little easier to carve.
Another advantage of cartoon eyes is they can be exaggerated or humorous.
Below are some cartoon eye shapes that we like to use.
Look at photos of different eye shapes (stock photo websites are a great resource) and refer to them as you practice carving caricature eyes.
Some carvers like to use a purchased study stick (photo 2) to help guide them while carving caricature eyes.
You can also create a study stick of your own on a block of wood as you practice the steps in creating an eye. Mary Finn offers nice instructions for creating a study stick for eyes in her book “Carving Egg Heads.”
Once you've perfected an eye on a practice piece of wood, you need to advance to the next level, which is creating eyes in proportion to other facial features.
Don Mertz (the WoodBeeCarver) talks about the rule of thirds when creating the distance between facial features (originally from Rick Jensen) and suggests these proportions (photo 3):
Caricaturist Dave Stetson offers a list of "rules" in his excellent book "Caricature Carving From Head to Toe." For example:
In his pamphlet "Head Proportions Made Simple," Ivan Whillock, draws a line across a drawing of a head and makes 4 tick marks (making 5 equal sections). With this method:
TIP: To set up a face, draw an upside down triangle (photo 4). The bottom of the triangle starts at the bottom of the nose and the other two corners of the triangle start at the center of each eye. (Whillock)
Different carvers may have different methods for carving eyes, but general steps can include:
The infographic below (photo 5) illustrates one of the ways we carve caricature eyes. The tools we use include a:
If you want to carve a realistic eye with just a knife it can be done. But using a veiner or a V-tool may help you get better results (we like using a U gouge).
A specialty knife (like an axe or a knife specifically for eyes) may help, too (photo 7). There are also eye punches that allow you to make a perfect round or oval shape.
If you do not have any of these tools, carving cartoon eyes may be easier for you.
Always strop your knife and gouges (or sharpen them if needed) before carving caricature eyes. You want them to be super sharp.
The personality of a caricature sometimes emerges or evolves while you are carving. That is why we like to wait to carve the eyes until we are close to the end of carving a caricature.
At that time, you can decide if you want realistic eyes, cartoon eyes, or want to paint the eyes on without carving them (such as for miniature carvings).
Mistakes are part of the learning process when carving caricature eyes. We often take one step forward and two steps back.
If you become frustrated, take a break and step away from your carving.
Fortunately, wood is a canvas that can be erased fairly easily if you make a mistake. You may be able to save your carving by shaving off the wood and starting over again.
If you make a mistake while painting eyes, you can also carve off the paint. We suggest letting the paint dry first to avoid getting it on other parts of your carving.
Whether you are carving caricature eyes that are realistic, or cartoonish, your steps for painting them are still consistent (always let paint dry completely after each step):
The eyes you carve today may be very different from the eyes you carve six months or a year from now.
Try to relax and have fun when carving caricature eyes. Look at every carving session as a learning experience.
Books and online resources: