Circus clown carving tutorial

A super fun carve with an easy-to-follow template.

This circus clown carving tutorial is fabulous to carve and colorful to paint.  We decided to create a cardboard template that is inspired by templates from carvers John Overby and Jack Price.  

The pattern for our template is at the end of the page.  If you prefer to use a bandsaw to create your roughout, you will find our pattern at the end of this page (along with our usual painting guide).

We ended up loving the stance of our clown carving and the template will lend itself to future caricature carvings.  An advantage is that the template sets up the shoulders well.  

Clown carving with painted colors
Painted wooden clown

What you will need for this clown carving tutorial

You will need a block of wood for this clown carving tutorial.  Our basswood block is 1 x 1 x 4-inches (2.5 x 2.5 x 10 cm).  Want to go bigger?  Simply double or triple the dimensions (and increase the size of your template).

You will also need a knife (or knives) of choice.  We usually use a knife with a larger blade (up to 2 inches or 5 cm) to remove wood and a smaller detail knife for the face and for noodling details (like the ascot on our clown carving).  

A pen or pencil, and a ruler, are  good to have to draw your guidelines and sketch the design.  We always recommend using carving gloves for safety.  Remember to protect your lap, too.  

For the hair (optional) you will need some cotton batting (or a few cotton balls) that are colored with red food dye and glued onto the clown carving after painting. 

We list all the acrylic paints we use at the end of the page.  

Clown carving tutorial at-a-glance

Trace your clown carving template

Print out the template at the bottom of this page and trace it on the right (photo 2) and left (photo 3) sides of your wood block.  Tip: You only need to cut one version of the template and turn it over (making sure the head and body are pointed in the right direction on both sides).  You may have to increase or decrease the size of the template, depending upon your block size.  

Add some guidelines on the front and back (and extended them around the sides) so you can easily carve toward the middle of the sections where you will be making large V-cuts to remove wood (photos 1-4).  

The first front guideline is a little under 1.75 inches (4.4 cm) from the top (photo 1), which marks the middle of the neck (photos 2,3).  

The second front guideline is 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) from the top (photo 1), which marks the top of the clown’s shoes (photos 2,3).

On the back side (photo 4), the first guideline is 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) from the top, which marks the middle of the neck (it is a bit higher on the back because the chin on the clown carving is lower on the front).  

The second back guideline is 2.25 (5.7 cm) inches from the top (photo 4), which marks the lower part of the clown’s arms (photos 2,3).  

Front guidelines for wood carved clown1. Guidelines are drawn on the front
Right template guidelines for wood circus clown2. Right side with template guidelines
Left template guidelines for wood circus clown3. Left side with template guidelines
Back guidelines for wood circus clown4. Back guidelines

Make your first cuts on the clown carving

First, roughout the clown carving by making a series of cuts to shape the body.  Your first cut will be a wide V-cut on the front to separate the head (photo 5).  Make your cuts meet at the middle point that you marked with your guideline. 

The goal is to try to make one wide cut in each direction for a clean look that will be better for painting.  However, if you don’t have enough strength in your hands, you may need to make several passes in each direction with your V-cuts.  If this is the case for you, simply clean your cuts up as you go.  

The next cut you make will be to separate the shoes.  Make a stop cut (photo 6) and remove wood from above.

Continue to remove excess wood on the back of the clown.  When your cuts are completed, your roughout should match photos 7 and 8.

Making V-cut to start wood circus clown5. Making a wide V-cut
Separating shoes on wood circus clown6. Making a stop cut
Right view of carved clown wooden roughout7. Right view of completed roughout
Left view of carved wooden clown roughout8. Left view of completed roughout

Draw some details on your clown carving

On the front of the clown carving, add a box to reserve wood for the nose, which is about 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) square (photo 1).  It should be placed about 3/4 of an inch (1.9 cm) from the top. 

On the right side of the clown carving, draw an ear box that starts about 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) from the top and is 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) square (photo 10).  Draw on the arm, which will be tucked into the clown’s pants.  The width of the arm is about 1/2-inch (1.3 cm).  Also draw a guideline that you will carve to separate the head from the body (photo 10).  Repeat these guidelines on the left side of the clown carving (photo 11).

Add a centerline on the back of the pants (photo 12), and a guideline to mark the bottom of the pants, which will be a little longer in the back.

Nose box drawn on wood for circus clown9. Nose box is dawn on the front
Right side details to carve on wood circus clown10. Right view of ear box, arm, and pants
Left side details to carve on wood circus clown11. Left view of ear box, arm, and pants
Back view of wood circus clown in progress12. Pants and center line drawn on back

Carve the guidelines on your clown carving

Use a stop cut to separate the head from the body, removing wood from underneath (photo 13).  Use a V-cut to split  the feet (photo 14).  

Turn the carving upside down and taper the shoes (tip: mark the wood you will remove first, as shown in photo 15).  

On the top of the shoe, make an angular cut downward toward the clown’s body to remove wood (photo 16).  

Also, add a guideline around the shoes that is a little less than a 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) from the bottom.  This will mark where you will carve a rim around the shoes (visible in photos 15,16).  Save carving the rim for last (to avoid breaking the shoes while you carve). 

Separating head on wood circus clown13. Separating the head
Splitting feet on wood circus clown14. Splitting the feet
Shaping shoes on wood circus clown15. Shaping the shoes
Refining shoes on wood circus clown16. Cutting shoes back at an angle

Taper the legs and chest on the clown wood carving  

Make a stop cut under each arm (photo 17).  Then, use a push cut to narrow the wood on each side of the clown’s hips (photo 18).  

Split the legs on the front and back of the clown carving (photo 19).  Tip: Make a cut at a slight angle on one side (toward the middle), and another cut at an angle from the other side, to easily remove the wood slice.

Extend your cut between the legs on the back and create a little Y shape to mark the tush (visible in photo 20).  You can use line cuts here (and add some wrinkles to the pants).  Also, draw guidelines where you will separate the back of the arms (photo 20).

Remove wood to shape the front shoulders on the clown carving (photo 21).  

Carving arms on wood circus clown17. Separating the bottom of the arm
Splitting legs on wood circus clown19. Splitting the legs
Tapering legs on wood circus clown18. Tapering the legs with a push cut
Arms drawn on back of wood circus clown20. The tush line is carved
Shaping front shoulders on wood circus clown21. Narrowing the front shoulders

Refine the arms on the clown carving 

Cut into the top of the shoulders toward the neck on each side (photo 22).  Also, separate the inside of the arm on each side (should look like photos 24,25).  You can use pyramid cuts to separate the insides of the arms. 

Taper the arms at the bottom until it looks like the hands are inside the clown‘s pockets (photos 23,24,25).  Add some wrinkles on the arms.

Cutting front shoulders on wood circus clown22. Cutting the shoulders
Tapering lower arms on wood circus clown23. Tapering the hand in the pocket
Right carving progress on wood circus clown24. Right view of separated arm
Left carving progress on wood circus clown25. Left view of separated arm

Start the face of the clown carving

Separate the nose box on the face (this may take several passes to get the desired depth) and mark where you will remove wood to round the nose (photo 26).  

Once the nose is refined, shape the face into an oval (photos 27-29).  The clown will have a bald head and you will glue on his hair later with dyed cotton batting (you could also use cotton balls).   

You may need to redraw the ear boxes after you shape the head (redrawn a little smaller in photos 28,29). 

Also, draw on the facial details, pant waist, suspenders, and the little ascot that will go around the clown’s neck (photos 27-28).

Rounding nose on wood circus clown26. Mark nose for shaping
Right view of drawn details on wood circus clown28. Right view
Face details drawn on wood circus clown27. Nose is shaped and details are drawn
Left view of drawn details on wood circus clown29. Left view

Carve the details on your clown carving

Round the ears with your knife.  Also carve the middle of the ear (photos 31, 32).  You can make a slicing cut at an angle on each side to remove wood.  

Separate all the guidelines on the face (should look like photo 30).  Make a slicing cut, and then another slicing cut at an angle just below the first cut, to remove the wood.  Work this way around all the guidelines.

After  you separate the tongue, make a little V-cut in the middle (photo 30). 

For the outer eye sockets, you may want to use stop cuts, removing wood around them (photo 30).  

Use stop cuts to carve the the suspenders, shirt, and the ascot around the neck (photos 30-33).  Use small V-cuts to create the indentation on the suspenders (photo 30).   Note: use small V-cuts to add a few more wrinkles to the shirt and front of the pants (we forgot them!).

Finally, use stop cuts to carefully separate the rims on the shoes (photos 30-33).

Front view of wood circus clown before painting30. Front of clown before painting
Left view of wood circus clown before painting32. Left view of clown before painting
Right view of wood circus clown before painting31. Right view of clown before painting
Back view of wood circus clown before painting33. Back view of clown before painting

Put some paint on your clown carving

Use whatever paint and paint brushes you prefer (we use acrylic and water the colors down, unless they are marked below as 100%).  Toothpicks come in handy for tight corners and small details (whites of eyes, polka dots).  

We also dyed some cotton batting with red food dye for the hair and glued it on after painting (photos 34-37).   Allow the hair to dry thoroughly before you glue it on to the clown carving.  You can gently fluff it into shape with your fingers.  

Here are the colors/brands used to paint the clown carving:

  • Face and ascot: 100% Artist‘s Loft titanium white.
  • Head: 100% Ceramcoat tawny light wash.
  • Nose, tongue, and shoes: Ceramcoat bright red.  For suspenders 100% paint.
  • Shirt: FolkArt apple orchard wash.
  • Pants: Ceramcoat bright yellow wash.
  • Eyes: 100% Delta black.  Whites: 100% titanium white. 
  • Face lines and eyebrows: Black magic marker.
  • Shading for ears and head: Dry bush with Apple Barrel classic caramel.
  • Dry brush with titanium white on shoes, shirt, and suspenders.  
  • Finish with Howard’s Feed and Wax.
  • Seal with Minwax Polyacrylic to protect the hair color (optional).
Front view of painted wood circus clown34. Front view of painted clown carving
Right view of painted wood circus clown35. Right view of painted clown carving
Left view of painted wood circus clown36. Left view of painted clown carving
Back view of painted wood circus clown37. Back view of painted clown carving

Free clown carving pattern and template

Caricature carving template
Free pattern for carving a clown

Clown carving tutorial summary

  • Our little clown carving is bright, colorful, and full of whimsy.  
  • The template for this tutorial makes it easy to carve the body at an interesting angle.
  • Adding the colored hair (dyed cotton batting) is a fun way to make your clown carving come alive.
  • You can use other color combinations for the pants, polka dots, and hair.

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