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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Flat Plane Whittling

There is a Carving style out there called Flat Plane Carving, it's really whittling by definition- work is done with just a knife, no other tools, and the wood is held in the hand. There are exceptions- I saw a chainsawn piece that was done in the flat plane style. The Woodcarving Illustrated website (link on the right =>) has a flat plane forum, fairly busy with a lot of pics and info available. Take a look.
I've had a couple email coversations with different folks about FP, trying to get clear in my mind just what is involved in the style. Everyone seems to capitalize the words, the style is held in high regard among many carvers. I won't go into the history of the style, anybody interested can browse the forums or search the web and find the same thing I did. The Little Shavers website (link=>) has some nice pics and some good info).

So here's my take on it. It's am impressionistic form in that it does not try to imitate nature as much as represent nature. Most of the cuts will be straight, leaving flat planes of different sizes (hence the name). No sanding is done, the more respected whittlers in this style seem to make fewer cuts without sacrificing detail. They also cut more deeply, use sharper angles. The interplay of light and shadow on high and low areas give this style a sense of detail that really is not there.

I don't know what a horse's knee looks like, but I know where it goes, and I can cut a couple vee shaped notches that leave a high spot and a shadow line, and everybody knows its a knee.
Its a simple style, that forces the viewer to use their imagination.

I used the pics of my reindeer, because they are the only thing I have made more than one of. In the first pic, the light deer's feet look to me like footed pajamas. The darker one looks more like hooves. Both still very rounded. The second pic is my attempt to use the FP style on the same item, I like the way the legs look. You can see how light and shadow play with each other, and there is actually more detail to the leg and foot- this guy has ankles and knees the others do not.

I was a cabinetmaker for years here on the frozen shores of Lake Erie, in the hiererarchy of woodworkers we considered ourselves second only to the carvers. There is a dirty little secret we kept-our job was simple- we made boxes. Skinny box with rounded corners, countertop. Flat box with legs, table. Box with drawers, box with doors- you get the picture. In my opinion there is a dirty little secret to flat plane carving too. Its quick. By NOT trying to impart as much detail, by avoiding round surfaces, the project moves along quicker. That's pretty important if your trying to make money. I think the style originated when the carver wanted to create a quick, simple item, for whatever reason. Could have been to help make a living, or to satisfy an impatient customer, like a child waiting for a toy. Straight cuts are easier to do with a knife, especially a working knife or a belt knife- I picture a working man picking up a piece of wood on lunch break, or riding home in the back of a wagon. It would not be easy to cut the footed jammie feet with a belt knife. I'm not bashing the FP carvers, many are artists, likely with a little genius included. I'm just calling it like I see it.

I will certainly practice the style, maybe not exclusively (I'm not sure the Octopus pen would lend itself to FP). To me whittling should be a little impressionistic, viewers should to have to use their imaginations.

Happy Whittling- BfloBif

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