How to Age a Human Face archive

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Andrew Thomas explains how to show age on a carved human face, using an elderly Native American male as a model. Part One


This article looks at how to add age to a carved bust. This technique is in fact very simple to perform and naturally adds more character, life and realism to the carving. The most important tools needed to create this effect are your eyes, to carefully study your models and facial surface anatomy. An understanding that the tool cuts you make will look very unrealistic until they are sanded through the various grades (a necessary process to blend the wrinkles naturally together) is also essential. A certain amount of visualization of the finished piece is therefore very important, as is faith in you own ability to wait until all of the stages of the procedure are completed before judging the end result.


As there are so many different variations of the way our faces age, I believe that our individual wrinkles and sags are almost as unique as our fingerprints. There are of course certain similarities that we all know such as crow's-feet around the eyes, laugh lines around the cheeks and chin, frown lines in between the eyes and so on. However, when you study different individuals you will notice how these details vary depending on what character the individual has, how much stress they suffer, how much facial fat they have, how much time they spend out in the elements, how much sleep they have, and many, many other contributing factors that all add to the way our outward facial appearance develops. On top of that you have different facial expressions that naturally move the facial muscles to give a completely different appearance – happiness, sorrow, pain etc. These emotions have to be recorded naturally to be of any real use when trying to recreate these feelings into your carving. If you try looking happy or sad without the real emotion the result will not be convincing as the face cannot produce natural emotional expressions on demand. Conversely, when we are trying to cover up certain emotions for whatever reason, our faces and eyes are screaming out the truth and real feeling inside!

Which wood?

The wood I used for my carving was American black walnut (Juglans niger), selected for its fine carving qualities and suitability to the subject. The dimensions before cutting were: 250mm (10in) in height, 200mm in (8in) width and 200mm (8in) in depth, just a little smaller than real life.

The ageing procedure

When you use the following carving procedure, the best way to get an accurate result of your model subject is to have them sit for you and simply observe their various details. This is very helpful if only on occasion. If this is not possible, take close up pictures of the forehead, eyes, cheeks, mouth, chin and neck from both sides so that you have as much information as you can to work from.

First and foremost, your carving should have all of the facial features carved and sanded through 120 grit to completely remove all the tool marks (see photos 1 and 2).


The logical place to start with this carving is the forehead. The muscles that raise the eyebrows are called the frontalis, which naturally wrinkle the skin on the forehead when it contracts. Study your model to see how many horizontal lines they have and their direction across the forehead onto the temples. Draw these onto your wood.

Take a look at the direction of the frown lines. These are the lines located between the eyes that run vertically onto the forehead at various different angles. These wrinkles are caused by the corrugator supercilii muscles, drawing the eyebrows together in a frown and thus wrinkling the forehead vertically. Observe these and then draw them onto your wood.

The next step is to study the depth of the wrinkles and assess how this may change from the position where the wrinkle starts and ends. The tools that you will use in this area should be a 1 and 2mm No.11 to produce the grooves and a No.1 chip carving knife to slice the wood if the wrinkle has a fold in the centre. Carve along your lines to produce the correct depth and shape. (see photo 3). Use 120 grit, aluminium oxide sandpaper to remove the straightedges that the tool cuts have left. This gives an appearance of the skin naturally blending into the wrinkle (see photo 4).


The appearance I wanted to give the eyebrows on my carving is that of which I described in my article Reason, this being shaping them but not carving the small hairs. This effect allows the shadows to strike over them to highlight their position. It is a matter of taste and one for you to decide what you would prefer.

My model is obviously very old which affects the eyebrows far more than with a younger person. When we reach a certain age, more wrinkles form on the forehead that join the horizontal ones but blend downwards into the eyebrow region and form a sort of uneven line above the eye. This area was carved with a 4mm No.7, starting at the inner corner of the eye and working around to the outer edge of the eyebrow (see photo 5). It was then sanded with 120 grit to blend the tool cuts naturally along the eyebrow (see photo 6).

Eye area

The area directly below the eye is where we are going to start the carving. If your model has the area where the 'bags' naturally form under the eyes, measure how low they go down in relation to the nose and cheekbone and how far they protrude from the surface of the skin. Mark their position and shape onto your wood using a 5-7mm No.9, to cut around their shape (see photo 7). Naturally blend the lower cut down onto the cheekbone with a 6-8mm No.5 and sand the whole area with 120 grit (see photo 8).

Now we move onto the area directly above the eyelid. Normally if the model is less than 60 years old, this area will only have very tiny lines running over the shape of the eyeball and only sometimes have other actual wrinkles running over the eyelid. If necessary these wrinkles are carved with a 1mm No.11, to produce the groove, and a No.1 chip carving knife to make the slits (see photo 9). The very small lines on the eyelids are also carved with the 1mm No.11.

The crow's-feet or wrinkles that emerge from the lower eyelid run in an outward direction to the corner of the eye and often crisscross over each other. They are normally much deeper from the corner of the eye upwards towards the eyebrow and down over the cheek (see photo 9). The underlying cause of crow's-feet is due to the orbicularis oculi muscle that narrows the eyes to frown and squint.

Observe this area on your model very closely and take your time to draw these lines accurately onto your wood. The very tiny lines can be made with your smallest V-tool and then, as the lines get bigger and more defined towards the corner of the eye, return to the 1 and 2mm No.11. If any of the wrinkles are very deep here, use the 2mm No.11 first, to make a cut, followed by the 1mm No.11 to cut deeper inside the 2mm cut. This will give a more convincing effect to the finished piece.

When you have made all of the necessary cuts, sand to 180 grit to naturally smooth their edges and blend them into each other. 120 grit would be too coarse and likely to result in the loss of lines you have worked so hard to produce (see photo 10).

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

Face , Andrew Thomas , lines , ageing

Glossary Rollover a term to view its definition

V Tool , Gouge Tool , In The Round

The Model

For the purpose of this article I have chosen a very old Native American male as my subject. My reason for doing so is that many years ago he would have lived his life outside more in the elements and this would affect the wrinkles on the skin and give a far more ‘weathered’, leathery appearance, especially in later years. I thought that this model would exaggerate the wrinkles and be a good visual guide and reference for the reader to study. Use the same procedure as I do to create the effects on the skin for your individual choice of subject.

Lines of wisdom

"As there are so many different variations of the way our faces age, I believe that our individual wrinkles and sags are almost as unique as our fingerprints."