Stylised Owl archive

Monday 27 October 2008

Maureen Hockley carves an owl which is perfect for a wall hanging


It all started with a doodle (see photo 2), two circles and a beak, that was immediately recognisable as an owl. It became a sleeping owl that was not interesting enough to carve, but then it woke up and stretched its wings getting ready to fly off - or fall off - the branch. When you stylise a bird, an animal or even the human form, it does not have to be anatomically correct, it just has to be recognisable and a bit different (see photo 3).


My owl is a wall hanging carved in lime (Tilia spp) 40 x 200 x 200mm (1 1/2 x 8 x 8in). If you want it smaller you could use 25mm (1in) timber but I would not recommend thicker than 40mm (1 1/2in) even if you enlarge the design. Print off a couple of drawings, cut one out, draw round the outline onto your timber (see photo 4) and cut it out using a bandsaw or coping saw (see photo 5). At this stage there is no point in drawing in all the detail, as it would be cut off almost as soon as you start roughing out.

Securing the work

I prefer to screw a small block to the back of the work - making sure the screws will not come through the carving - and hold it in a vice but as this piece has a flat back, you could work on a table. To make sure you are working safely, stick the shape to a piece of ply or MDF using small squares of double sided adhesive tape, and clamp the ply to the table. For less trouble, but perhaps not quite as safe, use a non-slip mat.

Begin carving

Once the work is secure, start carving the body (see photo 6) making cuts across the grain away from the centreline. Mark the thickness of the wing (see photo 7) and carve down to meet the body. Once the body and both wings are shaped, cut the wings off your drawing and trace the feather pattern onto the carved surface (see photo 11).

I decided to carve the feet next as this would shape the lower body. The branch must be rounded and then the claws shaped to fit the branch (see photos 12-13).

The head

Once I was happy with the feet I moved on to the head and although this owl is stylised, there are some things that need to be right. If you could look down on an owl's head you would see that the feathers that surround the eye go back from the beak forming an angle close to 90� and, from the side, go about halfway back on the head. Before cutting the eyes back I shaped the top of the head and the ears (see photo 14). Once the eye surrounds were cut back (see photo 15) and the beak shaped, the back of the head was undercut so that it would stand out from the wall once it was finished. The eyes were cut into the centre of the surrounds (see photo 16). Very un-feather-like, but quite effective rays were cut to represent the feathers (see photo 17).

Wings and finishing

So now the wing detail can be carved (see diagram right). Each feather has to tuck under the next one so care must be taken to make stop cuts at each

layer and if any tidying is needed it can be done with a scalpel (see photos 19-20). I have undercut the wings to bring them away from the wall and make them appear thinner than they really are (see photo 21).

The breast feathers (see photos 22, 23, 24) are much less distinct than the wings and once drawn in were carved with a No.8 4mm tool. For the detail I used two things that I usually avoid - abrasive paper and a V-tool. The cuts were sanded to make them look like undulations rather than positive cuts, and the V-tool was used to just break up the ends of the feathers. A few cuts on the branch gave it a little more life (see photo 25), and a hole was made in the back for hanging.


Finally to finish off, the stylised owl was given two coats of Danish Oil and a light wax polish.

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

stylised , Maureen Hockley , Birds , Owl

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"When you stylise a bird, an animal or even the human form, it does not have to be anatomically correct"

The finished owl oiled and polished (PHOTOGRAPHS AND DRAWINGS BY MAUREEN HOCKLEY)

Top Tips

- To get a symmetrical design draw half of it on tracing paper, fold on the centreline and trace your drawing (see photo 2)
- Wood can be removed quickly by cutting with the grain but take care not to go too deep (see photos 8-9)