Sculpt this Abstract Female Form archive

Thursday 8 September 2011

Andrew Thomas shows you how to carve a moving abstract woman in lime


This article is planned to give you the outline instructions of how to carve an abstract figure, but also for the reader to add their own interpretation of form, curves and angles wherever they feel they want to.

It is two-fold in its concept - you can either carve the legs as I have, or the figure with a long skirt which may be quicker and simpler, depending on how you interpret the form.

The concept of this design is to show the graceful movement of the female body with balanced scale and proportions, but not to get

too involved with the real life details of the anatomy.

If you look at the finished piece from both face sides you will notice that she appears to be looking forward from both positions, which I found to be an interesting outcome from actually having no facial details whatsoever, and very effective for viewing the sculptures from all angles.


If you choose to carve the figure with a skirt, cut along the dotted line in the drawings, and if you chose the legs then ignore the dotted lines.

Using a scanner or photocopier, enlarge or reduce the designs

to the correct size for your block of wood, and then print them out onto card if possible, and use them as templates to transfer the profile lines onto your wood.

Draw the front view profile onto the face of your wood and use

a square to draw a line from the top of the head around to the side of your block, then draw your side view profile in place from this line. Make sure you leave an area of about 30mm (1 1/8in) under the feet - useful for mounting the piece to your faceplate.

Starting with the front view profile, cut carefully along the outer edge of the line. Reform the square block firmly back together with masking tape, and then cut the side view profile.

Note - the block initially has to be planed perfectly flat and square to ensure that the two profiles do not become misaligned when bandsawn!

Use gallery images 2, 3, 4 and 5 as a visual reference throughout this article. Note that the tool sizes and numbers specified may vary depending on the scale of your figure.

Before you start carving, use your templates to draw all of the details onto all four sides of your wood, and then use them throughout the project as a reference to measure from.


Step 1

Both profiles have been bandsawn and the head has been marked for the first cuts. Use a 20-30mm No.3 to carve the outer edges off the head, gently creating a natural curve around the complete area

Step 2

Measure and draw the centreline of the face in position on both sides of the head. Cut out of your template the shape of the face and use this to draw the face onto both sides of your wood. Use a 5mm No.9 to cut along the line of the hair on both sides, pushing it back in towards the centre to a depth of approx 10mm (3/8in). Pare away the wavy side of the hair with the No.3 when the No.9 becomes tight in its curvature. Finally, use the No.3 to round this side of the head over naturally in towards the wavy hair

Step 3

Either copy mine or draw your own angle of the hair mass onto your wood. Use the 30mm No.3 to shape the hair to this angle

Step 4

Draw onto the hair mass the wavy shape and use a 10mm No.9 to carve this (see photos 3 and 5)

Step 5

Sand over the entire head using 100 grit abrasive and check

that all of the contours are even and symmetrical. Use the template to re-draw the face back into its correct position on both sides. Use a brad toothed drill bit to drill two large 'almost' adjoining holes right the way through from one side to the other

Step 6

Use a conical rotary burr or a 14mm No.7 to cut out the centre of the hole and pare the wood back evenly to the line of the face and right through the centre from one side to the other. Round the neck over using a 10mm No.9 and sand all details with 100 grit


Step 7

Use a 10-12mm V-tool to 'sketch' along the line on the left side of the body, and the 30mm No.3 to pare the wood back into this line from the level of the shoulder, down to approximately halfway across the body at the lowest position of the arms (see photo 4)

Step 8

I drew two lines as I did not fully understand how the arms would balance with the rest of the figure's scale. I worked to the nearest one first, re-evaluated the balance and decided to make them thinner, so worked to the next line. With a flexible ruler, bend it around from the shoulder to approximately 25mm (1in) from the right side and then back to the halfway position at the base of the arms (see photo 4). If you do not have a flexible ruler, do this carefully by eye. Use an 18mm No.8 to pare away the wood to this line

Step 9

Moving to the opposite side and using the same technique as in step 7, sketch down the line of the body with the V-tool and pare the wood away with the 30mm No.3 back to the arm and rearmost position of the body. Note that the arm on this side of the body comes around and rests on the side of the hip (see photo 4)

Step 10

As with step 5, cut out of your template the hole from the centre of the arms and draw this accurately in position on both sides of the body. Drill two holes again and clean from one side to the other with either the rotary burr, or a 14mm No.7

Step 11

This complete area can now be shaped. The shoulder can be curved over back onto the arm using the 30mm No.3, and the area from the front of the shoulder to the waistline can start to be rounded over using a 20mm No.5. The edge of the arm on the hip has been marked and is ready to be curved over flush onto the hip, which is also done using the No.3 gouge (see photos 2 & 3)

Step 12

Moving to the rear of the arms, take away some of the square angles to improve balance and feel of movement. Study photo 4 to see the subtle angles across the lower edge on the hip, and also how it flows across the back face of the arms from the lowest position up to the shoulder. Draw a curved line that starts 20mm (3/4in) at the lowest position on the left face and then gently tapers up flush to the shoulder. Use the 30mm No.3 to carve from the right edge down to the depth of this line on the left edge. Use the 10mm V-tool to cut the lowest position of the arm over the hip from right to left, and the No.3 to tidy up uneven tool cuts


Steps 13-14

If you have an Arbortech use it to cut your wood down from the line on the side of your left leg to the front line of your right leg, and

then use an 18-22mm No.7 and the 30mm No.3 to tidy the wood squarely back tight to those lines. If you do not have an Arbotech, use the same gouges to pare all the wood neatly back to these lines.

Step 15

Now do the same from the side of the right leg to the back edge of the left leg. As you clean up the complete areas and work in towards the centre between the legs, you will reach the point of separation piercing through from one side to the other.

Step 16

When you have cleaned back squarely and neatly to the outer lines of your legs, you will need to re-draw the inner lines on all sides again, so that you can follow them to create the correct profiles for the gaps between the legs from the front and side views. Carefully work along them from all sides until you have pierced through exactly to the lines from the left and right sides, and from the front and back. This is done mainly with the 18-22mm No.7 and the 30mm No.3, but you will need a 5mm No.9 to get right into the smallest gap at the top between the legs from the front and rear views.

Step 17

Study photo 4 - notice that the back of the left leg is curved at the bottom. This was done to add movement to the sculpture and to facilitate the curve at the bottom of the right leg. Draw this curve onto the left leg using either a flexible ruler or simply by eye, and use the 20mm No.7 to follow the contour line of the left leg down until you reach the position where the right leg curves over

Steps 18-20

We have now reached the point when we need to separate the legs from each other. This is best done with the conical rotary burr, but can also be achieved with a 5mm No.9 or 11. Cut down in between the legs until you have gone past the lowest position of the right leg from the side view profile. Use a coping saw to cut just underneath your line from the right side view, and then to cut vertically across the rear most position of the leg to remove the little waste block of wood behind it

Step 21

You now have clear access to continue the curve of the left leg evenly down to the base. Draw the line of the right leg where it curves around to the left and carve it to shape using the 30mm No.3

Free style

Steps 22-24

From this point choose how you would like your sculpture's legs to form. I made flowing curves all the way around the outer edges and continued right up the body onto the back, waist and chest areas. On the inner edges of the legs, I cut away diagonal sections, front and back, but left a flat area in the middle so as not to alter the profile views of the contour of the legs. I drew these on first to make sure that the size and balance was correct, and then used a 20mm No.5 and No.7 to produce them. Photos 2, 3, 4 and 5 show the finished angles and details

Step 25

Being abstract, we don't want to get too involved with anatomical details, but we do want to make sure that she is at least a little bit curvy in the right places - over the hips and above, between and below the breasts. These areas should be very subtly worked to capture the essence as a whole, and not to make a feature of any individual areas. Use a 12mm No.7 to carve shallow grooves into the areas that I have marked, and then a 12mm No.3-5 to blend the surrounding depths evenly together. Sand with 100 grit and adjust if necessary (see 2, 3 and 5)

Step 26

The armpits need to have a nice flowing undercut from the side of the breast to just back behind the level of the shoulder, and from the armpit down into the back and onto the hips. Use the 20mm No.7 for this and then sand with 100 grit to make sure your lines are flowing naturally - adjust if necessary (see 3 and 5)


Start with 100 grit and work over the complete surface of the sculpture, removing every tool mark. Next, work through grits 150, 240 and 400, removing all the scratches from the previous grit. Between each grit, pour or brush boiling water over your wood to raise the grain, making the next grade easier and more effective to complete - make sure it is completely dry before continuing to the next grit!

I used Rustin's 2-part wood bleach finish to lighten the lime wood, and then several applications of clear Briwax to seal and polish it.

My base is made from rippled American black walnut measuring 175 x 120 x 30mm with two drilled holes to secure the sculpture.

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

Abstract , Andrew Thomas , lime , woodcarving , form , female , woman

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1. 5mm No.9
2. 10mm No.9
3. 12mm No.3-5
4. 12mm No.7
5. 14mm No.7
6. 18mm No.8
7. 20mm No.5
8. 20mm No.7
9. 30mm No.3
10. 10mm V-tool
11. Brad toothed drill bit
12. Conical rotary burr


1. 100, 150, 240, 400 grit
2. Rustins 2-part wood bleach
3.Clear Briwax
When you have completed your sanding and finishing, before you wax polish it, rub the complete surface over with either a 1200 grit Festool Platin disk, or a Hermes 1000-2000 Fine Net disk to bring your surface to a polished finish.

Diagrams Click an image to enlarge