Michael Painter gave us another fantastic insight into his carving expertise. He had his career chosen for him by helpful Job Centre employee who volunteered to ring for an appointment. He served his apprenticeship, but did not know that a huge stone heraldic carving was to be his apprentice piece until it was completed. There was 40 employees in the workshop which was designed to give constant north light on work, to avoid the variation in shadow caused by the movement on sunlight during the day. The master carver had the best light and then the journeyman , with the apprentices having the poorest light. The master carver naturally chose the most interesting, challenging work for himself but avoided working in stone where ever possible. Life is not fair??
The basic aim of master carver is to work efficiently as it is the only way to stay in business. Michael visits his clients to make sure that he knows what they want and that it is possible to carve it. He also sees where the work is to be placed, taking in the prevailing light, the height above the floor level, and whether the audience will be sitting or standing when viewing the work, as all this effects the design of the work. The client receives a drawing of the design or a plasticine model for approval and authorisation. The joiner gets a cutting list and diagram of how the carving block is to be constructed. The carver gets a carving blank made up of kiln dried wood planks glued together as per the drawing. He is down to the basic shape and has less waste wood to carve off. The work proceeds. The most difficult areas are targeted first. With a figure carving, the eyes are the most difficult. Michael leaves the work for a few days to see if the eyes are right. If not they can be recarved slightly further into the wood. The back of the head and the back of another part of the work, are not carved until Michael is happy with the front, as this allows him space to move the work further back into the wood. He says that the face should never be life-size as it is too real and the viewer is confused. A 90% or 110% head is recognised as a piece of sculpture and not real. The level of detail varies with the height of the work above the viewer, the higher the work the bolder the detail.
Michael went into some detail about carving a face. He gave us the usual proportional measurements for the elements of the face and body, eyes in the middle of the head ( not face), etc , which can be found in any drawing or painting book on portraiture. What is not in those books, is that the eye ball is about the size of a ping pong ball and we only see the front of it. If the carving is a portrait, then these “usual proportions” have to be carefully checked against the model. Michael started to carve an eye. He started with a fairly large fluter, roughing out where the eye should be, then using smaller fluters he defined the eye, a closed eye at this point. The eye is opened cautiously with a small fluter,to look half asleep. Then when he is sure that is right, it is opened to up to the full extent, remembering that sad eyes slope down on the nose side and happy eyes slope the other way. Only when this looks right is the eyelid defined with a bull nose gouge. The pupil is carved, remembering that it tends to rest on the lower eyelid. He does not hollow out the pupil which is a practice that seems to come from Greek and Roman carvings, which if fact had the hollow filled in with a colour stone.
Michael finally showed us how to carve hair. He drew overlying leaf shapes and cut them at the top to look like tiles on a roof. Working through various fluters from a middling one to the smallest, defined the lazy S shape of hair