The Carving of Coral Reef By Mark Doolittle

Mark Doolittle’s carvings are unusual and intriguing, reflecting strongly of his academic training and career. In this article, Mark provides an overview of the carving process used in creating Coral Reef.   This article has been copied from the  www,  of April 14th, 2012        This an American free woodcarvers website and well worth a visit.     Do look at Mark’s web site: or on his Facebook page:  – his work is truly inspiring

The first step is to obtain a single piece of wood of the appropriate color, workability, grain and size. For Coral Reef, the American hardwood “Basswood” was chosen, a light-colored, straight-grained wood that is very workable, making it a favorite among carvers. As shown in this photo, the size of the “Coral Reef” sculpture (24”h x 24”w x 4”d) was obtained by gluing together five pieces of 4” thick Basswood.


The second step is to obtain the overall shape of the piece. This begins by cutting out the overall profile of Coral Reef using a bandsaw.


After the profile is obtained, the shaping step is continued using rasps, sanders, gouges and rotary burrs to achieve the final three-dimensional shape of Coral Reef.


The front of the shaped piece.


The final step is to add detail carving that provides a sense of growth like the colonization of millions of coral polyps that build natural coral reefs. This “sense of growth” was achieved by carving holes & fissures using a variety of rotary bits and hand-held rasps and files. Here is the start of the detailed carving to obtain the desired organic shapes, beginning on the smaller “wing”.


The bottom of the wings, showing the detail that was used to transition the carvings from the small wings to the stem and larger wings of the piece.


The larger wing during detailed carved. Both through holes (called “piercing”) and stopped holes were used to achieve the lace-like organic look. Notice the pencil marks on the non-carved surface that were used to guide the carving.


The piercing begins at the edge of the piece, as seen here on the right-hand wing.

The internal piercings are finally added.


All detail carving is completed.


A three-quarter view of the completed piece, before wood dyes were used to emphasize the edges of the wings.


Final piece with added edge color, finished with polyurethane and finally mounted on a base made from African Padauk with an inset piece of Arizona sandstone.


Mark Henry Doolittle earned a PhD in Biology from the University of California at Los Angeles, and enjoyed a career there in biomedical research.  While working at UCLA, he also developed a keen interest in art and woodworking, recently transitioning into a second career as a full-time wood artist.

Mark’s work is strongly influenced by his background in biology.  His work strongly reflects the growth and symmetry found in cells and tissue, as well as whole organisms.  He uses organic shapes and abstract forms to foster a perception of biological grow.

See more of Mark’s intriguing work on his web site: or on his Facebook page:

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