Background Treatments for Your Relief Carvings

by Lora S. Irish

As we explore the different techniques used in pattern work that precedes your carving or pyrography work it is important to take time to consider how you will treat the background space around your pattern elements.  Let’s explore several ways in which you can work with this empty space.

Slow Tapered Background

lowrelief-04For many low relief carvings the background areas of  the wood are slowly tapered into the outer edges of the pattern.  This gradual level change allows the eye to focus on the carved area and your design.

Begin by tracing your pattern.  Stop cut along the outer edges of t he design with the bench knife. Using a large round gouge or wide sweep gouge rough out the background area to the desired depth of the design. Working from a small margin, about 1/4″ from the edge, use your large round gouge or wide sweep gouge to work the background from its original level in the wood into the rough out area around the pattern.

You can return to the background at any time to reshape or re-taper it and it can be smoothed later in the work with your bull nose chisel or straight chisel.

dropped-backgroundDeep bowl background

In thick stock, 2″ or more, there is plenty of room to create a deep carving but that makes a dramatic drop from the outer edges of the stock into the carved area.

Because the drop is so dramatic the background becomes part of the final design work.  In this photo sample I have added a wide margin along the edges of the board and used rounded corners.  The addition of the round corners shows that I am using the background as part of the work, not just ignored it.

By carefully pointing the large round gouge towards the center carving the background texture radiates from the work. Deep bowl backgrounds give the optical illusion that the carving is deeper than it actual is.

background_marginFramed border background

For scenes as landscapes or sea scenes I tend to use a square edge border margin.  Begin by marking the border width, from 1/4″ to 1″ depending on the size of your stock, with a compass.  Open the compass legs to the width of your border, drop one leg over the side of your stock with the other leg on the face of the board.  As you pull the compass it will leave a perfect straight line round the stock.

Use a stop cut at a 90 degree angle along the pencil margin line.  You can then work the rough out of the background into the stop cut with your round gouge or wide sweep gouge.  Since the background area for scenes is flat, representing air space, you can dress this area out with your straight chisel, bull nose chisel or dog leg chisel.

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