Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | August 8, 2012

Bringing Emotion to your Woodcarving

One thing I have learned in being an artist woodcarver is how technical ability and emotion are both critical to be successful in your work.  One without the other is not enough for creating really good art.

There are lots of discussion and a myriad of resources to help us to develop the technical part of carving.  There are unlimited classes and books.  Practice is, of course, also a necessity.

The emotional aspect is not so obvious and does not get much attention.  So, how do we foster emotion in our art?

What follows are a few methods that work for me in ensuring emotion is in my work.  And, yes, practice is also important here as well.

1. Spend Some Time in Contemplation – Think of it as relationship building.  The more time you spend in thought, the more reward your thought will give you in return.  Spend time creating in your mind.  Make it a routine.

2. Spend Time With Your Subject – Get to know your subject well.  If you carve from nature, spend a lot of time in nature (or with whatever your subject is).  Walk slowly. Observe, feel, and respond. Smell the air.  Smell the pines and sage.  Explore. Contemplate.  Discover the underlying rhythms of nature.  Meditate.  Build a relationship with your subject.  In doing so, you will strengthen your feelings about it.

3. Create Art with Your Subject in Front of you – Create from life as much as possible.  If you want to carve a cougar and can not bring it into your studio, take some good photos or find some good pictures in reference books.

4. Get Clear through Sketches and Photos – Before you begin your woodcarving, draw several sketches or collect several photos to look over.  In doing so, you will dig deeper into yourself and into your subject.  You will become more aware of what you are goals are.

5. Do Some Writing – I find it helpful to write a few words or a paragraph while doing my sketches or collecting my pictures.  I have also written my thoughts, feelings, and impressions while meditating.
6. Create a title for your Work Before You Begin – Sometimes simply giving your piece a title before you begin carving helps you stay clearly focused on what you want to portray.

7. Develop Your Memory – Since most of us can not bring the cougar into our studio, we need to work from memory…. when reference photos are not exactly what we are striving for.  Superficial details are forgotten and our impressions and emotions are retained through memory.  We let memory guide our work, and as a result we will have more emotion in our work.

8. Create a Studio Setting Favorable to Getting You into the Zone – Create a safe haven in your studio free of distractions.  Fill the space with things that promote reflection, creativity, memory, happiness, etc.

9. Identify Emotional Triggers – Find things that bring you back to meaningful memories or strong emotions.  Such things could include music, smells, images, tastes, etc.  Make sure they are present in your studio.

10. Use rituals, emotional triggers, arrangement of your tools, placement of bench(es), other routines, etc. to get you into the zone.  Do this each time you create.

11. Meditate – Yes, spending time to meditate on the bigger questions in life, on family, on spirituality, etc. is also important.  Our choice of subject and how we respond to it is in direct relation to who we are as individuals.  Our beliefs, philosophies, personality, relationships, etc. all play an important role in shaping us.  Pondering on these issues, though not directly related to our art, will strengthen our inner-self.  Our art will benefit greatly.  Our creative juices come from who we are holistically.

Let us spend time developing our emotional side along with our technical development.  And, when we do our work will have much greater meaning.

Thanks for joining me.

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