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Hillbilly Head

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Carve a Caricature in the Spirit of the Ozarks

I live in the part of the United States where Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae frolicked, where scruffy hillbillies have long hair, wear stovepipe hats, eat turnips and drink moonshine. Some even struck it rich and moved on to Beverly Hills, California. Well...that's the way theme parks, comic strips and television have portrayed Ozark people.

Although I live in Dogpatch, Arkansas, I don't put on a funny hat or let my hair grow long. But I do enjoy the humor that surrounds the fictional characters of my region. Throughout my carving career I have made Ozark figures with sadly funny faces, unkempt beards, intoxicated expressions, big noses and rolling eyes. It's a style that people enjoy, and I sell many of these carvings. This same hillbilly head might be called a spirit face in another part of the country, and the techniques for making one are pretty much the same.

For this project, which uses a piece of scrap basswood band sawed approximately to shape, I demonstrate how a few simple cuts can create a hillbilly head. The advantage of working on a block of wood with corners is that it lends itself to the shape of the face. Hold your hands so that the tips of the fingers meet in front of the nose and the palms rest on the cheeks. The angle is roughly 90 degrees.

Only a few tools are needed. A carving knife makes most of the cuts, but two palm V tools help with defining eyes and hair. A small palm gouge comes in handy for creating the hollow cheeks of this fellow.

Although the ears and mouth are left off and the top of the head is not defined, there is enough anatomy left to get a feel for making the eyes and nose and for texturing the beard. What I like to teach my students is that the nose is not totally "off" the face when observed in profile. Actually, one-third of the nose is behind the upper lip. This is a detail that applies equally well to human caricatures as to realistic figures.

After some experience, you may decide to put this head on a body. If you do, be advised that hillbillies don’t wear shoes, and that a stretched-out hat makes a great strainer for getting the impurities out of Ozark whiskey.

Material & Tools

1 1/4-in-thick by at least 1 1/4-in.-wide by 6-in.-long basswood

Carving knife
1/8-in. V tool
1/4-in. V tool
1/4-in. no. 9 gouge

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Comments (2 posted):

knotyet on 06/01/2010 12:20:29
This is just what I have been looking for. I am a re-beginning carver. I started several years ago carving from a Keith Randitch article, and then got his books. I carved a few characters, and then due to stress, developed an eye problem where my vision would grey out right where the eye focuses at and fine work became impossible. After retiring from the stressful job, took a while, but with the stress gone, I can "see" again with no grey spot. I am having to relearn to sharpen my carving knife, and start over. This face is perfect. Thanks!
grndbarry on 11/13/2011 18:51:16
Thank you. This is exactly what I was looking for. I have carved some working duck decoys and I do a lot of hand wood working. However, I had no idea how to do this and I wanted to learn. I am making a hiking stick for my grandson for Christmas and I have the perfect stick already sanded down, so I did not want to turn it into kindling.
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