This site uses cookies, your continued use implies you agree with our cookie policy. Dismiss

I don't know what to carve!

Q: Although I'm creative in many areas and love carving, right from the beginning I've had a lot of problems deciding what to carve.

Any suggestions?

Next to sharpening tools, I’ve found that not-knowing-what-to-carve can be a big problem for many students. Even carvers who’ve been at it a while can be scratching their heads. So you are not alone!

We have a lot of projects on Woodcarving Workshops and I always hope they inspire carvers to explore further designs of their own. But, putting that aside, what can we do about deciding what to carve? 

Here’s an exercise:

1   Allow yourself, say, 20 minutes of time and space on your own.

2   Grab a pencil and paper and sit down somewhere quiet, perhaps in a comfy chair; somewhere you won’t be disturbed.

3   Ask yourself: What inspired me into carving in the first place? What was it I saw? What made me think, 'I'd like to do that'. Take your time. Write it down.

4   Now imagine yourself at your bench. You’ve just carved something and are showing it to a friend. What is it?  Perhaps an owl or a green man; a swag of flowers or some beautiful inscription? What? Take your time. Do this a few times.

5   Now imagine yourself wandering around an amazing woodcarving exhibition. What would you like to see? What would attract you? Big. Small. Anything. Make a note so you can remember when you 'get home'...

In the end, you will have a list of subjects in which are emotionally interested. And that's the point:

It's the emotions, feelings and desires, that will drive your carving.

The conceptual bit trails behind.

So you must start from,  get back in touch with, your emotional involvement. This is the spark that will inspire you; the flame that gives you the energy to start your journey.


Still not sure what to carve?

Start trawling through books, magazines on the web - anywhere you might find examples to which you react emotionally - and play out a similar exercise.

With a list of subjects in which you are interested and life being short, you’ll have to choose. Perhaps triage. Perhaps even throw a coin?

Last resort!

Start something, anything!

Either you'll like and get into what you are doing, in which case you have an idea of what you like carving; or you'll not, in which case you can ask yourself what you'd rather be carving.

And if none of the above work?

You might like to have a go at something other than woodcarving?

At least for a while...


Related video:



  • TopThe Book Reader (Der Buchleser) by Ernst Barlach,1936. Although it was created in clay, Barlach carved a lot of wood and I've always felt his clay work looked as if it was carved too.

  • Centre: Wasp in Pear netsuke by Kogetsu, 19c. Nagoya school. Inlaid eyes; ukibori pimpling to pear.



Sign up to our free newsletter