Carving a Swan

My friend Crystal found a pattern of a swan by Lora S. Irish that she thought would look good carved on leather. ( Lora does a lot of patterns for tattoos, wood carving, etc. that make great leather patterns. Several of her pattern books are available from Tandy Leather Factory as well as many other places) Crystal asked me for some tips on how I would go about carving the swan, so I decided to give it a try, and make it into a lesson. Here's my attempt at carving the swan.

I started out with a piece of cased (dampened) leather. When the moisture has evened out and the leather has almost returned to normal color, I trace the pattern onto the leather. Then it's time to start carving with the swivel knife. Start by cutting the border lines. I used a ruler to keep the straight lines straight. The circle lines were cut freehand. I finish them up to look like a piece of branch, so they dont need to be perfectly straight. If they did, I'd use some sort of a template. We aren't going to cut a lot of the parts of the swan. I started out cutting the neck and the outline of the head but not any inside details. Then I cut the straight lines of the feather on the top of the back wing, and the lines between the front and back wing. Cut the tail lines. Then cut the water line where it meets the sky and where it meets the body of the swan. Cut all the cat tails, but don't cut the lines that represent the shadow in the water.

At this point I will rubber cement the piece of leather to a piece of cardboard. This will help keep the leather from stretching as we do the tooling. To bevel the swan, I am going to use the figure carving bevelers F895 and F891.

I started by beveling the neck and the cut lines on the feathers.

Then start beveling the cat tails.

Bevel the head and the beak. Lots of the beveling at this point is looking pretty rough. That will all be cleaned up later with a modeling tool.

Now we are going to use the F902 pointed smooth figure beveler to define the feathers. Some of these tools will have a blunt tip on them when you get them. I have taken a file and filed the tip of my 902 to a sharp point. This is quick and easy to do. The metal isn't very hard and it doesn't take any special files.

We are going to stamp a lot of impressions very close together to make the ragged, jagged edge of these feathers. It's easier to do this if you quickly move the tool along as you are tapping it, instead of moving and placing it between each tap with the mallet. This might takes some practice to get used to. We use this method to shape all the feathers on the wings. You can refer back to the pattern to see where feathers should be.

Once I have all the feathers on the back wing defined, I will draw a center vien in the larger feathers. This can be done with the tip of a stylus, modeling tool, or even the back (dull) side of a scalpel.

On the larger wing feathers, a center vien was drawn in. This can be done with the back side of the scalpel blade, or with a modeling tool.

The next step is to add the serrations in the feathers. How you do this depends on how much detail you want in your picture. You can draw these serrations in with the tip of a modeling tool, with the point of a needle, with a hair blade, or even with a scalpel. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. The tip of the modeling tool fits into tight corners easier than using the hair blade.Here I show how they can be drawn in with a modeling tool.

Here I show them being carved in with a hair blade. With the hair blade, it goes a lot quicker as it makes several lines at a time instead of having to draw in each line. It also spaces them closer than you can probably do with other methods.

Once all these feathers are done, I start on the front wing. I cut the bottom line of the back feathers and beveled them.

Then the F902 is used to define the rest of the feathers on this wing the same as was done on the first wing. As you go lower on the wing, the feathers get smaller.

Then the line seperating the front and back wing is rebeveled to make the seperation stand out more. This can be done with the figure beveler, or for more definition, you can use an undercut beveler B892.

Here's what the wing line looks like after the undercut beveler has been used.

Now we go back and add serrations to all these wing feathers we have been working on.

Add a center vein and serrations to the rest of the feathers the same as we did before.

Continue working towards the back of the swan making feathers in the same manner.

The tail feathers are cut, beveled, and then veined the in the same manner as the wing feathers. No center vein is needed on the smaller or narrower feathers.

Now we are ready to start on the head. Carefully cut the eye with the swivel knife. This is a very shallow cut.

Take the spoon end of a modeling tool and place it on the cut line of the eye. We will form the eye by pressing the tip of the modeling tool down against the line. Be very careful to hold the tool almost upright so you aren't mashing down center part of the eyeball.

We are trying to get an eyeball that is round and that also has shape. The modeling tool presses down the eges, but leaves the "ball" shape to the eye.

Start to shape the head of the swan with a modeling tool. Press in the line at the bottom of the head. Work it smooth with the modeling tool.

Work in the lines behind the eye and in front of the beak with the modeling tool.

With the tip of the modeling tool, press in the nostril. Shape the beak.

On the first swan I did, I put the texture on the neck with the multi blade hair knife. I did this my pushing the tips of the blade into the leather and pulling it up, making very short hair structures. Not everyone has one of these tools, so I decided to try something different on this one. Someone suggested that a piece of tape placed on the leather and pulled off creates a fuzzy texture. I tried that, and it does make a neat texture that might work here. The only problem I had is that if you rub your finger over it, it will flatten back out. I think it might help to spray a sealer over it, but I am not ready to do that yet at this point. I'm going to show a couple pictures of how it looks, even if that isn't the way I decide to leave it on this project.

Now we are ready to start working the background down. Do this with the leather pretty dry. You may have to go over the area a few times to get it really smooth.

Then we will start cleaning up the carving and add detail with the modeling tool. On this carving that mostly involves the cat tails. More shape can be added to the long cat tail leaves with the modeling tool. The edges of the leaves are also smoothed out and rounded.

The shadow of the cat tail plant in the water is worked in with the modeling tool. This is just a faint impression.

Your swan carving could be finished at this point, but you can also take it to another level. You can get even more depth and realism to your swan by cutting and lifting the feathers. To do this, take a scalpel and cut the edges of the feathers loose. Do this holding the scalpel at a very shallow angle and stick the tip into the leather about an 1/8th inch. On these feathers, I started on the bottom front of the feather and then follow the edge of the feather to the tip. You can go around the tip and up to the top side, unless there is a feather overlapping it on top. Then just do the bottom portion of the feather.

Then take the scalpel and cut the serrations. When I do this, I make a lot cuts really close together. When you add the sealer (explained later in the coloring lesson) feathers finished up with these last two steps can be shaped because they are loose slightly from the background leather.

Coloring steps to follow soon.



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