The following is extracted from “Carving the Acanthus Leaf” by Mary May.
Learning to carve the acanthus leaf is – for carvers – like a pianist learning a Chopin étude, a young oil painter studying the genius of Rembrandt or an aspiring furniture maker learning to cut dovetails by hand.
For carvers, especially those who focus on Classical Western ornament, there comes a time they will inevitably encounter the acanthus leaf, learn it, master it and finally incorporate it into their own designs.
“Carving the Acanthus Leaf” is a deep exploration into this iconic leaf, which has been a cornerstone of Western ornamentation for thousands of years. May, a professional carver and instructor, starts her book at the beginning. She covers carving tools and sharpening with the efficiency of someone who has taught for years. Then she plunges the reader directly into the work. Below is chapter 7, which teaches you step by step how to carve an acanthus leaf in a rosette.
Various styles of rosettes have been used since the Roman Empire as decorative accents and are often used as appliqués (applied to a surface) to adorn furniture and architectural features.
Here are some of the design elements for rosettes:
• They are symmetrical and can be circular, oval, square or rectangular.
• There is a small bead in the center that is either plain or carved.
• In oval or rectangular designs, this center bead is also oval.
• Square or round rosettes that are symmetrical can be turned on a lathe before carving to establish the basic profile.
• There are typically four primary leaves evenly positioned around the rosette.
• The leaves start at the center bead and flow outward toward the edge, with the tips of the leaves defining the outer edges.
• For square or rectangular rosettes, the tips of the leaves end at each corner.
• The midribs or center stems get narrower as they reach the ends of the leaves.
• They often have small, secondary leaves that are between and appear to be positioned under each primary leaf. This example does not contain these secondary leaves.
HOW TO DRAW THE LEAF
This design has similar structural elements to other leaves, but some details, such as positioning the eyes, will need to be visually located without guidelines.
STEP 1: Draw a square. This example has slightly curved edges. Draw the center circle and the mid-rib (center stem) of each leaf ending just before each corner. Notice for this design that the midrib connects from one leaf to the next. This is often done to create a continuous flow between the leaves.
STEP 2: Draw the eyes close to the center circle. These eyes represent where two leaves overlap.
STEP 3: Draw eight circles as shown that intersect and slightly overlap at the pointed end of the eye. These locate the edges of the overlapping lobes.
STEP 4: Erase the parts of the circles that are no longer needed. The remaining lines should extend from the pointed end of the eyes. The dotted lines represent the edges of the lobes underneath.
STEP 5: Erase the dotted lines. Draw the two eyes on each leaf about a third of the way up the leaf at a slight distance from the midrib.
STEP 6: Draw circles as shown that represent the overlapping secondary lobes. The edges of these lobes should extend from the eyes drawn in STEP 5. The dotted lines represent the parts of the lobe that are underneath. Sometimes drawing the edges of the lobes first can help locate the eyes, so steps 5 and 6 can be reversed.
STEP 7: Erase the dotted lines. Draw the pipes that start from the eyes drawn in STEP 5 and curve and flow them alongside the midrib.
STEP 8: Draw the lines that locate the serrations as shown. These are typically positioned perpendicular to the center veins on each lobe, but in this design there are no center veins on the side lobes.
Draw these lines at an angle located approximately halfway between the eyes and the tip of each lobe. Note that the center lobe has two of these guidelines that are perpendicular to the midrib. After learning how to position the serrations in the next few steps, these lines are usu-ally no longer necessary as guides.
STEP 9: Take a deep breath. It really isn’t as complicated as it looks. Draw small circles that locate the serrations along the edges of the leaf. These lines should start at the edge of the leaf and curve down to meet the guidelines drawn FIG. 7.14 in STEP 8. The dotted lines show the correct direction of the curve. These circles are simply used to show the curvature of the serrations. Erase the parts of the circles that are not necessary. This process of drawing the circles is often not necessary after learning to understand the shape and position of these serrations.
STEP 10: Erase all lines that are no longer needed. Complete the edges of the leaf by connecting the serration lines as shown and also complete the tips of the leaves.
STEP 11: Erase any unnecessary lines.
STEP 12: Draw lines starting from the inside corners of the serrations that flow down each lobe. These lines represent a high edge (or high corner) in the leaf.
HOW TO CARVE THE LEAF
STEP 1: Prepare the Wood. Study Chapter 2 to learn about different methods to transfer templates to wood. I used carbon paper. Transfer all the lines from the template at the beginning of this chapter and cut out the outline of the design on a band saw or scrollsaw. This will be an appliqué.
STEP 2: Carve the Center Bead. With a 6mm V-chisel, make a 1/16″-deep cut along the outside edge of the center circle. Define the edge of the bead by making vertical cuts directly on the line with a #5, 8mm. With the same #5, 8mm, round over the bead to a half-sphere. Use the #5, 8mm to lower the leaf to the edge of the bead, starting 1/2″ from the edge of the bead.
STEP 3: Round the Leaves. With a #3, 18mm, round over the tips of each leaf starting 1″ from the tip and carving down 1/4″ at the tip (to make the rosette more shaped, this can be rounded deeper). Re-draw any lines that were carved away. NOTE: STEP 1 and STEP 2 can also be done on a lathe.
STEP 4: Carve the Midribs. With a 4mm V-chisel, make deep cuts that define the edge of the mid-ribs. These should be 1/16″ deep toward the center and fade off just before they reach the leaf tips. With a #7, 10mm, carve a slight hollow in the midrib as it comes toward the center bead.
STEP 5: Round the Leaf Next to the Vein. With a #4, 14mm, round over the surface of the leaf down to the edge of the midrib.
STEP 6: Define the Overlapping Lobes. With a 3mm V-chisel, start in the middle of the eye and make a 1/16″-deep cut along the edge of all overlapping lobes.
STEP 7: Carve the Eyes: Study Chapter 3 to learn more about carving eyes. With a #11, 3mm veiner, make a 45° cut at the base of each eye. With a #5, 5mm, continue this cut on either side of the eye to create a teardrop shape that has a sharp, inside corner.
STEP 8: Define the Overlapping Lobes. With gouges that fit the edge of the overlapping lobes (#5, 5mm and #7, 10mm), define the edges with vertical cuts directly on the line.
STEP 9: Lower the Underlying Lobes. With a #5, 8mm, lower the parts of the leaf that appear to go under the overlapping lobes and create a slight hollow cut. Make sure that the sharp edges created by this cut flow in the correct direction.
STEP 10: Carve the Pipes. Study Chapter 3 to learn more about carving pipes. Re-draw pipes that have been carved away. With a #11, 3mm, make long, sweeping cuts along each side of the pipe, starting on either side of the eye.
STEP 11: Round the Leaf. With a #3, 6mm, soften any sharp edges in the leaf surface that were cre-ated by carving the pipes. NOTE: Often pipes are rounded over also, but because these are so small, it would cause them to lose definition.
STEP 12: Hollow the Secondary Lobes. With a #7, 10mm and #7, 8mm, hollow the three secondary lobes in each overlapping lobe.
STEP 13: Hollow the Remaining Secondary Lobes. With a #7, 8mm, hollow all remaining secondary lobes.
STEP 14: Carve the Serration Notch Cuts. Study Chapter 3 to learn more about these defining cuts. With a #5, 8mm, make one cut defining the serration edge and a second cut at a slight angle creating a small triangular notch cut.
STEP 15: Clean the Edges. With a #3, 6mm, make a 45° chamfer along all edges. This will create a clean, well-defined edge and will remove remaining template or pencil lines.
Where shall we put these? How about as decorative details on the upper corners of door frames? Small rosettes can be added to the corners of kitchen cabinets or accents on dressers or headboards. Then there is that wonderful architectural feature that just begs for carved details – the fireplace mantel. Be creative and either make the rosette a central design feature, or a secondary detail for a simple accent. How about custom coasters and leave a large flat area in the center for wine glasses to fit? I’ll have to think about that one over a glass of wine.