How to carve and paint a standing Santa with Bob Biermann


In this project, I use a ½ inch piece of basswood, 4” wide by 9” tall.  I use Swiss Made tools and all references to tool sizes and types will be to the Swiss Made designation.  Start by cutting the pattern out and placing it on the board with the grain running vertical.  I use graphite paper to transfer the pattern to the board.  Carbon paper is hard to erase and tends to smear.   Use a scroll saw or coping saw to cut the profile. 
1. Start by V-tooling the outline of the body, arms, sides of face, and major pattern components. Do not V-tool individual hairs, basket, or face details. (Figure 1A and 1B)

Begin with the mustache. Use a gouge that closely matches the curve of the mustache.

I use a #3-5 for the top curve and a #9-3 for the up curve. (Figure 1C)

2. Use a #11-3 vainer running up the side of the nose. (Figure 2A) Continue around the eye socket and down and out to the side of the face. Use a #3-5 gouge and remove the wood down to the mustache cut to lower the cheeks. (Figure 2B) Taper the sides of the face and the opposing hair.
3. Use the same gouge under the bottom of the nose and cut in a little arc down to the mustache. (Figure 3A)


Cut along the side of the nose and eyebrow to form the eye socket and eyebrow. (Figure 3B)


Taper under the hat to start forming the eyebrow. (Figure 3C)

4. Draw a line from the middle of the eye socket through the bridge of the nose to the other eye. This determines the location of the bridge of the nose. (Figure 4)

Remove a wedge of wood off the nose. This leaves a lump on the brow. Remove that to lower the forehead. Shape the sides of the nose to remove sharp edges.

5. In order to form the shape of the face, we have to repeat step 4 to further lower the eye socket and make the nose higher than the cheeks. (Figure 5A)

Continue by going deeper and deeper on each corner of each eye making a mound in the socket. (Figure 5B)

6. Taper the sides of the face again to make the head shape a wedge. Continue this process thinking of carving in the round. Even though it is only ½ inch thick, we want it to appear as much like a carving in the round as we can with the nose, cheeks, and eyes in their proper positions. (Figure 6)
7. Develop the temple and cheek by using the same #3-8 gouge at an angle along the side of the eye. (Figure 7A) Reverse the gouge and use the same angle along the side of the cheek. (Figure 7B) Take care not to deepen the cut along the face. Remove the wood for the hair and the face to keep the hair from sticking out in front of the face.
8. Start rounding the hat to fit the sides of the face. Work the hat and get it close to where it should be and in the correct shape. Always work as a unit and do not finish any one item or feature of the carving without working on the adjacent feature equally. (Figure 8)
9. Continue by shaping the nose. Taper the sides of the nose so it tapers down to the cheeks rounding the top while maintaining the width. The nostrils also taper but are wider. At the tip of the nose, there is the characteristic Santa ball, indicated by the pencil marks in Figure 9. Continue shaping so the nose in not excessively large but not too narrow, either. Reference the pattern for size.
10. Next, work on the bottom of the mustache.  Draw in the mouth and mustache as shown in the pattern. Make sure the mouth opening in centered under the middle of the nose. (Figure 10A)


Width will depend on the droop of the mustache and we will determine that now. (Figure 10B)

11. The mouth is the width of the center of the eyes. Therefore, we need to locate and cut the eyes next. The secret to a happy Santa is having the proper curves around the eye, mustache, and cheeks. (Figure 11A)

Note the bottom lid has a small curve with a small smile “bump” which gives him a squinty look and a happy face. (Figure 11B) Don’t make the eyes too large.

You can see the sweeping curve of the upper lid and down on each side. (Figure 11C)

12. We will cut the eyes now. If you are right handed, cut the left eye first. This will allow you to see the finished eye when you cut the other eye and make it easier to keep them the same size and shape.

Use your knife on the upper lid line with a straight in cut so there is no undercutting of the upper lid. (Figure 12A)

Then lay the knife as flat as you can without cutting the cheek and take out the wood under the lid to make a nice round ball. (Figure 12B)

13. The next cut will lower the bottom of the ball and create the visible part of the lower half of the eye. (Figure 13) Therefore, the top of the visible ball is the highest part. The upper lid line goes down and ends up lower than the actual eye ball. The lower lid meets the upper lid above the end of the upper lid. Cut along the lower eye line with the knife on as much of an angle as you can get without cutting the eyebrow. Slice down to the lower lid and remove the wood with the knife laying as flat as possible like you did in step 12. Make the ball as smooth and rounded (side to side) as possible.
14. Finish the eye socket using a #11-3 gouge to create the bottom of the socket and eye bags. (Figure 14) Note the line on the left eye and the angle of the gouge cutting the right side. Bring the gouge around following the curve of the socket.
15. Next, cut the upper eye lid. (Figure 15A) This is optional. It takes a sharp V-tool and steady hand but it adds to the character of the piece. I prefer the #15-3 45 degree V-tool because it cuts a finer line and I can control it better than a knife in this small area. I start in the middle of the eye and cut around and down to the nose. Turn the piece around and cut the other way to the outside. Cut down and curve up to give him a happy look. Continue by cutting a couple of wrinkles below the eye in the eye bag area and crow’s feet out from the end of the eye. (Figure 15B)
16. Using a V-tool, cut around the bottom of the mustache from each end to the bottom (center) of the nose. Clean out under the mustache with your knife or gouge removing a wedge which lowers the mustache and clears room for the mouth and lower lip. Cut a small wedge for the mouth opening under the mustache. (Figure 16)
17. Using the center of each eye as a guide, lightly draw a line straight down to the bottom of the mustache. These lines mark the ends of the mouth. Draw a line for the lower lip using the pattern for a guide. Using a #9 -3 gouge, leave the line and cut under the lower lip. The cut ends under the mustache at the marks from the center of the eye. (Figure 17)
18. Shape the arms and beard. (Figure 18A) Again, picture Santa in the round. The arms have to be shaped so the beard can flow over the arms and have a roundness that matches the shape of the face. (Figure 18B) Be careful on his basket arm. Do not remove any wood from the basket handle area.
19. After the beard is rounded and shaped as you like it, draw in where the largest locks of hair will be. Do not use straight lines. Make S-curves and other shapes. Use a #11-5 gouge to cut the lines. Go fairly deep with these cuts. (Figure 19A)

After they are cut, use the 15-3 V-tool to cut shadow lines in the bottom of some of the gouge cuts. It gives definition to the larger locks. Don’t overdo these cuts. (Figure 19B)

20. Continue to add shapes. Use the same gouge and add shallow cuts between the deep cuts. Use S-shapes and let the shallow cuts intersect with the other cuts. This creates better overall texture in the beard. (Figure 20)

After all the major cuts are finished, used the V-tool in a few of the shallow cuts to add shadow and detail.

21. Around the edge of the beard, use your knife to cut the ends of the locks to indicate that they are different lengths and to break up the straight line around the beard. Tuck some under to let it appear that others flow over and around. (Figure 21)
22. Finish the hair on the side of the head and mustache by adding a few locks on the hair and some details on the mustache. Again, do not use straight lines. Hair should curve and flow over and around the facial features. When finishing the hair and mustache, do not use a lot of lines. Keep the detail simple for a lighter, more flowing look. Let the lines and hairs follow the shape of the beard and face. (Figure 22)
23. Next, we will start defining the apple. V-tool around the mitten and apple. Then use a #3-8 gouge upside down and start shaping the apple. (Figure 23) Be careful to leave enough wood for the leaves. They are easy to lose. Use the same gouge reversed (or your knife) to finish shaping the mitten, apple and leaves.
24. Shape the bottom of his coat up to the basket (Figure 24A) and his arm as if it were in the round. Be sure to make it symmetrical. Add a few drapes in the coat. Use V-tool to define the fur on the coat and sleeves. Shape the coat and fur around his hands and sleeves. Draw in the apple leaves and cut their shape using your knife. (Figure 24B)

Then, carefully shape the fur and coat above the apple being careful not to remove the leaves. Carefully detail the apple leaves. Then, lower the fur and coat after the leaves are cut in.

25. After the coat is shaped, the basket stands proud so you can now shape it. See figure 24A. It is a round basket so make it “appear” round. It is actually carved a little squared off due to the thickness of the material.
26. The handle is a flat strip of wood, but it has to be carved as though it were curved and twisted around his arm so it can be attached to the other side. Draw in the handle according to the pattern and carve it transitioning around his arm. Carve the outside shape up and over the arm and relieve the wood by lowering the coat as necessary. (Figure 26)
27. Shape the apples as before using a #3-8 gouge upside down. Detail the apples in the front and on the side. Carefully remove the wood between the apples and the handle. Leave the handle as thick as possible without making it appear to be square. (Figure 27)
28. Detail the basket by drawing in the weave. Use the pattern or design your own weave. Use the V-tool to cut the horizontal lines. (Figure 28A) Then cut the vertical lines alternating spacing so the vertical lines are not continuous. Use your knife to round the edges and clean up the weave. Texture the weave using a #11-2 gouge to lightly add texture in each square. (Figure 28B) Don’t overdo the texture cuts.
29. Use the V-tool to outline the boots and separate them from the coat. Continue to block them out until the background is about ¼ inch thick. Slice off the mound using your knife or gouge and make the background as flat and even as possible. (Figure 29) Then, shape the boots and lower the tops so they are under the coat.
30. Use an upside down #3-8 gouge to shape the toe of the left boot so it appears to extend further than it actually does. (Figure 30A) Use the same gouge to shape the right toe but slightly rotate it. (Figure 30B) Use the V-tool to define the soles and heal. (Figure 30C)
31. Go back and clean up the piece with your knife and make sure all the fuzzes are out. Texture the fur using a #9-5 gouge. (Figure 31) Be sure to texture coat, sleeves, and hat . The tassel on the hat is a bell, but you can make it a fuzzy tassel if you like. If so, texture that too.

32. Cut a piece of wood for the stand. Shape to your choice or use this shape. (Figure 32) Glue it to the bottom back using a glue of your choice.

33. The next step is the most important part. If a project is fuzzy and has chatter marks from dull tools, the paint job will not be worthy of your carving. Take time to clean out all cut lines and smooth flat areas, and undercut for separation where needed.

34. After the cleaning and checking for defects, I coat the entire carving completely with boiled linseed oil straight out of the can with no thinning. Brush into every cut. A dry area will absorb more paint and leave a dark area. The linseed oil seals the wood, prevents bleeding of colors, and makes a better surface to paint on. (Figure 34) Wipe off immediately and make it as dry as you can. You can leave it sit over night or start painting right away. Dispose of the rags safely.

35. Do not use old, stiff or cheep brushes. You will not be happy with the results. Use good quality brushes. I like Loew-Cornell Comfort brushes listed in the tools section. I use a paper pallet but freezer paper works well also. Paints are mixed on the palette as opposed to the number of drops of paint mixed with ounces of water that some carvers use. If the carving is very dry, use a damp brush to wet the area so the paint flows. This is not necessary if you oil and start painting immediately.


36. Start on the face with Burnt Sienna. Put a small drop on the palette. Wet your brush with water and drag a little of the paint out from the drop. (Figure 36A)

Paint the cracks and shadow areas with the darker mixture and drag it out so it is lighter in the light area. Blend this transition so there is no visible starting and stopping lines of the paint. Use this on the nose, mouth, cheeks, and lip. (Figure 36B) This is very light and almost no color is needed except in the shadow areas because the oil makes a very good skin color. Let this area dry for a few minutes to prevent lifting the paint during the next color.

37. Paint the eye next. Use antique white on the palette paper and a very wet brush to get a very light white wash for the eye ball. Too bright a white makes him look bug eyed. Be careful and use the 4/0 brush and do not get paint on the eye lids.

38. The cheeks and face should be dry enough now. I use Cadmium Red for the blush on the cheeks, lip, and tip of the nose. Cadmium Red is a very strong color so make sure it is watered down and not too strong. Blend it out so there are no lines at the stop and start of the shading. (Figure 38) All blending is done this way and I will not mention the part about no lines in further steps. Make inside of the mouth a little darker. Drag it out on the lip so no lines show. Add a very light shade to the upper eye to give it contrast.

39. Next is the iris of the eye. Use the 4/0 brush and pure black paint with no water. This makes the paint dry faster and reduces smear on to the white. This is the hardest part of the painting. It produces the best look but if done incorrectly, the worst results. Be Careful and use a magnifier if you need it. Start on the middle and expand the iris to the size you want. Make sure it goes all the way to the top lid and down to the bottom lid. Go in at an angle to keep from getting it on the lids. Then paint the edge of the upper eye lids with a very thin line of black to outline the eye and indicate eyelashes. (Figure 39)
40. After the black sets up, take Blue Heaven straight out of the bottle. Use the 4/0 brush or a pin or a sharpened toothpick to paint a little line just inside the iris, leaving a narrow black line on the outside edge. The blue should look like a comma. Then, use Burnt Sienna with very little water to make it blend, but not run. Paint a light shadow along the lower lid, and on the V-tool marks on the bags under the eyes and the crow’s feet on the sides of the eyes. Finish by adding a white dot in the upper part of the black. Make sure it is on the same side on both eyes. (Figure 40)


41. For the beard, I use Hippo Gray first. Put a small blob on the palette paper as before. Drag out some paint with your wet #2 Round brush. Carefully paint down in the bottoms of the small V-tool cuts in the beard and mustache. If any gets out or up on the sides, use a wet brush to blend. (Figure 41) Next, use Dove Gray in a very light wash over the beard and mustache so some of the wood shows through and the first coat of Hippo Gray still shows through.
42. The next color is Light Ivory with very little water. Do not paint the whole beard. Just streak the high points indicating individual highlighted hairs. Be careful and make sure the previous colors still show. Do the same to the eyebrows keeping the white on the high points of the hairs. (Figure 42)
43. The last step is White with just enough water to make it spread but not run. I put the white starting about half way down the lock taking it on to the bottom. You want to make the bottom brightest and blend the top so the start point does not show. (Figure 43) This completes the face. After it dries, if the colors are a little too light, you can reapply any necessary.
44. We will now paint all the remaining solid colors with their respective base coat color. Prepare the colors as before, by putting a small blob on the palette and dragging a light wash out with a very wet brush. This should be thinner to let the wood show through and so that it does not apply too much color too fast. Several washes may be required to achieve the desired value. This is preferable to applying too much and trying to “UNPAINT” it. However, it is easier to run, so be careful when painting next to another color. Use Fire Red for the coat and hat, Brown Velvet for the boots, Burnt Sienna for the basket and gloves, Light Ivory for the fir, and Apple Green for the apples. (Figure 44)
45. With the basecoats finished, it is dry enough to paint the shading and shadows. This is a step that many leave out. As a result, they have a flat uninteresting carving. Shading gives the carving depth and adds much more interest. Begin with the coat. Use Black Plum with very little water. I use two brushes. (Figure 45) One for the paint and the other wet so I can brush out the edge and make the line disappear.
46. Start by painting around all the places that have shadows. Emphasize folds and edges between coat and fur. Paint a very short area at a time and then blend the edge before the first color dry. (Figure 46) If it dries before you blend, you cannot hide the edge.

47. Next, use very thin Primary Yellow to highlight the coat. Apply like a dry brush but be careful. Yellow is a strong color and we only want it for a highlight. Apply it to the high points on the coat, down the high part of the folds, on the high folds on the sleeves and hat. Apply lightly to the basket high points and also on the boots.

48. Use Black Green to shade the apples. Go around the edges and low places where there would be a dark area. Use Fire Red to lightly highlight the top of the apple around the leaves and a small dot to simulate where the core is on the apples in the basket. Use Dark Burnt Umber to shade the cracks in the basket weave. (Figure 48) Also, shade the boots with the Dark Burnt Umber under the coat, around the outside and anywhere they should be darker. Shade the crack of the sole and heel.
49. Shade the fir using Stoneware Blue. Lightly paint the edges and under the hat brim where there should be a shadow. Do not let this get out into the fur and darken the white highlighted areas.

50. Paint the boot background area with a thin coat of Christmas Green. Shade the dark areas under the coat and boots with very thin Black Green.

51. An option for the coat is adding the plaid. Use a liner brush and thin Cranberry Wine to make the lines. Be careful to make the lines follow the folds and flow of the coat. Especially the arms. (Figure 51)

52. When the paint is completely dry, spray it lightly and evenly with Rust-Oleum Painters Touch Matte Clear. When it is dry to the touch but not totally dry, use a soft paint brush or crumpled paper bag (with no printing on it) to buff it lightly. This gives it a soft feel. Then spray again and buff with the same paper bag. This protects the paint from scratching and oil from handling. 53. The final step is to apply Mod Podge to the eye ball. Use a tooth pick and apply the Mod Podge to the eye. Use enough to totally cover the eye ball with a cloudy film. Lay the piece flat until it is totally dry and clear to prevent running. It is best to use a tooth pick than to try to brush it because it gets too thin with the brush and tends to get on areas that you do not want it on.

Materials and Tools


Paper Palette
Water cup
Rust-Oleum Painters
      Touch Matte Clear
Mod Podge
Tooth picks
Paper bag

Carving knife of choice
#15-3     V-tool
#3-3       Gouge
#3-5       Gouge
#3-8       Gouge
#9-3       Gouge
#11-2     Veiner
#11-3     Veiner

#11-5     Veiner


Brushes and Paints

Loew-Cornell Comfort  brushes
or equivalent
Filbert    #10
Round   4/0, #2, #4, #5, and #6
Liner      5/0

Burnt Sienna semi-opaque
Antique White
Blue Heaven
Hippo Gray
Dove Gray
Light Ivory
Fire Red
Brown Velvet
Apple Green
Black Green
Black Plum