You are not done until you are finished

Compiled by Doug and Rainy Woollard

As we aren't smart enough to think of all of this on our own, the following tips and techniques are things that we have picked up over the years from lots of great carvers including Rex and Vicki Branson, Jeff Phares, Marty Dolphens, Elaine Stenman, Paul and Camille Bollinger and many others. And as we all know - there is more than one way to skin a cat - so what you see here is certainly not the only way to paint and finish your carvings. We would encourage you to experiment until you develop a technique that is pleasing to you.

In the following pages we will be discussing finishing techniques with oils and acrylics on Basswood and Butternut. A lot of the processes and steps are similar but there are some very critical differences also. So if you are not sure, or have any questions, be sure to ask and we will be glad to help in any way that we can. Please be very aware that when using oil paints, mineral sprits, linseed oil and other solvents that every safety precaution should be taken when storing the products or disposing of the dirty rags and other mess. Read the labels and follow all safety precautions.

Remember that a great job of painting and finishing can enhance even an average carving - but a poor paint job can ruin even the best carving. So practice your painting and finishing with as much diligence as you do your carving. Good luck and have lots of fun. We have found that experience is the best teacher. Your first attempt may not be great - but your second will be better.

Painting Faces
by Bob Biermann

Clean up carving and get rid of all fuzzies.  Make sure all stop cuts are clean and undercut where needed.  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.  Wipe it 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.  Linseed oil soaked rags and paper towels are very combustible so dispose of them in a fireproof container.  I can personally attest to that fact.

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.

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.

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.  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.

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.

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.  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.

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.

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.

 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.

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.

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.

This completes the face. After it dries, if the colors are a little too light, you can reapply any necessary.  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.  I sometimes use a third coat.

A more detailed explanation with pictures for painting a complete standing Santa is available on Bob Biermann's site.


Bag your Work

I frequently refer to bagging because I use it on almost every piece I complete.  It is also referred to in several of the discussions below.  So an explanation in the finishing section would be appropriate.  Bagging is simply a method of smoothing, buffing, or burnishing the piece after each coat of your finishing sealer.  

Use brown paper bags such as you get free from the grocery store.  You know, "Paper or plastic?".  Take a bag, cut or tear it into small pieces about 10x10 inches. As you know, size isn't really important.   Discard all pieces that have ink on them.  Advertising is usually printed on one side of the bag and the ink rubs off onto your piece.  I store the extra pieces in my box of sandpaper ready for the next project.

Crumple up a sheet and use it to briskly rub the piece all over.  Concentrate on smooth places such as faces, clothing, hands etc.  This acts as a very fine sandpaper.  It smoothes and hardens the rough places by burnishing them rather than taking off very much of the coating.  Save the paper and use it again after each coat.  This results in a finer, softer piece of paper being used for successive coats.  Clean or brush any paper "lint" left behind before applying the next coat.  If you are using Deft clear, semi-gloss Wood Sealer (my favorite), you only need to wait 20-30 minutes between coats.  Other Sealers may take longer drying times.

Some people use 400-600 grit sandpaper or 0000 steel wool to smooth between coats of sealer.  The bagging between coats burnishes rather than removes the sealer and produces a hard, smooth finish that stands up well to handling and hard knocks.  It is a little shinny, but not objectionable.  I don't like the Gloss finish because it is really shinny and looks a little like plastic.

Marty Dolphens' Mix for Butternut
Obtained form Marty at Doane College

Base coat is a mixture as follows: 1/3 Mineral Spirits, 1/3 Boiled Linseed Oil, and 1/3 Danish Oil Natural (Watco or Deft brand is OK as long as its natural). Mix ahead of time in large quantities and keep stored in an airtight container.

Apply to carving very liberally and let stand for 5 minutes - wipe off excess with clean cloth and use dry brush to pull puddles out of cracks and crevices. Be sure to do a practice piece at the same time so you can experiment with your color mixes before you put them on your carvings.

Use the base coat as the medium for the rest of your painting with the thought in mind that you want to use very thin coats of color that allow the beauty of the butternut to show through. The paint should be 'scrubbed' into the surface of the wood with a short bristle brush, this will force the paint to penetrate the surface of the wood and allow the grain to come through.

Bunt umber and a 'dry brush' technique are used in any areas that you want to add shading or shadows to help create the look of 'depth'.

After all painting and shading is done you can speed the drying time of the oil paint greatly by applying Krylon #1311 in 3 or 4 light coats with 10 to 15 minutes drying time between coats. Allow more drying time if the humidity level is high. After the Krylon, apply 3 light coats of Deft semi-gloss allowing sufficient drying time between each coat o be sure to 'bag' lightly with old light weight paper bag just before applying next coat of Deft.

Neat highlighting hint: A this point you can use an oil pencil to highlight hair, fur etc. The pencil will allow you to be a lot more precise than you can be with a brush. The brand that I have seen is Walnut Hollow and should be available at Dick Blick, Hobby Lobby, or most any other full line art supply house.

The final step is the wax coat, be sure to allow at least 30 minutes drying time between the last coat of Deft and the start of the wax finish. Using Watco Wax, either clear, or a mixture of 3 parts clear to 1 part dark if you want to have an 'antique' look. Apply the wax in thin coats. Do not let the wax puddle up in cracks etc. Apply 3 or 4 coats buffing in between coats with a soft clean cloth or shoe brush. This entire process also works very well on Basswood if you add a 1" line of raw sienna to about 8oz. of the base coat mix.

Harley and Midge Schmitgen Painting Technique.
Obtained from Harley and Midge at Silver Dollar City

Items needed:
Minwax water-based stain, clear decorator tint formula (available, Menards, Home depot, etc.)
Minwax water-based stain, honeycomb color. (available Menards, Home depot.  Must be mixed)
Folkart brand, blending gel or ceramicoat blending gel (WalMart, Hobby Lobby,
JoSonya acrylic tube paint, Gold oxide color or liquitex, burnt sienna color
Delta Ceramacoat acrylics. (your choice of colors)

Use the honeycomb diluted at least 1/2 and 1/2 with the clear base stain for skin tone. Test on a scrap of wood, if you can’t clearly see the wood grain dilute some more. Put on a light coat.  Let dry. Shade with the gold oxide mixed with blending gel to spread. You can thin a little with the clear base stain so the color isn’t so strong.

Shade the eyes and crevices.  Stay off of the high areas so base color shows through. Remember to keep your paint thin so the wood grain shows through. An easy way to do this is to lay a little line of the thinned gold oxide on, then right next to it a little blending gel and tap the two edges together with a stiff brush. Wipe off excess with a paper towel if need be.

Thin your paints with the clear base stain instead of water. Use in the same manner as water. It will seem to have a thicker consistency but it will be transparent. You can test it on a scrap of wood.

You can shade your carving using the original color that you are using mixed with black or a darker color. Be sure to use the clear base stain to thin. Shade the outside edges and any edge that touches another color and in crevices that you have carved/cut in. This can be done wet on wet or wet on dry. Put a little shadow color on and blend the two edges together using a little blending gel. It will blend the wet edge into the dry paint as long as the fresh paint is wet. You can smear it together with your finger or a brush. If you do a little to much, wipe off quickly with a paper towel. Stay off the highlighted areas.

Let dry and seal your carving with Krylon matte spray, acrylic, 2 or 3 coats. Can be antiqued after spraying by mixing 3 parts Watco wax natural with 1 part Watco wax dark.  If you prefer a bit darker use more of the dark wax mixed in. 

Be sure to have the carving sealed well before antiquing. Brush on and wait ten minutes or so, wipe off the high areas leaving it in the crevices. Buff with a soft cloth when dry. You can then spray lightly again with a coat of Krylon matte. After it is dry, just give it another quick shot at a distance of about 18’s. 

Benefits of using clear base stain instead of water are:  It will not bleed. It will not raise the wood grain.  It turns your paint into a wood stain.

Harley and Midge Schmitgen

Phil & Vicki Bishop Painting Techniques
Obtained from Phil at Doane College

1. Wash the carving with 2 to 3 drops of soap in a cup of water with a denture brush or an equivalent. Scrub briskly and rinse off being careful not to soak the carving. Let dry over night if possible. It can be painted wet, also. Carve off any dirty marks the soap left. Clean up any “fuzzies”.

2. We use Delta Ceramcoat mostly and sometimes DecoArt Americana paints in mostly earthtones. Start with the skin-2 drops of Medium Flesh and 1 drop of Caucasian Flesh in one  teaspoon of water. Reverse this mixture for darker skinned people. The highlight color for skin is Tomato Spice.  Use about 1/2 teaspoon water and just touch your brush in the lid of the paint and mix this color until you have a very subtle blush. This is not a tried and true formula so play with it. Use this highlight color to give the face color and to shadow the wrinkles in the skin, the nose, cheeks, tops of ears,  between the fingers, knuckles, and any skin exposed by a hole in the clothing. When finished with this step, darken the Tomato Spice color and paint the lips and the lower lid and eyebag.

3. The following is a list of standard mixtures we use for clothing, hair, hats, leather, guns, belt buckles, etc. (these are mixed in the standard 1 teaspoon water.  We use the bubble trays):
--Faded denim-4 drops Bonnie Blue
--Chamois leather-3 drops Pigskin
--Dark leather-2 to 3 drops Burnt Sienna
--Hats-1 to 2 drops Black Green or 2 drops Brown Iron Oxide
--Hair-1 drop Black, 2 drops Brown Iron Oxide, 3 drops Pigskin, 2 drops Burnt Orange
--Santa beards (or anything white)-Mix mostly White to very little water. If White is to
    thin it will look dirty when the finish is applied
--Guns-Metallic Pewter-straight out of the bottle
--Belt buckles-Bronze or Silver-straight out of the bottle

Paint the clothing then rub the tops of the wrinkles with a wet rag (old tee shirts work well). Then add Black to your paint mixture (being very cautious with the Black) to darken the color and paint all the valleys of the wrinkles. You can also use this darkened color to shade around belts, seams, anywhere there is shadow.

4. The brushes are very important. We use Leow-Cornell synthetic #5 or #6 rounds to paint the piece and 8/0 liners to paint the eyes.

5. We will paint straight out of the bottle to paint eyes, teeth, and buttons. Paint a black line at the top of the eyeball avoiding the eyelid. Dry with a hairdryer between steps. Next paint the eyeball white leaving a thin line of black at the top of the eye. Paint a solid semicircle of black on top of the white. Paint blue (Blue Heaven or Salem Blue) on top of the black leaving a thin line of black around the blue. Paint a small circle of black on top of the blue for a pupil. Finally dot white on the eyeball where the blue and black pupil meet on parallel sides of the eyes.

6. Allow carving to dry, usually over night. Mix 1 quart of Boiled Linseed Oil and about 1/8 of an inch (squeezed out of the large tube) of Burnt Sienna artist oil paint. Coat the entire carving well being careful to cover it generously. Let carving set for 5 to 10 minutes, then blot with a cloth or paper towel.


Phil & Vicki Bishop