Amy’s Free Ideas

This carving of a bird perched on a rock was made by a 6 year old.

Carving is very different from working in clay, because you are cutting away the part that you don’t want, and leaving the part that you do want. It is also a less forgiving medium--once you have cut it away, you can’t put it back (the way you can with clay.) It is also really challenging to see the three dimensional object from it’s many sides and how the sides relate to each other. You can help this understanding along by working in stages--begin by having them draw at least 4 drawings--side view, front view, back view, and top view. Progress to carving it from oasis (green foam used for flower arrangements.) It is quick to carve, so they can understand the process a bit more without having to spend a lot of time on it. Then move onto more difficult materials. There is a problem with this method, however, because they can become tired of the project before they have begun working in the final medium. You can shortcut the process a bit by drawing the various sides of the design for them, and let them work from there.  That does mean that they won’t be able to make up their own designs. You know your kids, and whether they can work on a project with only a little bit of help or will need a lot of help, and if they can stay on point for a long time, or if they lose interest quickly. The harder they work, the more proud they will be of the finished product, so don’t let the hardness of it scare you away. Just give them time off between sessions to help them want to keep at it.

Carving can be adjusted to just about any age, depending on the medium used. 4 or 5 year olds can carve a block of oasis (green foam used for flower arrangements) with a spoon and table knife.

Elementary aged children can carve:

  1. 1.a bar of soap

  2. 2.plaster of paris that has been mixed with vermiculite (the sparkly stuff that is used in potting soil.) They will feel like they are carving “real” stone. Follow package instructions. Pour into molds such as milk cartons, till set. Tear off the molds and carve.

  3. 3.air-drying clay that has been air-dried. You can form it into a basic shape before it is dried, such as a rectangle or ball ( depending on the basic shape of the final project) so that less clay is wasted.

By the time kids are in middle school, they will want to be carving wood or real stone. If they have already carved some things in the past in easier mediums, they will need little help aside from introducing them to the tools, material, and safety precautions. (100 yen stores sell carving tools and small blocks of soft stone for making name stamps (inkan.) Here are some rules for them to keep now that they are using sharp tools:

  1. 1.Always work on a surface, such as a table or work bench.

  2. 2.Carve away from yourself rather than toward yourself.

  3. 3.Be careful where you hold the object--ask yourself, “ if I hold it here, and carve this direction, will I cut myself if the tool slips?”

  4. 4.Know where the first aid kit is, and only work on the project if there is someone around who can help you if you cut yourself

  5. 5.Wear goggles to protect your eyes from flying bits.

Bas relief is another way to make a carving project easier. Although there is some depth to the project, there is only the one dimension, so it is easier to imagine what it will look like.

The concept of cutting away the parts that you don’t want is a hard one to grasp, so any age would benefit from using oasis for the planning stages of their carving project. So in review, here are the steps:

Step one: draw the object on paper, from multiple views

Step 2: cut out 2 paper patterns at the same time, and fasten them onto opposite sides of the oasis to help them figure out which parts to cut away.

Step 3: take off paper and finish carving object.

Step 4: Repeat the process in a more difficult medium.  If you happen to  have a model to look at, it is helpful, as long as it doesn’t have too many details.

  The medium is plaster mixed with vermiculite.

Bear carved from oasis by a 10 year old.

Air drying clay

Soft stone for carving

Wooden bas relief of a swan carved by a 7 year old.