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Deep vs.shallow relief

I am doing a lot of transfers of various pictures onto wood and then carving.  Is there a good process to walk through in determining to go with a deep relief vs.shallow?  Thanks.

In my opinion the carving itself will many times dictate which to do. For instance, I did a carving of a cat sitting on top of a sofa. None of the lines of the carving were very delicate so I could have gone either way with it. I chose to do a shallow relief only because at the time (it was one of first carvings) I'd never done a shallow relief before.  I think if I to do it again I'd do it deeper.

On the hand I recently did a relief of a dragon based on a Chinese pattern. It has many intricate details and if I would have tried doing it as a deep relief I probably would have wound up breaking many of more intricate lines. To me it just seemed like I should do it as a shallow relief.

And then again, just to confuse the issue, I did a relief of some grape leaves with trailing stems that wound around each other. I chose to do this as a deep relief and even fully detached the stems from the background except for one or two anchor points. This did take some careful carving and I did break one off. However the nice thing about wood is that I just glued some more wood on and re-carved the broken piece.

There's no hard and fast rules so just go with whatever you think will look good. Worst that can happen is you'll make a mistake but that's all part of the process. I've got enough carvings sitting out in the garage that started out fine but wound up as mistakes and will probably never see the light of day. I should toss them but I haven't the heart.

Bill Sisko has reacted to this post.
Bill Sisko

That is helpful..  thanks Jim.

I would like to know whether there are any books that cover the ‘relief carving in miniature technique' and the specific ‘miniature carving tools’ that will assist me in creating the wood miniatures like in the photos attached?

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  • Wood-miniature-carving-1.jpg
  • Wood-miniature-carving-2.jpg


I would suggest trying something - take a design and carve the same exact design in both shallow relief and deep relief. You will learn so much with each process, and then you will discover which you prefer for which designs and why. Start with a simple project like a leaf or a flower and see how it goes.


I don't know of any books that show this technique, but I suggest learning any relief carving process on a larger scale with larger gouges, then simply reduce the design and use micro tools, using the same process. You will learn the carving techniques, and then it's just a process of discovering how the micro tools are used and how the wood responds. It definitely requires more delicate cuts - and more patience.

Mary, as always, thank you.  Great advice.