How deep do I carve a relief wood carving?

How deep do I carve a relief wood carving?

Good morning Scot and Marsha!  Thanks for the great conversation yesterday.  Here are the PDFs that will help you learn how to determine how deep each level or layer is in your relief wood carving.

Two free PDF downloads – Your First Carving and Levels in Relief – below!

While today’s blog topic is about levels and layers in relief carving, the same information can help you as a pyrographer determine the shading levels and layers in your wood burning.  So, please snatch a copy of the these free PDF files and take time to read through the linked projects here of

Free Doodle Patterns, Extra 001

How deep do I cut each level or layer in my pattern in a relief wood carving?

The depth measurement you need for each level or layer in your relief carving depends on several factors.

1. What species of wood are you carving.  Hardwoods as black walnut or maple can stand deeper carved levels than soft woods as poplar and basswood.  The hardness of the wood – how tightly packed the wood grain rings are – helps to avoid excessive cupping and warping.

2. How thick is your wood blank.  You can, of course, carve deeper into a 2″ thick wood blank than you can into a 3/4″ board.

3. How large is your carving blank.  A small blank, 8″ x 12″, is less likely to develop excessive warping than a large blank, 20″ x 32″.  The longer the grain lines in your blank the more likely they are to cup over time.

Free Doodle Patterns, Extra 004

4. What style of carving will you be doing. A simple round-over edge relief carving can be worked fairly deep into the wood, past the one-half thickness rule of thumb.  Since all of the wood grain in a round-over carving is adhered to the wood below it the chances of cupping is reduced.  If you are working an intense under-cut relief carving, you will want to stay above the one-half thickness rule of thumb.  Undercuts create free hanging shelves of wood that are easily effected by the changes in the wood grain of the entire blank.

General Layer Measurements Rule of Thumb!

In general you want to use the top one-half of the thickness of your wood for your carving area.  This leaves one-half of the thickness below the carving to stabilize the board from excessive warping and cupping.  So a board that measures a true 1″ thick can be carved to a 1/2″ depth.

In general your pattern will have three distinct layers – foreground, mid-ground, and background.  Plus it will have one main focal point – a barn, a duck, a dragon.

Free Doodle Patterns, Extra 005

1. Determine in which layer the main focal points falls as this will become your thickest layer.

2. Divide the carving thickness of the wood blank by 4.  This equates to two thickness for the layer that holds your focal point, and one each thickness for the other two layers.

3. So on a 1″ thick board, you will be carving 1/2″ deep.  Divide the 1/2″ by 4 equals 1/8″ per layer.  That’s 1/8″ for the foreground, mid-ground, and background.  Now add the extra 1/8″ to the level or layer that holds the focal point, making it a 1/4″ thick layer.

4.  An example is a barn scene where there is a fence line and mail box in t he foreground, a bank barn with silos in the mid-ground, and a tree line and second fence in the background, worked on a 1″ thick board.  The focal point of the pattern is the bank barn in the mid-ground level.  This equals 1/8″ for the foreground mail box layer, 1/4″ for the bank barn mid-layer, and 1/8″ for the background tree line.

5.  The fourth layer or level is called the sky area or sky line.  This area of carving is usually extremely shallow, a simple 1/16″ rolled-over edge for mountains and trees, and can be carved on the top surface of the remaining 1/2″ thickness of the wood.

Please learn more with these links!

Working with Levels – Simplifying a Pattern into Basic Areas

Simplifying a Pattern into Basic Areas in Relief Wood Carving

Determining The Depth Of The Levels

Levels in Relief Wood Carving

These links will add four more free Lora S Irish patterns to your Artist’s Morgue File!


Free Wood Carving PDFs

Your First Carving by LS Irish 
Let’s take a quick look at the carving tools, sharpening tools, general supplies, and wood that you will be using in your wood carving craft.

Working with Patterns
Band Saw cutting your wood
Five Basic Steps to relief carving
Basic Tools and Cuts
And three free patterns to get your started




Levels in Relief Wood Carving
Looks look at what appears to be an intrigue, complicated landscape to discover how easy it is to determine your foreground, mid-ground, background, and sky areas of the pattern.


Altered Art Wood Carving

Altered Art Wood Carving

altered art
altered art wood carvingWhile talking with one of my editors at Fox Chapel Publishing he commented that he wanted something really new – a “not your grandfather’s wood carving”.  Well I about fell on the floor laughing as I know I am probably old enough to be his grandmother !!!  But I accepted the challenge, creating an altered art project and wanted to post my results.


The step-by-step and free pattern are posted here on – Altered Art Wood Carving Project.



altered art wood carving free pdf filePlus I have the PDF file created with three free patterns posted on my wood carving and pyrography pattern website – Art Designs Studio – for your free download.  You can’t miss it.  Scroll below the pattern thumbnails to find the download link.

The two projects I am showing mix relief wood carving, decoupage, altered book art, Zen Doodles, gold leaf work, and even uses metallic nail polish to create the final effect.  Completed you can bring these art styles together to make a three dimensional piece of modern art.




altered art wood carving
Sepia Zen Doodle Bristol Board Fish

Altered Book Art

Altered Book Art using graphite pencil, India ink, and colored pencils over a page from an old law dictionary.


altered art wood carving
Purple Lipstick Fish – Zen Doodle Stage

altered art wood carving
Purple Lip Stick Fish – Gold Leaf Stage

Hope you have fun with this “not your grandfather’s wood carving” idea !!!! Snicker !!!!


Pyrography Landscape Backgrounds

Pyrography Landscape Backgrounds

In Pyrography landscape burnings your background determines the time of year, the time of day, and the weather conditions of your scene.  Landscapes are worked from the farthest element in the scene to the nearest, foreground elements, which allows you to overlap foreground burnings over the paler background areas.  So those first few burning steps are extremely important in setting the stage for your main element, as a barn or church.

Landscape Pyrography Scenes by L S IrishLet’s look at a few examples of how you can create both seasonal and weather conditions in your landscape pyrography burnings.

The wood burning, shown right, is from my book, Great Book of Wood Burning, and is titled The Star Barn.  Three strong elements set the time of day – the thick, low storm clouds in the farthest background point, the extremely dark trees just behind the barn on both sides of the barn, and the wide shadows of the roof overhang on the barn.

The roof barn overhang shadow is even on both sides of the face of the barn.  At the peak of the roof the there is almost as much shadow on the right side as on the left.  This places the sun in the 12 to 1 o’clock position.

All three elements tell you that this scene is mid-afternoon, high summer, and that the thunderstorms are eminent. This scene has atmosphere, weather, and tells a story about the conditions surrounding the landscape subject.

Wood burning a landscape, church, by L S IrishThe Country Church, also from the Great Book of Wood Burning, does not use clouds to suggest the time of year.  Instead the light speckling of leaves on the two deciduous trees behind the barn and the lack of fallen leaves on the ground set the time of year as early spring.

The top edge of the line of background trees has been packed with more burning strokes than the lower layer of the tree area, giving the impression that the leaves are just emerging at the tips of the branches.  The high grass – un-mowed – in the foreground shows the new spring growth.  Long shadows under the roof overhang are shown on the right side of the face of the church which places the sun in the 2 to 3 o’clock position in the sky.

With a little planning and forethought you can take either of these two landscape pyrography scenes into a different time of year, time of day, or weather conditions.  Let’s see how!

Clear, sunny day setting

landscape pyrography wood burning by L S IrishA clear, sunny day has few or no clouds in the sky.  If you chose to add clouds they hand high in the sky and display both the top and bottom edges of the cloud.  Clear days create a deeper tonal value in the background elements as well as casting very crisp shadows.

Clear, sunny sky backgrounds allow you to burn the background trees, mountains, or farm fields in varying tonal values which separates one area of the background from another.  In my sample you can see three distinct trees with the middle tree in front of the other two trees.

Misty or foggy morning

Creating pyrography wood burned landscapes by L S IrishEarly morning fog is simply a cloud that has settled against the earth.  That cloud is full of fine water particles that obscure your vision.  The lower to the ground the cloud lies the less you can see of your background trees or fence line.

Note in this sample burn that while the tips of the pines are burned at a pale-medium temperature setting, the lowest portions of the pines have little or no burning strokes.  The very bottom of the pines are not burned, which implies the heaviest area of fog the lies along the edge of the hill.

The slight slope of the ground is further implied by the diagonal shading strokes that is worked from the left to the right, under the pines.  As those shading strokes flow to the right they become paler, implying that the fog is becoming thicker the farther down the hill it lies.

Early evening, sunset

Creating pyrography wood burned landscapes by L S IrishAs the sun slips behind the horizon of your scene it creates a graduated variation in the sky with the brightest, or palest area along the horizon line and with the sky becoming darker as the sky nears the top of your pattern.  Note that the palest, un-burned point, in this sample is in the lower right corner, just above the grassy slope.

Because the light is coming from behind the pines and at a low angle to the pines, all of the pines on our side of the scene are in shadow.

In sunset scenes, because the tree line is in shadow, the pines are burned as if they were one tree and not three trees.  The deep shadowing obscures the individuality of the the pines.

Winter snow

Creating pyrography wood burned landscapes by L S IrishSnow scenes can seem hard to burn because of all of the pale, white areas in the scene.  So instead of burning the snow on the background trees, you burn the atmosphere around those background trees.

Snow clouds are just like fog and mist.  They hang low against the ground and are more dense the closer to the ground they lie.  This is because each small snow flake casts a small shadow – the higher the number of flakes, the more small shadows you have.

For this sample there is no burning of the grassy slope because it is fully covered with snow.  The pines have only a few strokes, at the tip of the branches, where the branches touch the ground, and at the top of the pines.  This leaves the larger areas inside of each pine un-burned, implying that the snow is sticking to the branches.

The background atmosphere – the snow cloud – is burned in a deeper tonal value and becomes paler the higher it reaches into the sky.  This cloud shading also helps to emphasize the snow on the pine branches, giving a darker tonal value to where the sky shows between the pine branches.

Work in Progress

landscape pyrography wood burning by L S IrishThe current project on my table is a landscape scene of an old bank barn that lies right at the edge of a dirt road.

I have the first step of this project completed, which is the farthest background elements of the distant trees on the left side and the trees on the right that fall behind the barn.

Because the deciduous trees on both sides of the background only have their trunks and branches burned I can at this point in the work chose to make this either an early morning scene or a snow scene.

How I treat the land lying under both of these tree lines will determine the time of day and the weather conditions.

Here are my choices:

If I do not burn the land area, this will become a snow scene and I will leave the deciduous trees without leaves.

If I chose to lightly create a tonal value shading in the land this will become an early morning scene.  I can decide the time of year by how thickly I fill the tops of the deciduous trees with leaves – a thin layer of leaves means springtime, a thicker layer of leaves means summer, and a medium layer of leaves and the impression of fallen leaves on the ground implies an autumn setting.

If I chose to add heavy shadows, worked in a medium tonal value, under the trees I can create a specific time of day.

Check back tomorrow to see what I chose to do!

Practice pattern

While you wait for the next posting you might enjoy doing a test sample for weather, time of day, and time of year yourself.  On a birch, poplar, or basswood board create a four square grid with each square measuring 3″ along the sides.

Wood burning a landscape scene by L S IrishThe pattern for these background trees is simply the line at the top of the grassy slope, and a line for each central trunk of each tree.  Because the trees are created using a short, quick stroke with either the loop-tip or ball-tip pen, you only need a few lines to guide you as to where you will burn your pines.




wod burning landscape scenes by L S IrishPines are burned from the top of the tree down to the ground line and from the outer tips of each branch towards the central trunk of the tree.  Place the branches randomly along the trunk, allow open air spaces between branches.

As you near the trunk you will have branches overlapping which will create the natural deepening of the tonal value through the center of the tree.

Follow the four weather samples, above, to practice how you can determine and control the time of day, time of year, and weather conditions in any landscape.

OK … see you tomorrow with an up-date on my WIP barn landscape burning.

~ Lora


Greenman Pyrography Leather Bullet Journal Project

Greenman Pyrography Leather Bullet Journal Project

The newest project on my table is a step-by-step pyrography leather Greenman, inspired by the fun hobby of bullet journaling.

Please share this project with your FaceBook friends!

Pyrography Greenman Leather Bullet Journal CoverOur Greenman Leather Pyrography Bullet Journal Cover is worked on 7 to 8 ounce vegetable dyed leather and laced using waxed linen thread and two bamboo skewers.  The completed journal opens at the bottom, with the lacing for the bullet journal pages on the back of the journal.  You can open the cover and completely roll the cover to the back to have easy, full access to your pages.

28 large-sized, step-by-step photos spread over 7 pages, with complete instructions, a free Greenman pattern, and printable bullet journal pages.


pyrography burned leather purseThis project is a great compliment to me recent Greenman Leather Slop Bag Project.  Check it out as the free pattern for this project would create a wonderful design when you are ready to burn your second bullet journal cover.



Colored Pencil Portraits, Adult ColoringFor more ideas to use with this Bullet Journal Cover project you may wish to check out’s newest E-Project, Colored Pencil Portraits.

146 pages of instructions, patterns, and ideas including 6 in-depth step-by-step portrait projects and 62 patterns for wood spirits, greenmen, shamans, wizards, vampires, dragons, and assorted designs.

On SALE through June 4th, only $9.50
regular price $14.95

Check out our other E-Book on sale in the right-hand nav bar.


Colored Pencil Portraits Pattern PackageOr try our Adult Coloring, Pyrography, Carving Patterns Pack which has just the patterns and designs, ready for your next project.

62 line art patterns and designs featuring Wood Spirits, Greenmen, Shamans, Wizards, Pixies, and even Vampires.  Also included is an assortment of fun designs featuring Henna Flowers, Dragons, Winged LIzards, and more. As an added bonus this package includes 12 fully colored or pencil shaded designs to guide you in your craft work.

Ready for you to download to your computer and print from your home printer, available at, Lora S. Irish’s pattern store.