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How to Carve a Balsa Wood Sculpture

0:00     Reductive sculpture
0:44     Getting to know the balsa wood
1:38     Organic forms in balsa wood
2:35     4 stages of the process             

3:44     Kevlar gloves, utility knives
6:17     Visual references & artists
7:04     Removing edges & corners

13:19   Refining the Form
19:01   Sanding: sandpaper grits
22:23   Bloopers

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Prompt

Create an abstract, organic form by carving balsa wood without any planning.

Core Ideas

Negative space, form, shape, wall sculpture

Related Tutorials

Art Prof Caution

Utility Knives are extremely sharp and it’s really easy to cut yourself by accident!  Always wear a kevlar glove on your hand which is not holding the knife to prevent injuries. 

Supplies

Art Supplies: Sandpaper, heavy grit
Art Supplies: Sandpaper, medium grit
Art Supplies: Sandpaper, fine grit
Art Supplies: Drywall Sanding Screen
Art Supplies: Needlenose Pliers
Art Supplies: Kevlar Glove
Art Supplies: Balsa Wood
Art Supplies: Utility Knife
Art Supplies: Retractable Blades
Art Supplies: Cutting Mat

Examples

Marie Latham

This project really made me think on the fly! It was fun to jump right into a very kinesthetic process, where I really had to feel the wood to understand how to shape it. It was also super messy, which helped me loosen up a bit and forget I was working with a medium that I couldn’t really add anything back to.

I think one of the best & worst parts about the challenge with this process was how easy it was to carve away the wood—it doesn’t leave any time to reconsider certain moves, and once something is cut away, you need to react accordingly with the other planes on the sculpture. It was difficult for me to work with the material, which was sometimes brittle—mine even snapped in half—but I found all of the different types of sandpaper to be useful in their own ways and interesting to play around with.

I would definitely try this project again, and maybe on a slightly larger scale!”

Cindy Qiao

Cindy Qiao
Project Assistant

This project was an interesting challenging and definitely made me venture into very different territory that I hadn’t explored that much before. Usually, I stick with very 2D visual work, like painting and drawing, but I’ve never worked with a knife to carve away at a material.

This was such an interesting project as a whole because there wasn’t much planning involved in the beginning at all. It was really just about the balsa wood and sort of just following the texture of it. What I found really challenging was that the wood itself was very inconsistent in its softness and hardness. In some places it would be super easy to carve and in other places it would be almost impossible.

I think this project really helped me learn to take advantage of that push and pull relationship with the medium to create something super cool.”

Christina Wu

I’ve worked with wood before, but this was my first time using balsa wood and I was really surprised with how soft it was to carve, as well as the fact that I didn’t need any fancy sharp wood-cutting tools but can rely on just a heavy utility knife.

This project was definitely a risk for me since I always like to plan things out in a sketchbook before I start, so it felt really weird to just start carving with no idea what I was trying to accomplish. I found one side of the wood to be harder to carve due to its graininess, while the other side was extremely soft, so my sculpture actually turned out rather flat and not as aesthetically-pleasing on one side.

I was also uncertain with how chippy and uneven the wood was after carving, especially since I was aiming for more spherical and curvy shapes, but after using the various grits of sandpaper, the sculpture suddenly became really smooth. The final result looked nothing like what I imagined from the beginning, but it was fun to go out of my comfort zone and work on something 3D for a change.” 

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