Helpful Tips for Creating Drapery on a Chainsaw Carved Sculpture

Drapery has always been a pursuit of perfection for artists, particularly sculptors. Crafted well, drapery can add feel and emotion to sculpture, and I’m always aspiring to get it right. That’s right, I said “aspiring”. I’m still learning!
Although I’m still looking to improve my craft, there are some things I’ve learned from over a decade of creating fabric on various sculptures that I hope can help others. Read on for some of my (hopefully!) helpful tips for creating drapery on a chainsaw carved sculpture…

Artist simon o'rourke is in a cherry picker holding a stihl msa200. he is next to a large sculpture he made in a standing oak stump of an oak maiden - a great example of the drapery the article is about.
This Oak Maiden is an example of one of my large-scale sculptures with drapery

WHAT LIES BENEATH?

My first focus when carving drapery on a chainsaw carved sculpture is the form underneath. It’s easy to see a heavy robe as a way of hiding the form and not having to carve legs or arms etc. In reality though, even the heaviest robes will still take on the shape of the form underneath. This means it’s important to know the proportions and pose of the figure before you start carving.

This is true for any kind of fabric. I was always fascinated by the veiled face – one of the heights of achievement for any sculptor. My first attempt didn’t go so well though! After a lot of research and study, when it came time to carve the Marbury Lady, my understanding was much better and I could work out which parts of the face I could allude to between the folds of cloth.

Simon O'Rourke wearing Stihl PPE holds a powetool and stands next to his Marbury Lady sculpture - an example of creating drapery on a chainsaw carved sculpture.
Understanding the form beneath the veil was key to creating this veiled face

A WEIGHTY ISSUE

Not all fabrics are equal! When I’m creating drapery on a chainsaw carved sculpture, I need to think about what the fabric is. Coming back to The Marbury Lady (the human side), I wanted to give the appearance of a gauzy thin material, so a lot of the form is visible underneath.
In contrast, this Seated Monk Sculpture is wearing a much heavier cloth, so you don’t see the form underneath. Not that it isn’t there. It’s just that the heavier the cloth, the less it will crease and fold. It’s less complex (in a way), but still needs attention to dips and cavities that you can allude to in the way it falls.

A wood sculpture of a seated monk demonstrating simon o'rourjke's helpful tips for carving drapery

FIND POINTS OF REFERENCE

Observation is key to accurate art and creating drapery is no different. I usually get inspiration and reference from Google images searches, Pinterest, or by looking at people wearing different types of clothing, and making a mental note of the different materials.

The Soldier sculpture from the Rembrandt Night Watch project is a replica of an existing sculpture, so it was a great piece for me to observe how another sculptor had tackled certain types of cloth. The stretch of the material in the belt, the loose creases of the cloth draped on the stand, and the voluminous britches, are three very different cloth types all in the same sculpture. Seeing them all on the same sculpture was extremely helpful for me in creating my own take on Rembrandt’s famous piece.

screenshot from a simon o'rourke facebook post announcing the start of a project carving figures from Rembrandt's Night Watch painting

WHERE’S THE TENSION?

Another key thing to consider when creating fabric, is how the clothing is layered. The way to show this is by thinking about tension versus flow. The cloth will be smoother over the extremities of any form, especially when under tension, like over a bent knee or elbow.
A loose robe will probably just catch the form of a bent knee in the act of walking, like on the Angel of Bethesda, and the elbow on the Peat Carrier Woman. My sculpture “Our Lady of Pen Llyn” is a good example of layered cloth with some of the outer layers being looser than the under layers.

TEXTURE MATTERS!

There’s more I could say, but my final point for this blog is texture. I use different levels of sanding to get different cloth types. Leaving a chainsaw finish denotes a coarser cloth – like linen or hessian – while sanded finishes are more suitable for materials like silk or velvet.

I love projects with some good drapery and it’s been worth the trial, error and practise to improve my craft, and I encourage you wherever you are in your drapery journey to keep going.

To finish this blog, I’ll leave you with a few more shots of my sculptures featuring drapery. Do you see them differently in light of reading these tips?

To commission a sculpture (with or without drapery!) please use the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/