A Sense of Scale

Use your computer to get the size of your carving right.

By: Tom Baldwin
Updated March 12, 2018

A cardinal by any other size is not accurate. Scale matters.

Every time I attend a carving show I am reminded of my own beginnings in the bird carving world. My very first songbird was a winter-poised, fluffy black-capped chickadee. I compared it with other chickadee carvings at its first show and I realized how much I had misjudged the true size of this bird. My chickadee was more the size of a white-throated sparrow, with so much “fluff” it looked obese. It was at this moment that I recognized the importance of establishing the proper scale of the carving early in the planning process.
When designing my patterns I rely on many different research materials. Besides books, I use study skins from the Natural History Museum, taxidermy mounts from local park districts, bill castings, and measurements obtained at bird banding activities. I find that my reference materials often present slightly different information about the size of a particular bird. Because these references give me small yet significant variations of scale, I have added computer graphics as an additional and essential tool in the application of scale to the design of the carving.

After gathering data from various sources to determine the carving’s size, you must visualize your finished product: the bird’s position, whether it’s active or retreated, its wings are out or in, the tail fanned or not. All these factors will impact your scale. This part of the planning process establishes the bird’s “attitude” and leads to the first application of computer graphics. I use the Internet to call up images of the bird I want to carve and get inspiration from a certain attitude a bird projects in a photo. This is nothing new; I am sure most of us by now do a search for visual research and inspiration. But after you find a photo that inspires your creation, how do you determine its scale? What follows is a procedure I use for working with graphic software that helps me determine scale and even assists in pattern design.

Using this computer application is just one of the procedures I use to verify scale, in addition to the traditional, tried and true methods. Ultimately, the more references you have for your carving subject, the more accurate and rewarding the results.

The software I used for this article is CorelDRAW 9 in a Windows XP operating system. If you have a better understanding of Adobe software you can get the same results with Adobe products such as Photoshop.

After you’ve selected a photo that you want to use to determine scale you will first need to rotate the photo on your computer screen so that the beak is level with your measuring box. Now move the measuring box over to the beak and line it up.

At this point you may need to enlarge or shrink the photo to make the beak line up in the measuring box. Grab the corner of your photo and start enlarging or shrinking it until the height and length of the beak fit inside the measuring box.

With the magnifying tool, enlarge the photo image and the box to get a more accurate view of the beak and the measuring box. Do your final adjustments to the photo size at this time.

Print out the photo so you can verify the scale of the bird by measuring different parts of it. When you are satisfied with the size you can now begin your pattern process.

Place a sheet of tracing paper over your printed photo and trace out the shape and details needed for your pattern. 



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