Horse Netsuke – progress report

The mane is starting to appear on the horse Netsuke
The mane is starting to appear on the horse Netsuke

In the last post on the Horse Netsuke I had more or less finalised the overall shape of the horse and decided finally where the legs would end up. They are still attached to each other at some point so as to give them a little more strength. The surface of the horse was left quite rough, smooth enough so that I could see the shape but not smooth enough to be a final finish. I also had not quite decided whether the tail would stay attached to the back legs.

From there I smoothed off the body and worked to refine the legs, putting in the height of the hooves and the final placing of the fetlocks and other joints.

The face was next, deciding where to put the cheek and the jawline, pulling it away from the body more and starting to see where I think the eyes and nostrils would go. Its all still quite roughly set in at the moment leaving room for me to change my mind a little should I want to, that is happening a lot with this Netsuke.

By working the mane and forelock more I could see where the ears would go, so I put those in roughly before I removed too much of the wood. I made the decision to keep the mane in quite large tumbling blocks for now, that way I would have room to make alterations further down the line if I wanted to. I still want to keep the ears within the height of the mane/forelock to protect them.

Up until this time I had left the bottom of the tail attached to the hooves of the hind legs as I couldn’t decide what to do with it. When you look at most rearing horse sculptures there is only usually the hind feet on the ground and the tail is set out backwards from the body in order to balance the sculpture as it stands creating a stable tripod effect. I was also trying to work out how a tail would fall naturally if a real horse were to be in this pose.

It is quite difficult to figure out what you can remove from the base of a Netsuke so that it looks right but still stands, one thing a Netsuke must be able to do is stand upright by itself on a flat surface. If you take too much away it won’t stand by itself any more. I tried balancing the Netsuke on its three hooves on a smaller surface to test whether it would take removing the tail from touching the floor.

To my surprise it worked, I realised then that I could carved the tail away from the hooves without affecting the balance. The only thing I’d need to watch is that I didn’t leave a ‘pointy’ bit at the bottom of the tail, something that could snag on fabric or break off. So I started by just separating it from the hooves and leaving it at that, by moving onto working on another part of the piece I gave myself time to think about it. Its a technique that I use quite a lot.

The detail being put onto the head of the Horse Netsuke
More detail appearing on the head of the Horse Netsuke

I eventually decided where the eyes and nostrils and mouth should go and put them in, as you can see in the photo above. I am quite pleased with the eyes and put a little of the basic musculature around them. The horse is starting to come alive a lot more.

I carved a little more into the mane, working out where the topline of the neck would sit under all that hair, but am leaving the ears alone for now while I think about what to do.

From here I need to make a decision about the tail, how close or far it should sit from the hooves and how much should be left between the hind legs. Its a case of what looks right against what gives enough support. The mane, forelock and ears need more work as I think there is too much height in there. I may also play a little more with the head. Then I start work on the final finishing, sanding, of the whole piece.

I think its progressing well so far, what do you think?






Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .


Horse Netsuke – A little update

Horse Netsuke in Pear wood,shaping up nicely
The shape of the Horse Netsuke is really coming through.

Since the last Horse Netsuke post I have been concentrating on the overall shape of the horse and the placing of the legs and hooves.

The more I worked on the legs the more I realised it was time to cut the Netsuke from the block of pear wood. In the end you just get to the stage where you can’t get the tools into the spaces you need them to go as the rest of the block is in the way.

This Netsuke was relatively easy to cut free, a straight cut across the block. Though making sure the base remains flat is essential otherwise the horse will not stand upright or will stand at a funny angle.

Once the Netsuke is released from the block it can make it more tricky to hold so you tend to work a bit slower and more carefully so that you don’t end up carving your hands as well as the wood.

It took me a little while to finally decide where the legs would be exactly and you can see in the photo the pencil lines on the legs to aid me in this. Yet again I regretted not making a three dimensional maquette.

I did get it sorted eventually after lots of thinking. I feel that its better to spend lots of time thinking before you try something on the final Netsuke as you can quite easily ruin something this small!

The legs are well on their way to becoming four separate entities instead of one large block. As you can see in the next photo they are still all attached at one point or the other.

I have also started to define the face. My aim with the head is to keep the ears within the forelock and mane as a protection for the tips as they could very easily stick out and then would stand a chance of breaking off or snagging on fabric.

It is starting to look like the amount of wood left in the height of the mane will be too much, this is something that can be left for the moment until more of the horse is locked in. Its better to wait and see as its easier to carve wood away than it is to add it on afterwards!


Even more defining of the legs and face of the Horse Netsuke
More refinements of the Horse Netsuke.


One decision I have made is that the tail will stay connected to the hind legs, I’m not quite sure how just yet as I think there is a little too much tail there at the moment. I’m sure it will sort itself out in the end, I’m not worrying for the moment.

From here on in its a case of refining everything and making sure to keep an eye on the overall shape and look of the horse. No matter how good the detail is it has to look like a horse to begin with! Oh and I have to decide how the mane will look, at the moment I have no idea how it will turn out.


I’m going to leave it there for now, I’d love to know what you think of the progression of the Horse Netsuke, let me know in the comments.






Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .


A Primitive Trophy brings a shine to my week

PAAS Trophy 2012. English Pear.
PAAS Trophy 2012. English Pear.

This past week has been a little odd for reasons I won’t go into here. One of the best things to come out of the past seven days has been the trophy I made that you can see in the photograph.

You may be looking at it thinking ‘er what is it for’, and I don’t blame you for that as its not really self explanatory unless you know what you’re looking at.


As well as being a wood carver I am an archer and I shoot a primitive bow (little more than a shaped Ash stick and yes I did make it myself with some help) and I belong to a group called the Prehistoric Archery and Atlatl Society or PAAS. You can learn a little more about the group here.


Last year the PAAS held the first ever Primitive Archery Championships and I attended, its where I learned how to throw a 6ft long dart using an Atlatl (but thats another story). Soon after that I joined the group and offered to make a trophy to be given away at this years event.

For ages I couldn’t think what I wanted to make, I was worried about what people would be pleased to receive, what was relevant and what was suitable. Every idea I came up with just seemed wrong in my gut, the day was getting closer and I didn’t have anything made. I ran through countless options but none was right, everything seemed to be too ‘polished’ and not ‘primitive’ enough. My instincts were screaming at me that my thoughts were wrong.

I was getting slightly panicky, I couldn’t even find a suitable piece of wood, something native was requested so as to fit in more with the ethos of the group. Then I walked past this piece of English Pear wood sitting on a work bench that had fallen off of a log when I was using it to split smaller logs for the wood burner last summer. When it happened I decided to keep the interesting looking piece rather than burn it, I knew it would come in handy at some point. I was fascinated by the different colours within the wood as I have only ever seem steamed pear before this, this is air dried pear from my mums friends garden more than 20 years ago (they should be nice and dry by now!).


As soon as I found it I knew it would make a great trophy and that the PAAS logo would look great carved in relief onto it as was with no smoothing of the wood. My instinct had finally kicked in with good feelings. Once the relief was carved I thought that it didn’t stand out enough so I painted it in with acrylic and added some rottenstone over the paint to age it. Painting on Danish Oil darkened the wood beautifully but removed all the rottenstone, the paint looked too bright without it so I re added the rottenstone before the oil dried in the hope that the oil will help it to stay put.

I am really pleased with the result as I think its really quite effective and to me looks like a cave painting (I know its on wood but the spirit of cave painting, though I can’t take any credit for the logo design). I loved making it, and if they tell me that they liked it and the Championships are run again next year I’d love to make another.


Unfortunately, and sadly, for various reasons I can’t get to the championships this year so I’ve posted off the trophy and by the time you read this it should be there (without me which is sad). I don’t know who will win it, obviously, but I hope that they like it and are proud to be its new owner.

If you’re reading this and you’re going to the Championships this weekend have a great time and know that I’m really jealous of you……





Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .


Fish Netsuke the finished carving

Fisho, Fish Netsuke in Walnut, front view
Fisho, Fish Netsuke in Walnut, front view
Fisho, Fish Netsuke in Walnut, side view
Fisho, Fish Netsuke in Walnut, side view


As you can see from the photos above the Fish Netsuke is completed  and I am really pleased with him, and yes he is a ‘he’ it somehow felt right.

He now has a name, ‘Fisho’, as the shape that his body makes when looking from above is that of an ‘O’. Lots and lots of different names were gone through but that one just seemed to stick once I had thought of it, nothing else worked as well so thats the name he has.

I have taken lots and lots of pictures of him and the two pictures shown above are roughly from the same angles as in the last post so that, hopefully, the progression from one set to the next can be seen.

Although you can’t see it very well in the second image there is an eye in there underneath the tail fin, you have to look pretty close to see it though. The eyes really brought him alive, once the first eye was carved in things seemed to drop into place.

The decision whether or not to leave him smooth or carve in scales was quite a difficult one as I knew that once the scales were started I wouldn’t be able to change my mind, if I didn’t like them I’d have to scrap the carving. Luckily I think that they have really worked, they both look good and give a great texture to the fish.

Just like my Dormouse Netsuke ’40 Winks’, Fisho is less than 4cm in any direction.

As we speak Fisho has arrived at the selection panel for a Miniatures exhibition and I am waiting to hear whether he has got in or not. I do not know when the panel are making their decision so I’m trying really hard not to think about it too much. As soon as I know I’ll let you know.

If you would like to see more images of Fisho you can find them here.

I’ve already started researching my next subject, though I’ll wait a little bit longer to reveal what it will be.




Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .