Horse Netsuke – a beginning

Horse shape drawn onto pear wood piece
Horse Netsuke shape drawn onto pear wood piece


Horses are one of my favourite things so it was inevitable that at some point I would carve a Horse Netsuke.


Before I even started to draw up designs I did a lot of research looking at both real horses, pictures of horses and Horse Netsuke that are already in existence, trying to work out why they had been designed how they had been designed. They seem to be either laying down or standing with all four hooves tightly together, often with the head down grazing or curved round across the body. I wanted to make something a little different.

I went through lots and lots of possible designs, it took a little practice to get the look that I wanted in proportion in the size that I wanted to work within. In fact I now have about 10 that I would be happy to carve up so if this one works out who knows how many more there may be!

For some reason I cannot remember now I decided just to draw my design onto the piece of pear wood I had picked out and get on with the carving rather than make up a maquette as I have done for both previous Netsuke.  This decision has provided me with some headaches along the way and I may never choose to work this way again!


Once the design was drawn on the first thing I did was to work the outside shape down to the topline of the horse, i.e. the head/neck and back, and the raised front leg.

Working on the shape of the Horse Netsuke
Working on the shape of the Horse Netsuke

As you can see from the photograph as soon as you start to work within the drawn on lines you immediately lose them, the trick here is to keep on drawing them back in so that you have some guidance. This is where a maquette comes into its own as you have a three dimensional drawing to work from.

Once I had the topline more or less in place it was time to start working on the legs.

Redrawing and defining the legs of the Horse Netsuke
Redrawing and defining the legs of the Horse Netsuke

It was when I started to place the legs in that I realised that the raised leg would have very little support with the hoof dangling in midair. The whole point of a Netsuke is that it is a useable object that has no projecting parts that can either snag on fine cloth or break off. Had I have made a maquette I would have figured this little problem out a lot sooner!

I had a good think about it and decided that the best course of action was to drop the raised leg down a little and rest the hoof onto the hind leg behind it and let it rest it against the other front leg next to it. Luckily I had enough wood left in this area to be able to make the changes I wanted to.

Deciding where the tummy will be on the Horse Netsuke
Deciding where the tummy will be on the Horse Netsuke

You can see in the photograph above that the hoof is now resting on the hind leg, when you compare it to the first photograph you can see the difference. At this point the legs were becoming more and more defined so I broke through to the other side of the carving to help better place the legs and decide where the tummy should be.

The next steps include refining the legs more and releasing the Netsuke from the block it is being carved from, I’ll leave discussing that until the next post.

In the meantime I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about this Horse Netsuke so far.






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’ .