Calvo Wood Carving School Student Testimonials

Wood carving class sample
Read David Calvo's woodcarving article in Popular Woodworking, October 2006
Read David Calvo's woodcarving article in Popular Woodworking, November 2006


Read David Calvo's articles in Popular Woodworking Magazine on learning how to carve wood. His first two articles deals with carving tool selection, reshaping your edges for better tool control and using sharpening methods specific for your wood carving tools.

Articles to follow will be on wood carving technique. Popular Woodworking Article
Wood Carving Ornamentation

What Students say about Calvo Wood Carving School:

David:

Here are some my thoughts and notes on the class. You might remember that I had no exposure to Carving at all before your class, with the exception of a few magazine articles mostly aimed at turners who embellished their work with small grinders. I was a little reticent at first due to my lack of experience.

Fortunately, for me, however I had enrolled in the "Two Day tool forging class." The class was a great initiation, not into carving per se, but into your method of teaching, which is a very friendly, "Don't Worry Style." Don't Worry was a great way for me to approach the discipline of carving. When the Carving class began I was very comfortable and not the least nervous about what I did not know.

In the course of the carving class David slowly exposed us to complex theories of Art and Design, almost incidentally, leading me down the road to understanding with an easy deep flow like the Gloucester tides. We started each day with a "Camp Fire" where carving concepts were discussed. Concepts such as light and shadow contrasts, concave as opposed to convex forms, highs and lows in the carving, all in easy to digest plain language approach. Intricacies such as grain direction made understandable by the Grain Compass. Stance and tool control, arms position, use of both hands, and leg position to guide tools along the projected path were made simple to grasp by David's easy style.

David uses the analogy of peeling a carrot to describe the process of reveling the carving from the wood. My analogy is his teaching is like an Artichoke, peeling away the leaves of the fruit, layer by layer until you expose the Artichoke's heart. 

The information flows from; tools shaping, sharpening, to proper usage of the tools; stance, "Front seat driving" and further to concepts described as "Ceiling to Floor" i.e. Highs and Lows. Seeing the Design, peeling the carrot as the design emerges, working the carving as a whole not in parts, setting in, digging the ditch and landscaping all are descriptions of order of working a carving. But foremost remember, "Don't Worry" keep going.

The Class left me with the desire to dig deeper into the craft and myself.

Larry Cavolina, New York

Dear Fellow Student:

I recommend the five-day Basic Woodcarving class. The course gave me the skills that I needed to be self-sufficient in carving at home. David's teaching method is to gather the class together for brief teaching sessions where he 'll explain some aspect of carving and also demonstrate a carving technique. I found a short demonstrations from a master to be invaluable for my learning. Then he has the students return to their workstations to practice what they 've learned. He walks around the studio observing the students ' work, giving one-on-one instruction where needed, and answering questions from the students. Some of the topics that he taught were wood grain anatomy, body and hand position, letting the tools dictate the cuts, the steps of a carving project; creating contrast -foreground and background, rough and smooth, curved and straight, etc., -to increase visual appeal; tool sharpening, and workspace organization. The class size -11 students -allowed David to watch our progress closely and give individual attention.

I found out about the Calvo studio courses on the Internet. After reading Calvo 's website I knew the Basic Carving course was what I was looking for. The studio was easy to reach: I flew into Boston, caught a Massport bus to the T, caught a Commuter Rail train to Gloucester, and walked to the Rocky Neck Accommodations near the studio. One aspect of the course I enjoyed was its location. I could feel the history as I walked the streets of Gloucester. Its economy has been based on fishing for centuries. My class bonded in the studio and over meals. David 's local knowledge guided us to one excellent and reasonably priced eatery after another. I gained weight. On two mornings I borrowed a bicycle and rode north up the coast. Just outside the town the coastline is beautiful with the sea crashing on rocks. When I saw that and the harbor I understood why artists are drawn there.

I learned and had an enjoyable time. The classes are physically demanding and focused. The ratio of carving to instruction was about nine to one, and that was a good ratio because carving is learned by doing. We did three projects, each building on the one before.

Jim Godfrey, Washington, DC

Dear Interested Student:

For years, I have been struggling to learn to carve. I've read books, purchased video and online classes, even took a few classes from the local Woodcraft store. Every attempt to carve left me frustrated. I had more questions after every attempt and just couldn't get the hang of it.

I saw an announcement of the 5-day Bare Bone Beginning Class somewhere and just the very description of the class began answering my questions. I signed up and got a reservation at Rocky Neck Accommodations (I highly recommend this place). Arizona to Boston to Gloucester. By the way, Gloucester is a really nice town with lots of good food and art.

Within the first hour of the class, I knew I'd have all my questions answered: I'd learn to hold the tools, learn how to get the tools sharp and keep them that way, have a good understanding of how to approach relief carving. The days were packed with information, exercises - the Grain Wheel is an awesome learning project-, music, conversation, humor, coffee breaks and lunches at David's favorite places in Gloucester. I was exhausted at the end of every day and raring to go the next morning. The fleur di lis project (It was also David's first project as a beginning carver) contains all the techniques and components of any relief carving. David showed us in a stepwise fashion how to complete it successfully. My fleur di lis is not perfect, but I'm mighty proud of it. I learned all the things I wanted to learn and much much more and had a really good time doing it. I'm confident I can do a repeat fleur di lis (David recommends repeating the project at home) or any other basic relief carving.

The class is great. Don't hesitate to take it. You'll learn lots about carving and have a lot of fun doing it. I'm going back for the next level as soon as I can.

Linda Lyle, Arizona

To whom it may concern:

I am writing this letter to recommend without reservation the woodcarving course given by David Calvo. I took the woodcarving course and found it to be essentially a perfect introduction to the art and craft of woodcarving and would recommend it to anyone that brings a serious desire to learn. In the paragraphs below I will try to pinpoint exactly why I believe this course is so wonderful. It might be difficult for me to convey exactly why found this course so enjoyable and satisfying. So if I fail I recommend that you call David directly as I did when I was considering taking the class.

The key to the course is David himself, since for the five days of the course it’s just him and several students (Four in my case but I’m told up to seven or nine is the norm.) in a room talking, sharpening and carving.

David wants to give his students a sense of the full range of what woodcarving is and what it means to him. He tends not to gloss over important matters such as tool sharpening. Thus, in the five day course I took, most of us spent the first day and one half sharpening our tools and rendering the pattern onto the wood block before we made our first cut into wood. David carefully explained the theory of sharpening and the different kind of sharpening stones and we all practiced the techniques as we honed our tools for the tasks ahead.

David brings a good perspective to his craft. The first thing we did in the class was for each student to discuss why he was drawn to the class, what their experiences with woodcarving and woodworking have been and what they hope to get from the class. With that as background Mr. Calvo was able to let the students know if their expectations were realistic (they mostly were) and to start the students along the way to achieving their goals.

David sees woodcarving as an art that fully reflects the human experience. So, as we discussed the various woodcarving topics such as design, style, rendering, design transfer, wood quality and type, the nature of grain and using the various chisels, David found it appropriate to introduce a wide array of related topics. The conversation in the class often shifted to music, philosophy, art, and the joy of life. Mr. Calvo spoke of his years in Mexico, his child, his various woodcarving projects, and the European masters who taught him his craft and whose tools he still uses. Since you work pretty much close to each other for the duration of the course I think it is important to be able to be in a relaxed mode and the conversation to be free. Both these conditions were easily met. In addition, David is able to bridge the gap between being very serious about woodcarving and having a light enough touch so that his drive for excellence and his desire to convey something important to his students do not become too intense or oppressive.

For me it was the perfect introductory course and I enthusiastically recommend it as an inspiring and learning experience.

Rob Stern, New York City

Fellow woodworker/hobbyist:

If you're considering taking a wood carving course and unsure if that offered in David Calvo's studio is right for you, go no further. David's shop is where you want to be and David is the one to teach you.

Let me say for myself, as a person with intermediate woodworking skills, who has been notoriously hard to please and has very high expectations, that I was completely blown away by David and the course. His organized approach to the craft of carving and step by step mentoring made it a most thoroughly enjoyable and productive five days. The fundamentals were stressed in the relaxed atmosphere of the studio and in the beautifully tranquil town of Gloucester, providing what I felt a solid foundation for any level of carving. David was approachable and an excellent resource, sharing very entertaining historical tidbits and anecdotes along the way as he walked us through the carving process. Our class consisted of 7 students of varying skill and we all unanimously agreed that the course was excellent, and each of us came away with new ideas, carving talents, enthusiasm and great respect for our teacher.

I am pleased to say, having just returned from Mr. Calvo's studio, that it was absolutely the best course I've ever taken and I'm planning to return for both the tool forging course and the advanced carving course. The opportunity to gain knowledge and skills from Mr. Calvo is not to be missed if you are a serious student of carving or are just considering it as a hobby. 5 STARS!!!!!

John Jovanovic, Ontario, Canada

Fellow Interested Students:

I have taken several classes from David and have come to know him as a master craftsman, a fantastic artist, a gifted intellect, a great storyteller and a friend.

I came to the first class having somehow previously carved a wood horse head for my first son’s rocking chair. I was exhilarated and frustrated by the experience. I persisted with that first project despite the wrong tools, wrong sharpening and wrong carving technique. What a fantastic ‘eureka’ moment awaited with the first class I took with David. In three remarkable days we quickly learned about the right tools, the right way to sharpen them and the right way to use them.

In addition we learned to focus the body, eye and mind on the carving process. We learned about material and design, art and architectural history, tool design and metallurgy (examined in depth in the forging class). David tells wonderful stories about his training and experiences as a master carver.

Woodcarving, and the teaching thereof, encompasses far more than just intellectual knowledge. This is a physical/mental, right brain/left brain skill. David’s teaching is perfectly adapted to this holistic and challenging craft. This is not carving-by-the-numbers. You can’t get the multi-channel learning input and feedback from a book. The skill and sensory learning process is cyclical and David is masterful in identifying the next little tidbit of understanding that will bump you through the rough spots. You will learn to use and trust you artist’s eye. I’ve always come away from these classes with a lot of satisfaction and real accomplishment.

Greg Charney, Pepperell, Massachusetts

David,

Your teaching technique had an amazing sense of balance from knowing when to take a break, to taking us to a different local restaurant for lunch each day.

You have a unique insight that allows you to let us struggle enough to learn from our small mistakes but tells you when to be there to answer any questions and to provide right amount of guidance to prevent us from making big mistakes.

I enjoyed your wonderful sense of humor.

John Schnobrich, Redwood Falls, Minnesota

David,

What a pleasure it was to attend your woodcarving class this October.

I was amazed that as a complete novice (never having pushed a gouge before), I was able to create something I will actually display at home! I’ve never been in a class with such personal attention, along with an honest camaraderie. It was great FUN!

I came to the class to begin a new hobby with no particular artistic flare or background in woodworking. Although others in my class were competent and experienced woodworkers, I was able to move at my own pace, and very much enjoyed your careful tutelage at my own pace.

And you boiled the techniques down to their essence. We were exposed to clear instruction in tool choice, tool sharpening, techniques for lettering and design, creative design principles, design transfer methods, and general carving. Beyond that, I learned as much by watching you use the tools and my own tools to help me “feel and hear” the wood. There were meaningful discussions on each aspect, and a free and open response to all my questions. Mingled with the demonstrations and instruction was exposure to some of the great sculpted works of the old masters.

Keep me on your list! I’ll be back for your graduate course….

Bruce Woolsey, Valley Springs, California
Hello David,

I just returned from my two week pleasure/business trip. The week in Gloucester was the highlight of my trip.I learned many useful tips and techniques. I will incorporate many of these things in my business and hobbies.

From the start of your class on the first day I learned many things. The sharpening tips and hands on practice are very valuable. I have about 20 tools, other then the ones I purchased from you, and I am sharpening those one by one. Now that I have the proper sharpening technique they are each turning into much more enjoyable tools to use. The design ideas that you pointed out, such as the many facets of contrast, will help my work improve. Plus now that these ideas have been put into words as far as what to look for and focus on I look at art work and nature in a much different way. Almost as if I have a brand new connection between eyes and brain. There are things in art and nature that I have always enjoyed looking at, but now I can see more clearly how the individual parts blend in ways to accent each other. I am now more inspired to expand my carving techniques as I embellish my woodworking projects. Thank You. The cost of the class was well worth it.

Happy Carving, Jim Grass, California
To the interested student,

I have always wanted to learn woodcarving. Many years ago I saw David Calvo on the PBS Television Show "The Woodwright's Shop" and knew he was the one I wanted to instruct me. It was only last summer '06 that I finally had the opportunity to take a week long class with him. The reason I wanted to study with him is he was so impressive in his style and manner on The Woodwright Television show. He was able to make it all seem to flow in a natural manner. His presentation in class was a classical learning experience. Everyone was so relaxed after the first few hours that it seemed we had been with him for a very long time. I don't think one could learn more about woodcarving in one week and be able to take what was learned and run with to the degree we were able. Everyone was so excited and eager to continue. Many of us agreed we would sign up for the Second Level class.

Mike Hamud, California

I like David's approach. It's not all mechanical. There is an organic feel to it all. Getting to know your tools...making them an extension of yourself...knowing the wood and working with it. David gave me the "outline within which to work. Now I can allow myself to fill that "outline".

Charlie, Maryland

Excellent learning experience. Appreciate your extreme patience. You are a natural teacher. Easy to ask questions and get clarifications for what the student needs help with. Enjoyed the lunch experience. Very helpful all around. Thanks

Lynn Schafer, Illinois

Today, I am walking out with a real sense of accomplishment. I thoroughly enjoyed the course. You opened up a new world and passion within my life as a beginner woodworker. I know we will meet again in another course. I would really like to take your forging class.

Bob Lindsay, Massachusetts

I always wanted to learn carving - a quiet and cerebral pursuit- but I couldn't do so from books or a video. It takes a master carver with a gift for teaching to impart the secrets. In David I was fortunate to find that individual. He explained, and the class applied, design concepts, drawing, material selection, tool techniques and sharpening, and error avoidance - all the important fundamentals. I'm quite pleased with what I can produce now and it gets better with practice.

Carl Lizio, Boston, Massachusetts

David,

I've wanted to learn how to do ornamental and architectural wood carving for many years. I took a course several years ago from which I came away extremely frustrated and quite pessimistic about my chances of ever acquiring the skill. I now have the time to devote to carving, so I did a Google search on “woodcarving instruction” and found David Calvo’s web site. A quick review of David’s background and work convinced me to contact him. Since I live an hour or so from his studio, I arranged to meet David. That led to my decision to take his beginner's course.

First, let me say that if you don’t already have a collection of carving tools, buy the beginner set David sells. Don’t buy a set of tools from a retail store or on the internet. David carefully selects the tools you need to begin and his set doesn’t include any tools you’ll never use. But if you have a collection of carving tools already, bring them to class and buy any additional tools you need from David.

Learning woodcarving is a daunting undertaking. There are so many skills involved. You need to learn how to shape and sharpen your tools. You need to learn how to approach a carving – what do you do first, second, third, etc. You need to learn how to hold your tools and use them, both with and without a mallet and using both hands. You need to know about the types of wood to use. You need to understand design. You need to know how to achieve depth in your carving. You need to know how to work with wood grain and how to fix your “oopses” and how to avoid them the next time. That’s a lot to learn in a three day class. It requires a well-structured course. The course begins with a discussion of tool shape - why you need the shape David recommends and how to sharpen your tools to achieve the correct shape. You have a chance to try a tool of your own sharpening and compare it to a tool David has sharpened. If that doesn’t make a believer of you, I don’t know what could! You learn how to know when your tools are properly sharp. Hint: it’s not by shaving your arm or testing on your thumbnail. When the carving actually begins, David demonstrates the tools you should use and the cuts you need to make. It is marvelous to watch David carve. The wood seems to know what he wants and does it willingly for him. The wood didn’t obey me nearly as well, but having watched David is an inspiration. I know that it can be done well and I'm confident that with properly shaped and sharpened tools and lots of practice, I too can produce really good work.

Throughout the class, David takes breaks from sharpening and carving to discuss topics related to design, types of wood for carving, etc. He knows intuitively when the class needs a change of pace. He’s also present all the time and quite willing to answer any questions you might have or show you how to do something with which you’re having difficulty.

If you want to learn woodcarving, I highly recommend David’s beginner workshop, if you can possibly do it. You can’t learn from videos what you’ll learn from a live instructor. When (not if) you encounter difficulty, you’ll have no one to ask for help if you go the video instruction route. The interaction with other students in the class is also a real bonus. I thoroughly enjoyed the other students in the class I took. One last word. David is a real master carver. He learned from masters and wants to pass that knowledge on. He believes in what he’s teaching because it has worked so well for him for many years. David approaches his teaching with confidence because he knows he’s teaching the right way to carve. He doesn’t try to hide anything from his students or keep any “trade secrets” to himself. David is also a really nice person, which isn’t always true of highly accomplished people. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to take the course and very thankful to know David. I have to go practice. I want to be ready for David’s next intermediate class.

Roger Olney, Boxboro, Massachusetts

I took David Calvo’s carving class to learn carving taught by a respected craftsman with a national reputation. And carving I learned. What I really found, however, was how David used carving and his beloved seaport town of Gloucester to take us through a journey of European carving techniques surrounded by consideration of aesthetics, design, work ethic, small business models, and personal health. And yes, the outings of food, art and boatbuilding. All of this in an atmosphere of mutual respect and the easy throw of ideas between teacher and students. For a week we learned, we experienced… and we were happy.

Bob Hamilton, New Hampshire
Dear David,

I wanted to drop you a line thanking you for a great class.

It was amazing to see a group of people with different reasons for taking the class, different interests and different skill levels all get the same amount of satisfaction from the instruction. The structure of your class meets the individual student where they are skill-wise and enables everyone to progress at there own rate. I have taken courses previously where the class was too difficult or not challenging enough, which ends up causing an unsatisfying experience. I think I could take the same class again and achieve the same amount of progress that I did the first time.

The sharpening component of your class was most helpful. Today there are so many options when it comes to sharpening tools it is hard to know where to spend your time and money. It is hard to become more proficient at putting an edge on your tools if you don’t commit to a sharpening strategy. Your method makes sense and doesn’t require a lot of money for some machine. It is reassuring to know that carvers have been using the method that you teach for generations (before expensive machines were available). Once you taught our class the proper steps I could see that your process makes good theoretical sense. After some guided practice I was able to satisfactorily sharpen my tools. I have continued to use your sharpening methods back in my shop with good results.

I personally enjoyed the portion of the class on the history of design. To see examples of symmetry in architecture and nature was fascinating. In our present day society so much of the information we are presented with lacks specificity. It was wonderful to be able to be immersed in a few details such as: the edge of a tool, the design of a leaf, and carving a small piece of wood. I feel like the old saying that, “less is more” holds true for your class. We only focused on a few details but I feel like I came away from the class learning a tremendous amount.

Finally, the setting in the historic town of Gloucester was great. To wander around the old village during breaks was a lot of fun. Thanks for a great class!! I hope I can take another class some time this year.

Thanks,

David Lockwood, Rhode Island

David Calvo's Barebones class was just the thing for me. The abilities in our 5 day class ran from very experienced to no carving experience, and from furniture carvers to caricatures carvers. David's lessons were of great help to all of us. His training in classical carving and his practical approach to using these skills made learning woodcarving very approachable for the novice and the experienced.

The hands on classes covered a lot of material from how to sharpen and what kind carving tools are best, to project designing and how to decide what comes next in the carving. David is available all along the way, patiently answering questions and pointing out problems.

I had been thinking about a piece before the class but had no idea how to start. After I got home, I was able to design the piece using a lot of David's technique. The carving took about a week with some stops and starts. I was very pleased with the result.

I find I am better able to think through my carvings with a new view to design using David's valleys and mountains metaphors and his concave and convex theory. I can better guide my tools and am more aware of a dull tool. I am better able to design a project and have a fool proof method of where to go next .... I also, for the first time, have some very sharp tools.

Denis Barry, Central Valley NY, Mid Hudson Carvers

David Calvo's passion for wood carving was evident as he taught us the techniques that have been passed down through generations of master wood carvers. As a design professional, I was delighted that David incorporated design concepts throughout the week long Bare Bones course. He is a talented wood carver and an excellent teacher.

Laurie Coderre, AIA, Nashville,Tennessee

I just got back from David Calvo's Five Day Bare Bones Wood carving Class. After spending many months researching which of the many wood carving classes to take, I assure you, without any reservation whatsoever, that this is the class to take.

Five days with David is worth ten thousand pages! David learned his craft from European masters, and has honed his skills for decades. He is a master woodcarver. While remaining aware and attuned to changes and developments which are worth adopting, like the shift from oil stones to water stones for sharpening, David consistently and continuously emphasizes the basic skills of woodcarving which have not changed for centuries. I am not a skilled woodworker, but I have always enjoyed working with my hands, and I have basic skills which make me teachable. David taught me the basic skills which it took him years to master in just five days! Throughout every day, he reminded us of those basic skills and reinforced and instilled them in a way that resonates in my memory - and my muscle memory -- every time I pick up my tools.

David talked to us about, showed us, and taught us about the details of every aspect of the craft... sharpening, clay modeling (I never imagined the importance of modeling until I met David), body position and mechanics, wood choice, tool choice, design and imagination, to mention only a few. He made us THINK about what we were doing and why each step was important to schooling in and development of the craft. As elementary as my efforts must have seemed to someone so skilled, David was nothing but encouraging and supportive.

I came home with a confidence and excitement which has not abated after 5 weeks (and I'm still in the process of getting my shop set up)! I will soon be diving into my second fleur-du-lis, as I plan my next trip to Gloucester, Mass. and another David Calvo class. The first day of that next class could not possibly come soon enough! In the meantime, David, who became a mentor and a friend in only five short days opened the door to endless hours of getting lost in the joy of woodcarving!

John Logan, Raleigh, North Carolina

David's skills and experiences of woodcarving show in his teaching. His teaching of his techniques are very valuable. I would highly recommend taking his workshop because when you come away from it you'll find satisfaction in getting ready to do some serious woodcarving at home on your own. Again, he's approachable, down to earth and a great teacher. The art of woodcarving is evident.

Delia Smith

© Copyright, all text and images, David Calvo, Calvo Studio, 2013.