The blueprint of... Snekkja

16 min read

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Myana's avatar
By Myana
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The blueprint of... is an article serie where we’re taking a closer look on an Artisan Crafts deviation and how it's made.

Today we are dissecting Snekkja by Thorleifr

Snekkja by Thorleifr Snekkja by Thorleifr Snekkja by Thorleifr

First off, please introduce yourself?

My name is Jérôme Braure, I'm 29 and live in french speaking Switzerland near the big lake. I've also lived a year in Sweden and another in France, both for studies. I currently earn money as a software engineer, but that's definitely not my favourite activity. It is a matter of fact that I became it, rather than a deliberate choice. As a kid I wanted to become an archaeologist (and still do now...)

I've always created things with my hands since very early age. You'll read later on about it.

One evening, I watched some movie called "The Lord of the Rings" (anyone else heard about it?) and it had these beautiful sets, buildings and props. This really kicked-off my returning to hand crafting and revived my interest in past civilizations and their forms of art. It is then that I started woodcarving my mantlepiece, inspired by something I had seen in the movie.

Carving that kind of pieces allows me to unite my interests in history, arts, handicrafting into one activity and is very effective in preventing me to sleep in while watching TV.

Please explain what we are viewing.

This is a 50 cm tall lime (tilia, basswood) sculpture done after the prow of the famous Viking Oseberg longship, found in a burial mound in Norway. It is my third woodcarving.

Can you describe for a layman how it’s made?

It's hand carved (no power tool used at all) out of two 25 cm tall logs of lime bought at the local do-it-yourself shop.

I started with a quick sketch to define shape and size. The shape I sculpted is a little different, as I had to adapt it to the timber's size and add balance to the piece to have it stand up by itself. Then, I roughed out the shape with various kinds of hand saws and wide chisels. The photo is pretty much self-explanatory. I draw a line in the center to keep symmetry by doing the same on both side. To create the main shape, I work by removing "square" volumes. All the curved edges and surfaces are done afterwards by carving away a 90° angle edge.

Snekkja WIP by Thorleifr

When the main shape is done, and sanded to remove chisel marks, the intricate ornaments are transfered onto the sides using typewriter carbon paper (those get harder to find nowadays, in computer age). Then carving of the ornaments takes place. To do that, I first carve out the border lines with a "V" shape chisel, then I dig the cavities. When done, I finalize the motifs with lines, above/under crossings, etc. Quite straightforward, but time consuming. That done, I had to assemble both parts, and do some more sanding to get a smooth surface. I also added the two triangles at the bottom, as you can see. There is no real "finish" applied on the sculpture, as I didn't really know which to choose and how to do it. There's just a little wax.

Snekkja by Thorleifr Snekkja by Thorleifr Snekkja by Thorleifr

What tools did you use?

Only hand tools. (Simply because it went better that way than with power). Saws, chisels, sanding paper. On that photo you see my current equipment, but at the time, I had only about half those tools. Fixing the sculpture on the table was sometimes difficult, I used hard foam to do harmless padding under the clamps. I later bought more specialized tools to screw the log to the table (but have yet to try it).

Light is a tool in itself. Or rather a help to produce regular surfaces and curves, as it points out irregularities when shadows are cast, at a low angle lighting. I hence often carve in semi-obscurity with just an orientable office light. Or two.

I sculpted on our old kitchen table, which has since then been replaced by a thick plywood board table, which I screwed to the wall to have it remain where it should as I hammer.

Tools by Thorleifr Saws by Thorleifr

What was your inspiration in creating this?

As I said before, inspiration was first stimulated by some movie. But for that piece, it's simply that I found drawing in a book about Vikings, that was detailed enough to get me started easily. I find Viking art quite fascinating, I can keep staring at the motifs and let my mind wander through the Sagas and adventures of those times.

How long time did it take you to make this?

From December '06 to March '07 with a special two-week period where I could work full time on it. The rest of the time, I carved a few hours an evening, after work. I cannot state precisely how many hours, but a lot. I work with the TV running, so I sometimes consider myself more like someone getting busy while watching TV than someone able to spend hours with nothing but pieces of wood and tools. The surroundings are quite important when I carve.

Snekkja by Thorleifr Snekkja by Thorleifr Snekkja by Thorleifr

Did you run into anything unexpected while creating?

Yes. Into a misbehaving snowshoe. It badly twisted my ankle. I still feel it, two years after. But that bad luck allowed me to have a break from work, hence lots of time to do nothing but carve. That was a great experience. I wish I had more full-days of creative activity. You see my leg on the photo, with that sculpture on the table at an early stage. Carving was sometimes a little tricky, as I had to keep my leg horizontal. You'd sometimes want to stand up, lean forward or go to the other side of the table...

Ankle twist by Thorleifr

One difficult part was the joining of the two pieces of wood. It was quite hard to have a clean fit, but I finally worked it out satisfyingly.

Are you happy with the result?

Yes, I am. Though you can see some irregularities.
As said before, the sculpture doesn't really have a 'finish'. No oil or varnish. Just a little bee wax on some parts. This is simply so because I have only a very limited knowledge in the huge field of wood finishes. And I don't want to spoil it, I like how it looks like. But maybe one day I might put a finish on it.

Snekkja WIP unexpected art by Thorleifr

Where have you learnt your skills in this area?

Woodcarving itself was self-taught. The knowledge of how to use my hands was brought to me by my dad. He was a semi-professional ship modelist (he made and sold them in the evening after the office job). He passed away as I was 22. I learned a lot in our workshop, in the family house basement. I've always been working on something manual when I had the time, as far as I can remember, but as stated above, no real woodcarving until recently. As a kid I made lots of wooden swords, bows, arrows, crossbows, some armour costumes, some architectural models like castles and lots of aircraft models, plastic kits then scratchbuilt ones.

Snekkja by Thorleifr Snekkja by Thorleifr Snekkja by Thorleifr

Do you take your own photos? Any tips you want to share for presenting your work?

Yes, I do. All photos of that sculpture shown here were shot with a pocket camera. I since then purchased a reflex camera and a tripod. And learned a little about digital photography.

As you can see on the photo, I usually just place my piece on a black paper background and shoot it with natural sunlight (only the final photo, though). This sort of low relief needs cast shadows to reveal the motifs. With this kind of strong contrast, I must underexpose a little, to get a blacker background and less pale sculpture. But I'm still learning all that...

Photo session by Thorleifr

What is the best tip you can give to others wanting to test this craft/material/technique?

Visit me for a private lesson!

I'd suggest purchasing a couple of good tools, learn how to keep them sharp. Get good ways to fix your piece of wood on the table or anything else. And get started on a piece of lime wood. Make sure you know about the correct direction to carve into the wood, otherwise it'll be messy.

Still wood life by Thorleifr

Are you selling your work?

I'd like to. Time is the main obstacle, but I shall find a way.

Thank you Thorleifr for participating and taking the time to answer my question!

Snekkja, backside by Thorleifr Paper to wood by Thorleifr Rohan Horse by Thorleifr Sigurd by Thorleifr
Heorot by Thorleifr Fafnir by Thorleifr Persepolis profile by Thorleifr Gothic stool by Thorleifr


I'd love to recive suggestions for next "victim" to interview! Note me with a link to the deviation you'd like to know more about and I'll contact the deviant.

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tatianka-ru's avatar
I'm the assistant to the editor-in-chief of the Woodcarving Magazine Tatianka, a magazine published in Russia.
Tatianka is the Russian woodcarving school, founded by my father Shamil Sasykov. Here you can see our woodworks - [link] .
We also produce woodcarving tools ([link]) and first russian woodcarving magazine Tatianka (has published since 2004). We write about woodcarving all over the world. We also publish master-classes (woodcarving lessons step by step), articles abour art, history of woodcarving, woodcarvers etc.
We were interested by Thorleifr's works. I offered him to write a master-class (step by step) about Snekkja. So He showed me your article ([link]). It's very interesting and informative. And I really want to publish it maybe with some additions about how-to-carve. I could translate it into Russian. Also I want to include your little autobiography with your portrait + your and Thorleifr's contact information.
I want to include your article in the special issue about ship carving. The issue will come out in the end of this autumn. I could send an author's copy to you.
I hope you will like my offer.

P.S. E-mail me on
DryadStudios's avatar
And another cheer for Jerome! :D :D
InKibus's avatar
Go, Jerome, go! That's wonderful! :applause:
elegaer's avatar
great interview!
Eyeprod's avatar
Congrats ThorleifR !! Very interesting interview! :D

cl2007's avatar
great and informative interview :clap:
georgiarose's avatar
Lorn6's avatar
:bulletblack::bulletyellow::bulletred: Magnifique ! ... :thumbsup:...:handshake:
CrysallisCreations's avatar

and that's all that I can say....
SunOwl's avatar
Simply stunning. :nod:
artistladysmith's avatar
awesome awesome work!!!
2dazed's avatar
WOW! Makes me wish I had a castle so I could hire them to come decorate the whole place. :)
StudioHarajuku's avatar
Fantastic, great to see the wips in there too.
Thebuild's avatar
Nice work, I am a huge fan of seeing WIP shots and hearing about how an artist goes about creating a piece.
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