I’m a big fan of Grinling Gibbons and the style of 3D relief carving he popularized in the late 1600s. He was a master of fooling your eye into believing that you were looking real leaves, flowers, fruit, and vines in his carvings.
A modern artist has developed a similar style, as you can see in the photo of the vase. Nairi Safaryan and his daughter, Larisa, have a studio where they create some pretty amazing pieces.
For me, the most difficult part of carving is being able to visualize the final result. Some people have that gift. I, on the other hand, have to work really hard at it. I have yet to overcome my fear of removing too much material and ruining the carving. If you can visualize the end result, you can be ruthless about cutting away the “negative space” until you hone in on the finished surface.
When I took carving classes, I was somewhat surprised at how there are only a few fundamental “rules” about carving. The most important lesson for me was how to read the grain and “feel” how it cuts. I quickly learned how to avoid tearing out large chunks with my knife or gouges. But what was even more impressive about carving was how relaxing it is and how fast time flies. And it gives you skills you can use in other woodworking projects.
If you’ve ever had the slightest interest in carving, I encourage you to go to the web and search for local carving clubs. Chances are pretty good you’ll find someone there that can recommend a good teacher. You’ll be glad you did.