【Workshop Review】 ‘Thinking Childishly From a Piece of Wood’ Masterclass


Minsheng Lecture

At 2 o’clock in the afternoon on May 28th, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum and PACC jointly organized a master class workshop. We are honored to invite Uruguay’s well-known woodcut artist Carlos Clavelli as the master lecturer and took an exploratory tour of more than 30 energetic and creative students from the Shanghai Art & Design Academy.

Carlos Clavelli, a Uruguay's famous woodcut artist, has focused on the design and production of small woodcut sculptures for 30 years. He has independently developed the design line of the ‘rural landscape’, which has a strong South American style and contemporary design sense. In 2014, he was awarded the title of ‘the most stylistically experienced person’ by the UNESCO World Council, and won the first prize of ‘Creative Design’  twice at the International Craft Fair in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Return the Complicated into the Simple

Carlos uses simple lines to create a street playful image of three men’s bodies twisted together

Carlos used a minimalist square and circle stitching to create an easy but not simple artistic beauty. The lines were fluent but not rigid. The arc-shaped cutting section shows proper tension and extension.

‘The design concept that I stick to is that I can absorb something from traditional culture, but I must pay attention to what the market I face need, and then combine those two together. I notice that because of the globalization, my customers prefer the architecture, the form or the shapes. That’s why my works share the round or the square.’


‘We use the form of workshops to design and produce the products; it is a measure to cope with the globalization, this industrial production, because studio design products will have more characteristics, which will be easier to recognize both in design and in craft.’

Carving Figurative Objects Using Abstract Thinking

A cute sheep living near the shore of Río de la Plata is coming towards you.

‘When we design a work, we first have to have an abstract concept for him. For example, what is a sheep composed of? The sheep actually consists of a spherical shape, and his head and his feet.’

The wood and leather made calves are watching at you silently.

‘When I was designing a cow, I always think it as a square. You can see this rectangle square. Then when starting to add something like the head or other body parts, I will use some small square designed objects.’

After the fantastic lecture by Carlos ended, the students raised questions to him.


Q1: I would like to ask how the idea of ​​converting the true image of a cow into an abstract image was formed.

A1: This is indeed a very complicated issue. First, I will force my brain to simplify the image. I observe the cow and feel the various outlines, where I found its bones and body are all very linear; so I ended up using a square to define the shape of the cow I saw. This was my original idea.

Q2: How long did it take for you to form this idea?

A2: The generation of this idea is difficult to measure with time, because it is not something that you can just sit in front of a table for a whole afternoon and come up with.. These thoughts were formed gradually. One day it may suddenly occurred to you that I would change this way. So it’s hard to say about the time. Of course there will be a process where you are constantly approaching the final product. When I have a clearer concept, I will begin to draw sketches. After I draw the sketches, I will observe them again, to examine the relationships between what I have drawn with the true living things or whether the cow I painted is coordinated or not; and then continuously revising, thinking, and finally I can slowly achieve that work.

Q3: Many students encounter several bottlenecks in the process of extracting cultural elements. For example, it would be difficult for them to express the cultural connotation, character relationship, or the core spirit. I would like to know if you have any teaching suggestions, or if you want to give some advice to students on learning.

A3: In the design, we can not only play the shape, but also join our ideas; that is to say, I can give my contemporary thought into the traditional form. For example, I have designed a dragon. This dragon does not have any similarity with the traditional one, but I only use the concept of dragon. I can also use The Forbidden City construction, like two central axes in a siheyuan. However, I won’t replicate the same palace, I just choose that representative element from the Chinese traditional culture.

For art, one hundred people will have one hundred different understandings, which is why we can see there are so many different styles of works; especially in China I have seen a lot of different styles of design work. Of course we can abstract some concepts to design our works, but if this is a design work, you should all remember that someone will definitely evaluate it and criticize it.

It is with this rational reflection that after the lecture, the teachers from Shanghai Art & Design Academy and Carlos taking full advantage of the education resources of Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, guided the students through a creative journey to discuss the design of woodcut sculptures. This masterclass workshop is a good combination of the practical module of Creative Courses and the Learning Programs of the art museum, inspiring students to think and solve problems from different aspects including woodcut art, product design, and visual expression, which not only analyzed a series of practical problems for the students, but also set up an off-campus platform to practice and reach outstanding artists.

Grandpa Carlos’s tutorial

Students are working hard on their own product design.

Intense discussion

Here are some feedbacks from students and teachers of Shanghai Art & Design Academy:

‘As a designer, I have to abstract the figurative things in our life, that is, to simplify. This is a complicated process. First, we must force our brain into a zone and grasp the most vivid point of that object and simplify to a couple of lines, so that the abstract effect of an item can be reflected succinctly and vividly through a few lines; and therefore the manuscript or model will seem more modernistic and dynamic.’
- Student Li Shuyu

‘After the Q & A session was over, we have some communications. And I found grandpa Carlos is really interesting and funny. I am amazed by his insights and understanding of life. I have a project that is related to logs. And he talked about the nature of logs and the history of his rings. He said, “If we add too many complicated functions to the log, also a grandpa, will he get tired?”’
- Student Yin Guangcai

‘To make things simple is a design ability. The process of this abstract creation is not something you can rely on the petty trick or hard working; you need to look for it in your life.’
- Student Xue Congcong

‘Traditional Chinese cultural stories are treasures of Chinese culture and arts creation. Students always seek inspiration from traditional culture, and then describe, express and illustrate them in modern art language. In this class, they also have the opportunity to place the traditional culture physical into wooden material. This just breaks the gap between different art categories and narrow the distance between contemporary art and the public.’
—Teacher Sun Lan

‘This combined teaching and learning activities between the college and the art museum, aims to guide and teach students from woodcut art, product design, and visual communication. Carlos’s lecture on woodcut art is a great inspiration and supplement to my ongoing lecture Traditional Cultural Story Wooden Fun Product Design Course. Facing the globalization, you can still be competitive only by making your own design work unique. Good at capturing the most essential characteristics of objects, this important abstract creative ability is an essential quality for designers. In addition, how to interpret and abstract cultural connotations and spiritual meanings from traditional cultural stories and placing contemporary thought fit in a traditional form is something that our students need to concentrate on and continue to explore through learning and practice.’
— Teacher Yang Sha