The Green Man

Many of you know that I have a thing for the Green Man. He’s one of my favourite sculptures to carve and I wanted to share what I know about this enigma with you.

So what do I mean by a Green Man?

Basically, a Green Man is a visual representation of a male head or face surrounded by, or made from, leaves. There are a few Green Women but they are quite rare, whereas Green Beasts (particularly cats and lions) are reasonably commonplace.

There are three different types of Green Man:

  1. A head where the whole face may be composed of a leaf or leaves (sometimes called a “foliate head” or “foliate mask”).
  2. A face with leaves, vines or branches sprouting from the mouth, nose, ears or even eyes (sometimes called a “disgorging” or “uttering” head).
  3. A head where the hair, eyebrows, moustache and/or beard may be made up of leaves, often bearing flowers or fruit.

Finally there is the quasi Green Man where the head is surrounded by foliage, but where the leaves are not actually part of the face.

What’s so special about the Green Man?

I remember the first time I saw a carving of a Green Man. It was in Gothic Image, a shop in Glastonbury High Street. I was intrigued and curious. The idea of a half man half tree (as I saw him) seemed half pagan – and yet like so many of our ancient beliefs – it had found its way into our great churches and cathedrals.

As I dug deeper into his history I realised how little we know about his true origins and who he really is supposed to be. Luke Mastin’s website is full of interesting facts and figures and well worth a look. But in short, his origins appear to be entwined with that of Dionysus (before that Roman god became associated with drunkenness). The Christian appearances I had spotted high on church roofs as I learned my craft in cathedral workshops were perhaps an astute political nod to the unacceptable tree-worshiping rituals of pre-Christians.

So perhaps it’s the ambiguity surrounding his origins and what he stands for that makes him so appealing. He can be all things to all people. On the one hand his greenness fits today’s environmentally aware mood and on the other hand there are lots of English pubs called The Green Man! He connects our past and our future.

How I carve The Green Man

This particular one was for my friend David Bowles, an artist and maker. It was to be a relief (flattened) version of the Green Man in this photo, which David had made.


I started by squaring up the picture on the stone memorial and establishing the points of contact – nose, cheeks, lips, chin etc, where these would be the finished planes of the carving.


The process is one of re-establishing the lines once the layers have been removed, until the basic shape is there.


And the final piece of the jigsaw is the irises. Easy to get wrong if the eyes aren’t in a 20/20 position or at least symmetrical.


I’m very happy to take on commissions and if there is a particular style of Green Man you are after then I can do drawings for your approval and once you are happy for me to proceed the carving will commence!





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