I like the look of wood grain. Part of carving and sculpting in wood is to use the natural grain to enhance the look of your work and be part of what you want to express. I do not paint pieces where the grain adds character. Not to go into an article on wood species for carving, but some woods like stag-horn sumac have great character and can contain green, white and an amazing selection of browns in the same piece. Sumac tends to be small and it can be hard and difficult to carve. I carve it when it is still a little green. Sumac looks nice unpainted as do many wood species that have grain that stands out and is visually pleasing.
Part of the course on wood sculpture I took when I started carving dealt with what the visual effect the grain would would produce when making different cuts into the piece. We had small test pieces of wood with distinctive grain to make test cuts to see the effect. We were then given a project piece to study the grain. After sketching our design and planing our work so the grain would enhance the outcome and expression we were allowed to begin work. Evaluation of the sculpture’s design, use of positive and negative space, movement in space and the effective use of the medium (wood grain) followed completion.
Some wood, like basswood and white pine, do not have a lot of character grain wise. They are nice species to work with being easy to carve and especially nice when doing caricatures. Painting can add a lot to caricature created in basswood and pine. Caricatures are fun and there is some fantastic work out there. There is nothing wrong with painting pieces made from wood species that lack distinctive grain. It all depends if the wood species has character, and what you want out of the piece. I pride myself on carving and I once overheard some people discussing the look of some ceramic figurines while actually looking at some wonderfully hand carved and painted caricatures at an art show. That was over 20 years ago and I have never forgotten it.
Paint or not – Your choice