I'm new to relief carving. At left is my first attempt, thanks to a tutorial in Richard Bütz's book How to Carve Wood. In it are chapters on tools, sharpening, woods & finishes, design, whittling, chip carving, relief carving, wildlife carving, lettercarving (he uses a different technique than I do), and architectural carving. There are lots of photos and illustrations that clearly explain his process.
All I knew about relief carving before reading his book was that the same principle in lettercarving—where you carve from shorter grain to longer grain, so the wood you are cutting is supported underneath the cut—still applies. This reduces tearout. However, tearout can still result from dull tools.
This October, I'm traveling to Juarez, Mexico with a group from my church where we'll build a home in 3 days for an impoverished family. 3 days! And this includes pouring concrete. The organization that sponsors these home-builds has it down to an art, so I trust we'll finish in time.
A Presbyterian church in El Paso, Texas is cooking meals for us while we're there and I wanted to give them something in return for their hospitality, so I plan to carve a Celtic cross. This will be a challenge for me, so I'm starting now—well in advance of our departure date.
That way, if all I create is fireplace fodder, there's still time to order them a gift.