Luthing update! (If "luthing" isn't a word, it should be.)
I've forgotten to bring my camera for the last couple of work sessions, but progress has been slow enough that there aren't many narrative holes to fill. Basically, I got two wedges of spruce (cut from the same trunk so that the grain lines are mirrored), planed the thin edges, and glued them together with hide glue--these pieces will eventually form the front face plate. Then I planed one side of the (now-unified) piece. (The other side was left uneven, which doesn't matter, as it will be carved away.)
I used a pencil to trace the rough shape of the plate, giving my template a wide birth of a couple of centimeters--to offset any potential bandsaw accidents--and then cut around it. That brings us to the point where I picked it up this morning:
...the point that I'd been waiting for...because, finally, it was gouge time. (I would, at this point, do the Gouge Dance, but let's face it--that's just dangerous.) It's my favorite tool, and facilitates my favorite parts of the process--the energetic and dramatic ones.
Having used a compass to trace a 6-mm line all the way around the thin edge of the plate-to-be, I gouged from that line in, toward the center, always cutting upwards in order to leave plenty of wood for the steep convexity that's so important to the look and sound of the instrument.
Once you figure out how to identify and work with the direction of the grain on the various curves and angles, the wood flows around the blade in a really satisfying way: smoothly, but with the subtle, rippling texture of resistance--like riding a bicycle on a newly-paved road, or ripping a piece of silk.
(Of course, until you get in the groove, this process still has its share of difficulties.)