I might have discussed this before, but I don't remember. Even if I did, it needs to be discussed again.
When I first began to whittle and/or carve, I always envied those experienced carvers who could carve a piece exactly the same as the pattern. I always kind of felt less of my work if it did not look just like the pattern, drawing, or illustration that I used as my "model". In fact one of my early goals was to learn to be able to reproduce a carving exactly as the model looked. I won't say that I have not met that goal. However, I have discovered that I enjoy the journey of whittling so much more when I am surprised at the results. Maybe I am just rationalizing that I like it better when I discover a slightly different, unplanned for, expression on Santa's face than what the "model" had. I don't feel less about what I whittle/carve any more if my finished piece doesn't look exactly the same as my sketch. When folks ask me to whittle several Santa pins or ornaments the same, I tell them I cannot do that. I tell them that each one will be unique, and that means that they will be different. Some times I "smart off" and tell them that I'm not a 3-D copy machine.
I like best to start out whittling, with only a piece of wood sized to what I have in mind to whittle. I may draw a few reference lines on the wood before I start, but that's about it. Some times I'll scroll saw a blank, if the piece does not lend itself to a plain block or piece of wood as a starting point.
Whittling, to me, always will be a fun experience. I will do anything to keep it a fun experience. When I see someone refer to a carving/whittling as "work" I have a supressed laugh. Work indeed!