Anyone can begin to carve elegant pieces from wood providing they have a set of proper tools. After all, it would take quite a talent to carve a piece of art with a butter knife. As with any tool, assembling an arsenal will greatly benefit the job.
The first purchase that should be made, and arguable the most important is a set of carving gloves. I highly encourage anyone serious about carving to get a set. They are made of kevlar and often have rubber or plastic grips. These will drastically reduce the risk of serious cuts.
The next purchase should be a basic set of palm tools. These tools have a teardrop shaped handle that fits perfectly in the palm. A beginners set will usually have six or seven palm tools with different shaped blades. Each shape will carve a specific indention in the wood. Consider purchasing blade protectors for these. Blade protectors are usually made of foam. They will prevent your saw blades from wearing down. When the blades are worn down, sharpening them can get expensive, since the shapes of the blade are very unique.
The next investment should be a set of wood carving knives. The knives are used for whittling or scoring, and as such should have a fairly long handle. Choose a knife with a decently sized blade. Many that I have seen are too small for some projects.
A Leather Strop can be used to sharpen some of the blades as needed. These can be fairly difficult to come by at times, but several are available online.
Armed with several wood carving tool types, anyone can begin to make very ornate creations. In many ways these simple tools represent a long practiced craft of molding a medium from nature into a spectacular work of art.