Sunday, October 31, 2010


I had a desire recently to create a sculptural piece which combines a few of the natural elements which surround us. I decided on wood ( my primary medium) along with metal and stone. With this in mind I had to somehow combine these three elements into a small sculptural piece of art.

Typically, I use what I have available in my studio for smaller works unless I absolutely have something else in mind which demands other material. A little searching through my inventory of materials, I found what I needed. Metal rod, some stone pieces, and a very nice fairly hefty piece of figured big leaf maple.

These materials have specific dimensions associated with them, so the next phase is how to combine these materials into a sculpture which brings forward the vision I have in mind. The vision is to somehow demonstrate how three different elements can come together cohesively. A few sketches and design iterations later, and it came to me on how to put this all together. Next came the technical aspect of the creation, how to attach three completely different elements together as well as sculpting the main wood body into the desired shape.

The result is above and judging from initial feedback I have received, it is not bad as a sculpture. I enjoyed the process of designing and creating this particular sculpture as it presented some challenges to my skill set. This is the first time I have combined these particular three elements into one piece and hopefully I will be able to use this experience to continue exploration into these alternative mediums.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Slice Of Nature

I recently decided to create a small sculpture and wanted to maintain the characteristics of the woods as much as I could. I like to work with woods I have on hand and in this case I had a small block of beautifully colored and figured mesquite and a chunk of blackwood available to me. The blackwood had a live edge ( very light bark still there) so it made for an interesting contrast with the dark portion of the wood. The mesquite had an interesting characteristic in that it had existing fissures and cracks which somehow made the wood more appealing to work with. Since the theme of the sculpture slowly evolved into "A Slice Of Nature" I thought it best to maintain as many of the characteristics of the two woods as possible.

I decided to use the mesquite as the base of the sculpture and the chunk of blackwood as the upper part. A few sketches later and a rough vision of the intended sculpture began to emerge. Since the sculpture was to be as natural as possible I minimized the shaping which needed to be done to merge these blocks of wood together. The blackwood with live edge depicts a slice of the tree ( bark included) and the mesquite base (with cracks and fissures) depicts the particular mesquite tree ( warts and all) used in this sculpture.

The finish is thinned shellac to maintain the natural tones and colors of the woods. Each time I stare at this sculpture I think of the tree the blackwood originated from and the great contrast between the figured mesquite and staid blackwood above. The blackwood with live edge brings home the fact that this piece of wood is straight from a tree.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hidden Treasure

Recently I tasked myself with creating a sculpture for an upcoming exhibition in a gallery I am a member of, a piece which would blend in with the theme of the exhibition, "Little Gems". The inspiration of creating art is often hit or miss, great inspiration appears in view or no inspiration for a while. Having an exhibition theme to work with helps the process of deriving inspiration. I slowly began to sketch out some possibilities for this sculpture with the theme in mind. Since I intended to create the work with some interesting, unusual wood I have on hand, this also became a criteria for the piece. A few iterations back and forth between sketch, drawing and approximate size and suddenly the piece I had in mind began to take shape.

I like to work with contrasting woods and with this in mind the sculpture slowly began to take shape. This particular sculpture is composed of three pieces which need to mate correctly. I very often utilize non-standard angles and curves in my work so part of the process is to device ingenious methods to attach the pieces of the sculpture together. Having done this, the rough sculpture slowly evolves into a fine, polished sculpture. The sculpture is named "Hidden Treasure" and depicts a gem or diamond hidden or captured between dark walls. The gem itself is of curly maple whereas the walls are of cocobolo. I enjoyed the process of creating this sculpture and look forward to creating more of this type of work.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wall cabinets...cont'd

I last wrote that I was completing a second identical wall cabinet. This has been done since with not too much difficulty. The difficulty was raising the cabinets to the proper height for attaching to the walls. I devised a setup utilizing my rolling shop cart and a spacer which consisted of a wood crate that happened to be very close to the correct height. The rolling cart has lockable casters and this helped considerably. The cabinets are quite heavy since they are mainly composed of baltic birch ply although I lightened some components by using solid poplar and cherry shelving and the doors are fairly light in comparison to the cabinet. I snapped the picture at an angle to display the reinforced corner joinery which consists of long screws capped with contrasting wood plugs. The corner joints are rabbeted and glued together.

I decided to apply light , thinned tung oil to the cherry door frames to both protect the joinery from any moisture change and to keep the wood from staining and attracting dirt. These frames will slowly develop a nice aged cherry look with a patina. My next challenge was attaching the cabinets to the different walls. I gave some consideration to the weight of the cabinets and the tools I would be placing in them and decided on a mounting rail. The mounting rail is installed in the interior of the cabinets at the very top where the top and back intersect. I used hardwood cherry for this and glued and screwed it to the cabinet through the top and then attached the cabinet through the cherry mounting rail to the wall studs using large wood screws. I also screwed the back into the wall studs along the length of the back.

I like to remove any doubt as to the strength of the hanging cabinets as you can see. On the other cabinet I also installed a hardwood cherry cleat below the cabinet and into the wall studs for additional strength but realized afterwards it was not really necessary. It was enjoyable making these cabinets and I now have so much more room for small tools and hardware in my studio. It's great when everything works out as planned!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wall cabinets...

In the past two days I have been working on two wall cabinets for my studio. The cabinets are intended for small tools , marking gauges, small hardware and odds and ends. There is never enough cabinet space for all this, as I'm sure many of you can attest to. My final design is based on a certain depth, width and height of the cabinets. There are existing wall mounted cabinets in the studio and as part of the criteria I wanted these to be of the same approximate width and height size only deeper. This was arrived at by using the maximum depth allowable without the cabinet interfering with any activity I might be performing nearby. I also opted to have two doors on each of the cabinets instead of one wider door, this made much more sense and would eliminate any issues with wide, swinging doors interfering with anything close by.

I will build two of these cabinets since I would eventually need another and the extra effort in creating a second cabinet is far less when they are made at the same time. The cabinet itself is assembled with dimensionally stable baltic birch plywood. The joinery is rabbets in the corners reinforced with plugged screws. The shelves ( 2 per cabinet) are housed in dadoes within each of the side panels. I applied solid cherry edging to the functional edges of the baltic birch plywood primarily for aesthetic reasons since I intend to have the door frames of solid cherry. These cabinets were designed and created with a small budget in mind, and since they are somewhat utilitarian I did not want to spend needless amounts on top grade wood. In fact, I used some cherry seconds I had in my lumber pile.

The door panels are thinner baltic birch pieces. I cut the best pieces from a larger piece of baltic birch ply for these panels, focusing on the lighter colour and appealing graphics to complement the cherry frame. The panels are inset into grooves in both the rails and stiles. The door frames are assembled using dowels. I took extra time to select better grain orientations for the long stiles to eliminate any twist possibly causing the doors to warp. I also installed solid edging on the shelf fronts to create a uniform cherry appearance once the cabinet doors are opened.I decided to use piano hinges to attach the doors to the cabinet since I already had a few of the piano hinges and I wanted both cabinets to be identical. More on the cabinets and I will have a photo of one of the cabinets mounted on a studio wall once the second cabinet is completed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Design revivals...

I occasionally research previous furniture and design styles to develop a better perspective of the evolution of design over the centuries. I often read that much today has already been done before, and after seeing some good examples of early decorative art and period furniture, I find some truth in this old adage. My favorite influential maker is George Hepplewhite and the associated furniture of his era. Furniture of the late 18th century has been mostly characterized by Chippendale and the cabriole leg design element. George Hepplewhite, however, is much less written about and known, and was characterized by the slight, tapered legs of his furniture and lightness and delicacy of his pieces. A considerable amount of 20th century furniture has been derived from this late 18th , early 19th century period and in particular the makers Chippendale and Hepplewhite. American Federal style furniture had its origins in the Hepplewhite style. Much of the design elements of this particular period have made their way into furniture of the past century. This can be considered a "revival" of a previous style in time, but I like to think of it as simply embracing design elements which were and continue to be pleasing to the eye.

When I flip through examples of furniture and decorative art representative of previous periods and styles, it is easy to see what worked and what didn't work. The design elements which are pleasing and well-proportioned are carried into later periods, whereas the not so pleasing styles typically die off. Another trend which I notice is how previous styles of furniture are sometimes renounced and discarded only to be replaced with a radically different style of furniture. We see this very same phenomenon today in everything ranging from fashion, automobiles, and continue to see it in furniture styles and decorative art. A "revival" of a previous period, style of furniture, or decorative art then occurs, much like what occurs in the fashion world today.The reason I raise this is that this is something to consider for designers and furniture makers today. We all have our favorite style as makers, but it may be important to incorporate proven design elements in our designs, the elements which have demonstrated the most success over the past few centuries. Since what we are designing is often derived from a previous style or work, it makes more sense to derive elements from the successful styles of furniture or decorative art.

I'm a big fan of clean, simple lines with minimal adornment, although I like to incorporate some inlay and color into my work. The inlay work sparks my creativity and in a strange way provides me the impetus to complete the furniture so as to add the inlay detail. I can relate the piece of furniture to a large canvas and the inlay is the artwork. Other makers might define themselves through another feature on their work, perhaps some carving or marquetry. George Hepplewhite often distinguished his work with added inlay. A large proportion of Hepplewhite and Federal style furniture is inlaid with the exotic woods which had come into popularity by the late part of the 18th century and early 19th century. The work in the photo is representative of my minimal adornment philosophy.