Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NICHE Awards 2013 Finalist...

I received an early Christmas present this year. In the past few days I have been notified that I am a Finalist in my "Wood" category at the prestigious NICHE Awards 2013. This is welcome news as the NICHE Awards have long been considered a highly regarded jurying process for both established and emerging artists and artisans. So I received my Awards package this week and as part of the package I have been invited to the  Buyer's Market of Art and Craft in Philadelphia in February, 2013. NICHE holds an award presentation as part of this Buyer's Market of Art and Craft and a Winner in each category is selected from the 5 Finalists. The jury is a renown group of Gallery owners and influential artisans in their own right.

I'm kind of excited about this as I don't know where it will lead. One previous Finalist and Winner mentioned to me that this event is like the Oscars for arts and crafts people. I can live with this! I am planning to attend this Awards presentation and am looking forward to meeting the NICHE people as well as other artists ,artisans  and Gallery owners from all over the US and Canada. I'll post more information as the date gets closer.

Other news. I have just completed a massive update of a Woodworking Course I had designed and created many years ago. The new version can be downloaded and is composed of video lectures. Many weeks of work have been spent on this project but I am very satisfied with the results.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dynamic Design...

Over the past two years,I have come to use a new term in my design philosophy. The term, "dynamic design", allows me to modify a design to adapt to circumstances, for either technical considerations, or for purely aesthetic reasons. This is a term I have coined to describe how design doesn't necessarily need to be cast in stone but instead can be modified as a project progresses. The changes I refer to can be either subtle changes or large scale changes. One of the meanings for the word "dynamic" from the American Heritage Dictionary.

dy·nam·ic - Characterized by continuous change, activity, or progress.

As my wood art or studio furniture is being handcrafted, sometimes the design I originally envisioned can be improved at different stages, or the original design can remain as is. Having this flexibility provides a continuous excitement for the wood artist or studio furniture maker along with the benefit of improvising on the original design after seeing the wood art at various intermediary stages. An excellent example is the hall table design in some earlier posts. I had chosen to invert the base of the table for both aesthetic and technical reasons. Not to say the original design of the maquette would not have worked, inverting it just simplifies a design dilemma for me and introduces a new aesthetic to the piece. After creating the maquette, I realize I needed to have a fairly stable, strong sub-base to be able to support the V-shaped arch, whereas inverting the base utilizes the points of the arches as legs. Often, we become fixated on a particular design and don't bother seeking out alternatives which often stare us right in the face.

  Case in point, I have been creating a new design for a smaller wood object, and as part of my philosophy I strive to use as many materials in my possession as possible, without continuously sourcing new material for the components. Working with material at hand sometimes limits what I can do, but on the other hand challenges me to work within certain constraints, in this case certain materials. So here I have an instance of what I like to call "dynamic design", sometimes the beauty of a design is also in its simplicity. Simplicity is one of the tenets of the minimalism philosophy. I have to admit that I am a fan of "minimalism", and have read one book on the subject so far. You tend to gain a different perspective on design after being exposed to the philosophy of minimalism.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hall Tables...

I've begun work on a pair of contemporary styled hall tables. They will serve as either hall tables or console tables depending on the application. These pieces are purely speculative and therefore I have the liberty of pursuing some designs I've had in my mind for a while now. The overall dimensions of either of the tables is similar but they differ in style. One of the hall tables incorporates curves in the legs and top whereas the second table has angular features. After some experimentation with sketches, drawings and small models I finalized the designs. I purposely designed these tables to have different styling from each other whereas the aesthetic I am following is similar for the most part. In other words, the hall tables are not very radically different. 

I'm combining both metal and wood in these designs which greatly appeals to me. I could easily substitute the metal components with wood if I so choose in subsequent versions of these tables. I thought to see how this combination works as I have had reasonable success combining wood and metal before. The woods I use are also quite different. In the first photo, the tabletop and leg components of the curved table are cherry whereas in the second table the table top and leg components are mahogany. You can also see the curved profile of the cherry tabletop above and the angular profile of the mahogany tabletop to the left. I also use some wenge for detail. I would say I am 75% complete at this point and should have everything complete in a matter of days. I also took the liberty to begin finishing the first of these hall tables, the cherry version. In the second photo I am scraping the bevelled edges of the mahogany table top. I will post photos of the completed hall tables in a few days.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

French polishing...

I tend to use hand tools in my studio for the most part. Hand tools, when used effectively, impart a finish on woods which bring out the natural lustre of the surface. With this in mind, I should really carry this philosophy over to the finishing component of my work. I like to use hand-applied finishes for finishing. There are a few reasons for this and health and safety concerns are high up on the list. The main reason however is the clarity and depth that hand-applied finishes provide. My favourite film finish is shellac. You can't get a more natural film finish than shellac since it is derived from the lac bug and not man-made. Applying shellac however is altogether an art in itself. Shellac has been used as a finish for hundreds of years and only in the early 20th century was it replaced with modern day commercial type finishes. Modern spray finishes were developed to speed the finishing process.

The traditional method of applying shellac is to use the French Polish method. This involves laying down hundreds of micro thin coats of shellac using considerable elbow grease. The micro thin coats are gradually built up , then levelled and finally a process called polishing is used to acquire the mirror finish which French Polished finishes are known for. I've been quite intrigued by how this technique has remained the same over the centuries. It is a technique that was originally developed for musical instruments because the thinner, somewhat flexible finish aids in the accurate transmission of sound. Shellac finishes also bring out the depth and color of woods in a way that other film finishes do not. Other film finishes tend to obscure the underlying wood because they usually have a high amount of solids in them. The high amount of solids aids build up a finish quickly, something not necessary when hand applying shellac using the French Polish process. The French Polish process can take days to complete as it involves multiple sessions and the curing times in between so you need to have patience with this.

I don't use this process in all my work, but when I am using special woods in a piece I am creating; this clarity and deep finish is well justified. In the photo above, I am half-way through a French Polishing session and snapped this cool photo showing the already highly reflective properties of the finish.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Custom art...

As I discussed in my previous post, I was working on a couple of custom jewelry chests which have now been completed. I have posted a photo of one of the completed jewelry chests below. A while ago I had the opportunity to receive a challenging commission. This commission consisted of a fairly large wall art installation. The overall dimensions arrived at were approximately 8 ft wide and 32 inches high. The wall art was intended to be the focal point of a long wall in the living area of a home. The clients wanted something different and interesting, in a modern, contemporary style. Through a few exchanges of sketches and drawings with the clients, we arrived at a design the client was very happy with.

The initial step after the design process was to create a maquette or small scale model of the art. This is something I enjoy doing as it is fairly straightforward and provides a fairly accurate representation and 3-D view of the art. Otherwise, I am limited to perspective drawings which are great but limited in accurately representing the depth and relationship of components within the art. The initial maquette developed from initial sketches is above and we worked from this to refine the design. It can be seen that there are more tubular components in this maquette than in the next photo. The next photo represents the woods selected as well as some of the components necessary to attach the woods together to create the design. The clients were seeking a fairly unique piece of art for their wall and we decided on unusual woods for the larger components. This choice of wood was ash with intense spalting. The middle wood was bocote which served to contrast well with the very light, spalted ash top and bottom pieces. The dark bocote also brought the dark streaks in the spalted ash together in the art.

 The orientation of the pieces and the resulting offset layout form the basis for the modern, contemporary design. Offsetting the outside pieces allowed the components to span a greater width while forming the unique design. The design itself is kind of light and accentuates the negative space of the wall itself. The art is not smothering the wall but instead forms a series of light components joined together very minimally with tubular metal.

To the left is a photo of one of the completed jewelry chests I had the opportunity to work on very recently. The mahogany exterior has developed a beautiful colour quite naturally. I don't use stain and simply prepare and finish the mahogany. The mahogany colour will deepen slightly more over time further developing the classic reddish-brown colour often associated with mahogany. The cherry interior has also developed a nice tone. The contrasting wenge handles, through careful grain selection, become black with application of finish.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Smaller work...cont'd

I had the opportunity to snap more photos of the ongoing jewelry chest build. Test fitting is a large component in the process of creating these jewelry chests. There are numerous components that come together either in a mitered corner or a rabbeted corner. With this in mind, I make extensive use of shooting boards to trim these small components. The components consist mainly of drawer, compartment and tray dividers as well as the actual trays and drawers. Each of the pieces needs to be individually fitted after preliminary trimming. The interior of these chests is solid cherry and I make sure to use straight-grained rift sawn wood for the most part. I have been most successful with this cut of wood and find anything else tears and splinters easily. Since the tolerances are low in fitting these components... I like to have very clean cuts.

In the first photo I am test fitting the chest sides, front, back and top together. The sides have mitered and reinforced corners so absolute accuracy is a must. I also have the solid mahogany top inserted and trim this to allow for a consistent reveal between the chest and lid. Also, since the lid floats I pin it at the center allowing for equivalent movement. The band clamp I use is great for this purpose since it can be adjusted with one hand while I align the parts together. At this time the edges of the chest are square and will be next shaped and rounded over as part of the design. I have also designed and built chests similar to this with square edges and contrasting banding installed. So we can say this juncture is where this jewelry chest morphs into a rounded edge chest. Also important is to ensure that the chest remains square, that is opposing diagonals are exactly the same length. This is incredibly important since the interior component joinery accuracy hinges on the chest being absolutely square.

One of the next steps is to create and install the carved wenge handles. I have one handle for the lid and another for the lower drawer. Again, accuracy is kind of important in this step in that the handles need to be matched in shape and size as well as their position aligned along the front of the chest. Creating these wenge handles involves a considerable amount of hand shaping. I've been fairly successful with this jewelry chest design and I am glad to say it now spans three decades. I'll post a photo or two of the completed chests soon.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Smaller work...

I periodically receive requests for custom jewelry chests. These are designs I created a few years ago and have been fairly successful at making these over the years. Creating these jewelry chests allows me to work at a different, smaller scale. The jewelry chests are composed of many small parts which need to be assimilated together in a harmonious way. The small parts involve much fitting and I typically use a couple of shooting boards for this part. The shooting boards are set up on two different benches. One shooting board is set up for mitered work, the other for trimming ends of small parts.

Although these jewelry chests are small in comparison to full scale furniture, the time and effort involved in making these can often be greater due to the many different components involved. An analogy I like to use is that they are miniature pieces of furniture. I enjoy making these occasionally as it allows me to utilize different skills and techniques I don't often use for larger scale work. As an example, the fitting of the trays, and drawer. Although the parts are initially cut to size,there is detailed trimming necessary. The dimensions I use have been fairly standardized at this point but because many of the components are so small in scale, there is precision trimming to perform.

I'm currently working on a couple of these chests and they are at 75% completion in my opinion. I need to install carved wenge handles, line the inside of the lid and then begin the methodical finishing process. The complete process is an interesting one as everything takes shape within a few cubic inches. The best part of creating these is there is not very much wood involved and I can therefore focus on locating and purchasing high quality woods. These particular chests have a figured mahogany exterior , dark wenge handles and cherry interior.

In the first photo the raw mahogany can be seen with the deep, dark reddish brown colour it attains after prolonged exposure to light. This is the wood prior to preparation for the two jewelry chests. I have simply marked and cut pieces out for each of the chests as well as the solid mahogany tops. The photo directly above shows the two chests at 75% completion and the mahogany can be see to be much lighter. The colour darkens over time as does the colour of the cherry interior. I will post photos of the completed chests soon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Different directions...

It has been a while since I last posted... due to different projects I have been involved with. These projects have ranged from installation work, a couple of custom jewelry chests, and some art work. The diversity of these projects keeps both my interest and motivation stirring. The common denominator with all this is of course...wood. I'm giving a presentation on myself and my work in the next few months and already it has caused me to reflect on how I began my journey of working with wood. Interesting how we never seem to think about the journey until we're asked to chronicle it. I also need to talk about the passion for wood I developed over the past decades and its origins. What seed was planted for me to begin this lifelong passion of working with wood. I think I'll slowly take notes whenever a good thought enters my mind about this, or an interesting event that occurred during the journey.

Aside from this I have been slowly developing my WoodSkills web site and adding content to it. I've always been a project oriented person and embrace the challenges that go along with some projects. WoodSkills is all about individual projects for me and I am enjoying developing the site and content.

For the longest time I learned to develop good methods of work, that is efficient, productive methods to gain the most and highest quality of work within the time periods I spend in my studio.

Today I spend an equivalent amount of time learning to understand how diversity of work keeps my excitement piqued. Routine, monotonous work.. although it is comfortable and is relatively stress-free, is not my calling. I probably speak for many artistic people as well as myself, need to have variety in the work and art we create. Often, simply alternating from one project to another is sufficient, or alternating between projects once they are completed.

I have also been experimenting with finishes and perfecting a modified French Polish type of finish. I take the best of the original concept and introduce modern methods to arrive at the same or similar result. The French Polish finish has been a challenge for me for the longest time. Much experimentation and a good dose of research have led me to develop a finishing technique I can successfully replicate each and every time. The best part is that it remains largely a hand-applied finish...maybe we can call it a neo-French Polish technique?

Friday, January 20, 2012

New designs...

I've spent time recently sketching some new designs for furniture. What I like to do is put pencil
to paper and just let the creative juices flow. Ideas beget ideas and the iterative process of fleshing out an appealing furniture design begins. Some of these ideas will be technically challenging but I don't let these details get in the way of the initial sketching. The existing skill set of a furniture maker can influence the designs they create. I strive to avoid this influence and instead concentrate on the design aspect. The skills and knowledge needed can be seen as a challenge, but maybe this is what drives us to be better furniture makers. Staying in the comfort zone of creating work you are technically familiar can keep you from developing new skills and knowledge.

I'm not going to get into these particular designs as I have yet to draw them in both orthographic and perspective views. I'll pick and choose from the sketches and continue to render the designs into drawings. Of course, the material comes into play and this can influence the design somewhat. For example, if I intend to use wood with particular graphics on a cabinet door, the dimensions of the material (wood) can limit the size of the door(s) especially if the door is a frameless design. Door size then impacts the width and height of a cabinet.

This brings up the debate about beginning a design with particular wood(s) in mind or to focus purely on the design and worry about materials afterwards. In reality, it is a bit of both, I design with material in mind but somehow work the proportions of the furniture around the availability of this wood. The primary objective, however, is the implementation of the design. Substitute woods can always be acquired if necessary.

Once I've finalized the design(s), I move on to creating a maquette for each of the designs; the miniature renderings of the furniture. This part is actually fun and gives a better idea of the proportions and how the individual components of the furniture piece work with and are scaled to one another. In the end, the design of the furniture needs to be in harmony and balanced although not necessarily symmetric in form. With the price of wood nowadays, it becomes increasingly important to get these designs right.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Holiday writing...

With the year end having just passed, I spent most of my free time writing. This is between dinners and family and friend get togethers. People I know were coming and going, leaving on trips... a nice time of year overall and an opportunity to catch up with friends. The writing I refer to is a highly detailed tutorial on building a display cabinet. In this tutorial I cover every aspect of designing and creating such a cabinet with all the techniques and knowledge I have accumulated. There is a considerable amount of photography and sequences in the tutorial. It is almost complete.. and I'm getting excited about getting it out there.

On another positive note, I read the economy is improving. I guess people are getting tired of all this recession talk. As all cyclical economies go, we might have crested bottom and be on an upturn. This bodes well for the woodworking community, tool makers, machinery makers and wood suppliers. I also see a continued movement towards hand tools, although it is tempered with a mix of both machinery and hand tools. The realization that using hand tools is very often not much slower than setting up a power tool is less and less of an impediment to hand tool use. Advantages such as no noise, no dust and the need for smaller workspaces make hand tool use more and more appealing in this new era of smaller homes, smaller budgets and more awareness of environmental concerns.

I also spent some time acquiring some interesting wood. I like to hand pick the boards I use in my furniture pieces and often seek out either clean, straight grained wood or wood with interesting graphics, figure, colors, and tones. It really depends on the application. In the past few years I tend to place more and more emphasis on the woods which will form the furniture as well as the design of the furniture piece.