Sunday, October 29, 2006

Inspiration for woodturners

Last June, Fine Woodworking reported on a panel discussion, woodturning’s past, present, and future, at the American Association of Woodturners' 20th Annual Symposium.

David Heim, an associate editor at Fine Woodworking, later interviewed panelist David Ellsworth who said that “Turners are not using other art for inspiration, and that’s different from other crafts. Turners don’t have that kind of history,” he said, “only a history of looking at ourselves for inspiration.” He said it was “crucial to gain an awareness of other media.”

There is no doubt in my mind that the woodturning press is to some extent to blame for not promoting a broader depth of understanding of art to their readers. They always have how-to articles, projects, examples of work by other woodturners, and tool reviews, which is great for beginners but more importantly perhaps, their advertisers. But how often do they get to the nitty gritty of woodturning as art? Sometimes they will mention design, but seldom more than functionality and a few basics such as the golden rectangle. The only publication that goes beyond this to any extent is Turning Points, the quarterly publication of the Wood Turning Center.

I am sure it is no coincidence that the fall edition of American Woodturner carries an article titled "Inspiration for the Soul". I am no longer a subscriber so unfortunately I can't comment on the context, but I feel it must be a reaction to the proceedings at the symposium. They have however published a webpage of supplemental information which comprises pairs of photographs, one of a woodturning and one of the source of inspiration for it. It shows many sources, including geology, nature, drawings, photography, architecture, sculpture and various artifacts dating back 5000 years.

At first glance this seems to show that Ellsworth was wrong. But it is worth noting that these examples are all from well known woodturners. Maybe what makes them successful is their ability to be inspired by other visual works, and to use this inspiration in their own work without direct plagiarism.

There is really no excuse these days to not be able to find sources of inspiration from beyond the field of woodturning. Moving on from books and magazines, the internet has made available a huge array of images from which we might gain inspiration for a new work or series. Google Image Search is an obvious place to start, but you might also want to try photo-sharing sites such as Flikr, and stock photo sites such as Fotolia.

I like to browse these and other sites for interesting images, which I then save to my hard-drive in a folder. I have set-up the screensaver to display images from this folder, so that I am continuously reminded of them. And of course, I still keep the old-fashioned scrapbook of magazine clippings.

What does one do with all this visual information? Directly copying a form from one medium to another is one option, but do consider whether this could be construed as plagiarism. It might be that a new idea is born of different elements from many images. Color might come from one picture, form from another and surface texture from yet another. But really what one needs to do is learn to analyze what you see and to figure out what fundamental aspects of it appeals to you. You might then be able to create a new work without further reference to the original image.

However one proceeds, a pro-active approach is necessary, not only in finding inspiration, but also in understanding that is just as important to your development as an artistic woodturner as is learning how to use woodturning tools.

I am sure that this is a topic I will revisit often here on The ToolRest. It certainly raises lots of other points to me, but in the meantime I look forward to any comments you might have on this subject.

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Categories: design, influences, creativity, art

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hardening spalted wood

Spalted wood often looks very nice and can become the focal point of a decorative turning. The down side is that the spalting process often goes a little too far and the wood fibers become too soft to cut and finish cleanly.

The answer to this problem is to apply some sort of chemical treatment to the punky wood. Penturners might use thing cyano-acrylic glue, but on larger projects this might get quite expensive.

My favorite treatment is acrylic floor polish. I use Future Premium Floor Finish. Typically I will rough turn small items like bottle stoppers and weedpots and leave it in a jar full of floor polish for a day or so. Once the wood has been dried it can usually be worked just like normal wood. On larger pieces with patches of spalting the floor polish can be brushed on to the spalted areas. Keep the rotted fibers wet until no more polish will soak in.

Other products are available that have been specially formulated for the task. The Rockler Woodworking Blog recently reported on a two-part epoxy product suitable for Strengthening Spalted Wood and offered some advice regarding staining and finishing after use.

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Categories: finishing, wood, spalting

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Woodturning on YouTube

A number of woodturning videos have been added to YouTube recently, so I thought I would review some of them them here. (I have Basil the Donkey staying with me at the moment and he wanted to see some other woodturners in action.) I hope you all have broadband!

Wendy has a great little introduction to woodturning that you can show your friends if they don't know what you do in your workshop all day long. Y Gweithdy Cymraeg is a demonstration of spindle turning and shows a baby rattle being turned. I hope your Welsh is good, but it's lovely to listen to anyway.

Perhaps the most useful video for beginners is a series on bowl turning with J.T. Dunphy. In part 1 we see how a spalted maple log is prepared for the lathe and in part 2 the outside of the bowl is turned. Part 3 shows the inside of the bowl and how the blank is waxed ready for drying. Two months later, part 4 shows J.T. finishing the outside of the bowl. Director Chris Anderson says that part 5 is coming soon.

The StuIn Tokyo Channel has a few short videos based on what he learnt from Eli Avisera and demonstrates the bowl scraper, double-bevel bowl gouge and how to sharpen this gouge using a jig.

Taking a step back in time there is a demonstration at the Museum of London of a treadle lathe which is a reconstruction of one drawn by Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1480. Cranking up the pace now, Urban trash turns a pawn in 44 seconds - not really but it's an interesting piece of video.

A. B. Petrow shows a quick clip of turning a Parker style pen in stone on a wood lathe while this video has a different take on pen turning all together.

Do leave a comment and tell me which videos you liked the best.

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Categories: woodturning, video

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

On self-imposed rules

I was browsing around Myspace a while ago and found some ceramic work that resonated with me. I'm really drawn to this piece, no doubt because the form is so nearly make-able in wood on a lathe.

When I look at it I can't help but think about how I would make something like this, and how the difference in our mediums would alter the outcome. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to woodturning technique, probably to my detriment in terms of creating art. I like to work with one piece of wood with no glue-ups that would interfere with the grain pattern. So for me this would have to be one solid piece of wood, maybe hollowed out a little under the lid. I would have to make the lid finial as a separate piece, but that somehow seems to be ok in my self-imposed rule set. I would likely use a contrasting wood for this. The grooves in the middle section would have to run all the way to the edge. Other than that, I think it would be possible to make a form like this in wood and adhere to my rules. Making it as an assemblage would be much easier.

Not that I plan to run off and copy this, I just find it interesting how the different methods of working would change the outcome. It has also got me thinking about how silly some of the rules are that I have created for my work over the years, and wonder if it is time to start breaking them.

Do you have any rules like this which might be holding you back? Or are these rules what makes our work unique?

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Transforming Vision: William Hunter reports on this exhibition at the Long Beach Museum of Art in California:

"Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Hunter led the field as the medium evolved from its foundations in traditional woodturning practices to its emergence as a vehicle for artistic invention and formal experimentation".

Transforming Vision presents a retrospective of sculptor William Hunter's work from 1970 - 2005. It opens on Friday with a symposium "Turning Wood Into Art" which is sponsored by the Collectors of Wood Art who are also planning other events for the weekend.

The exhibition will be on tour until 2008 so you also have the opportunity to see it at the Oakland Museum of California, the Mobile Museum of Art in Mobile, Alabama, the Wood Turning Center in Philadelphia and at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts. Accompanying the exhibition will be a 128-page, fully illustrated catalogue with a major essay on Hunter’s work and its role in advancing contemporary wood sculpture.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pfeifer and Flynn on collaboration

As regular readers of the ToolRest will know, Liam Flynn and Hilary Pfeifer took part in the ITE this year. They worked together on some collaborative pieces and thanks to Vincent Romaniello you can watch some video where they discuss the collaborative process and how they feel about it.

The video starts with Albert LeCoff talking about the collaboration as the Wood Turning Center sees it. Unlike a piece being passed from one person to another, collaboration at the ITE results from artists sharing their work and living space for several weeks and ideas going back and forth on an on-going basis.

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