Wood

One of my lifelong passions is art. Ever since Sister Flora introduced me to drawing and coloring in the fourth grade I have pursued art. Grammar school training is all I ever had, but like Abe Lincoln, I taught myself using a pencil. Today, we call it doodling. Along the way I bought a few self help books on figure drawing and used them as my guide. Drawing the human form is a big challenge. Once a person knows the proportions of the anatomy drawing is a little easier.

My color media consists of Crayons, colored pencil, water-color, pastel, charcoal, food coloring, tempera, and oil. When I color my cartoons I use color pencils. More recently, I have used spray paints for backgrounds. About thirty years ago, I enrolled in a Junior College art class and lasted one semester, but learned a lot about the creative process. I also took drafting in high school, and college which I don’t really count as art, but I learned perspective, shading, and point of view.

My art looks kindergardenish next to Grandma Moses who had a very distinctive but primitive style. My notebooks are filled with various pencil doodles, water colors, color pencil, ink, pastel, and charcoal. I’ve done some portraits in charcoal using a photograph as my model.

$95,000.

For the past thirty years I have concentrated on using wood to make pictures. Since I also dabbled in wood carving the step toward making pictures from wood using the natural colors of the wood was a logical step. It all started simple, a pair of dolphins jumping side by side. At the time I did not know about blue pine so I chose some other colored wood to depict the dolphins. Since making those first dolphins choosing and finding wood has been a challenge. I love bright flashy colors in my work, but the palette is limited by the wood available to me. I love to depict flowers in their true colors, but most of the ones I have made are in the color of the woods I have. Usually, I wind up picking a base color and then finding wood colors that are shades darker or lighter to work around the subject. Since most woods are brown, or some shade of brown, my flowers are brown. To get true colors, I have experimented with food colors to stain the wood. At first, this produced the exact colors I wanted for a striking piece. Over time the food coloring fades and the pieces lose their beauty.

Three Roses One Red, Two White
Three Red Roses

Internet searches have led me to companies that sell wood in various colors from around the world. I have purchased boards from them in various colors and grains. I tried using a red colored wood for some roses but was disappointed with the outcome. The red is so deep it looks more like black. Another set of roses is from aspen, but it didn’t look right, and so, I wound up staining them to be a bright white, The white stain was so heavy it completely blocked out the wood grain and the roses looked crummy. I will try roses one more time, but in a wood called yellow-heart. It should be better.

My very next project is a Bald Eagle in flight. I searched my entire stock of boards to find the correct match for the dark brown of the eagle. I had only very small pieces of dark-walnut that was the right color, but none were large enough the cover even five percent of what I need. I shopped at four local sources without luck. Finally, I found a source in Arizona that had dark walnut. When I learned what the cost would be I almost decided to scrap the project in favor of a simpler subject that I had colors for. The current cost for dark walnut is $11.99 per board foot. That doesn’t sound too bad, but the board was only available in six foot increments, and had to be sent; shipping more than doubled the cost.

With the cost of wood as high as it is, I may opt to change gears into a less costly medium. Writing for instance costs much less, but when I add in the cost of the internet, a domain name, and storage space the cost per word can be expensive. Simple pencil drawings will most likely become my next medium. I can use a number three pencil, on simple paper, or an expensive sketch pad, and I will need an eraser. Pencil sketching will lack the smell of fresh sawed wood, copious piles of wood-dust, wood-chips, and a bunch of noisy tools. It will also lack a necessary space, the size of a living room, hidden from view where I can escape to spend time with my tools.

Night Hunter

Meet the Night Hunter, a barred owl on the look out for meal. This bird is the latest of my intarsia creations. I began this project in December, 2020, and worked diligently up to March, 2021. Then, I put it to rest to percolate. In September, 2021 I picked it up again to complete the effort. Although I am not pleased with the outcome I decided it was good enough to finish and to share.I tried to incorporate a unique subliminal feature in this piece, i.e. the title is only visible when a light is spotted on it as in the night. During the day one has to put his nose up against the work to see the words. On the display wall, the title appears only after the halogen spotlight turns on. Now, I ponder what my next project will be, I’ll entertain suggestions from the field.

The owl came on the heels of a piece I call Three Roses which was supposed to be a simple relief project after my greatest work to date which is Cecil the Lion. As it turned out, Three Roses was more work and more complex than the lion. Another relief work was Hummer Snack which has been rolling in my mind since 2008, I finally decided to tackle the work in 2020. That was a rollicking year for me as I completed two pieces and started a third. Night Hunter is by far the most complex piece I have endured, coming in at 330 pieces.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a place called the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center. They have a couple of huge aviary cages in which they house injured birds of prey no longer able to fend for themselves in nature. One of them was a barred owl that I studied for several minutes. I realized that I had made the pattern life size from a photograph of a bird I had never seen in real life. How lucky can one get?

Three Roses
Cecil

Broken Promise

Back in 2011 I made a promise that I couldn’t keep. My daughter-in-law asked me to make her an intarsia hummingbird. Like always, I dove into the project only to learn that I was not skilled enough to make a hummingbird out of wood. Hummingbirds are tiny. This month I searched the internet for the smallest bird on the planet, only to find out that the Ruby Throat hummingbird is not the smallest. There is a species that is found only in Cuba called the Bee Hummingbird. It is almost half the size of a ruby throated humming bird. Nature just raised the bar on me.

Over the years, I have acquired more skill in Intarsia, and some better equipment too. I decided to give the bird a try. I began by finding the old pattern I had from 2011. The bird on the pattern is huge I thought. Not a realistic hummingbird but one that would be relatively easy to cut. I searched for more patterns only to learn that most intarsia artists make the birds large, almost like I am looking at the bird through a microscope.

I never found a pattern that I liked so I set out to make my own. Google images has pictures galore of humming birds and I found one that was in the correct pose for my piece. I matched the bird against a hibiscus flower which is one of its favorites to feed from. I made a pattern for the flower, a single bloom, and another for the bird, in scale or as close as I could eyeball the true size.

One problem I had with the bird pattern was to get a good photo of the wings. When a humming bird hovers and stands still his wings are beating at 200 strokes per second. Yep you read that right it is 200 hundred strokes per second not minute, they are a blur. For someone like me who is trying to copy the bird in wood that means I have to find some really slo-motion pictures to get an idea of what they look like while beating. I finally decided I can make the wings look like whatever, and no one can challenge me because no one will ever be able to see these wings standing still. That took some pressure off of my mind so I could proceed.

The next challenge was in trying to make something that tiny in two dimensions but looking like it is in three dimensions. I started out that way but changed my mind when I could not see the beauty of the bird in clunky two dimensional wood. I had to make the bird in three dimensions. the next challenge was to determine how to position the bird so it looked real against a flower. When a Hummer hovers up to the flower to suck the nectar out of its stamen he is virtually motionless and not touching the flower in any visible way. I could not see how to put the two forms together in a way that the final product would be believably real. The only way out was to make a flower, and a separate hummingbird and to design a way to make the bird seem like it was hovering in mid-air just microns away from the flower stamen. I won’t divulge my secret, but I made it look real.

When I finally began this work I was coming off a piece titled “Three Roses” which wore me down. The pieces were very tiny and delicate and there were too many of them. I thought the humming bird would be a vacation piece. My initial estimate was two to three weeks. I jumped into the pattern and made it quickly, then selected the woods and began cutting. In about a week I had the flower and the bird cut from the woods. I set it aside for what reason I do not recall, but it sat from May until November, and then I took it up again. And I spent three more weeks finishing the bird and flower.
As in all art work the frame is important in order to showcase the center piece. I decided on a rectangular frame with an elliptical opening for the art. I am an amateur wood worker even after seventy years of practicing. The damn frame almost broke me. The simplest of all cuts became a nightmare, the 45 degree corners. For the life of me I could not get the 45 degree cuts to match when put together. I think I was at 44. 85 degrees and not 45.00 degrees. The end result was a frame that had large openings between sides. I started with an 18 x 14 size frame and before I finished it was down to 17 x 13. I had to continue to trim the pieces until I could get the corners to match perfectly. Since I only make one or to frames a year I will never be able to afford the precision equipment I need to make forty-five degree cuts perfect. The result is in the photos below. I’m still deciding whether my daughter-in-law will get the work.

Enough talking it is time to unveil the masterpiece. “Hummer Breakfast”

Sunsets

There is something about a beautiful sunset that turns me on. Over the years I have been photographing the end of day event trying to get that perfect scene. I want perfect hues of pink and orange with shades of grey blue with plenty of sky and clouds, and a streak of orange light streaming toward me over the water. I came close a couple of times and have the photos hanging in my house. I tried again last night, and it might be the one I have been longing for.

What a beautiful way to end a great July day. The only thing missing was Taps.

As good as I think this photo is I believe there is an even better one in the days ahead.

Wabbit Wars: Attack on Sum and Substance

The cell has been in deep sleep for the past three years. There was not a single thread of visibility during that time, and the gardener wondered what had happened. Had he finally succeeded in destroying them? The question circled through his mind all summer long as he continued to surveil the garden for signs of weird plant damage. Nothing, until this week. The gardener had transplanted some Hosta plants to revise his yearly scheme for the Monet Vision (his garden). He didn’t have a theme for 2020 but since he was about to sell his house and garden to move into a retirement community he thought it best make it a lower maintenance scene.

Instead of planting succulent annual flowers like petunias he would just rearrange the perennials which were over grown. The Wabbits love petunias and leave the perennials alone he thought. “I will kill two birds with one stone”, he said to himself, “lower maintenance and less expense of buying flashy annuals.” There will be less color, but if done properly the design and layout will compensate for the lack of color. Besides, I’ll add some annuals as a little splash of pizzazz.

Time passed after the transplant and the Gardener began to see some strange effects on the smaller Hosta plants. He noticed that they were weak in appearance, and by now they should have begun to flourish. Hmmnn, strange that these usually hardy plants look so feeble here in the new spot. Could it be they are getting too much sun? Another week passes and he sees the foliage on his miniature Hosta’s become even worse. “I may have to replant these he thought.”

What a Sum and Substance Hosta Should Look Like
What a Wabbit Terror Attack Does To A Healthy Sum and Substance

Then, this morning when the gardener raised the window shade overlooking the garden, he saw it. An invasion in progress. The Wabbit sat at the edge of his Sum and Substance with a giant bright green leave bobbing in his mouth as he chewed. Instinctively, the gardener snapped the lock on the sliding glass door to make a loud cracking noise. The Wabbit leaped, took one bound and disappeared. The Terror Cell is alive and exposed he thought.

Let the war begin. What devious means will I use to get him to leave the yard? He thought he had outwitted him by moving a plant they never touch, but to his surprise, the Rabbit decided it was just what he needed to please his palate.

There are two things I can do, thought the gardener. One, I can let the river run again. He had stopped the flow of water from the waterfall for stream-bed maintenance, and forcing the Wabbit to cross a water barrier will make it harder. Second a mesh of poultry-barrier across another entrance to this bed will also make it harder for him to invade.

There is one thing the gardener will not stand for in his yard, i.e terrorism by any intruder, be it an invasive species like thistle or dandelion, or rabbit. Garden terrorism is a costly detriment to the appearance of the Monet Vision, it must be stopped.

to be continued. . . .

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