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

Into the Spotlight

COVID BEAR- Judy Gale Roberts Pattern

If I could jump into a time machine and transport back to nineteen fifty-two I would. There has been a question the answer to which has bothered me ever since I took a test to determine what profession I was suited for. I was registering for high school. The particular school had several college directed curriculums. I chose to go into pre-engineering. The guidance counselor told me that my scores did not indicate that I would become successful in that kind of career. Being strong-minded and strong willed I rejected their advice and began an education that eventually yielded a career in engineering. What I would like to know is what my test scores actually pointed me toward. No one would ever tell me. So for the past sixty-nine years I have lived in the dark abut whether I made a mistake by pursuing engineering.

The direction could have been any number of directions which might have been easier to come by. I was always tinkering with mechanical things, so I could have chosen to become a mechanic, or maintenance man. In between building model airplanes and sniffing a lot of glue I was always doodling artistically, and loved doing artsy things. I learned that I was a natural at mechanical drawing and had a strong ability to view three dimensional things and being able draw them in two dimensions from many different views, and vice versa. Printing and lettering by hand came almost as easily as cursive writing in the Palmer method. I hated all things like social science so that would have been out. Yet, today I seem to have a penchant for political science, and history. What did the test scores say? Should I have skipped going to college in favor of barber school like my dad recommended? What?

In high school, I learned that I loved to write stories, but hated grammar, sentence diagraming, and punctuation. Skip all the Shakespeare stuff along with all things to do with English literature. In college I definitely loved calculus, solid geometry, and art history. What a combination that is, art and math. I struggled through the many physics and high level math courses, but eventually succeeded in getting my Bachelors in Science, Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.)

Horn Man-Original

In my aged wisdom I have concluded that what my real direction could have been doesn’t matter anymore, because my chosen career was my passion, and I succeeded in making a living, raising a family, and putting three kids through college and into careers in science.

For the last twenty-five years i have been dabbling in an art form called Intarsia. I like it because it incorporates art, with the use of my hands, and skill with wood cutting tools. I began with simple projects and slowly, ever so slowly my skill level has been improving. The early projects were all based on another artist’s vision of things like fish, teddy bears, and flowers. I bought patterns and used them to make pictures from wood. In the last ten years I have decided to develop the art form into something more. I go beyond two dimensional forms pieced together from different colors of woods with some minimal shaping to original designs based on photographs. I convert a photograph into a pattern then shape it into wood sculpture. The very first work I did I called “Horn Man.” It is based on a photo of my grandson Dan practicing with his trumpet. I felt so proud of this work that I have gone in this direction since. Today, I only use pre-made patterns when I like the subject. In fact I will take a pre-made pattern depicting something natural, and then add something special to make it mine. My second attempt at doing this combined a Judy Gale Roberts pattern of two blue jays drinking at a bird bath with my vision of the bird bath in an endless green lawn which has a single dandelion growing at the base of the bird bath. I call it “An Almost Perfect Lawn.”

A year ago, pre-covid era, I entered an arts and crafts show. I priced the pieces so high they would never sell. I needed to learn if anyone else besides me liked any of these works. Although no one bought anything I learned that my works have some appeal. One visitor told me that I was at the wrong show, and that my work should be exhibited at the Frankfort Fine Arts Show. Then COVID hit. All shows were cancelled.

Last month I decided to enter a couple of pieces into a show titled “Emerging Perspectives” at the Tall Grass Arts Association Gallery in Park Forest, IL. Still unsure of myself, I labeled the pieces NFS meaning not for sale. Since then, I have decided to enter as many shows as I can just to give my work some exposure. This morning I completed the entry for my piece titled “Three Roses,” into the Frankfort Arts Association Member Exhibition “Into the Light.” I love the show names, they really pump me up. Anyway, all this excitement about showing my art has raised the question I posed above, did my career interest test indicate that I should have pursued art as a profession? I’ll never know and I really don’t care any more, I like what I am doing: blogging to practice my writing, and using my wood working skills to produce some interesting art.

Three Roses-Original
An Almost Perfect Lawn-Judy Gale Roberts Pattern, Embellished

Cecil-Original

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”

Day 48-SIP-The Three Roses of Padauk

Who is leading? If my recollection serves me correctly President Trump announced the COVID-19 Task Force Guidelines on March 16, 2020. Within forty-eight hours the Mayor of Frankfort issued the same guidelines under his name. Four days later on 20 March 2020 our State Governor issued his version of the same.

I began writing my Covid-19 diary on the 16 of March, the same day the president announced the guidelines. What I see here is a chain of command from the National level down to the local community, but the State lagged in making decisions. Could this lag also be the reason why Illinois has the most debt of all the States? Could it be that is the reason citizens are leaving the state as fast as they can? It is the reason that I have considered leaving many times, only to be sucked back by personal responsibilities?

Anyway, it is a beautiful sunny day in Illinois today, but a might on the chilly side at 46 degrees and it’s windy making it feel even cooler. The sun is making the plant life explode and life is returning from the deep winter sleep. Tulips bloom in abundance, the daffodils are already gone as are the magnolias. The grass is Irish green and the trees and shrubs are about half way open toward full leaf. As soon as I post this non-sense I’ll join many others on a walk along our bicycle path fully masked.

This morning I cleaned my shop as I do after completing a project successfully. My routine is to hang the new work in the place of honor with lighting for a few weeks or until I get tired of it and replace it with something different. In the meantime, I will begin a new piece with fewer elements which should be quicker to complete. This latest was supposed to be that project, but it evolved into one with one hundred pieces and short equaled forty days. My goal is to get ‘short’ down to seven days max. There is a lot of room for improvement ahead.

The Three Roses of Padauk