Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sand Shading

There are many individual steps to create a marquetry panel, and I love all of them except one. From the inspiration to the design, the selection of materials, putting the packets together and cutting out the elements, shading each piece in hot sand and gluing the picture together on an assembly board, making the mastic and gluing the final picture in place, and...finally...removing the kraft paper to discover your finished work of art. I look forward eagerly to each step of the process, except shading in sand.

This is kind of weird, since the first "Is Good!" compliment I got from Pierre was when I shaded the ribbon on my third etude. Up to that point, which was two months of school, I had only heard him say "Is Bad." So I assumed I had done something right.

To be blunt, shading elements in sand is boring and a little dangerous, if you forget for a moment what you are doing. The sand is very hot (around 600 degrees at the bottom) and the pieces are very small. There is a strong temptation to reach in and grab a piece if it disappears. Resist that temptation. In fact, do not place any part of your hand over the pan. Use very large tweezers and keep your body parts away from the pan and the sand.

In the winter there is some relief that the heat is comforting, but in the summer...

If, for example, your project has 1500 elements and you made 3 copies then you have about 4500 pieces of wood to place carefully in the sand at exactly the proper depth and angle. Each piece sits in the sand for a few seconds. That means you will need to sit in place working without stop for 22,500 seconds, which is over 6 hours.

When I first tried to burn wood in sand, I just went to the local beach and brought home some sand and heated it in a pan. Not only did I destroy the pan but the beach sand created the most interesting smells as some of the "foreign matter" burned up. I then tried Home Depot play sand, but the grains were different sizes and I could not get an even burn. Then I tried sifting sand but couldn't find the proper screen to work.

So, during my first visit to Paris, I purchased a kilo of sand from the supplier to the school. As I went through customs I was stopped and asked to open my bags. The officer asked me what was in one bag, and I replied: "Sand." He just stared at me and repeated, "Sand?" like I was an idiot. I started to explain the technique of marquetry and what the sand was used for, but he simply waved me through.

This happened again at the airport in Portland, Oregon. I was vacationing with my wife at Cannon Beach and discovered the high winds created wonderful spots behind rocks which were full of the finest sand, very even in size. I picked up several pounds and put them in my bags. At the airport I watched from a distance as my checked bags were opened by TSA and the officers gathered around to sift through my "special" sand. They shrugged and I could tell by their body language that they also thought I was an idiot.

Isn't it amazing how we choose to spend our time?


Mat Nedeljko said...

Patrick, what kind of sand would you recommend for those of us who are just starting to experiment with sand shading...and any suggested sources besides visiting Cannon Beach?

W. Patrick Edwards said...

I have tried the special sand which people use for sand casting bronze, but it didn't work. I haven't tried sand used for sandblasting. Any fine even grain sand should work. There aren't too many commercial sources for fine sand in the real world, unfortunately.

Trial and error?