Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Treasure Box Series I (Part A)

I love Google search using "images". I can waste hours sitting and scrolling through page after page of images. It is amazing. Add to that the Google "alert" feature and I am in heaven. How did I ever survive life just a decade or so ago, when the computer took hours to load up any image and, before that, I needed a CPM operating system just to read the screen?

I am one of the Boomers, who are the first generation to grow up in a home with a television (black and white). When you turned it on a white dot would appear in the center of the dark screen, gradually expanding to fill the entire area, as the tubes in the set warmed up. Often the picture would scroll up or down, and you would have to reach around the back where there were several control knobs to adjust the horizontal or vertical hold. Not to mention that there were 13 VHF channels. Period. No UHF. No cable. No reality shows. Just news and the Disney channel, and Gunsmoke and, the most wonderful show of all: the Twilight Zone.

Just to put into perspective (for the younger generation) how cool it is to just put a word into the search box and, as quick as you can press the "return" key, the world of information is in front of your eyes. And you can do that on your phone while sitting in a cafe having a coffee or walking on the beach.

So, a few months ago, when I received an alert on "marquetry," I found a wonderful marquetry letter box for sale from the late 17th century. I thought it would make a nice project, so I captured the image and sent it to Patrice for digital manipulation. He corrected the perspective with photoshop, using edit>transform>skew. then, using illustrator ( you can also use inkscape), he created a vector drawing. We prefer to make this line a series of small dots, using the stroke feature. It was important for us to have small dots, since we decided to use the Classic Method ("element par element") in cutting this project, ultimately making 4 identical copies. (Needless to say, Patrice improved the original design tremendously, as you can appreciate by comparing the pictures.)

The reason we draw with dots is because, even if you use a fine pen (0.01mm tip) you still have a line. Trying to see if you have cut away exactly 1/2 of that line is difficult. If you have a series of fine dots, then you can more easily see if you have cut those dots in half or completely cut them away or left them whole. This type of accuracy is important for the pieces to fit properly, and the "chevalet de marqueterie" is the only tool I know of which makes this possible.

Printing out multiple copies of this design, we proceeded to the next step: choosing the colors and woods. We wanted to make this box using authentic materials, so we went through our veneer cave and selected a wide range of sawn veneers, typical of the species that were used at that time. We selected some wonderful sawn Gaboon ebony for the background. I love this period of marquetry and had a lot of fun filling in the design with exotic hardwoods, choosing from a rich and diverse palette. These woods included: holly, hornbeam, bow, sycamore, lemon, cherry, pear, "my lady", olive, walnut, padauk, bloodwood, satine, and other tinted woods.

We put together 22 different packets for this job, with each packet consisting of a 3mm backer board, grease paper, 4 layers of sawn 1.5mm hardwood veneer, and nails at each corner. After cutting the pattern into individual pieces of paper, for each element of the design, we glued the appropriate paper pieces to the selected packet, numberes 1 to 22. Finally, we held the packet tightly together, placing veneer nails in between each of the paper pieces.

I assembled the packets while Patrice worked on cutting out the elements. Each cut would produce 4 identical elements, which were returned to the tray and placed in their respective position, relative to the design. This project contains about 1325 individual elements in the design, for the top and sides. Thus, with 4 copies, we needed to keep over 5,000 different pieces of wood in order, without loosing any during the process. Just cutting out the pieces took two weeks.

After all the elements were cut out and placed in the tray, we turned on the hot sand and drew the desired shadows on the design. Following the drawing, we placed each of the 5000 pieces of wood in the sand just in the right angle and for the right amount of time to create the burn we wanted. Since some of these pieces were microscopic in size or extremely fragile, this requires a lot of focus and attention. It is also rather time consuming...but, without adding the shadows, the picture looks flat and unrealistic. The goal of this work is to create fine art: Painting in Wood.

(Post to be continued)

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