|Always Start With The Basics|
When I decided to open up my marquetry workshop to students, I had to decide what kind of curriculum to follow, knowing that I would have a wide range of students with a wide range of abilities and experience.
Therefore, I followed the musical format which I learned during the decades I was involved with classical music. At the age of 12, I saw a kid playing the violin on the Ed Sullivan show on TV. I immediately told my parents that I wanted to learn the violin. Fortunately, they were able to buy me a moderately good quality instrument and find someone to teach me. I went every week to get a lesson and made a good effort to practice daily. I was not always successful, and my teacher would always know when I had practiced or not.
There were fingering exercises, bowing exercises, scales in every key, and very simple practice etudes. It was all about technique. My teacher was a very old man, and had learned himself from a Russian teacher. He insisted that I learn the basics before I even thought about playing anything by some composer. He was right. I was soon able to join the Civic Youth orchestra, where I sat first chair, second violin section. (I never had any aspirations to play first violin. That takes a certain ego.)
In college, I naturally took music and had the good fortune to study with Bert Turetzky, a famous double bass player. He listened to me play my violin and immediately said, "Forget it. I need a viola player. Can you learn to play the viola?"
I went back to my teacher, who was in his 90's and retired and asked him if he could help me. He was generous enough to show me what I needed and I spent my college years playing the viola in the UCSD quartet. Some of the most rewarding days of my life.
My point is that, if I had not been shown how to hold the instrument, how to tune the instrument and how to execute the most basic technical aspects of it, I would never have been able to perform Schubert's string quintet in C major successfully.
Thus, since I only teach two weeks of classes every quarter, it is essential that I teach the basics. How to fit the chevalet to the worker. How to hold the saw frame and set the tension. How to make a packet and cut it. How to execute simple etudes over and over.
The first week is the Boulle method, where it doesn't matter much if you can follow the line. Most students are able to learn fast enough and have enough control to stay on the line by the end of the week. The second week is the Classic Method (Piece by Piece) where it is essential that you not only follow the line exactly, but are able to cut away exactly half the line consistently. That takes good eye/hand coordination, and that takes much more practice to master.
There is an etude which is in between these two methods: Painting in Wood. With this method, you do not have to follow the line exactly. The pieces always fit, since you are basically using the Boulle method of cutting the layers of the packet in super position. That means the elements of the design are cut at the same time as the cavities of the background, which is in the same packet.
With the Classic Method, the elements of the design are cut in a separate packet and the back ground is cut in a separate packet, so if you are not careful, they will not fit. The French developed the Classic Method and were able to keep most of the secrets of this process in Paris.
At the end of the 17th century, the rest of Europe began to evolve the Boulle Method into the Painting in Wood method, as the desire to create more naturalistic marquetry designs became the fashion. With Boulle, the packets were usually layers of ebony, pewter, brass or tortoise shell, and the overall design was either a positive or negative form of the design ("premiere-partye" or "contre-partye").
|Boulle Marquetry Project for Art Institute of Chicago|
I wrote an article explaining this process in detail in Woodwork, February 2008, where I show how I made one of my tall case clocks.
The success of this method depends on making sure the elements of the wood you need for the design are exactly in place inside the packet, and that you are able to include as many different species of woods as possible in the fewest number of layers. Generally, using 1.5mm sawn veneers, I limit my packets to 8 layers of veneer, plus the 3mm back board and the 1.5mm front board. When using 0.9 sliced veneers, it is possible to include as many as 12 layers of veneer.
I first make multiple copies of the design. Using those copies, I begin to place my woods in each layer where they are needed. Then I fill in the gaps with a scrap veneer so there are no voids inside the packet. I am careful to keep the outside corners of the design for proper orientation. I usually include at least two different species of woods for each flower, which gives me the option at the end of selecting the proper woods for the best effect.
Working from the back of the packet, I first start with a 3mm back board and a layer of grease paper. The back layer of veneer is always the back ground, which in this case is ebony. Note I have colored on the design those parts of the background which are isolated and would tend to get lost if I didn't pay attention while cutting.
|Layer F (Background Veneer)|
(Note there is no ebony veneer in this photo, since it was used in the project.)
Each of the following photos shows the design for that layer on the left and the layer of the packet on the right. Since this example is one I use in class, I have covered the layer of veneer with clear packing tape, and you are looking at the back of the layer for clarity, since it is covered with veneer tape on the face which holds everything together.
The next layer is generally either a layer of green or brown for the branches or leaves:
I make a final drawing and use it when I cut out the packet. This design shows me all the information I need to select the proper layer of wood from the plug of veneers, each time I cut them out. The rest is discarded. I keep only the woods I need for the picture.
One of my students, Paul Miller, seems to have also found this process interesting. After he returned to his workshop and built his chevalet, he sent us a card with the photo of this etude on the cover:
|Paul Miller's Card|
I really appreciate it. Soon he will be performing Schubert!