Thursday, August 12, 2010

Painting In Wood Clock

At my age I should be able to complain about my body and the "problems of aging". However, I don't have much to complain about. When someone says to me that I look much younger than I am, I always give them my secret: "Don't drink, don't smoke, eat raw foods slowly, go to bed early, get up early, work at something you love to do, and have good genes." Then they look at me in a strange way and walk away as quickly as possible.

That said, the first problem I notice is my eyesight is gradually getting worse. I have worn glasses since I was 12, every day of my life, so I guess you could say my eyesight was never "perfect". The unfortunate fact of life (for me) is that it takes so long to learn the techniques of the trade that, by the time you are a "master", you have trouble seeing what you are doing.

This is the reason I love to make marquetry using the "Painting in Wood" method. This process, which was the favorite process during the last half of the 17th century, was universally practiced in France, Holland and England, and is often found on the tall case clocks of that period. I have fallen in love with these wonderful clocks made during the Golden Age of Painting in Wood, 1680-1700.

A few years ago one of my favorite English clients who has impeccable taste asked me to make her a tall clock. She
is a devoted gardener and has a fantastic knowledge of flowers. She and I worked closely on the elements of the design to be sure that the flowers were accurate, and that the overall effect was similar to what her garden looked like in the summer.

As I said, Painting in Wood has the advantage for me in that you do not have to exactly follow the lines of the design. There is room for interpretation and, even if you go off the line, it always fits together. That works for my eyesight perfectly. I can still cut very fast and not worry too much about staying on the line all the time.

Painting in Wood is actually cutting in superposition. That means all the elements of the picture are placed inside a single packet and the cutting is done with a blade perpendicular to the packet surface. The packet is made up as follows: a 3mm back board, grease paper, single layer of the background veneer, single layer of green tinted sycamore, several other layers of diverse hardwood veneers strategically placed in positions where the flowers are located, a 1.5 mm top board and the design glued onto the face of the packet, all held together at the edges with veneer tape.

Obviously the most important part is to be sure the internal placement of the selected hardwood veneers is where the flowers are located. This takes some layout planning, and you need to be able to see "through" 8 layers of material to be sure (in your mind) that all the proper colors are in the proper places, before you start cutting.

When you then cut out a piece of the packet, you have in your hand 8 different woods, all cut out the same shape. You only keep one of these layers, and the rest is waste (unfortunately). That is why Painting in Wood is so expensive. In addition, since I use only sawn veneers, it becomes very expensive to do this process.

I think the results are worth the cost. My clients agree.


Derek Vaughn said...

Hi Patrick

I'm a little late to this party, but I've read all of your blog, starting from the most recent post, and I haven't read anything that would explain why you use so many layers when you only need 1 piece. What is the purpose of all the other hardwood layers?

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Painting in Wood is a process where you create one packet and cut all the layers at the same time. However, inside the packet is only one layer which becomes the background and all the other layers contain smaller pieces of veneers strategically positioned to be where they design needs them. Therefore, you can easily place 30 or more different woods in 6 or 7 layers. Each element of the design which is cut out contains only one layer which becomes the marquetry picture. The rest is waste.

This sounds complicated, but once you do it you realize how simple it can be. Start small.