Monday, February 9, 2009

The Many Faces of Wood

I'm a woodworker. Yeah, I used to be a professional graphic artist. Before that I worked on a magazine, worked for a print shop, worked for a department store... and I played drums back in the '80s in a progressive metal band, a power trio called Loremaster. But I'm a woodworker now, and I like it.

I get to create useful, artistic designs, see them come to life in front of my eyes, and then people pay me money for my creations. How amazing is that? As a graphic designer, more often than not, I had to make everything exactly the way the (usually) non-artistic client thought it should be, even when he hired me for my artistic abilities in the first place. Now I get to design first and sell later, and the headaches are just gone, like your insurance agent after a big storm!

But this isn't about me. This is about artistic expression using the work of three other artists, all woodworkers and all members of Design Style Guide, as examples.

Woodworking is both a craft and an art. At least it can be both. I suppose anybody with a saw and a nail gun could slap together a garden bench or a shelf, but it takes an artist to make it look like, well... art.  For example:


This beautiful chair and ottoman were built by Shabby Santa Fe. On the surface the actual construction might appear simple. I have never built anything like this, though, and it will probably be some time before I attempt such a venture. Peeling the bark, cutting round mortise and tenon joints, leaving all the bends and twists in the finished product, these are foreign concepts to me. I love the results, but the way I work in my shop is very different than this.

You really can't argue with the flair and appeal of these wonderful pieces. I figure anybody could nail together a bunch of branches with the bark removed and call it a chair. When you look at a chair from Shabby Santa Fe you see the art and the craft of furniture making. This is what woodworkers strive for: That perfect balance. I aim for the same thing whether I'm building a lectern or a candle holder. I just have to make sure all my parts are perfectly straight before I put them together. The chair and ottoman you see above, there were no such constraints placed on their construction. Sometimes it amazes me how differently one artist works as compared to another.


This photo frame from SecondLine Frames, like all their frames, is "built from authentic wood siding salvaged from homes destroyed during Hurricane Katrina." On the crafty side of things, the construction could be fairly straightforward: You get some wood, you make a few cuts, you knock together a frame. Great. What sets these frames apart from the norm, however, is the artistry that goes into them. The right wood, the right ratio of old paint to exposed wood, the proper size, how much wood to show without distracting from the photograph displayed in the frame. All these considerations, and probably a lot more, go into the planning and building of these beautiful frames, even if they aren't on a conscious level.


You can see the difference between the first frame and this one, of course. Do you like one more than the other? My preference is for the first one, but you may disagree. As designers of furniture and accessories for the home we have to take into consideration that one design may not appeal to everyone. We come up with several versions and let the customers pick what they want. Someone else will always come along to take the rest. That's a reversal from the way I had to work as a graphic artist.


Moving along, let's take a look at this beautiful cabinet from Jeff Builds Furniture. It's a cupboard designed to hold towels and bedding, or it can be used as a pantry. This is certainly not something that existed in the past, but cabinets like this seem to be catching on, rather like the "bathroom cupboards" that have become popular in the last few years. I like it because it is functional art, the sort of thing I'm driven to create in my own shop.

This design is simple, rustic, elegant, useful and beautiful. It took skill to build it, but it took the eye of the artist to envision it's lines and proportions.


Designs like this don't create themselves. Artists get ideas, glimpses of something great, and they strive to bring those ideas to life. I do this every day in my shop. Someday I will build something as cool as the pieces you see here.

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If you like this blog entry you'll love my blog, jn3 Hand Crafted Woodworks. Check it out. I'll be glad you did.

4 comments:

TERI REES WANG said...

The one thing about wood is, that it comes with it's own history. The fact that is goes through various forms of processing, keeps the medium itself..virtuous in it's own right.

Lucky Girl said...

I love that chair--it's just beautiful!

NewDominionBlues said...

Great post!

Kandas - Custom Furniture Consultant said...

Love the chair and ottoman! Thanks for the great post!

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