One of the most satisfying things about woodworking is being able to begin with rough lumber and make just about anything I want. Over the last 7 years, I've probably built around 100 picture frames, saving lots of money along the way and ensuring quality preservation of my artwork.
The frame building process begins after the dimensional lumber is ripped into strips of the appropriate width and thickness and mitered to length.
After mitering, I glue up the frames in special clamps that apply pressure in such a way as to ensure the corners of the frame are tight and aligned.
I try to let my frames sit glued in the clamp overnight, but if I need to take them out I can after about 4 hours. Once the glue is dry I can reinforce the corners with 1/8 inch strips of wood, giving me one of the strongest picture frame joints possible. A simple miter joint by itself is not very strong, as one is essentially gluing end-grain to end-grain. Anything you buy at a store or even frame shop will have corners that open up over time due to the weight of the glass and artwork. The frames I've built with this type of corner reinforcement don't open up. The glue bond itself is stronger than the wood, so the wood will fail before the glue does.
The strongest glue bond results from having wood fibers aligned parallel to each other, which is achieved by inserting the reinforcing splines into the corners. I make the slots with a special jig I built. Once cut, the strips are glued and tapped in, then clamped in to maximize surface contact.
On these frames I trimmed the splines with my miter saw, and later finished bringing them flush with the frame side, using a block plane.
Given the fact that the grain of the splines (strips of wood) and the frame sides usually run in different directions, I have to be careful when trimming to prevent tear-out on the frame (see below).
I'm building three frames right now, one for a client (the walnut) and two curly maple frames for some recent pastel drawings. A future post will be dedicated to these finished works, so check back soon.
If I cut a mortise in a leg, and attempt to pound in a tenon or use a clamp to malign it with mechanical advantage, because I did not fit the tenon well to begin with, the leg will crack. Imprecision is the bastard of impatience. So now I have a cracked leg. I'll have to not only clamp the apron rail to the leg, but apply additional clamping apparatus to the top to pull the crack together. As though I could replicate with glue and pressure what took years to originate.
The adage measure twice cut once is incomplete, to this we must add; cut correctly, fit once, fit again, fit again, trim the piece, fit again... Cutting joinery is not for the spontaneous. The painter in me wants to exude gesture, embrace impulse and commit to a few hours only. My painterly expectations brought to the alter of carpentry will be met with rejection by the Governing Powers that are the physical properties of wood under stress. Here then is an important lesson about expectations. Do I expect a design that works, without first planning, sketching, rejecting, revising and sketching again? There are very few "one off" pieces of furniture I am aware of.
Each piece is a revision of one's self and understanding of the craft process. There is a continuity and harmony in all my wooden pieces that shows growth and change in a way more concrete and permanent than sketches in a book. That is these pieces have a physicality often unmatched by drawings. I haven't yet banged my shin on a charcoal sketch. The permanence of furniture is due to the choices we make of which boards to keep in which dimensions, resulting in manifold spacial relations. The components of a piece function like marks in a drawing, bound by the totality of the new whole. Natural forces abiotic and otherwise shaped the tree during its growth, a confession in cellulose. This natural fixed order of ringed growth, of wooden history is destroyed in order to display it. The thing is destroyed to be appreciated, like so much consumption. To give the tree new life, it must first die.
"Preservation" (if you can call it that) of the tree in furniture simultaneously changes the wood's history and potentially extends its existence in that form. The (what would have been)natural and (actual)anthropogenic paths will both converge again, united by the inevitability of decay. Pieces that survive hundreds of years on estates or in museums face the same reentry into matter cycles.
The cost of carpentry is greater, not just monetarily, than the demands of drawing. Mistakes in wood aren't so easily hidden, crumpled up at the bottom of a trash can. If I cut the chamfers on the bottom of one leg too high, symmetry and uniformity make the demand on me to adjust the other accordingly. If a "stray mark" makes its way to the page I can erase or indulge in my plenteous paper, beginning anew. I'll reassure myself that the last drawing only took a few minutes. In both drawing and carpentry, we create "snapshots" at different rates. Our impressions of the world compel us to impress upon the world.
Is the pace of my paper-purging
On par with replanting
Of the Pines?
Or do I
Walnut, Cherry, like they're ALL mine?
This post is something of a testament to my indebtedness to Cezanne, his construal of landscapes, use of color and shape. Additionally here, I'll probe different understandings of industry and their effects on individuals, art, and society.
I've recently been drawn back to the medium of pastel (See first image above). Pastels consist of dry Pigments (as opposed to other colorants such as dyes) bound with something like Gum Arabic. I appreciate the tactility of pastel, which transmits an experience of the support (the drawing surface) into my fingers and hand, much like a needle acts as mediator between a record and the electronic interstices preceding the speaker. The act of drawing creates its own soundtrack, the grittiness of the paper providing the lead voice. The sound of the shifting paper signals the full engagement of the medium with the surface that causes it to overcome the friction with the table. This is a cue to more fully embrace the surface with my other hand, to provide restraint so the conversation between the subject and drawing/painting can continue.
Cezanne understood distillation, which in a chemical context refers to separating substances based on their volatility, however Cezanne's vitality inheres in visual variability as opposed to chemical curiosities). Every visual element has a different presence and effect on the viewer, a non-tactile texture. Bound up in the visual are cues about the nature of the thing inspiring the painting. (Tangentially I suggest one spends a long time thinking about the senses in which something is painted). Cezanne pulled out an underlying compositional structure, the sine qua non of the sight, and managed to regularly and successfully cement/translate the structure into the language of pigmented oil. Underlying geometries comprised Cezanne's grammar, as though he was mining the landscape with the tools of Euclid's Axioms. These compositions did not depend on the viewer being lost in details and minutia of every leaf, rather they capitalize on the seemingly mundane visual architecture that is presented in every sight.
I hear an echo of the perennial philosophical problem of "unity and diversity," the "particulars and universals." There is a harmony in Cezanne between these elements. The particulars are understood and communicated as having synergistic importance. Attention to individual instances of a visual element tend to isolate one from the larger, fuller context necessary to adequately understand the subject studied. Each element of Cezanne's landscapes contribute its force and function to the whole, rendering the viewer impressed and impressed upon by his experience, which has been mediated by his vision, arm, brush, viscosity, time and possibly the ink on paper or pixels on the screen.
The uniqueness of Cezanne's location in history cannot be underestimated. His life saw the dawn of the explosion of industry and importantly the development of synthetic pigments. For centuries pigments were derived from "natural" sources, such as various Earths. The advent of industrialization permitted Cezanne access to a palette previously out of the artist's grasp (what would the Renaissance have been with Cobalt colors?) The future acts and acted simultaneously as a limit and an open door to possibilities, creative and otherwise. While developments in industry seemed to welcome the Post-impressionists (of which Cezanne is one), how did these developments limit our resourcefulness as artists, who often thrive in a paucity of material procurements.
Cezanne was industrious and prolific in his lifetime, creating more than a 1000 paintings, in oil and watercolor. I can only long for an age when this pace and quality of life was commonplace. Cezanne was partaking in a revolution in representation, preserved in virtue of the chemical qualities of the oil paint he used. He understood the value of industry and I still learn from each encounter with him.
A parallel that I've recently pondered between a living leaf and one drawn in pastel is that both are enjoyed in virtue of the colored pigments present in the surfaces. Fall leaves, like oak, lose their Chlorophyll as fall progresses, leaving other pigments visible that were overpowered and masked by the green photosynthetic molecule. Carotenoids (accounting for yellow, orange and brown) and Anthocyanins (responsible for reds and purples) remain after the Chlorophyll's green diminishes. So a leaf's autumnal allure results from a subtractive process that removes and degrades certain molecules, presenting a visual experience that subtly changes as the days pass.
Autumn has a progressive quality that unveils waves of color; revelations of reds, yields of yellows, occasions of orange and presentations of purples. Autumn leaves loose their green utility and fail to "sing" with one green accord. The many species of trees re-emerge, visually, no longer verdant voices, singing in unison. We are increasingly aware of the new song being sung by the poly-chrome chorus. The conductor that is nature cues a decrescendo of green, while the other colors, there all along, are given full voice for the climax of the fall performance.
So the natural process of leaf color change relies on subtraction, whereas drawing often relies on the addition of color to produce the effect. Producing a pastel leaf entails the application of colors to an abrasive surface (pastel card in this case). This process is preservative because it is additive, each mark a record of a memory. The final effect results from a visual and physical blending of colored areas.
Two ways then, leaves are seen singing. The drawing serves as a record of the performance, mediated by memory.
We've lived in our house nearly two years and I have defeated many design fears
But only this year did I get the unction, to marry the aesthetic and my mantle's function.
Curly maple was my wood of choice, its blond pigmented, visual voice
A simple cove molding and bull-nose edge were enough to punctuate
the-cold rhythmic brick ledge
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.