Once you have turned a platter and you are sure the wood won’t warp, or won’t warp more than you want it to, you can do the design, carving and inlay. Personally I find this the most enjoyable part of the process.
Design is largely subjective. I like to use Chinese characters rendered in a more spontaneous, free-flowing style (caoshu). In my view, it is more in keeping with the Zen spirit, and is more adaptable, which is important because I need to work with and around the natural figure, cracks, wormholes, etc. Plus, I have just always been attracted to that style. Even when I visited museums in Asia, with their many incredible calligraphy scrolls in countless different styles, I found myself most drawn to caoshu, and in particular to scrolls with one or two big free-flowing characters, often fairly idealized or abstract. But each to their own. There are many beautiful calligraphy styles to play with.
I don’t usually do realistic objects – people, trees, etc. Occasionally I will do an image of what I take to be a drunken Daoist sage barking at the moon with a lifted cup of spirits, or an idealized version of someone meditating. But the only real image I do with any regularity is a butterfly, and even then I prefer highly abstract butterflies. Again, each to their own, You should try to do what you like – trees, leaves, volcanoes, stars, boats, Tibetan thangkas, whatever. Actually, I’ve been thinking I might try fractal images at some point, or maybe staircases, and have been collecting some images on Pinterest – a great source for inspiration and new ideas that you can incorporate into your pieces.
In any event, I’m just not a huge fan of realism. Even in our house, 90% of our paintings are abstract or idealized images, though we also have a number of absolutely gorgeous San Diego sunset pictures that my wife took.
The design, particularly for irregular shaped sculptural pieces, can take some time. I will often let a piece sit there for quite a while while I try to figure out what to do with it. Sometimes I end up flipping a piece around and using a different surface, or have to reshape the piece by cutting here and there. I will often try a few different designs before settling on the final one.
When using exotic woods, I usually just add minimal embellishment so as not to detract from the beauty of the wood itself: a few grooves, a bead, a slightly raised border, maybe a gem stone as an accent point in the middle.
Borders, Grooves and Accent Lines
In most platters, I add a border, which may consist of a single area, or one larger area with other thinner lines. This is the first platter I ever did while taking a workshop with Steve Hatcher. If you look closely, there are little lines or grooves made with Cindy Drozda’s vortex tool (http://cindydrozda.com/html/Tool_Info.html) for accent.
While in the piece above, the accent grooves were left natural, I usually either add inlay or blacken them with a marker pen or a brush. In the piece below, the two accent grooves were inlayed with black mica powder. If you are going to use a marker or a paint brush for the accent grooves, you should wait to do the accent grooves until the end, after you have finished the main inlaid border area and completed the sanding.
I’ve found that for the larger pieces, I often prefer just a single inlaid border, which can be black, the same basic color scheme as the characters, or a complementary or contrasting color scheme.
For some pieces, particularly where the edge is not perfectly round or if there is a crack that runs from the edge into the piece, it is usually better to forgo a border, although sometimes I will airbrush or woodburn the edges.
When designing the piece, you will need to take into consideration the figure and other natural features of the wood. Sometimes it takes a bit of experimentation flipping a piece around to find the best orientation. In the two pieces above, I turned them when still a bit wet, hoping that they would warp a bit as they dried, which they did.
In the next blog, I will talk about carving, inlaying and airbrushing.