Sunday, December 18, 2016

Figuring beauty

I have been turning on a treadle lathe for three years now, mostly over the summers and holidays, with periods of intense production followed by weeks (if not months) away from turning.  I would prefer to turn more consistently.  I often have to make a few "old" mistakes before getting back on my game.  That said, the time away does allow for reflection--to handle the bowls, to put them through their paces, to see what works, what doesn't, how they look and function with age and use.  My home is now full of bowls, of all shapes and sizes, and they get a lot of use.  My girls grab them for cereal in the mornings and ice cream in the evenings, invariably giving them back full of dried residue that needs to be scrubbed clean.  The bowls are taking on character, and I am learning more and more about what I like and what I don't.  I am starting to build an aesthetic.

Having a firm idea of what you think is beautiful, of what form you are chasing, is vital when you step up to the lathe.  Wille Sundqvist says that carving involves removing all material that is not part of the spoon, but that of course implies that you have a pretty good sense of what you are after.

In thinking about what makes something beautiful, it is tempting to look for formulas that explain beauty.  After reading "By Hand and Eye" by George Walker and Jim Tolpin I began to wonder about proportion and beauty in my bowls and spoons.  Are forms more beautiful when there is a proportional relationship between the dimensions?  Is one proportion more beautiful than another?  Euclid offers up one proportion, the Golden Mean (1:1.618), and Fibonacci's sequence arrives at a similar relationship.  Are these the proportions that I find beautiful?

As a simple exercise, I decided to study two of my bowls that I find beautiful. I purposely chose bowls that have very different forms.

I love the way the rim comes in slightly, giving a sense of "protection" or "privacy."

I love the way this rim flares out,  giving this bowl an open feel, and yet the inner chamfer lends a sort of mystery or privateness to the bowl.
The Fibonacci Sequence sheds no light on this bowl.

And not here either.

No Golden Mean here...

...or here.

For a while I tried using dividers that might help me envision perfect proportions between the base, the height and the rim of the bowls, and found that the results did not look right at all.

So I am back to square one, which is fine by me...
I would be sad if it all came down to a formula.

For a much more interesting reflection on a similar subject, see Dave Fisher's post on "Measuring Beauty."

Friday, September 30, 2016

First days of Autumn. Update.

Summer has come and gone, and I have not posted in a while.  I did get a chance to turn some bowls though.
Newly oiled bowls drying in the garden

Experiments with lettering and surface decoration.

A biggie.  11.5".  Given to my pal John on his wedding day.

Since the summer has ended I have not accomplished much in the way of craft. Some of my fellow educators seems to continue on with craft like nothing changed in their lives. I don't know how they do it. That said, I did build a second lathe to keep near work.  Hopefully in the coming afternoons I will be able to pop out and turn a bowl now and again during the workweek. I will post pics of it sometime...
In the meantime, the following video was shared on the Greenwoodworking facebook group, and I thought it charming. Enjoy.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Letting go

Last summer I spent a wonderful weekend with other spoon carvers at Oliver's idyllic home in the Catskills. I have written about this experience elsewhere, but what I have not written about was the creative crisis it caused.
I felt like I was stumbling all weekend, tripping over one amazing spoon design after another and getting all off balance.  The keel on this one; the way the bowl meets the stem in that one; oh look, a "dolphin" spoon design; etc...  I had amazing chats with all sorts of interesting folk, but by the end I had a much less clear vision of what I wanted in a spoon.
I spent much of the winter thinking, not really carving.  Looking at photos, studying examples of other's spoons.  It helped a little, but ultimately I was not feeling settled in what design I wanted to pursue.
In the end, as winter turned to spring, I gathered up some windfall wood and grabbed the simplest and smallest template I had and just started carving again.  I kinda had to get back to the basics and let go of fancy design.  Keep it simple, I thought.  Carve one, see what you like, and then carve another.  Slow down.  Let go.
I feel like it helped.
I know some carvers find great utility in batch carving.  Some axe out a pile of blanks and work through the pile in stages: this cut on all of them, then that cut on all of them.  I find this way of working hard, because I don't end up concentrating on the whole spoon, how all the parts work together, and end up duplicating the same mistake over and over.  I guess if I was better at carving this might be a good exercise, but I am still figuring out what works and what does not.
By the end I felt like I was getting back on my game, and even spent time decorating a few.

Beyond letting go of design ideals, I am also trying to let go of spoons.  I tend to want to keep them for future reference, but that also means few besides myself get to use them and provide feedback.   And so, yesterday I sent off this little spoon to a friend.  

I hope to send out more of my work soon, including bowls, so I can get some constructive critique.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Another good fail

Got to do some turning yesterday, and produced three roughly successful bowls.  This one, however, was not one of them.  Obviously, the wall thickness got away from me.  I laughed out loud when I noticed the light coming though.  

A few lessons learned here.  I am chasing a certain curve to the bowl, which this one does well.  It rises from the base of the bowl with the curve tightening toward the rim.  That was the good part.  But there were a few mistakes here.  The inner curve of the bowl should leave a bit of material at the rim (say 1/2") and then thin toward the middle and then add a little more back at the base.  This makes a bowl that is easy to pick up and feels good in the hand.  There is something to grab onto. Obviously, in this case I let the middle thickness get too thin--past 1/4" and things go bad.  Second lesson, the decorative incised lines were my undoing here, and as I look at the outside I realize that I really don't like the bottom two lines.  The top line helps accentuate the form, but the bottom two seem egregious.  Finally, the bead at the rim is too big and seems too close to the recess below it.  It fees crowded up there.  I may cut this one in half so I can really see the profile.  

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The trees teach patience

While axing off the waste from the bottom of a promising bowl, I made the mistake of levering with the axe more than I should have.

I was rushing.
To be truthful, I had rushed the whole bowl.  I had stolen an hour from a busy day, and there would be hell to pay if it did not get back to the chores.  As Thoreau put it, I had crept away from the family, "to spend borrowed or stolen time, robbing your creditors of an hour." As a result, i did not remove as much as I normally do from the base core, so there was a lot to axe off at the end.  

I suppose I could have glued the base back on.  Few if any would have noticed.  But I decided to leave it alone, to smooth up the jagged edges and put it into circulation in my own house-- an ode to patience.  

"Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.  Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence."
--Hal Borland