Monday, May 10, 2010
The Infinite Possibilities
Clockwise from bottom L; Cherry, birch, mahogany, Beech, maple (center).
There is something mysterious and provocative about a blank, smooth block of wood.
I've had long dry spells, standing in a studio blankly staring at a blank canvas. But unlike a white canvas or sheet of watercolor paper, whose stark white surfaces seem only to emphasize all the works I'll never produce, a WOOD surface invites ideas and seems to prompt whatever muses are out there to shuffle on over for a visit to whisper ideas or remind me of old sketches and untried directions that might be just perfect with this new block. I'll pull out my old sketchbooks and manila folders of doodles and jotted half thoughts and look at the blocks and usually something will emerge. There is something deep and provocative about a new block of wood that prods me forward when I'm stuck and can't figure out what to do next.
Today I paid a visit to the local lumberyard--a huge warehouse of mostly fiberboard and plywoods but there is a whole section devoted to local and exotic woods. The staple woods of the local cabinetmakers, luthiers, boat and house builders are all there and I can usually find the odd plank that speaks to me. I went looking to see if I could find a nice piece of close-grained cherry but the stuff they had was too knotty. But the local dealer suggested I try out a piece of beech--"the furniture guys usually buy me out, it should carve nice" he said. And sure enough there was a handsome board 10ft long and 8" wide. This will do. I had him cut two two-foot lengths off so I could get it all in the car and drove home.
I spent the next few hours sanding smooth one of the 2' lengths. I have a small orbital sander but I did this one by hand, with a sanding block and gradually finer and finer sheets of sandpaper. The board got smoother and smoother, and finally fairly glassy when I got to the 600grit sandpaper. By now I'm covered in fine sawdust, small clouds of yellow flour fall from me every time I move. My hands go over and over the smooth surface. I'm thinking and looking and ideas start coming to me.
It must have something to do with the warmth of the wood. Maybe it has something to do with the absolute uniqueness of each and every piece. The grain, the color, the knots and veins, the length and width are always different; the odd scar or burl that meant stress to the tree and means harder wood to the blade that will cut it. I suppose it might be different if I had an assistant or dealer prepare/procure standard size blocks or if I always used plywood sheets. But I won't go that route; not only am I not successful enough to warrant/merit/afford such a service but I'm still enjoying the dialog with the wood. I'm still learning with every print, every block and the process is as important to me as the finished works.