March 2016 Highland Woodturning News Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodturning classes and seminars Woodturning articles and solutions Subscribe to Highland Woodturner


A Collaborative Turning Project- "27 Animals, 3 Artists"

by Carol Hall

Note: Click on any picture to see a larger version.

In January, our bowl named "27 Animals, 3 Artists" won the coveted 2016 Niche Award for Painted/Colored Wood. This honor is the craft world's equivalent to an Emmy or an Oscar. It is professionally judged, with nearly 2,000 American and Canadian applicants vying to be named the best in their category. This bowl was an early collaboration between myself, Michael Kehs and Dan Greer. We were thrilled to learn that the path we were exploring together was a strong one.

Collaboration happens frequently in wood arts. Nationally recognized artists have been bringing their work to a higher level with a little help from a friend. Binh Pho and Patti Quinn Hill, Jacques Vesery and Alain Mailland, and Glenn Lucas and Mark Sanger all have worked together to produce pieces that proved that sometimes "more is more." This is no surprise, given the nurturing and generous nature of woodturners. I have been continually surprised by the willingness to share techniques and trade secrets, which artists in other genres would covet as proprietary.

Working with such talented woodworkers was a fortunate journey for me. I have been a professional painter and American Craft Jeweler for 29 years, and always have focused on painting on wood. When my husband told me that he wanted to learn to turn three years ago, we both signed up for a course on pen turning – the gateway to becoming obsessive collectors of turning accessories and tools. Our instructor told us, with a smirk, that the cost of the lathe was the least of our future expenses. We thought that was so funny at the time, but have learned it was the truth.

After joining our local woodturning group, I gleaned some additional facts. Women are scarce in this medium (but the men I have met are very supportive, not discriminating) and techniques and information are shared openly. There is a "pay it forward" attitude that is so admirable. It feels great to have a community of artists behind you, instead of working in a vacuum.

I met my collaborators at a small Pennsylvania Symposium called the Tylersport Carving & Turning Fair. This annual event has demonstrations, artist exhibits, and serves as a place to meet mentors who can answer any technical question, from beginner to expert. A member of our group who had taken me under his wing introduced me around to the other exhibitors as "the new painter." By the end of the day, I was committed to setting up a station for the next day to paint some pieces that had been donated to me by the other turners.

At Tylersport there is a show tradition to create a collaborative piece on a demo turning, swapping it to as many skilled hands as possible. It is then auctioned off at the end of the weekend. The 2015 piece started as a hollow form demonstration (Anthony "Yak" Yakonick), and was passed to a pyrographer to demonstrate burning techniques (Michael Kehs). Then it got additional burned embellishments (Dan Greer), and ended up with me for color. Initially, I was struck with what is known as "empty canvas syndrome" - fear of that first stroke. But I was met with kind words of encouragement and reminders that sandpaper fixes most mistakes.

At the end of the day, the hollow form was finished and auctioned off to a collector, with lots of compliments and the highest price of the weekend. I left the show inspired and with even more pieces to collaborate on, including a platter with some photos of flowers its turner hoped I might add, as well as a lidded demo box that had a bit of tear out, which became a design opportunity. But most importantly, I had an invitation to join the monthly meetings at Michael Keh's studio (playing with the big guns!).

Michael Kehs runs a monthly open studio where the best turners in the area meet. He is a disciple of Dave Hardy, a master turner whose generosity for teaching still ripples through the community. Michael is carrying on that tradition by providing demonstrations and an open forum to share ideas and skills. At my second meeting, Michael handed me a Box Elder bowl. He had turned it and done his distinctive abstract branding. Dan Greer had intertwined 27 animals on the top and bottom of the bowl, with delicate gradated, toasted pyrography. It was hard to keep track of your place when counting them all - like a Seek & Find. Next, it became mine to color. No pressure.

So it was up to me and my tablet. I spent my time in the studio saying "ok Google, pictures of albatrosses," "ok Google, pictures of tree frogs," because it was important to identify each animal correctly to get all the colors to work. Dan didn't give me a cheat sheet.

I painted the bowl using very thin washes of Liquitex Acrylic Soft Body Paint. I swear by this particular brand, because it easily amalgamates with water, while keeping its intense pigment. As my skills have become more fine tuned, I have learned that raising the grain before the final sanding keeps the piece from becoming fuzzy when the watery paint is applied. Also, there is added benefit in using a blend of ½ shellac and ½ alcohol to prep the surface, with a quick solvent rub out, which is a reverse French Polish or a chemical de-gloss. The benefit is you leave the sealer deep in the pours, but remove it from the surface, leaving some tooth. This allows me to drag a brushstroke from intense chroma to a delicate faded edge. I took my time and laid in whisper-thin layers of color on to each animal. Now that it is completed, your eyes have an opportunity to rest on each creature. Still, there is a lovely sense of discovery when a previously unseen animal is revealed.

When viewing our bowl, people play with it, twisting it from top to bottom to discover all the animals that are tangled across it. It's so rewarding to have viewers really spend time looking at your work. I have been told time and again that this bowl has a certain special something, which I attribute to the way we blended all our varied skills - fearlessly and with "no elbows out." Now, with the next Tylersport Symposium coming up, we are all anticipating making that next spontaneous treasure. There joy in setting a piece free to evolve into something even more beautiful in the hands of your partners.

If you have any questions you can email Carol at , or visit her website at

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