Highland Woodworking
Turning the Corner: Design Inspiration
By Temple Blackwood

Woodturning is fun. Woodturning is efficient. Woodturning is, by comparison to most other woodworking, quick. Woodturning is innately creative and can be characterized as performance art, sometimes for an audience and most often for the woodturner/artist. Woodturning materials can also be inexpensive and available (easily scrounged).

In my experience, there seem to be two types of woodturners, or perhaps more precisely, two approaches to woodturning. The most universal and historically correct approach is the one where the artisan/craftsperson plans to make rounded utilitarian objects (bowls, chair and bed parts, handles, toys, etc.) and architectural features (balusters, newel posts, porch and lamp posts, etc.). In this approach, the goal is to select different pieces of wood, usually milled to a size, to turn shapes that make those multiple pieces appear to be the same.

The other approach, which has become an interesting study in emerging art over the past sixty years during woodturning's rebirth, is a free-form approach to making a variety of objet d'art which might or might not have a useful purpose. The impressive emergence of the American Association of Woodturners, the Center for Art in Wood, dedicated galleries, shows, woodturning schools, and a number of new museums that celebrate woodturning artist/sculptors and the variety of blended or multi-media turned art forms is testament to the creative excitement.

Copying a woodturned baluster, handle, chair spindle, or bowl is a technical challenge and a skill-builder for the craftsman woodturner. Creating a new design or sculpted art form in wood challenges the artist woodturner to create an artistic vision. While its basic platform is the technical, sensual skills of hand, eye, and ear, the challenge lies beyond that to an intellectual knowledge of shape, form, and color as well as the desire to create something of pleasing value, expressing a deeper feeling. For some artists, the vision comes first and they struggle to find the right piece of wood, the right style of technical organization, and the right technique to achieve that imagined vision. For other artists, the process is more of an on-the-fly discovery – "Hmm, I wonder what I will end up making from this piece of wood?"

The process begins in the backyard with selecting a piece of wood - from the woods, from the firewood pile, from the roadside, from a landfill where collected wood is stored, or perhaps even from a supportive neighbor (with permission) who needs a limb or entire tree removed.

Finding a piece of wood to explore into a shape does not take a large piece or a large lathe. It can be as simple as a short piece of freshly cut limb sawed to a length and placed between centers to make a simple, live edge fancy goblet that might become a gift or candy dish or part of a set.

The beauty of opening up the bark and inner grain of a new piece of wood, of sending ribbons of long streamers cut smoothly from a freshly sharpened edge with the bevel rubbing almost distracts from the creative discovery process.

Focusing on exploring shape and texture, color and dimension, the woodturner may try different sizes, and in this case, like bowl turning, establishing the outer profile will out of necessity define the hollowing.

Taking adequate time to study the partially completed form is a valuable part of the creative process.

It will help the artist further refine and define the more detailed accents of the emerging profile.

Some important technical skills – tool choice and use, sequence of cuts, balance and symmetry – all come together as the artist woodturner makes in-process decisions about how to proceed and ultimately create the unique object.

Turning green, raw wood is rewarding to both the artist as well as to the audience of a demonstration. Something innately fascinating happens from selecting a piece of wood and working within its parameters to create a pleasing form or a recognizably artistic form that serves "no useful purpose" beyond being.

The delight for a woodturner is in discovering wood that may have no purpose to others.

This can lead the artist onto a path of creating something uniquely lovely that in many cases might also be useful.

It really begins with selecting a piece of wood and looking beyond it to imagine new possibilities of forms it might become.

Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at temple@highlandswoodturning.com. Take a look at Temple's Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/

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