Wood n' Art

About Wood n' Art

I admit it, I am a frustrated artist who was kidnapped and forced into a computer software career. I have always liked working with wood, drawing and painting. Despite having being involved in Computer Software most of my working life I have only recently started to dabble with website set-up and found it fascinating and simpler than I expected. My wife has extensive eBay experience with thousands of buyer/seller feedbacks at 100% positive demonstrating a great knack for working well with buyers and sellers over the internet. Consequently we had the main constituents of a working team to create this Wood n'Art  adventure to publicize my work on a website and by selling items through galleries, fairs and exhibitions. My wife is also a car boot sale fanatic so we just had to have the occasional stall. Our experience of selling wood items on eBay demonstrated that people need to see and feel pieces before they buy. At our first stall in Hamble I was amazed at the interest everyone showed in the displayed pieces and that just everyone wanted to feel the wooden items. It is not the same as a drawing or painting, 3 dimensional art needs to be touched because the feel is a key part of experience and wood is such a tactile medium. So the internet shop was really a non-starter.

Brief Background
I am a keen sailor and love working with wood as well as sketching in pencil, ink and watercolour. Although not formally trained, I have practiced with these media as a hobby for many years (and one day hope to get it right :-) - a hobby that has always been secondary to family and career. I have lived in Whitchurch, Hampshire for many years and, until a good few years ago, a regular London commuter. My appreciation for wood and art (drawing and painting) began at school. Despite liking and doing very well in Woodwork and Art classes I was forced to drop them prior to O-Levels to focus on those subjects that would provide a foundation for a “real” career. Consequently my “real” career after a degree in Chemical Engineering was in the then formative Computer Aided Design (CAD) industry. The application of computers to do design calculations and graphical representation as well as providing machine tools with the instructions to make the designed part.

As a software engineer I developed software to create engineering drawings in 2D and 3D besides working with customers to make most productive use of these CAD tools. This association with computers and design / graphics constituted the bulk of my career and kept my hand in the artistic side of engineering. Nowadays computer art is a recognised discipline.

I have had fun creating “art” or non functional graphics with computers, however I still prefer the hand crafted form. My engineering grounding still drives me to combine functionality with elegant form; reality with artistic flourish and the application of sound woodworking construction without the need for screws and other fixings. The food platters, cutting boards and presentation planks are simple but practical examples being sympathetic to the grain of the wood to make them attractive and tactile functional items. My interest in sailing led to the creation of the Windward series of wooden yachts that are stylised in variety of hardwoods to illustrate realistic motion whilst utilising the grains of the different woods to visually illustrate the textures of sails, hull and ocean.

Yachts have been my main focus for the past few years although I had been making seasoned hardwood cutting boards, platters and planks for sale. Nowadays these are only made occasionally for family and friends.

Another traditional technique for shaping wood is turning. I purchased a lathe a few years ago and have had great fun experimenting with this wonderful piece of machinery. I have used it to make tools, tool handles and simple ornaments.

So I am perhaps more of an Engineer than an Artist with woodworking and painting being an enjoyable hobby and a great distraction from the rigours of working life for many years. I am sure everyone with a consuming hobby would consider that to be their ideal fall back career in the event of the loss of the "real" job, with the ultimate goal of making that transition a reality. I am fortunate to say that it is now my reality.

Gratitude - our wee skaffie

Plaything? Art? Boat building practice? It is all of those things to me and more. It keeps my hand in sailing as well as providing a beautiful traditionally crafted wooden boat to work on and learn from. I want to use this page to share our experiences with Gratitude.

We found Gratitude for sale in Wick. I was looking for a day sailing replacement of our plastic yacht perhaps more traditional and made of wood. Gratitude looked perfect athough located in the most northerly part of Scotland.

Our inspection trip was like a expedition into the wilds of Scotland. It was our first trip to the Highlands and beyond so we took a few days to get up there. Louise and Mano, the boat owners, were great hosts and inviting us to stay with them in their idyllic home in Lybster Harbour about 20 miles south of Wick.

Gratitude is a replica of a traditional Moray Firth Skaffie fishing lugger built in 1997 by Sandy Macdonald of Ardslignish Boats based at Glenborrowdale in Ardnamurcham, Scotland. Clinker built in larch on oak using plans of the original 1896 Gratitude at 80% full size - LOA 20' (6m) 27' with bowsprit, Beam 7' 8" (2.3m), Draft 2' 7" (0.8m).

It was a few weeks later, after a successful inspection, my son Mark and I trailered Gratitude to the south of England to her new home in Hampshire.

We launched at Deacon's Boatyard on the River Hamble to catch the end of the 2011 season in October ( some would say the season had ended!! ). The sail down the river with an exceptionally high spring tide running, on an unfamiliar boat powered by light winds and a frail outboard, not knowing exactly where our new river mooring was located and assuming this would be completed in daylight hours confirmed our total lack of preparation. Well is was just a simple boat ride down a gentle riverway!!! I will relay the full story of that memorable journey at a later date.

We discovered that wooden clinker built boats do leak and it rains a lot in the winter months ( as well as the summer now ) but the automatic bilge pump worked great except when the battery gets flat. Having a mooring in the middle of the River Hamble did mean that checks were not that frequent and we had great assistance from the Mike, the mooring owner, who did provide a couple of near salvages. This pointed to 2 essentials for the next season - new battery and cockpit cover.

So in that first short season we learned how to sail a lugger ( like a gaff rigged boat but with no lower boom). The sails were much smaller than what we were used to so no winches to contend with. The hull shape with the canoe (pointed) stern created very little wake and she just glided serenely through the water. We did find that our outboard shaft was slightly too short becoming air propelled more often than we liked so a replacement was put on the growing shopping list for next season.

We had to build up our confidence in Gratitude's stability. We had been used to fin keeled yachts which never capsize unless sea conditions are really bad and even then you have to try hard to do so. Even with Gratitude's lead ballasted long keel it was an unknown so we did take it easy in that season's few sails.

Sketching and Painting

I love to doodle, sketch and paint. It started from an early age with my only formal "tuition" at school art lessons before I had to give that up ( as well as woodwork) to focus on those O-Level subjects that would provide me with a "real" career. I did like Maths and Science so I was destined for the more practical career of Engineering. I have continued to draw and paint but only recently spent more time developing my skills and stretching my self in realistic expression rather than the modern expressionist styles. Despite many trips to Tate Modern I still come away un-impressed believing that the drifting litter lying along the Thames edge has much more poinioncy.

I have stubbornly stuck to traditional pencil, pen and watercolour since these are much more spontaneous and simple media. Watercolour is a challenge because you cannot keep tinkering with it but can capture marvelously vibrant spontaneity as well as frequent disastrous messes. Simple is sweet.

I have a fascination and deep respect for street portrait artists who capture the look of a complete stranger in minutes. Even when making charactures they seem to emphasize the key features to retain the person's overridding character. It was this experience and spending many lunchtimes (when I worked in London) in the National Portrait Gallery that motivated me to draw and paint portraits.

My first experience of portraits was when I was in primary school and could draw a mean Fred Flintstone. I have dabbled with other cartoon characters and faces of close family for many years with mixed results. The gallery below has a wide selection of my attempts to-date. I do prefer the simple watercolour style when just a few strokes can catpture the subject as in Michael Frith's watercolour portraits - some of which I have tried to replicate in the selection below.

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Board Gallery

The design is all important. I examine each piece of wood to determine how best to shape it to achieve that compromise of functionality and sympathy with the grain stucture. I included curves and holes not only to provide handles but to highlight the natural grain geometry. Rounding the hard edges simply enhances the wood grain and make the boards much more tactile. It was fascinating just watching people approach our stalls and how keen they are to feel the wood. The silky smooth finish is quite irresistable.  The double handed planks are used on the table in an elevated position with cans or blocks to provide a 3 dimensional space on the table to serve meats, cheeses or side dishes. The other boards can be used as food platters or cutting boards.

The boards ranged in size from the small lemon-slicing boards and upto 20x80cm for the planks. Typical wood thickness is about 20mm.   Available wood types were Beech, Oak, Cherry, Sycamore and Walnut.

All the planks, boards, platters are made with local seasoned hardwood and simply finished in a coat of mineral oil.

In the gallery below is a selection of board designs including an extensive set of my display blocks, platters and cutting boards used in the 3 venues of Spicer+Cole coffee+ shops in Bristol. Spicer+Cole display food on oak and sycamore blocks and platters, using handled boards for serving some of their dishes.

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Turning

Pruning the apple tree can have many benefits besides a better crop of apples. Great practice can be had by turning an apple tree branch into a number of file handles or log of apple wood into a mallet or a set of marine buoys to be used as maritime themed wedding reception table ornaments. You suddenly appreciate the difference between green and seasoned wood and the aesthetic result of leaving a little bark on the branches by not cutting too deep into the oval cross section. The wood grain takes on a wonderful 3-dimensional quality with an incredible variety of patterns observed from different aspects.

Making ornaments from all sorts of wood is fun since the turning process perfectly highlights the grain. I remember being mesmerized in the souks of Marrakesh by a young artisan creating a small spindle ornament on his foot powered lathe and forming a captive ring in the middle. It looked so simple. I have tried this with the traditional turned mushrooms and toadstools - another useful practical lesson. With only basic lathe tools I had to fabricate the tool needed to free the wood disc into a captive ring.