I've just finished the most exciting few days of my woodturning life so far - the British Woodturner of the Year competition (I didn't win...) and Makers Central 2019.
Well, it's been far too long since the last blog post, that's for sure! But I haven't been sitting around idly. Honest! This weekend saw the start of the Artists Open Houses as part of this year's Brighton Festival. And it was the Open Houses that got me onto the internet with my website and YouTube videos just over two years ago. And it's been fun ever since - especially getting the opportunity to go to other woodturning clubs and demonstrate some of my colouring ideas.
In the last two years, this wonderful activity has also taken me to UKIWS 2018 to demonstrate, and this year to Makers Central (next weekend - gulp!), and later this year to Chestnut Products Woodturning Weekender. And on Thursday this week, I'll be in London at the Oxo Gallery for the British Woodturner of the Year competition as part of the Celebrating British Craft Exhibition. It's been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest.
I hope to see lots of you at both Makers Central and the Woodturning Weekender - don't be shy: come and say hello as I don't bite (well, not often!)
My latest video is currently exporting as I type this and I'm really pleased with this one, though it might not appeal to everyone. This is one of the shallow bowls I've made that had more meaning for me behind the decorative element. It was an idea that was floating around in my mind for some time - connecting lines in a haphazard pattern with circles of colour at the intersections. As with lots of the decoration I've added, I didn't want a solid block of colour, rather a build up of different layers and shapes. On this bowl, this idea worked well for me. I see the lines as connecting and joining and linking up and the circles as the points of joining with a depth to the colours and I hope a sense of light coming through. In the video I came up with all sorts of pretentious ideas for names until my wife said 'Dreamscape', which I've gone with. I like it a lot. For her, it suggested something of the visions seen in a shamanic experience. On a more prosaic level, but for me no less beautiful, is the suggestion of sunlight through leaves. My daughter says it reminds her of bokeh patterns in photography. So, at least three different responses there - let me know if you have a different one!
Although it's taken me a couple of weeks to write about this (a serious bout of real man flu has laid me low for most of this month), December started with a wonderful weekend under the expert eyes of Les Thorne and Nick Agar. I can't praise their skill and expertise enough, or their generosity with sharing their advice and encouragement. The weekend was one of the AWGB's workshop sessions, several of which are arranged throughout the year. More on this later.
This workshop was on Creative Box making. You can see some of the results in the picture above - as you can also see, Nick and Les were still smiling at the end of the weekend! We were a group of 12 who were lucky enough to get on this course. The course was held at the Max Carey Woodturning Trust. This is a fantastic training facility, fully equipped to easily cater with our group size. There were even lathes to spare. The Trust run a number of courses and are held in very high regard for the work they do in promoting woodturning.
Both Les and Nick offer courses themselves, and you can find details of these on their respective websites.
Each day started with Les demonstrating the skills needed to turn a variety of different shaped boxes. If you've seen Les demonstrate, you'll know that not only does he bring a lot of humour into his demos, his explanations of technique and skills are clear and precise. Such clarity and precision really helped me improve my box-making. Later in the day, Nick then showed a range of ideas for how to texture, colour and decorate our boxes. Nick's level of expertise and talent needs no comment - if you've seen examples of his work, it is impossible not to be impressed with his use of colour and texture. Great teachers inspire and enthuse - and this is exactly what Nick and Les did. I just wish I hadn't been struck down with illness immediately afterwards, as I was desperate to get into my workshop when I got home. Still, Christmas holidays are coming, and workshop time is getting closer.
I tried a couple of ideas that Nick demonstrated for the boxes I made. My first effort needed a bit more work on the colouring and my knob was too small, but I was happier with my second one. While neither box is yet finished (that annoying man flu again), they will be finished off soon. I'm pretty sure that the next few boxes I make will of course be influenced by what I learnt on the course, and I'd like to acknowledge the part the Les and Nick have played in setting me off down this course. There is a generosity in the woodturning world about sharing ideas, but there has to also be a recognition of those who have influenced us, even if we end up making something quite different by the time we get further down our making path. So, Les and Nick, thank you for a fantastic weekend - and thank you for the way your teaching and encouragement will help shape the future direction of my woodturning.
As I said at the start, the weekend was one of the workshops offered by the Association of Woodturners of Great Britain. I only joined this year, and wish I'd done so when I started woodturning. Many woodturning clubs are associate members of the AWGB, but an individual membership gives you the chance to enjoy a range of benefits. I highly recommend becoming a member - who knows, it could be you on the next course Nick and Les offer!
...but this time, I got in to the shed! In fact, I got into two sheds, as I visited a friend from one of my woodturning clubs on Saturday morning and spent a couple of hours going through some airbrushing techniques. It was a very well organised shed as well - having everything needed for turning and colouring. I don't know how many of us get to spend time to fellow turners, but it should definitely be encouraged.
My own shed time came today, when, inspired by my texturing techniques video, I finally got round to my first completely useless piece of textured and coloured work. There was definitely a plan in mind, and some of it was realised. Alas, some of it fell a bit short of my imaginings...need to get the skill set improved. And how do you that? In the words of the huge multi-national corporation...you just do it. So I did. Well, nearly...or not so nearly, depending on how critical your critical eye is. Suffice it to say, I'm calling it naive art (some of you might go for primitive; some for childish!) Still, it was a very valuable learning experience. I'm not sure if it's true, and I can't actually be bothered to work out the maths, but I have heard you need 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery of a skill or craft, or mistressery or whatever the gender neutral term of choice might be. So I still have many thousands of hours to go.
I've called it Sand Sea Sun - not very original, and it's very far from an original idea, but it did allow me to do a number of different textures and use most of my spirit stain colours!
Well, it's Saturday night and I should really be doing some marking...but instead I've been playing around with Adobe Spark learning how to use it to make short videos and social posts. My latest YouTube video is up and running - here's a taster for next week's!
Well, last night, I 'volunteered' to do the club demo at South Downs Woodturners - thanks, Jim for volunteering me! I hope those who saw it enjoyed it. I know I did. As I had already done a demo last summer on a wide range of colouring techniques, this time I focused more on making a complete platter, though I promised there would be no sanding as it creates too much dust and no lacquer was applied as there wasn't time for it to dry. It was also very flattering to be told by Barrie Fitch that I had done some proper turning for a small oak hollow form which ended up 'round and brown'...there'll be a video of this coming up soon.
Demoing at your own club is a great way to take your turning a bit further. Yes, there is some banter, but it's good natured and amusing, rather than cutting and scathing. And the atmosphere is supportive - especially helpful when you find out your mini-compressor has given up the ghost and your carefully timed plan to include airbrushing needs to be adapted on the hoof! Talking and turning can be tricky, though.
I nearly completed two platters - one turned on the night, showing how I shape the back and include a shallow recess for the chuck. I keep the recess on the finished platter, but it's only a couple of millimetres deep and I disguise it with texturing and round over the sharp edge of the dovetail. I then started working on the front: truing the face, texturing with a Proxxon, spraying with ebonising lacquer - and all this completed in time for tea and the raffle. In the second half of the demo I painted over the textured area with gold acrylic paint mixed with Kleister medium which gives the paint some transparency. Then, despite my promise not to do any sanding, I sanded off the high spots of the texture and then wiped on several coats of red spirit stain from Chestnut Products. To complete the platter I still need to lacquer the rim (and probably redo some of the black on the very edge) and then turn out the centre. You can see the progress so far in the pictures below. It has to be said, that the lacquer will add a lot to the quality of the finish.
A second blank was then put on the lathe - I had already turned the back, coloured the edge of the rim with black spirit stain, and added most of the texture with a carbide cutter in a Dremel flexi-shaft. If watching paint dry can be rather boring, watching someone texture a whole rim like this can only compound that boredom! So I only had about an inch of the rim left to texture and then it was time to airbrush it. This was when my compressor decided it didn't want to play nicely - thank goodness for Chestnut's diffusers which meant I could blow stain onto the rim (remember not to breathe in when using these...)
The other exciting news this week, is that I'll be taking part in next year's Brighton Festival again. Friends who had an Open House last year have decided to have one again next year. Look out for more information about this between now and May next year. There'll be an opportunity to see a range of artists' work in the house - after you've bought one of my platters of course!
Sometimes, the idea in the head and the realisation of it in the wood doesn't quite come off....and this is certainly the case with this week's video...
I'm not too keen on it; though I do like the individual elements, the overall look leaves me underwhelmed. However, the videos I make are almost all first efforts at something, so in keeping with this, I decided I would post this on YouTube anyway. I will be having another go but I hope it will come out much better than this one did. It says something if people prefer the back of it to the front!
The blues are my favourite part. I do like the yellow textured section, but they don't work very well as a bowl - partly because the design is too messy and not well-executed. Partly because the edge of the bowl is broken up by the texturing. If I had thought about it a bit more, it might not have been a bowl at all, but I've not made any 'art' pieces purely for display....yet. This could be the direction to go with this technique, but I think I'd need to up my artistic skills to pull something like this off. Oddly, I did think it would have been better without any colour - but that was only a passing thought!
Still, it has had some encouraging comments and as I make the videos to share ideas and hopefully prompt others to have a go, my efforts weren't entirely wasted. It was also reassuring to see that it got a thumbs down from someone - most of my videos do get one thumb down...I'm beginning to wonder if it's the same person??
Well enough speculating about that - I need to get ready for a club demo night on Thursday next week and get some practice done in the shed ready for it. It won't be a mutant starfish fossil platter!
My last two videos have used the same colouring technique - working from darker stains to lighter ones, with sanding between coats. I hadn't intended to do the same technique twice, but after I had done it the first time with spirit stains from Chestnut Products, I was asked about using water-based stains - Intrinsic Colours from Martin Saban-Smith. So I made a second video using the Intrinsic Colours. I used the same blank for both media - with the result that there isn't a shot of the two platters to make any comparisons...so here are some shots of the spirit stain version alongside the water-based version. Both versions were finished with a coat of Chestnut Products' Acrylic Sanding Sealer and then three coats of Chestnut Products' Acrylic Gloss Lacquer. Spirit stains on the left, Intrinsic Colours on the right. Hope this is helpful.
Well, my head is certainly spinning this week. It was such a thrill to get this month's Woodturning magazine with some of my work featuring in it. I'd love to know what you thought of it if you have seen it...if you haven't, it's in the shops now!
I hope there'll be an opportunity to do some more writing, and share ideas about colouring and texturing wood, though I also do 'normal' turning as well.
My next club competitions are coming up, so expect to see some videos soon that aren't about platter rims! One competition piece has to contain part of a natural edge, the other is a three-cornered bowl. It was great this week to watch John Plater demonstrate some variations on three-cornered bowls which has got me thinking about my design. No doubt there'll have to be some practice pieces as I've not done a three-cornered one before. I'm giving serious thought to doing some piercing and colouring to it as well...
I've finished off the latest video and it was posted on YouTube earlier this evening - it's the same technique as the previous video, but with Intrinsic Colours instead. The video can be seen here.
I had been hoping to get down to Yandles yesterday for their September show, but it didn't work out. I'll have to wait for next April. However, there is the AWGB seminar coming up - I'm hopeful of getting to the Saturday sessions. I haven't been to one before, so I'm looking forward to it. It starts on Friday 5th October and ends on Sunday 7th October.
It's been good to get back in the shed this week after my summer break in Italy and Austria. My latest video is up on YouTube and I've been filming again today for a follow-up video which I hope will be finished in a few days' time.
Sometimes, I intend to colour a piece of wood only to find that the grain is lovely and that colouring with an opaque finish would really not be the kind thing to do to the piece of wood. I do have some sensibility left for appreciating wood in its natural beauty. This is what my latest video covers - adding colour to wood but allowing the grain to show through. Of course, a wash of colour or stain could be applied, but that would only change the colour of the rim. This approach, I believe, enhances the grain and figure of the wood by increasing the contrast.
The process is simple - prepare your piece of wood by sanding the surface to 320 grit. Then cover with black stain. In the video I use Chestnut Spirit Stains. I'm working on the follow-up video by using Hampshire Sheen's Intrinsic Colours. Sand back the black stain to leave about 30% of it. If you want it darker, repeat the process with black stain. Then apply a second colour. I used red. Sand this back and finally add a third colour. In my case, I used yellow. The principle is that the colours used get lighter. This really brings the grain to life. Hopefully, the pictures show this. You can, of course, use different colours and get a completely different effect. I think this is the closest finish I've done to something that looks naturally like wood.
The build up of the layers of stain helps to seal the wood and allows the later layers to build up in shine and brightness. The first layer of black soaks into the more porous parts of the grain where it remains after a light sanding to remove the majority of the black. I have tried this on less figured grain, but the effect is not very pleasing. I think it works much better on wood where there is some swirl and movement in the grain. I hope the pictures show how the technique brings out a stronger contrast in the grain.
When I posted the video of this process on YouTube, I was asked why I had used spirit stains rather than water-based stains. The reason is that I have always done colouring with spirit stains since I saw a demo by Terry Smart from Chestnut Products over 5 years ago. After posting colouring videos on the internet over a few months, Terry was kind enough to supply me with some more spirit stains and lacquers. I like using them for their ease of application and the vividness of the colours. However, there is nothing to stop you using whatever stains you want. Martin Saban-Smith sent me a sample set of Intrinsic Colours to try, and I'm using them with this technique for my next video. So keep an eye on my YouTube channel if you want to see the difference. I think I'll also try this with acrylic paints mixed with a transparent medium. I sense a common colouring theme emerging! I'll finish this section with screenshot from the video footage of the rim coloured with the Intrinsic Colours. This hasn't had any finish added yet. I also tried three different colour combinations to get more experience with using the colours.