Collaborative events are a great way to learn from others and develop new ideas through interaction. Often it’s a time of getting to know peers and the methods they use to create all those results you admire. The trouble is, where do you draw the line of ownership between your own ideas and those inspired by others. Are you developing your ideas or simply copying other people?
Words and photos: Andrew Potocnik
Step 1: Influence
Following a recent collaborative event, I created a series of pieces with three sources of inspiration. These were bowl forms made by New Zealand’s Graeme Priddle, coupled with the texturing and painting techniques of Terry Baker and Liz Scobie (both of NSW).
Returning to my workshop I experimented with combinations I felt worked and appealed to my aesthetic sense. I was conscious of influences, but I did not want to create copies. My work needed to be a development, an evolution of techniques witnessed, something I was in charge of and not simply plagiarism!
Step 2: Getting Started
Mounting a bandsawn blank of dry timber on the lathe, I rough-turned the bowl’s underside. Many methods can be used to hold the blank in place.
It can be pushed against either a driving spur, a faceplate, a scroll chuck, or as I did in this case (photo 1), using the tailstock to hold the wood in place. Or it may simply be fitted to a faceplate with screws. Use any technique you feel comfortable with, but at this stage I only rough-turned the form—final shaping happened later. I wanted to make the overall process as quick as possible.
As you can see, a small spigot was cut into the bottom of the roughed blank later to be held in a scroll chuck. Alternatively it could be glued into a carrier.
Step 3: Turning the Bowl
The top of the bowl can quickly be trued and prepared for embellishment. It is important to determine proportions of the bowl form; in this case the hollow, sanded and textured bands.
Working out the proportions of these sections can be done by experimenting. The method of texturing or painting or decoupage, or whatever it is you choose to apply, will also influence the surface area required. Photo 2 shows proportions marked onto the blank. Success is wonderful, but learn from things that go wrong.
I like to hollow out a small half sphere that has a narrow band of sanded wood before creating an area which can be painted or textured. This band is only 5–10mm wide, depending on the overall diameter of the bowl being made. Both the bowl and border are sanded smooth to allow the wood to feature. I call this the wow factor, but some refer to the ‘pretty, shiny wood’ aspect.
Step 4: Texturing
Sometimes you will apply textures or other applied finishes before reversing the bowl onto a carrier to complete its underside.
I’ve tried several methods of texturing that, combined with various painting techniques, allow for many different results. One method is to inscribe patterns using a Dremel fitted with a ball-like tip. Another is to cut a series of coves using a small deep fluted bowl gouge.
To finish the bowl’s underside, I find it easiest to fasten it onto a carrier with heat sensitive glue (several dobs of about 5mm diameter applied evenly around mating surfaces should suffice), see photo 5. Use your tailstock to provide extra support while roughing to your desired shape.
For small bowls, like the ones I have made here, a scrap of wood was fitted into a chuck and turned to a diameter matching that of the bowl’s opening. When using heat sensitive glue, I heat it to where it is nearly liquid. This way it will squeeze out between mating surfaces allowing the bowl to run true. Leave it for about a minute and the glue should have cooled and set, and you can continue working (photo 6).
Once turned and sanded, and maybe textured too, the bowl is removed from the carrier. Hand pressure or a short sharp hit with the heel of your hand should be enough to do this. Using your hand will prevent damage to the bowl, but if this isn’t enough, use padding and gently hit the bowl with a mallet.
Any residual glue left on the bowl can usually be picked off with a fingernail, but for stubborn remnants, use turpentine to dissolve it. Alternatively the turpentine in an oil finish will do the same while you’re ‘finishing’ the bowl.
In the past I have used acrylic artist’s paints to decorate some of my work. I found that Liz Scobie uses the same brand, Jo Sonja’s, because it has been developed to suit wood and other materials. With a couple of Liz’s examples fresh in my memory, I experimented with combinations of colours and methods of application, aiming to develop my own style.
A simple and effective finish is oil. Applied liberally with a cloth over bare and painted wood it enhances and brings life to both surfaces. Depending on the wood used, several applications over a couple of days should suffice, but years ago someone told me an old adage about applying oil finishes. ‘Once a day for a week. Once a week for a month. Once a month for a year. Once a year for a lifetime.
We would all like to think our designs are original but most of us will be influenced by other people’s work. It’s okay to be openly inspired by other people’s work—as long as we can acknowledge this and then move on to develop our own designs.
First published in Australian Wood Review magazine, issue 51. Learn more about Andrew Potocnik at www.andrewpotocnik.com