Tag Archives: Woodworking

L7 Weenie…

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Made by the talented Spencer Simmons. 

There is this glorious period of time that exists between the moment you tell someone you can do something and the moment you actually have to step up and do it. It’s also super stressful.

Sometimes it is reveled that I am an artist of sorts, that I graduated from art school with a degree in woodworking and furniture design, that I studied photography, and that I am in the process of setting up a studio in my home.

Sometimes I talk way to much.

And they believe me. Just saying that I went to school for photography and woodworking makes me a great photographer and woodworker in their mind. Or at least one that is more than adequate. The conversation often will include a comment about how they would love to see my work or how they would love if I would do something art related for them.  I hope they never see my work and forget that I ever said anything.

Because until they see my work or give me a task to complete they just go off my word and they believe that I am more than an adequate artist. Once they see my work they may realize that although I call myself an artist I am far from one. Or if I help them with their art crisis I may fall short causing them to realize I am no artist at all, just someone with a lot of art making stuff and a misguided notion that they can do anything useful with it. I don’t know what their expectations are but I do know that I wont be able to live up to them.

I still haven’t convinced myself that I am an artist/woodworker/photographer or figured out what those words even mean or what it even looks like to be an artist/woodworker/photographer. It all starts to lead into this whole existential dilemma that makes me want to say FORGET IT. (Okay it makes me want to say a different  word that has four letters that also starts with the letter f but my in-laws, parents, and sweet people that might not appreciate such vulgarity might be reading this so I edited it.) 

And so I make excuses. I don’t have time, I have my daughter to take care of, my space isnt completely set up to work in yet, I don’t have the right tools, it’s too cold outside while also being too hot, the lighting is off, I ate to much or too little for dinner, I needed to check facebook every 5minutes, I don’t know how to use the equipment in my woodshop, the local lumberyard doesnt have the right wood that I like to use, I was going to work on it tomorrow, my nose itches, I’m probably getting sick so I should just curl up in bed with a book because I do not read as much as I would like, I am to tired and need to just go to bed, i’m just going to go to bed instead because that’s easier and no one will judge me while I sleep for not sleeping good enough.

This past christmas I got a christmas gift that called me on my shit. This gift was so good it called me out right in my excuse making face. To be fair the gift giver had no idea they were calling me out, they thought they were making me a nice gift. And it was a super nice gift. My sister-in-law’s husband made me a wooden beer carrier. He had seen it online, thought it was cool, and figured out how to make it with supplies he got at home depot in his basement where he is not hiding a state of the art wood shop as far as I know.

He thought I would like it so he figured out how to make it. The end.

If it was me I would have spent three months talking myself out of making it for any number of reasons that were not actual reasons based in any sort of reality, and then I would have just bought something while feeling blue about how little time I have to make art and the growing number of projects that I know I will never get too. It is so stupid but I have the hardest time changing my thinking.

But I have to. It has to change because until it does I am just going to be a wanna-be artist that is too much of an L7 weenie to do anything about it.

 

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

 

 

 

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The Nick Offerman Effect…

One of the gifts I found under the tree this year was Nick Offerman’s book Paddle Your Own Canoe. I started reading it immediately. After months of researching my art history minor thesis topic on how motherhood and societies view of motherhood effects woman artists, I was happy to read something that had nothing to do with any of it. I knew the book would be funny but I was not expecting it to be so well written.  I mean this guy is a really good actor and I love the stuff that comes out of his woodshop, but great author too? I should have given him more credit.

Like most of America, I didn’t know who Offerman was until I started watching Parks and Rec, easily one of my favorite shows on TV right now. I was hooked by Offerman’s character Ron Swanson…

Actually If you have never seen an episode of Parks and Recreation stop reading this and go watch it, seriously don’t even finish this blog. You need to laugh.

Apparently I talk about Ron Swanson a lot which led to a teacher sending me a video of Nick Offerman giving a tour of his wood shop. At the time I was only a few months into pursuing woodworking. After two years of studying photography, I had decided that I wanted to switch gears. I had carved a spoon out of a piece of walnut and realized that my life would not be complete just being a photographer, I needed more. I needed to get my hands dirty and build things!! When I made the switch over to woodworking I had a hard time starting over. I understood photography, it’s history, who its key players were, who I liked, who I didn’t like. I did not have any of that with woodworking, so finding out that this funny guy also built things and appeared to be someone who I thought I could sit down and have a glass of whiskey with was encouraging at a time when I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into.

Reading his book sealed his spot on my list of artists I draw inspiration from. It’s part bio part giving hope to young actors not sure they can navigate show business. The later doesn’t really apply to me. I would say that if a director or whatever came up to me on the street and said, “Oh my, be in my film!” I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to try my shot at the hollywood big screen. The problem is that I have worked really hard to cultivate a don’t-even-look-at-me-let-alone-attempt-to-speak-to-me vibe when walking down the street and would be so annoyed by someone trying to talk to me that I wouldn’t hear anything they would have to say. (hey, don’t judge! This is what happens when you live alone in Philadelphia and are a petite young lady. It’s a scary world out there.) Plus there is no way I would believe they were anything more then a perv with a video camera in his mom’s basement. So like I said, I have no reason to ever need to know how to navigate show business.

It was still fun to read his advice since it easily translates to the pursuing of any profession. He matter of factly states that we need to live life and pursue what makes us happy so we can enjoy the life we are living and be happy. Unlike many of the self help e-card crap out there, he also makes it clear that following your dreams isn’t always a walk in the park. Although highly rewarding, there are times throughout the pursuing of said dream that will ultimately really suck regardless of how many people tell you that ‘every situation is what you make it.’ I think if more people were aware of the inevitability of suckey parts that come with dream pursuing, they would be more likely to push through the suck and achieve their dreams.

I could probably write a book about all of the reasons why you should also read this book. And don’t just think because you are a lady you won’t get anything out of this. The whole second half is basically a love story. This man is MADLY in love with his wife, the funny and gorgeous Megan Mullaly. In a world with failing marriages more common then happy ones and a society that promotes the ban of emotional expression by heterosexual manly men, it is beyond awesome to read page after page of this manly man talking about how great his own wife is and openly talking about how they have prioritized their marriage above their careers. Our society needs more of this. Men and women both need to read more about these types of relationships.

Basically, you should really read this book. It was no.8 on the New York Times BestSeller list so I am not alone in this thinking. Check out the videos I linked below. Laugh and enjoy life for a few moments instead of being so gosh darn serious all the time. When you are ready to be kinda serious, go to Nick Offerman’s website to check out the stuff coming out of his wood shop.

Ode to Bacon

All the Bacon and Eggs

Tour of the Offerman Workshop

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

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Past, Present, and Future methods of building…

While studying photography in Philadelphia, I remember taking a class a few quarters in that was meant to bring us back to the basics of photography, allowing us to revisit the rudimentary exercises we learned in the very first Introduction to Photography class we took in our first days at the school. In the first weeks of the class it felt redundant. We had worked so hard to reach a point where our cameras were an extension of ourselves, to be able to start formulating work that got away from the tell tale signs of student assignments. Yet now that we had more than a basic understanding of how to take a proper photograph, these assignments made more sense. We understood their application in a way we did not understand in the introduction class. Looking through the progression of my own work from the first class to the last class I took in Philadelphia it is fun to rediscover old ideas that were forgotten in the whirl wind of assignments and deadlines. It is also comical to see what I felt like I needed to photograph when I was first learning how to manipulate my camera.

My latest studio project was revisiting everything I learned by recreating the first assignment I have ever did in woodworking. By thinking through the basic process of building a table I was able to take my prior understanding of what it meant to build a functional table and push it further, to explore the many different ways one can and has built a table. This idea combined with my fascination with how adamant different people are about how right their way of building is and all of the contradictions it creates, shaped the outline of this project. What if I built the same table, three different ways, to try to understand if there really was a difference in the final result of three very different ways of making? The assignment of Past, Present, and Future was the perfect space to bring this idea to life since the contradicting ideas can be simplified down to past methods, present methods, and future methods of building.

I set about to build the past table, utilizing methods and technology available before the industrial revolution. I quickly realized that I was not advanced enough in all of these techniques to make an argument about which method was the best, that I was still too young of a woodworker to create three equally crafted tables to allow a viewer to look at them and say, “Oh the (______) table is the most structurally and aesthetically pleasing and therefore that is the best method to use ever.” Instead of trying to solve the debate for the public, I began to try to solve the debate for myself. What did I want my studio practice to look like? What method did I want to utilize and why? Does it make sense to cling to a technique that does not reveal itself in the final product? Can the final table reveal enough about the process to allow the viewer to determine which is the best method?

When all three tables are together, all of their surfaces are equally planed. Yet it took three very different planing process, taking various lengths of time to reach the final planed state. So although it was physically rewarding to spend over 20 hours hand-planing the past table, it looks no different then the 30 minute machine planed present table. Other then physical benefits of hand-planing for 8hours a day for a whole week (by the end of the week I had some serious muscle definition in my arms) it is not practical to waste valuable studio time on an outdated method. Conversely there were plenty of methods from the past table that continued through all three tables. Chiseling was the major one. All three tables required some level of chiseling to be done in order to have well fitted joinery. There of course were other tools or techniques that could be used, each taking various lengths of time, but none of them created the sharp and precise cut like the hand chisel.

That could be a completely personal preference, I am sure plenty would argue that it makes the most sense for them to use something else to create the same effect. That is the beauty of craft, the beauty of life really, everyone does it differently. I fully understand how great that fact is now that I have built these tables. How great it is that there is this full spectrum of how to build a simple table, that I can pick and choice which ways of making I like best from various schools of thought, and put them all together in my own hybrid mutated way of making. And that hybrid mutation will continue to shift and change as I continue to absorb as much about this craft as I possibly can.

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As always, thanks for reading.

– r.n.a.

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Coffee Coffee Table…

Here is a slide show of my latest project. So happy to have finished my very first coffee table.  The coffee table was made out of poplar and oak. The base is stained with coffee and the top is painted with espresso milk paint.

Enjoy and thank you for your support.

-r.n.a.

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Catching Up…

This week’s guest editor, Bea the Boxer.

It has been such a hectic and busy two weeks that my mind is having a hard time figuring out what to write about. Having an overly loving boxer trying to lay on your lap during the process makes it hard to focus.

This past week saw my first critique in my view camera class. I was at first excited at the idea of sharing with the class the type of work I have made with the large format camera. That of course quickly turned to dread as the time got closer for me to hang my prints to be judged. Overall it went well. I was told that my work is moody and dark, that I handle objects almost obsessively. I am not sure if the latter is a good or bad, but I found it to be true. I do seek to give life to inanimate things in an attempt to increase their worth to the viewer. I find it interesting that I approach inanimate objects in a way that presents them  if they were a live yet when I get a live subject, like a person, in front of my lens I have no idea what to do with them.

I have also made progress with my current bending project. The plan is to build two end tables by december, with a complementary coffee table being finished in the beginning of the year. The design is inspired heavily by nautical themes. As it gets colder I find myself day dreaming more and more about sailing. Often my doodles are that of sailboats or nautical forms. Instead of fighting it, I decided to implement it into a project. I started making the jigs needed to make my bends early this week and finally got my turn on the CNC router, which is one of the coolest machines I have had the experience to use. It is super nerdy and I can’t wait to use it again and again. When I return to the shop Monday, I will start the process of building the base and table tops.

   

Saturday my husband surprised me with a visit to Magic Wings, a butterfly conservatory  in Massachusetts. Despite the slightly corny name, it was the most amazing place I have ever been too. You walk into a greenhouse filled with plants and hundreds of butterflies. It was truly inspirational and the awe inspiring experience my very tired soul needed.

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Boxes…

…and why you don’t try to build stuff while your appendix is simultaneously trying to explode.

I wasn’t aware at the time that my appendix was trying to explode, I just thought I was coming down with the flu. So I was trying to get work done before it completely took me out and went to go cut the miters for the miter box project due in two days. I realized after I glued up all my pieces a few days ago that something was not right. Then I remembered that I never made sure that I was starting with flat boards when I made my cuts, an essential step in getting clean joints. Luckily the box is not completely awful and I am a huge fan of the knot hole that perfectly fits a thumb to lift out the lid. The most important thing is that I learned a lesson, a lesson that will probably take a few more times of learning before it will get through the thick skull of mine.

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Finishing work…

There is no greater feeling then finishing a project. That feeling is even greater when you spend most of the project thinking it will never get done. This week I finished my first project for the bending wood class I am taking this semester that was a week and a half over due. (special thanks to a certain organ that decided it wanted out of the game at a rather inconvenient time)

The assignment was to create a piece around the idea of containment. I was immediately drawn to the idea of a nest and home. I started to research weaver birds and liked how they went out to find materials to use in building a home for a potential mate. I started to collect scrap wood left behind in the wood shop to use for my nest. Looking around my own home, at the various pieces of furniture collected from family or antique stores, the weaver bird’s process of building a home made sense to me.  Slowly the project took on a more abstract reference to my feelings about the home and my process of creating a home for my husband and I. I realized through the making of this piece that I wanted it to be more of a functional hanging lamp then a sculptural piece, which it was originally intended to be.

I want to create both conceptual and functional pieces, I want the line to be blurred as often as possible.  Before this project I thought that they needed to be two different things entirely, that I needed to choose a destination for my piece before it even left my imaginary drafting table. Not feeling like I have to design for either the home or the gallery, but instead designing for both places tears down some of the walls in my creative process. It allows me so much more freedom.

I took in-progress photos as my hanging lamp reached completion and put them into a mini slideshow so you can see how it came to be.

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A great video from the BBC on the weaver birds.

 

As always, thanks for reading.

– r.n.a.

 

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So far this semester…

The first month of school is wrapping up and I wanted to share with you what I have been working on so far. It also may be a homework assignment for a class I am taking to update a blog weekly but thats not important.

This is my first semester as a junior in woodworking. It is extremely satisfying to build things and explore 3-dimensionally. We started the semester with a week long project. The final product was supposed to represent our summer. After a lot of editing, I decided the major part of my summer was taking the workshop at Center for Furniture Craftsmanship and reconnecting with photography. This year I hope to marry the two mediums as often as I can in new and unexpected ways. The base of the lamp is a simple half-blind dovetail joint made out of cherry. The cherry was left over from the workshop and the joint was by far my favorite to learn. The lamp shade is made out of 8mm film left in a Kodak Super 8 camera I bought over the summer as well as 35mm film that I used to capture a few vintage baseball games while visiting my hometown in Delaware. Overall I am happy with the masculine industrial feel I think the lamp portrays as it lends itself to the images of the baseball game you catch glimpses off when the lamp is turned on.

I am also taking a photography class this semester. I am learning how to use a large format camera. It is extremely rewarding and exciting to learn how to use such a old method of photography and to get back in the darkroom again. The first half of the semester is focused on learning how to manipulate the camera and properly develop the film. I am learning so much and realizing just how much I already know. I am looking forward to the second half of the semester where we begin to work on a final body of work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It hasn’t been all work and no play. I was lucky enough to be invited to go on a over night sailing trip with Maine Maritime’s Yacht Club. The trip was amazing and confirmed that a good part of my future will be sailing the world with my husband. There is something so romantic and invigorating about being out in the open salty air on a tall masted ship.

When I think about it, even the work has been more like play. Here is a shot from one of my class critiques from last week. The work was done by woodworking senior Hannah Merchant. You really can’t beat sitting outside on a beautiful fall day and discussing art.

As always, thanks for reading,

-r.n.a.

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It’s All About the Basic Fundamentals…

Growing up my dad always told me how important the basic fundamentals were to be successful; he was usually referring to baseball but I think it applies to just about any situation. How can I become a successful furniture designer if I don’t understand how basic joinery works? I mean, Cal Ripken Jr. would never be in the Hall of Fame if he did not take the time to learn how to properly field a ground ball. A few weeks ago I was able to go to a workshop at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship taught by Peter Korn and Reed Hansuld.  I spent two weeks learning the basic fundamentals of woodworking.

As important as they are, fundamentals can be the worst when you are starting out. Especially when the person teaching you has been doing it for 30+ years and makes it look like the easiest thing in the world to hand cut a mortise and tenon. Then when you try it you start to wonder how you managed to do basic things in life, like brush your teeth, since what you are claiming is a mortise and tenon looks more like you took a dull axe and just hacked away at the wood in an angry fit for an hour.

     

Eventually I got it. Spending a good portion of an afternoon practicing sawing straight lines on a piece of scrap definitely helped. I went on to learn how to hand cut through dovetails and half blind dovetails. I even successfully hand planed a piece of rough cut cherry which made me thankful for electricity. It took two hours and a lot of muscle for me to hand plane a relatively flat board maybe 10” x 24”. I could not imagine hand planing all the wood you would need for a dining room table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the end of the course my fingers were sliced and diced from continuously sliding chisels over them or pulling out splinters. One seasoned woodworker assured me that eventually I would develop calluses and would not have to worry about it anymore. Talking to him I realized how encouraging it is to see a seasoned woodworker with all their fingers attached and still functioning. If you have ever seen a table saw blade in action you know this is an accomplishment.

Every thursday is a school wide potluck with croquet after. As much as I hate social events, this was a lot of fun.

I met a lot of awesome people during my two weeks at the school. The last two years my main focus has been on photography and its history. Now that I am looking to include woodworking into that focus, the opportunity to take this course was huge.  I was able to learn some of woodworkings history and talk with professional woodworkers that have different styles, backgrounds, and are working in different places all over the world. Although I am still learning the basic fundamentals, I am really looking forward to my future as a furniture maker.

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

P.S.

If you have time check out these sites:

Center for Furniture Craftsmanship

Reed Hansuld

Craig Stevens

And just in case for some reason the Cal Ripken Jr. reference went over your head because you either live under a rock or are not American you should read his bio here.

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Grouchy and Boxless…

Today I got annoyed because I have too much free time. Well I have been annoyed about it for the last few days but today was the first day I was able to identify why I have been so grouchy.

Who gets grouchy over finally having free time after months of being so busy there was rarely time to sleep? Crazy people that’s who.

I hate being annoyed so I am moving on to figuring out how to best utilize all of this free time I have graciously been given. I figured I would start with updating my blog.

Big things have been happening for me. Not only did I survive my first year at Maine College of Art but I survived my first year of marriage. Both very scary things to undertake.

I am beyond happy with my decision to transfer to MECA. The classes I have taken and the people I have met there has changed how I look at my future as an artist. I took an Intro to Metalsmithing class that was so hard this last semester at Maine College of Art that despite all of the effort I put in to it I only managed a C+ for my final grade. This was a huge hit to my pride. In my mind, there is pass or fail. If you pass you get an ‘A’ if you fail you get a ‘B’.  I realize that way of thinking makes zero sense but nothing I do really makes sense.  Looking back it is funny because I worked harder in that class then I worked in any of the classes I received an ‘A’ in. Not only was it a humbling experience but I now know, without a doubt, that I will never be a metalsmith. I have a huge amount of respect for anyone in that line of work. It is exhausting and so meticulous I do not know how a degree in Metalsmithing does not come with a life time supply of Prozac.

I think every one, especially artists, should take a class in something completely foreign to them. It changes your perspective.

My Intro to Woodworking class changed my perspective so much I am now pursuing a degree in Woodworking and Furniture Design. I literally made my self sick trying to make this decision (another one of those things I do that make no sense.) One week of excessive worrying over whether or not the world would end if I changed my major equalled one week of being stuck in bed with the flu.

The lesson I learned from that winner was that no one cares what my major is, not even me. Regardless of what my fancy certificate says from my fancy art school, I am going to pursue all different art mediums and utilize the ones that I feel best convey the ideas swimming in my head. For me it makes very little sense to isolate myself inside of one medium. I do not want to master one medium, I want to master art. I do not want to be identified as a Photographer or Woodworker but as an Artist. I am tired of trying to fit into neatly labeled boxes that clearly states who I am and what type of art I will produce. It does not work for me. It makes me cranky and takes all the fun out of art. I tried to fit into the Fine Art Photographer box and a year later I wanted to throw my camera off a bridge.

It’s taken me another year of trying to find the box I fit into for me to realize boxes in general are stupid, but I am extremely bull-headed and it takes a while for me to catch on. Hopefully I can stand by my anti-box stance and finally just focus on making art that I enjoy.

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

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