Monday, December 02, 2013


When I first began working with wood, I became intrigued with the variety of local hardwoods and the diverse colors and patterns of grain that they present. I began making inlay from my local Arkansas hardwoods as a way to illustrate the diversity and harmony of our local forest growth. Playing with this juxtaposition of colors, one alongside another  I gained a sense of what woods look good together. Even without an in depth analysis of why woods work well together, beautiful boxes can be made.

Sometimes the mixing of colors works well in a box, and sometimes the results are not as pleasing as the maker would hope, and so  I've been asked by my students how to mix and match colors and species of wood.  Are there some simple guidelines that can help a beginning box making to be more comfortable in the use of color?

One can see that colors being dark juxtaposed against light can provide contrast and draw greater attention to a box. Greater harmony in the use of color achieved by using woods of similar intensity and hue can bring a sense of unity to a box. Whether you choose to make a box as a bold statement that demands attention, or whether you choose to make a box for a more subtle purpose may help to suggest the appropriate use of color in making your box. So it is important to first examine your own goals. Bold statements are risky and you my find some advantage in being somewhat cautious in your use of color, particularly if you are just beginning your box making adventure. To minimize risk I offer some simple guidelines.

One thing you will discover in an examination of wood is that wood grain is not a consistent color.  It will consist of bands light and dark and of subtle differences in hue. A single species of wood may have darker lines of grain that may present an invitation to a craftsman to use woods of that darker color for accent or to provide contrast. Follow those invitations found in the grain of various species and you won't be far off the mark.

I've found that it is important to have a good reason for your use of color. Its more effective when it has a clear purpose. For example, the use of contrasting keys to reinforce miter joints, gently remind the viewer that the box was deliberately crafted to last for generations by a craftsman who cared about his or her work. Careful placement of those contrasting keys can create a sense of rhythm and visual balance in the design of the box. A small lift tab of a contrasting color informs the viewer where to place finger tips to open the box, so contrast can serve a purpose beyond aesthetics. A thin line of contrasting wood can highlight and frame a panel of figured hardwood, both accentuating that wood, and reminding of your careful craftsmanship. Just as a frame may be used to bring a painting to life, the body of a box done in one color of wood may highlight a more figured, colorful and attractive lid. Have simple clear design objectives for your use of colors in a box and those colors will work to make your box beautiful.

Make, fix and create...

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