Tuesday, December 03, 2013

texture, a lesson in design...

Student box makers at Laquey High School in Missouri
Texture is one of the essential design tools that can be used to make interestingly beautiful boxes. Just as the use of various colors of wood can add interest to a box, the use of various textures can do the same thing. The hand and eye are a tag team in the exploration of surface texture. When the eyes see something of interest, the hands instinctively reach toward the object of that interest to ascertain qualities of texture and form.

To plane or sand a surface smooth is one of the greatest pleasures to be found in woodworking. It offers immediate feedback to the craftsman and gives a sense of personal satisfaction as the work at hand moves from coarse to smooth.  And again, when the viewer of a finely crafted box sees an engaging surface, his or her hands will be called into action. Touch is a process of exploration that leads a viewer into more personal and intimate association with things and texture is the invitation.

Wood grain often offers the illusion of texture.  Woods like curly maple may give the illusion of varying depths through the reflection and refraction of light and the craftsman's careful sanding and finish can accentuate those depths, that are then surprising when the viewer runs his or her hand over the surface to discover it perfectly smooth to the touch. That kind of surprise is particularly effective in the design of a beautiful box.  It awakens the observer and calls him or her into deeper relationship with the box.

Did you know that smooth and rough textures are equally useful in the making of beautiful boxes? Many woodworkers have become so intent on achieving smooth surfaces that they over look the alternatives which also present interesting design options. Woods as they come direct from the sawmill often present textures that the craftsman can use to make boxes that are interesting, beautiful and surprising. Woods that are old and weathered tell a story of their own can also add interest to a beautiful box. When using rough woods, however, sand them smooth to the touch, so that they invite further hands-on exploration.

Textures you make yourself through the use of various tools, will make a plain piece of wood more interesting, and creating these textures can be part of the fun of box making. Again, sanding your created textures smooth to the touch will invite the viewers hands to engage more deeply with your beautifully crafted box, but sand only enough to make it smooth to the touch, and not enough to remove your carefully crafted marks.

I find it to be particularly interesting to juxtapose purposefully rough or textured surfaces with those that are perfectly smooth as a way of creating contrast in a box, just as I might choose to make it from two distinct colors of wood.

The photo above is one of three classes of high school students in Laquey, Missouri with boxes they made in shop class. It was sent by one of the teachers from my last summer's Missouri TEAM box making presentation. I've suggested to teachers that no one should graduate from high school without having the opportunity to make something beautiful, useful and lasting from wood. What could be better than a  box?

Make, fix and create...

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