Tag Archives: shellac

natural edge board at LV SK8 Six

If you happen to be in Las Vegas on July 6th, swing by the Get Up Gallery (520 Freemont Street) to catch the opening of LV SK8 Six, a show of custom painted skateboards.  Well, I suppose we’ll have to use the word “painted” somewhat  loosely.  Participating artists were provided with a standard blank deck.  These are  made of seven-ply maple, and are pressed into a complex form which provides  a concave surface and an inclined nose and tail.

Instead of a traditional paint job I opted for building out the bottom of the deck with a thick slab of cottonwood bark.  I suppose that I was inspired by the cross-sections of the natural edge bowls that I have been making.  In any case it seemed to be a good use for the bark, which had been hanging around my studio for a few years.

Initial construction involved cutting the bark to rough length and carving it out to match the contours of the board. For final fitting in the center I was able to use the deck itself as a sanding block.


Tail detail showing the natural clefts and striations in the bark. I applied shellac and wax to the cut surfaces, but left the outer (gray) face natural.

Bottom view of board, showing the slight taper on the edges. The truck mounting holes have been drilled through the bark, and although I originally thought I might recess a rectangle for each baseplate I later decided that it would be too disruptive.

The finished deck. To my eye it has connotations of the thick-soled shoes that became popular among skateboarders in the late 80's.

I worked for as seamless a finish as possible in the joinery between the bark and the deck, because I wanted it to appear almost as if it had been peeled straight off of a tree.  I removed the manufacturer’s finish from the top of the deck and applied several coats of shellac, sanding to a fine finish.  This was then polished with paste wax and rubbed out to a silky smoothness.  The overblown textural contrast between the top and bottom of the board is meaningful to me in that it represents my own experience of skateboarding, friction and coarseness are interwoven with smoothness and speed.

recent paintings

smoke-shaped forest, 22x 30, ink, shellac, and oil on paper, 2012

Last week I finished smoke-shaped forest, which continues a series reflecting on the simultaneous gains and losses associated with 200 acres of land being cleared adjacent to my parent’s property outside of Charleston, SC.  In such cases waste wood and plowed stumps are often stacked up and burned, and they create an eerily beautiful sight at dusk in that thick southern air.  Anyone who has ever sat around a campfire knows the seduction of staring into the coals, a kind of primal reverie of thought and thoughtlessness, comfort and fear, and the clear insistence of a light in the darkness.

broadleaf plantain with clover, 10 1/4" x 13 7/8", oil on panel, 2012

broadleaf plantain with clover is the first in what I believe will be a series of edible wild plant paintings, most of which can be quickly located in urban environments.  These are works about the act of foraging, which is another way of seeking a depth of experience outside of the dominant culture.  But they also raise questions regarding patterns of recognition and the problems associated with the indirect transfer of knowledge.  One of the classic problems of depicting plants is the method of depicting a “representative sample”.  That is, the collection or photographic documentation of a single plant does not account for the inevitability of variation, and this creates a reservoir of doubt.  Paintings are effective in communicating some types of specificity, but often at the expense of others.  The payoff of this more “scenic” method, in my mind, is that it describes more fully a set of relationships within a given habitat.  And just as my front lawn establishes criteria for fruitfulness, so does the limited context of my panel.

grackle with smartweed and clover, 14 1/4" x 17 1/4", oil on panel, 2012

grackle with smartweed and clover keeps up the thematic approach to ground-cover, and the act of looking down as a move out of the demands of the body and into the life of the mind.  Because the bird’s eye is denied to the viewer as a point of reference, the grackle straddles a space between life and death.

Variety Show

Re-installing the central dining room fixture-- the only time you'll actually see the fluted glass interior.

Installed, showing two of the four peripheral globes.

One of the great things about summer is that I can pursue a wider variety of projects than the school year allows.  Five years ago I removed the central light fixture from our dining room while redoing the ceiling.  This summer I finally got around to rewiring the fixture and replacing the sockets, as the insulation had degraded a bit since 1905.  The fixture is an incredible piece of craftsmanship, composed of eleven different pieces of bronze and two pieces of glass.  I had to make a template to locate the four corner loops, which actually only bears weight when the brass socket assembly is removed.  This is the finest fixture in the house, and I trust that it will now be in good service for another hundred years.

The workmanship on that metal reminded me of a painting that I made for a friend last year, the image of which I am just now posting.  It is a “portrait” of his gorgeous old Model 1860 Henry Rifle (.44 caliber rim fire, this one manufactured in 1862).  It features a receiver engraved with “running deer pattern number one” by Samuel Hoggson, a factory engraver for Henry Repeating Rifles.  But of course I was just as attracted to the figured walnut stock.

Detail of the engraving.

The painting was an interesting challenge, as I wanted to have the rifle convincingly immersed in a landscape that I fabricated from a few photographs and my own memory of life in the Southwest.  I was able to paint the rifle from observation, but used an Italian replica for most of the work because it made me nervous having the original laying around in the studio.  I enjoy having plenty of room for imagination, innovation, and problem-solving in paintings.  I made the rustic frame by request, and was happy with the way that the silvery, weathered surface of the white oak offset the image.

Which brings us back to wood.  This summer I was able to retrieve this old church pew, which after some repair and refinishing has become the favored place to drop whatever you are carrying when you come in our front door.  Although I haven’t yet been able to confirm it, I believe that the pew is made of American Chestnut.  It is always a pleasure to breathe a bit more life into beautiful and useful things, but that would be even more significant “win” to me if this were in fact a remnant of the pre-blight riches that once dominated our eastern forests.  I used my home-made black walnut stain to color the piece, sealed it with a thin coat of shellac, and then applied three coats of wipe-on polyurethane.

An old pew, repaired and refinished.