Collaborative Bowl wins 2016 Niche Award
This January our bowl named “27 Animals, 3 Artists” won the coveted 2016 Niche Award for Painted/Colored Wood. This honor is the craft world’s equivalent to an Emmy or an Oscar. It is professionally judged, with nearly 2000 American & Canadian applicants vying to be named the best in their category. This bowl was an early collaboration between myself, Michael Kehs and Dan Greer, and we were thrilled to know that the path we are exploring together is a strong one.
Collaboration happens frequently in wood arts. Nationally recognized artists have been bringing their work to a higher level with a little help from a friend. Binh Pho & Patti Quinn Hill, Jacques Vesery & Alain Mailland, and Glenn Lucas & Mark Sanger have all worked together to produce work that proves that sometimes, more is more. This is no surprise, given the nurturing and generous nature of woodturners. I have been continually surprised by the willingness to share techniques and trade secrets which artists in other genres would covet as proprietary.
My journey to working with such talented woodworkers was a fortunate one. I have been a professional painter and American Craft Jeweler for 29 years, and have always focused on painting on wood. When my husband told me that he wanted to learn to turn 3 years ago, we both signed up for a course on pen turning – the gateway to becoming an obsessive collector of turning accessories and tools. Our instructor told us, with a smirk, that the lathe was the least of our future expenses, which we thought was so funny at the time, but have learned was the truth.
After joining our local woodturning group, I gleaned some additional facts. Women are scarce in this medium (but the men I have met are very supportive, not discriminating) and techniques & information is shared openly. There is a “pay it forward” attitude that is so admirable. It feels great to have a community of artists behind you, instead of working in a vacuum.
I met my collaborators at a small Pennsylvania Symposium called the Tylersport Carving & Turning Fair. This yearly gem has demonstrations, artist exhibits and is a place where you can get any of your questions answered. A member of our group who has taken me under his wing introduced me around to the other exhibitors as “the new painter”. By the end of the day, I was committed to setting up a station for the next day to paint some pieces that had been donated to me by the other turners.
At Tylersport there is a show tradition to create on collaborative piece on a demo turning, swapping it to as many skilled hands as is possible. It is then auctioned off at the end of the weekend. The 2015 piece started as a hollow form demonstration (Anthony “Yak” Yakonick), was passed to a pyrographer to demonstrate burning techniques (Michael Kehs), then it got additional burned embellishments (Dan Greer), and ended up with me for color. Initially, I was struck with what is known as “empty canvas syndrome” – fear of that first stroke. But I was met with kind words of encouragement and reminders that sandpaper fixes most mistakes.
At the end of the day, the hollow form was finished and auctioned off to a collector, with lots of compliments and the highest price of the weekend. I left the show inspired and with even more pieces to collaborate on, including a platter with some photos of flowers its turner hoped I might add, and a lidded demo box that had a bit of tear out which became a “design opportunity”. But most importantly, I had an invitation to join the monthly meetings at Michael Keh’s studio (playing with the big guns!).
At my second Kehs meeting, Michael handed me a Box Elder bowl. He had turned it and done his distinctive abstract branding. Dan Greer had intertwined 27 animals on the top and bottom of the bowl, with delicate gradated, toasted pyrography. It was hard to keep your place to count them all – like a Seek & Find – and now it was mine to color. No pressure.
So it was up to me and my tablet. I spent my time in the studio saying “ok Google, pictures of albatrosses”, “ok Google, pictures of tree frogs”, because it was important to identify each animal correctly to get the colors to all work. Dan didn’t give me a cheat sheet.
I painted the bowl using very thin washes of Liquitex Acrylic Soft Body Paint. I swear by this particular brand, because it easily amalgamates with water, while keeping it’s intense pigment. As my skills have become fine tuned, I have learned that raising the grain before the final sanding keeps the piece from becoming fuzzy when the watery paint is applied. Also, there is joy in using a blend of ½ shellac & ½ alcohol to prep the surface, with a quick French Polish after it hardens. But fools rush in, and so I took my time and laid in whisper thin layers of color to each animal. Now that it is completed, it is much easier to rest your eyes on an animal and keep your place while counting, but there is still a lovely sense of discovery when a previously unseen creature is revealed.
When viewing our bowl, people play with it, twisting it from top to bottom to discover all the animals that are tangled across it. It’s so rewarding to have viewers really spend time looking at your work. I have been told time and again that this bowl has a certain special something, which attribute that to the way we blend all our varied skills – fearlessly and with “no elbows out”. We are now trying to build that all important “Body of Work”. There is such joy in setting a piece free to take a big creative swerve, in the hand of your partner.