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Tool marks


Guest DFogg

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Guest DFogg

In custom knives the work has moved steadily in the direction of highly finished work. All tooling is removed, all surfaces polished and scratch free, it has become a hallmark of craftsmanship, but in doing so the work moves further away from function, time increases dramatically with no real aesthetic or functional gain. Clean and tight, it has been taken to the level of rocket parts, way beyond excessive.

 

I find I am compulsive about it and have had made reactionary pieces that emphasize the hot work aspect by deeply texturing, but in the end that too evolved to refinement. I find I am not able to draw the line sometimes between excellent and obsessive.

 

I know carving has a school that demands that the tool marks remain to show the skill of the carver. I was just wondering your thoughts on this.

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Thank you Don for asking such a worthy question. We should have some interesting thoughts on this one.

 

Questions to ask oneself:

 

Do the tool marks enhance the intent of the piece?

 

Do the tool marks become a focal point which either detract from the intent of the piece or cause a second unintentional story to weaken or strengthen the presentation?

 

Are the skills of the person wielding the tools, both in the making of the marks and choosing how to make the marks, such that the tool marks can tell their own story with integrity and interest?

 

 

 

There are more thoughts in my head, but those areas are not functioning fully yet, more tea please.

 

When I was working in clay, some decades ago, the mark of the hand and the tools were an element that could be integral to the success of a pot, or could detract from it just as easily. My upbringing in clay, my first years of training included being a student of Marguerite Wildenhain, who was trained in the first years of the Bauhaus. Form follows function. But the path could follow many interpretations. I began with tooling away the mark of the hand, though it was always present regardless, then adding back to the smoothed form.

 

As I grew up in the clay world, I learned to love work by Japanese trained American potters, and by apprentices of Bernard Leach. The slow speed of the wheel and the mark of the hand were what the pots were about. The first time I saw a pot being made by very slow wheel-throwing I cried (just short of sobbing), touched deeply by the communication between the potter and the clay. To this day, his pots still hold a reverence for the relationship of the hand and tool to the clay. The pots beg to be held or caressed, to let one's fingertips linger on a place where a mark remains from a tool or a shadow from the hand during glazing.

 

Now, I carve with files, sharp tools and sandpaper, to a smooth surface, then add textures and details to enhance the rhythm, balance and concept of the piece. Scratches from sandpaper could be a detraction, unless used intentionally (as with the fur of the Dancing Rabbit, which also further tooling after color was applied).

 

 

(I think that I am not done yet, but I need some breakfast, perhaps I will return to the topic later.)

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Guest ford hallam

Hi Don,

 

funny you should be thinking along these lines, Only yesterday I was talking to my wife about how in our industrialised society we take for granted perfect finishes and smooth surfaces and how in the past this kind of precision would have been understood and appreciated in a very different way.

 

In my own carving I`m beginning to feel that I want to rely solely on my chisels, no further finishing. All the extra effort almost seems to hide the liveliness that the actual carving can impart.

 

Personally, I feel that some of the most expressive work has this element of directness about it.

 

However, if you are trying to reveal something of the inherent quality of a given material then a very refined finish may be a prerequisite. Also, expressing particular varieties of delicacy may be better achieved by a very refined approach.

 

this topic is bound to elict a lot of comment and disscusion.

 

as always, Ford

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Guest ford hallam
Questions to ask oneself:

 

Do the tool marks enhance the intent of the piece?

 

Do the tool marks become a focal point which either detract from the intent of the piece or cause a second unintentional story to weaken or strengthen the presentation?

 

Are the skills of the person wielding the tools, both in the making of the marks and choosing how to make the marks, such that the tool marks can tell their own story with integrity and interest?

 

Morning Janel, I think your " questions " hit the nail right on the head. Who knows, you might have the makings of a metal-basher ;)

 

Ford

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I recall seeing several netsuke a while back by a novice carver that had deliberately left tool marks, much in the traditional style of wood carving. I thought they detracted from the work. In my book there's a big difference between deliberate texture and tool marks. (Even though smoothness is a texture...but let's not get into that)

 

I suspect successful tool mark texture, like Ford mentioned, is a mark of the experienced artist who has considered all of Janel’s touchmark questions.

 

There is a style of netsuke carving, called ittobori (long vowel symbol over the first o, don’t know what you call this). Means “carving with a single knife or cutting edge.†I don’t particularly like this style and you almost never see contemporary artists using it. Here’s an example in ichii (yew) by Sukenori. Meaning and photo from Bushell’s “Netsuke, Familiar and Unfamiliarâ€

post-11-1121268695.jpg

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B) how can you not like ittobori style? I love it! I admit though that it's not for everyone. I think when successfully done, the level of skill is deceptive. The Koryuen website (sorry- can't recall the URL, I think Janel has it) recently listed a exhibit of ittobori netsuke by a contemporary carver. I think it's not too well received in the contemporary collection world because people aren't appreciating it on its own terms, and they believe it is amateurish.

 

Scale matters:

 

On such a small scale as the carvings we do, it's difficult to find a right balance with tool marks. With ittobori, I guess one has to take in to consideration the size of carving in order to decide the scale of each facet the knife makes. Too many facets and you might as well polish the thing. Too few, and the form isn't defined well enough.

 

On a small scale, what it seems most of us are after is an element of preciousness, which provides interest, value, worth. Are tool marks antithetical to this message?

 

The question of tool marks is heavily dictated by the scale we work in. I think even in blades, one must look at the size of the blade and pass judgement about forging (hammer) marks and the dialog between the two. Does this make sense ;)

 

Ford's comment about the interaction between a tang in the raw state and a polished blade ascending from it is a discussion about tool marks too, isn't it?

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Guest Clive

Reading through this thread, which I must say has been most enjoyable with some very considered and deeply insightful comment expressed, it occurs to me that there is a danger in thinking that finish is essentily about the quality of the surface. The finish that usually works best however is the result of an intimate dialogue between the carving that supports the surface and the surface itself.

 

For instance it is sometimes very easy to allow the natural beauty of the material to seduce one into creating a finish that best reveals the natural beauty of the material rather than creating a finish that best supports the carving. Sometimes its very difficult to conduct a dialogue, the process of building the piece can be very noisy (speaking metaphorically of course...no cheap churps about power tools please) and one technique I often employ to achieve a quiet enough enviroment (again speaking metaphorically) is to give the entire surface a uniform highly polished surface, but then to rework the entire surface focusing all my concentration on hearing the precise structure underneath. Is is soft, is it hard, is it lumpy, is it gritty, how is it?? Such considerations inform one of the precise quality of the surface you need to create. Tool marks can be a vital contributor to that process.

 

Note: I got a funny feeling that I've just graduated from the school of the blindingly obvious... and if I'm teaching you all to suck eggs I'm sorry.

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A lot of food for thought(except the eggs, Clive ;)). It seems to me one of those issues where no hard and fast rules need apply. Every project is such a unique combination of materials/design/technique. Part of what is so appealing to me about metalwork is the very subtle(or dramatic) possibilities of interplay among varying textures. "Smooth" polish is very much like the issue of "sharpness" that the knifemakers love to muse about: there really is no such absolute thing. Any surface will be relatively smooth to some, and relatively rough to some other.

 

I've always admired the type of work that is at once refined and "homely" at the same time(not sure of the right word). Can't say that I've really been able to pull that off.

 

I'm attaching a photo of some work of a Japanese wood and lacquer artist(sorry the catalogue is entirely in Japanese). This box in wood and lacquer seems a fine example of using "as cut" surfaces and polished, lacquered surfaces.

 

I'll try to get some more of this work up. I just spent an hour getting my scanner going since installing the new Mac Tiger. Grrrrowl....

post-4-1121311559.jpg

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Guest ford hallam

Morning everyone,

 

here are some more images of tool marks used , I think , very successfully in the furtherance of an aesthetic vision.

 

The nunome cup was made by Kashima Ikkoku ( nat living treasure ), the other three images were taken from the catalogues of London dealer Mr Brian Harkins.

 

Enjoy.

 

Ford ;)

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Guest DFogg

Perfect examples Ford. Dam, we need more lifetimes.

 

I guess the question for me is whether I am forcing my intent and missing a more powerful message by erasing my tracks. Are my aesthetic judgments frozen by convention and style?

 

Thanks, you have given me some fresh things to ponder.

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Good questions Don. I think most of us have enough technical ability to erase every bit of tool mark that we wish, so really it's a decision about what to leave or not. Are we going to design a piece just so marks can be left? Possibly, but isn't that just as contrived as thinking you have to get rid of everything. To me, the real issue is not marks/no marks. It's whether a piece expresses what we want it to, be it narrative or emotion or atmosphere. The way we get to that can't be set up as a formula, especially one dictated by anyone other than ourself.

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Guest ford hallam

Hi Jim,

 

perhaps it`s not so much a matter of having the ability to obscure the marks of creation but rather a matter of wether or not those marks in themselves express something that you want the world to see.

 

There is always a very real danger of having a preconcieved idea of how something should look. Clive has suggested that a genuine dialogue with your medium allows for a very intimate and subtle response. If this process results in certain marks being appreciated, valued or being seen to be supportive of your artistic vision then surely retaining or even enhancing them can`t be contrived. If so, then we must accept that the whole act of making is fundamentally contrived. ;)

 

I think your point about that very contrivance is a very valid though, the question would seem to come back to the way one approaches ones work. What is the intent, to simply create acceptable products or to persue a singular and personal exploration of the medium one is drawn to. If I knew I had one week left, how would I approach my last chance to commune with my metal?

Having been close to that very situation ( as you well know ) personally, I feel a sense of urgency in getting to my true "way"

 

I reckon if i keep digging this hole ST Peter himself won`t be able to reach down far enough to pull me out B) Thats Ok though, it`s quiet down here.

 

Ford, who else?

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We of Scandinavian heritage may be familiar with Flat-Plane carving. I live in a region of the US that was settled by many nationalities, but the Swedish settlers were the first, largest wave to break ground and begin farming in the early to mid 1800's. I went to college in the next state south, in a small town that boasts a great Norwegian-American museum. There is a style of carving called Scandinavian Flat-Plane Carving. The little sculptures are charming and endearing caricatures of daily life. One carver, (ahum) Emil Janel, was a renouned carver, whose work is being shown in Scandinavian-American museums. I have attached a photo from a book about Scandinavian Style-Flat Plane Carving, by Harley Refsal. He lives and works in the town where I went to college. I enjoy the spirit of the little people and the cleverness of the carvers who are able to be so expressive with so few strokes. The mark of the tool is integral to the freshness of the carvings. Not unlike ittobori, hummm?

 

harleyrefsal1_w.jpg

 

 

Janel

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