Subtlety is just bull$%!t in evening wear
Greetings, dear reader. After a hellish few days toiling away making coarse physical objects and wasting all that potential for ‘intellectual work’ that I was imbued with in school – I’ve finally managed to get some time back at my computer. Ah, the workstation… if my guidance counsellor could only see me now! What’s better than soaking up some full-spectrum radiation from a glowing screen, dear reader? Not a thing, I propose.
During my last post I collected a few photos to try to present a way of looking at the aesthetics of an infill plane. This ‘spectrum’ of form and pattern, though, is certainly not something limited to planes. It applies quite well to furniture as well – contrast a shaker corner cupboard with a federal sideboard and I think the same argument holds true: when using wood, there are a series of possible choices you can make. Selecting material with less variation in color, grain, and figure gives results where the essential form of the piece is given the primary focus. Select woods with greater variation and dynamic range in its visual impact, and the piece tends to be much more heavily skewed toward the beauty of the material itself.
I think that a lot of us have a strong tendency to prefer one end of this spectrum more than the other – but in my experience, it’s a fairly even split. And, speaking for myself, I also think it’s quite common to find deep appreciation for both ends of the spectrum. I can’t say I have a real ‘preference’ for either mode…
As I suggested at the end of that post, though, I also think there’s something of a ‘middle way’ as well. There are certain choices where the emphasis on form or pattern actually changes significantly depending on the level of attention you give the object, as well as the lighting and perspectives it’s viewed in. First example is a plane filled with beautiful south american mahogany. This wood was supplied by the client, and I was actually a bit skeptical at first – but once we’d worked out the finish schedule, the coloring and chatoyance of the end results were really gratifying:
This was finished with a bit of tru-oil followed by a number of polish coats of garnet shellac to bring the color and depth out. While there’s very little grain structure to speak of, in the right lighting the color combined with the ribboning and pore structure of the wood make for a very striking effect. Clicking on the photo will bring up a larger version, which gives some sense of the effect a closer look can have.
The next example is a recent plane, with infills of mexican desert ironwood, is what I refer to as ‘stealth’. The coloring is a beautiful dark burgundy/purple variety, and as with the mahogany plane, the coloring has a marvelous effect on the presentation of the entire shape and form of the plane. It serves much the same role as a picture frame – drawing the eye in and presenting the shape of the infills and metal shell to the eye.
But with this wood, and a few other species, the entire effect changes dramatically with lighting and attention. A subtle shift in the lighting, and the grain and figure pop out.
And this, to me, is a really compelling approach to design. The initial effect, or the ‘approach’ is heavily skewed toward form, but closer inspection brings the subtleties to light – and in some cases, those subtleties can be quite striking.
My friend Konrad Sauer recently posted another example of this on his excellent blog. The plane below is his beautiful K7 smoother design, filled in this case with Bois de Rose (madagascar rosewood). Here’s the ‘approach’ shot:
The owner of this plane referred to it as ‘greasy black’ in color – an excellent description, for my money – and one that, again, really emphasizes the details of the form in this case – notice how quickly the eye moves to the beautiful chamfer detail running between sidewalls and front bun.
Again, however, with a change in the light or perspective the details of the wood start to come to the fore:
And before anyone comments – yes: Konrad does own all the best wood on the planet. And no – there’s no jealousy on my part. not a shred. Not a shredded, torn, obliterated, smashed up tiny little bit of it. Jealousy, that is.
I’m not sure what it is exactly about these sorts of examples that appeals so much to me. I do know that ‘subtle’ is not a term that is often used to describe my personality (blunt is the second most often-used adjective for describing that). I suppose it may be that my appreciation for subtler designs is a way of compensating for that somehow, but since I let my subscription to Armchair Psychoanalysis Digest lapse, that’s just a wild guess.
But then, what do I know? I gave up a plush, comfy life of the mind at a desk and computer to chop, scrape, hammer, and sharpen bits of metal and wood. Who in their right mind would take such a menial job over a highly skilled professional life?
So whatever you do, dear reader — don’t trust me. Never do that.
Until next time…