I was reminded of a documentary film that followed the making of a Steinway Grand piano from start to finish as this picture frame started to take shape. It came out around 2007 and maybe some of you other woodworkers saw it. The title was “The Making of Steinway L1037”. As a furniture maker who’s passion is working primarily with hand tools I really enjoyed this film. Not to compare my work with something the magnitude of a Steinway piano but the process that takes place as we make an item by hand is taken for granted by the general public. During my teaching career something I always tried to emphasize is that everything we see, use, or touch was created by someone; it didn’t just happen! As this frame went from an idea to an actual piece it brought up the memory of that documentary, if you haven’t seen it you can probably still find it on Netflix or another internet provider.
This painting titled Summer Breeze; was painted by my wife, Diane Eugster. She hired a model and spent the morning taking pictures of her in various costumes and locations throughout our house and yard. The goal for my picture frame designs is to incorporate an element of the painting into the frame whenever possible. Diane asked for a silver, cool frame to complement the painting. One feature that stood out to me was her braids so being up for a challenge (as always!) I made it my mission to find some clip art or an image that I could possibly carve to give the illusion of braids. The thing to keep in mind is that it’s the painting that is the star of the show, not the frame. Think of the frame to be jewelry or eye-candy that will draw the viewer into the art. It’s always surprising that many artists will scrimp on the frame even though it may be that “hook” that makes their work stand out from all the others in a gallery or show.
The frame making process begins by first cutting and joining the pieces together. To see what that process entails, check out this page of my website. Now comes the fun part, finding an image that is usable. Thank goodness for internet image searches and copy and paste capabilities because my artistic abilities aren’t up to this task! The first braid design I found was really cool but it used three strands. A flexible plastic pattern was made and I carved a couple of trials — the problem came when it was time to model it. Even after coloring in each strand to see which goes under, which goes over, etc., etc. it became apparent to me that this was just a bit too complicated. Since the plan is to have it go about 9″ from the miter on each corner there is too much chance for error. The time spent was a good lesson and practice in carving but in the end the design chosen is what you see in brown which has only two strands to it. We changed the ending of it so it wasn’t quite so literally strands of hair.
Just a brief recap on how I make these designs; once it’s manipulated on the computer to the size needed it is attached to a piece of plastic you can get from salad containers with spray adhesive. This picture is of the three strand braid but the process is the same. The plastic piece with the design is stapled or taped to a piece of wood and then cut out with carving chisels. The size/sweep of the chisel used is annotated on another paper so I can remember what the heck I did! Salad container plastic is flexible enough to fit into the cove and by flipping it over I can trace a mirror image on both corners of the frame. The pattern is cut at 45° to align it with the miter. Since the ending of this braid is modified there are two pieces for this particular pattern.
This frame is rather large so I needed to pull the bench out from the wall. The plan is to first lay out the basic design and ground it out. It’s always tricky working on a curved, ogee/cove surface like this but here’s the first two corners.
Although the details have been drawn in to model the braids I’ll wait until all four corners are ground out and attempt to do all of the modeling then. My thoughts are that I can get a rhythm that way to achieve more consistency.
For the most part, using a chisel or gouge of a certain size is the best way to have consistent curves and profiles on a carving. Sometimes though, that’s not possible. Enter one of my favorite little tools I call my Golf Ball Skew! Using golf balls for handles on my files is something I’ve done for years, they’re great. You can hold them in any position and the surface provides a good grip. This is made from a Marples, double skew chisel that came from the factory with an ugly, blue, plastic handle. It’s my “go to” tool whenever I need to cut lines that don’t match the standard carving chisels I have. You can sight right over the top of it and pivot the tool exactly on the line that needs to be cut.
So there you have it, a look at how the carving of my picture frames go from my head to the wood. It really is all about the process — hope you enjoyed it, now it’s my turn to make some chips!