To paint or not to paint? This is the question. I have recently come across several debates on the topic of painting or staining intarsia work to achieve the different colors in a piece. I have even asked a group of my peers how they felt about the topic and I have gained some great knowledge.
There is absolutely something to be said about using natural wood and natural wood grains to create a piece. In fact, in most cases this is my favorite way of doing my woodworking projects.
In the elephant piece that is currently in our inventory , the use of cedar, pine, and walnut working together to create the different dimensions is perfect. I would never paint a piece such as this. I feel that painting it would ruin the feeling of the design and throw off the beauty in the image.
Again in this western cross design, the use of ash, blood wood, and mesquite make the piece what it is. The three woods working together give the piece a feeling that could not be duplicated with paints or stains.
Sometimes you just cannot achieve the look that you desire from natural wood colors and grains without some help. Staining is often used to gain a certain look or to alter the appearance of the natural wood. I have used stain in the past as shadowing by taking a Q-Tip and lightly brushing areas of a project to get a shadow effect. In Kathy Wise’s Q and A section of her website, she gives good examples of the reasons why she will sometimes use paints or stains for assistance in creating a piece. http://www.kathywise.com/QandA2.html
I have also done a whole piece in natural wood and then painted just one aspect of the piece to make it pop or give it a specific look. In this Marine Corps emblem , I painted the earth, but left everything else natural wood. This makes the earth pop against the natural wood background.
There is also the technique of taking paint and watering it down so that you can see natural wood grain through the paint. I actually used this technique on the bulldog project. The natural wood could not give me the white I was looking for, so I took a small amount of white paint and watered it down and gave the wood a “wash” to achieve the white color I was looking for.
Finally, the painting technique where the entire piece is cut from one piece of wood and is painted to accomplish a preferred look, this is also a technique that I use. This is actually not called intarsia when the whole piece is painted. This technique is actually called segmentation. I think a lot of people call this intarsia including myself at times because the term Intarsia is more widely known and it is easier to get the idea across of what you are talking about. Some intarsia enthusiast will often get offended if you call this style intarsia. I normally use this method on custom projects where the customer specifically wants a certain appearance or if painting is the only way to gain the impression that I want. The first time that I ever painted on of my pieces was because my wife enjoys painting, and it was a way of completing a project together. I liked how the piece turned out, and we continue creating pieces together.
On the Boss truck and on the Chevy truck projects that I have recently done. I used paint to achieve the colors I desired. Sure, I could have used canary wood for the yellow in the Boss truck project or blood wood in the Chevy truck project, but this is would not have given me the appearance that I was after.
Regardless of your feelings about the different techniques in these types of woodworking, it is all beautiful to me. My philosophy is to take one project at a time and just do what feels right for that specific project. Art should not be defined on what is right and what is wrong but more on how the piece makes you feel.
The bottom line is there really is not a “right” answer to the question. As a woodworker I take pride in my pieces, I strive to be different, and to do what I love.
I am curious about your feedback on this topic. Your comments here and on my website www.cmobleydesigns.com is appreciated.
-- Chris Mobley - http://www.cmobleydesigns.com