Grab a cup of your favorite beverage and relax. This is a long one.
Earlier this year I posted pictures of a couple of the ornaments I’ve been making almost annually as a project. You can see them here. It’s time to start focusing on this year’s ornament.
I started making an ornament/window hanging each year in 1996. I’ve missed two years – both because of work related time pressures. But every other year I’ve produced an edition of about 25 which are given to my family and friends as Christmas/Hannukah/New Year’s presents. It’s a lot of fun and there are several family members (all over the age of 10) for whom the ornament is a highlight of the holiday season. (At some point I’ll unearth the one’s I haven’t posted and post pictures of them.)
Like many woodworking projects, and most other types of projects as well, the first step is planning. The first ornament was a snowflake. At the time I thought I’d make a different snowflake each year. The next year I saw a craft design for a creche and inspired by a friend who collects them I adapted that for the ornament. It’s a beautiful ornament but is quite fragile because it’s very open. The ornaments in all but one of the suqsequent years have been inspired by nature – moose, heron, cabin in the woods, owl, dragonfly, goldfish. Which brings us to this year.
We have spent two weeks every summer since 2000 at Wakanda a compound (way too fancy a word but I can’t think of a better one) of 5 cabins in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Each cabin has a name, including the owner’s house which is Moose. The other cabins are Heron, Owl, Loon, and Birch. Each cabin is decorated with numerous items depicting the namesake of the cabin (I think we counted over 30 owls in Owl cabin this summer). The owners have become good friends so they are on the list of ornament recipients each year. The heron ornament was inspired by several early morning heron sightings there one summer. For the first year it hung in the owner’s kitchen window. The next summer it moved into the permanent decorations in Heron cabin. Likewise the owl I made is now hanging in Owl cabin. I’ve never made a loon, and one of the kids there last summer (2006) pointed this out. At the time I wasn’t keen on making a loon ornament but kept the idea in the back of my head. Last year ended up being one of the years without an ornament since I spent most of November and early December traveling (work training and an insane drive to Arkansas for Thanksgiving – from Boston! A story for another time.).
Which brings us to this year. At one point I thought I might find the time this summer to get last year’s ornament made. This did not happen – I must have breathed in some pretty strong toxins to think it might have. The idea of creating a loon ornament has been percolating in the back of my mind for more than a year now. Over that time it’s grown on me.
My first step in creating a design is to look for an inspiration picture. I’ve gotten inspiration from rubber stamps, books, catalogs (the heron is based on a weather vane I saw in a catalog) and even bed sheets. In recent years one of the first places I turn to for inspiration has been the Google image search. Type in a couple of key words and you get thousands of pictures. I take a bunch of inspiration pictures and try to synthesize them into a design. Some years I end up at a point far away from the inspiration. Other years I don’t stray so far.
This is the stage I’m in right now on the loon. I’ve got a picture I like. It shows a loon in an agitated pose, as opposed to the sterotypical loon floating serenely that you see everywhere in cabin furnishings. One of the most important steps is to simplify the design. I stack cut the ornaments on a scroll saw in batches of three or four. To end up with 25 or so ornaments that means cutting the pattern as many as seven times. A complex pattern may look lovely but takes too long to cut, and by the seventh time through I get pretty sick of it. So simple is better. It also fits with my favorite aesthetic – I don’t like fussy. I can appreciate fussy, but it isn’t me.
Typically I’ll get a design I think works, cut it, and evaluate it. The evaluation process includes figuring out if there are points where the cutting is too difficult to make successfully – if the ornament is likely to break while I’m making it the design needs tweaking; I also determine if the finished ornament has any seriously weak points – even if I can cut it successfully the design get’s adjusted if it’s likely to be broken later; and I also evaluate how long it took to do the cutting – November and December are busy times and as much as I love spending lots of that in the shop I usually have a bunch of other projects to work on.
I’ll scan in my preliminary design soon and get it posted. And as soon as I clear a path to my scroll saw I’ll post about how much the design has morphed. And I promise to include some pictures along the way.
If you’ve made it this far – thanks for sticking with me.
-- Chelle http://artsgranddaughter.blogspot.com