Art Prize 2011 #1: Planning

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Blog entry by tyskkvinna posted 06-24-2011 04:10 PM 4581 reads 0 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Art Prize 2011 series Part 2: Design Progress »

If you’re not familiar with it, Art Prize is an open art competition that takes place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, every autumn (for a few years now), but is open to any and all artists from all over the world. I think last year roughly 1700 people were in it and 40% or so were not from Grand Rapids. The top prize is $250,000 (chosen by popular vote), but most people enter Art Prize for the exposure.

Which is my intention..

I wanted to blog about this earlier, but I opted against it because I wasn’t sure where I would be hosting my piece and I thought it could be kind of a let-down if I planned and shared about it and then wasn’t able to secure a venue. What you do is, you register to enter as an artist and then you match up with a venue (there’s about 200 venues available, who previously registered). As it turns out, my hesitations had a good backing because I “almost had” a venue a couple of times. I am happy to now announce, though, that I will be hosting my 2011 Art Prize entry at the Holiday Inn in downtown Grand Rapids.

You can take a peek at my artist profile here.

The reason I am posting there is, naturally, is because the piece I am making to enter into Art Prize is a woodworking piece. Y’all probably remember my earth carving.

If you read my artist profile, you see that I am going to make one into a table-top. Should be pretty cool.

Points of discussion for you awesome people:

1. I am debating between laminating solid wood and using plywood. I want the table top to be roughly 3 inches thick with a little over 2 inches of carving (so very few parts of it will actually be three inches thick). Arguments for or against either choice?
2. Related to item 1, but I want it to be kind of a “fancy” wood- I’d rather not use baltic birch ply but I’m having a hard time finding nice plywood that is actually wood all the way through and not a core of some kind. Walnut may be okay, but it may end up being a little too dark.
3. How heavy do you think this will be? Surely it won’t be any worse than a farm-style dining room table which all seem to do just fine on four legs. I want to make the legs easily detachable so I’m thinking some kind of screw-in hardware.
4. I would love to hear suggestions for what to do on the legs. I have a couple of ideas but nothing concrete. I want to learn towards a vaguely post-modern, vaguely art deco. Simple enough to not compete with the obvious centrepiece of it all but interesting enough to not look like an afterthought.
5. And last- I want to float a glass/plastic tabletop on top of it so you could use it as a normal table. Right now the best idea I have is a series of pegs around the circumference with spacers so that the top sheet could sit snugly in it. but I’m not sure.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

18 comments so far

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3026 days

#1 posted 06-24-2011 04:49 PM

Just a few things that come to mind:

Pure solid wood will be problematic because of wood movement. Cracks will be really unsightly.

Building from layers of veneer with different woods for different depths/altitudes

Possibly “Dynawood” I think is the trade name with the veneers of different dyed colored wood

Plywood core or torsion box with slab wood overlay for carving

Include Mercator latitude and longitude to be able to work in sections. Clear acrylic supports at intersections to support glass or have clear acrylic on edge to form the entire grid as support

Butcher block type construction with continents that are one wood and oceans another

One substrate for oceans and over sized cut out land applied and then blended in with final carving

Looking at the earth carving, besides the idea of the basic art deco type look, a full on modernistic Flash Gordon retro modern or a steam punk flavor would be stunning.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3014 days

#2 posted 06-24-2011 05:02 PM

I’m cutting it at one piece, however I end up doing it. I want the end result to look as close to “one solid piece of wood” as possible. (With the understanding that you can’t have a 4×8’ piece of wood unless we go all crazy into giant slabs….. which is well out of my budget)

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View AZMac's profile


87 posts in 2721 days

#3 posted 06-24-2011 06:04 PM

I think the table base, (legs) are important also. When someone views your work you don’t want a distraction with simple legs. I would go with a Trestle type base. Also I would use glass for the table top not plastic.

View Rustic's profile


3253 posts in 3625 days

#4 posted 06-24-2011 06:06 PM

What about cutting a piece of plywood 3/4 inch shy of your overall dimension then mitering some nice wood to cover the plywood. That may be simpler to do.

--, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3014 days

#5 posted 06-24-2011 06:33 PM

I figured if I used solid wood there would be plywood under it. But not sure if that would be enough to prevent it going hinky.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View Rustic's profile


3253 posts in 3625 days

#6 posted 06-24-2011 10:08 PM

show me your thoughts on Monday or sometime next week and maybe i can help you tweak it.

--, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

View mnpete's profile


226 posts in 2686 days

#7 posted 06-24-2011 10:36 PM

I can’t wait to see this project in the works.

Could you laminate the whole slab yourself? If you want color variations, could you select a wood that’s nicely carvable and dye the various layers? I’m not a carver, so I don’t know if it would be an issue to have multiple wood types.

Maybe even dye the lower layers in graduated colors of blue to represent the oceans? Get’s darker as you go deeper?

-- Follow my woodworking adventures in The Second Wind Workshop,

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 2580 days

#8 posted 06-25-2011 02:34 AM

Do a 3/4” plywood base, and then sculpt your way up using cutouts of veneer (depending on the thickness chosen I wouldn’t add on much more than a half an inch the thickness. ). (and remember when laminating, always do crossgrain). The cutouts shouldn’t be too much trouble to machine out on a CNC, right? (I have no clue… I do most things by hand)

you can then do some finer detail carving the layers down, and the “create your own” approach will allow for you to choose your colors.

A few things to consider: you will need a solid base upon which to create, hence the “build up” approach, rather than the “carve down”. A table is probably going to be taking a fairish bit of weight if you are planning on glassing over the top…. with leads to…

If the table is going to be 4’x 8’ consider the temper, type, and and thickness of the glass. The bigger the glass gets, the exponentially more fragile it becomes, as it is more likely to bend….. Though there are lighter weight, more stable glass sheets (borosilicate glass comes to mind), and laminates that might help, glass also gets exponentially more expensive the larger you require…. and you’re requiring some HUGE honking sheets of glass.

Which all leads up to a thicker base, and more supports throughout the central area of the table, rather than the sides only…..


Now I’m thinking screw it all, and pour epoxy on a finished map. (though still go with the far more dimensionally stable, far less prone to warping or resizing, plywood). Build up some thin walls around the piece to frame it off, probably in a somewhat contrasting colored wood. (if you use a white wood plywood, then a reddish hued border, mitered 45 degree corners, inlays along the center of the border, perhaps these? , which BTW< I’ve never used before, but they look very geometric, very art deco, and can be easily applied with a bit of work with a router.)

Furthermore, a compass rose might be able to “float” above the map itself dimensionally with a poured epoxy, (something like this= from the same source).

Finally, the legs can be done with just a simple taper, but then use a similar inlay to the ones used on the table border to create a bit of design cohesion (also with an apron below the map top, maybe a drawer or two, housing a few woodworked “nautical” map type tools: a sextant, a drawing compass, perhaps a loupe…though the tools are unnecessary upon retrospect and detract from the project. drawers are cool though, but less necessary, the apron a must for visual space and structure between the top and the legs.)

Another thing though, is with an apron, a carved art deco design is also possible, leaving some open space there as well…

The sky’s the limit.

Though seriously, ditch the glass idea, go with your regular map making method, and pour the epoxy. MUUUUCH safer.

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3014 days

#9 posted 06-25-2011 03:36 AM

I have the capability to laminate the whole thing myself.

I could build it up, sure, but I need to cut the whole thing at once so I’d have to build it up in little sections all around. It’s an interesting theory and I’ve been kicking it around a little bit. I may have to try.

I also thought of epoxy, and I think I may prefer that, but I’m still a little stumped on it. How to do it and have the surface mirror flat. Can I sand/buff epoxy and have it come out optically clean? How much would it cost to do a 4×8’ sheet a couple of inches thick? I’ve done some epoxy work for this type of thing, but in my dollhouse so obviously this is a totally different ballgame.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 2580 days

#10 posted 06-25-2011 04:10 AM

If you do the epoxy route, you should be able to just work as normal as well. I kinda wrote as an “in thought process” sort of thing. I’d still go a bit thicker with your base, just so you have the additional structural stability if you go down, rather than up.

The epoxy should be pretty easy. Just mix (without air bubbles) and pour. You can do multiple coats, etc.

I even found this a while back: They even have a FAQ at the bottom of that page (again, haven’t used them, but was thinking of using it for a project)

as for a flat, mirror smooth finish, it should be damned easy as well. I haven’t worked with it much myself, but had a checkerboard done for me. You can see their pictures that they seem to have no issues getting a nice finish either. AAAAAAAAND, since they take CC orders over the phone, giving them a quick call should result in some tips as to how to get such a finish. :)

View CharlieM1958's profile


16275 posts in 4247 days

#11 posted 06-27-2011 05:01 PM

My concern with the epoxy would be that it’s a one-shot risk. If something goes wrong and it turns out hazy or bubbly, you’re screwed. If you do go with a glass top, keep in mind that support around the perimeter will not be enough. You would have to either add supports in the center area, or have parts of the project itself be high and flat enough to support the interior portion of the glass. Otherwise, unless you used an impossibly heavy thickness of glass, it’s going to crack the first time you move it.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3014 days

#12 posted 06-27-2011 05:08 PM

Those concerns are why I was thinking of using a plastic rather than actual glass. :)

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View CharlieM1958's profile


16275 posts in 4247 days

#13 posted 06-27-2011 05:19 PM

I think a good quality acrylic sheet would work well, with two caveats:

1. Scratching could be an issue, but since this is really an art piece and not an everyday-use piece it should be okay.
2. You still would not want the edges too high without support in the center, because sagging would be visible.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Dustin Ward (aka Tearen)'s profile

Dustin Ward (aka Tearen)

176 posts in 3979 days

#14 posted 06-27-2011 08:06 PM

You could use different veneers to create your top. Start with a solid core ply for the base and build it up from there. That would give you lots of color variations.

View SteveMI's profile


1105 posts in 3323 days

#15 posted 07-03-2011 04:04 AM

Check out your glass options real early in the design. Any of the glass that is better than normal window glass comes in certain standard dimensions. If you need it a “custom” size the cost goes up incredibly. You might consider pitching the idea to a glass supplier to trade their product for a credit and photo op in the final piece.


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