To make something as authentic as a weathered rock, or a sunset, or maybe a walnut
hollows - one to how many???
deck riffs hand planed; flat so far
rim stuff themes and variations
overhangs improvisations go wild
base like the rhythm section; holds it all together
Inspiration from the Craft World
In some ways my inspiration comes more from ceramics than woodworking. The English potter Bernard Leach and some of his Japanese friends traveled in rural Japan and Korea in the early 1900’s, collectingh examples of inexpensive vernacular pottery that was made for everyday use. Wood fired everyday pottery became the inspiration for the masterpiece ceramics used in the Zen Tea Ceremony.
My select bibliography.
The Unknown Craftsman by Soetsu Yanaagi. Forward by Shoji Hamada, adapted by Bernard Leach. Tokyo, Kodansha International, 1972.
For more on Japanese folk crafts begin here:
The Multi-Hollow Discovery
The initial idea wasn’t brilliant. … Just a practical solution for using some very interesting material that was available.
But it led to a brilliant breakthrough in bowl design possibilities. In other words, first I did it (made 2007 #2), and then I looked at the result and began to see the possibilities that I’m now exploring.
Now I look at a flat sawed plank as a painter would look at a blank canvas. I accept the given of the flat bottom and (for now) the plane that will become the flat deck surrounding the hollows. I can do anything within that area.
Evolution of the Multi-Hollow Bowls
When I started carving bowls with multiple hollows my primary interest was the arrangement of the negative shapes within a given piece of wood. The design process was carried out similar to how one lays a stone wall. On the early pieces the concave overhangs and rim play a secondary role to the design of the hollows on the flat deck.
Gradually I became more interested in the sculptural possibilities of the rim and overhangs that join the deck to the base.
On my latest work, there is a new interest in the vertical facets of the rim. Bowl 2008 #2 is the first foray into carving a bowl with a very deep rim. This results in an appearance that the bowl might be floating or hovering just above a table. You really cannot see the carved over-hangs without picking up the piece. I like that idea that the bowl is handled.
Function + Art
Function. Unlike some studio furniture that I’ve seen these bowls are fully useful as servers for appetizers, chips, nuts, olives, fruit, salads, cold cuts, etc. Really anything that will not require aggressive washing . The multi-hollows actually take up considerably less table space than individual containers.
Art. Every project is the result of a unique inspiration. I always honor the wood, and the individual quality of each piece. I want these bowls to be quiet things that the owner will appreciate more and more over time. I like the idea that they can be left out on a coffee table (maybe with a some nuts or fruit, but maybe just empty) or kept on a display shelf with other art work.
“Use your sculpture.”
Function + Art Gallery (Chicago)
The 2007 Bowl Series (13 pieces) were carved from some extraordinary mammoth sassafras planks from northern Mississippi. These were originally obtained for single-piece rustic Windsor chair seats. You can see one of these chairs, my most recent Hearth Chair here.
Ordinarily, sassafras trees grow to about 6-8 inches in diameter before dying out. This log was over 24 inches in diameter. It was found as a giant, partially rotten stump and salvaged from the woods by fellow bowl carver Jack Herring.
Sassafras is notable for its beautiful tawny color and grain pattern. It’s relatively easy to carve neither hard nor soft. Because the wood was so special I take great care to preserve the bark on the edges when ever possible. Some pieces also have a natural edge where the tree was beginning to turn hollow in the pith area.
Sassafras heartwood has very good decay resistance. The roots were formerly ground up to make the flavoring for real, old fashioned root beer.
Created shapes are always compatible with wood as a material. Honor the material and it’s fibrous nature. Something like a rock or an snow flake is perfect because it never violates the crystalline nature of the material. Be authentic.
I did woodworking for about 25 years before understanding this basic truth.
Most woodworking can be understood as the interaction of an animal, and mineral. Most woodworking problems can be understood when looked at carefully within this perspective. Understanding something, however, doesn’t mean that you can do it. Perhaps the wood is not suitable for the intended use. Perhaps the tools aren’t properly prepared. Perhaps more skill is required than available.
Attractive Contrasts & Counterpoints
(These are ideas that I often think about while carving bowls.)
Manmade string instruments
Ice crystals on a driveway puddle
(Each is authentic to it’s nature.)
More Thoughts and Ideas
I always keep looking at the work. Not just details but the whole project. I work more like a painter…often going back and adjusting the work… mushing the shapes around with my gouges and chisels. When a bowl is about half finished I start put more time picking it up and looks at it compared to the physical carving.
I want my bowls to be very good looking, but at the same time not looking like they have come from a design studio.
I always want to show off the wood. I do little, if any sanding. But I will go to extremes to prevent bark from scaling off, and I will use thin epoxy and other adhesives to stabilize the material. I use the simplest natural finishes. The bowls are finished with food grade cold pressed flax seed oil (the pure form of linseed oil) thinned with a little citrus peel based solvent. Smells great. Works well. Easy to use. Safe.
I like the work to look almost natural (found) but at the same time, actually fully contrived (like there’s no way it’s natural.)
The 2007 Series combines flat planes (the top and bottom), curvaceous hollows, and multi-faceted rims. As I make these bowls the rim has become more important to me. It seems to be the most interesting place to play around.
The bowl as an essence of opposites the round negative hollows and the outer, hard-chinned positive forms.
Almost everyone admires the Grand Canyon (or other natural phenomena) for its great, intrinsic beauty. But often the same people will refuse to look at modern art from a similar subjective and honest point of view. I’m hoping to help break that barrier.
Jewelry Box Woodworking
Someone has got to start dragging woodworking from the precious jewelry box aesthetic that has developed in the last few decades. Much of this work is beautifully made and finished. But it’s woodworking that’s seldom usable. And even in earlier, more traditional woodworking, there is often an emphasis on a type of craftsmanship that has no indication that the work was done with human hands. Machine work tends to replace hand work whenever possible. The result is often the creation of impressive objects, made with great precision, but with no soul.
There’s a book of 500 Bowls. Very few could actually be used. Some are not really bowls in any realistic sense of the word. The same problem occurred with chairs and the studio furniture movement where objects have been created that are artworks about chairs, but which are not actual seating furniture.
Birth of a Bowl
Or, Why You Don’t See Many Hand-Carved Bowls
It all begins with the wood. Sometimes I just have it. Other times it’s quite a challenge to get a hold of. For these bowls I use air dried stock. This means that the material requires pre-seasoning, about one year per inch of thickness. By using air-dried material I don’t need to be concerned about defects developing during drying (usually cracking).
Initial design is rather quick and impulsive. I position poster board cut outs on the blank until they seem to look right. the planning is casual, but the work is carefully detailed.
Hollows are roughed quickly, using large double-hooped bent gouges made by my Swedish toolmaker friend Hans Karlsson. In the early stages these stout gouges are often struck with a Japanese carpenters framing hammer.
Drew Langsner’s Bowl Carving Vocabulary
Anatomy of a Hand-Carved Bowl
Hollows, negative form
roundish and more-or-less smooth
smoothed rock forms
kidney or freeform
gouge tracks various sweeps
V-drop DL Slash
natural split surface (usually at the pith of a piece that was double the bowl width)
concave with gouge tracks
hard chines (planes are developed, with an arris at junctions)
pinched inward facets
flat chisel cut
shallow gouge cut
thin or heavy changes overall look of the piece
Signature with date and number
engraved (double V-cut)
kolrossed (Norwegian single cut stained with colorant)
copper studs (numbered in groups of 5)
Deck and bottoms surfaces
planed with very, very slight convex blade (very, very shallow hollows)
slightly hollowed with chairmakers shave