September 25, 2023


How Art Works

The Sculptural Knife Urn or SKU

9 min read

Craft, whether or not a part of the high quality artwork panorama or someplace else alongside the spectrum of utility and decor, is a vital a part of how we innovate to unravel tangible wants. When materials processes are introduced into being, often by the sciences or engineering, their makes use of are slender and particular. However when the know-how round that course of is sufficiently superior (and even out of date for industrial use), it’s artists and craftspeople who assist flesh out the myriad alternative routes by which that course of could be utilized. 

Artists are those liable for remodeling materials improvements into cultural improvements that extra broadly affect a society.

I speak rather a lot on this weblog about how utilizing fashionable machine instruments to make artwork is a comparatively new phenomenon, however I don’t assume I’ve precisely portrayed what I imply by that. Certainly artists have been using machine instruments to provide varied sorts of art work for many years–a century or extra even–so I ought to make clear what I imply once I say that machining–as a vocation–is turning into a brand new artwork type.

Whereas the instruments I exploit have been employed within the manufacturing of high quality artwork – by varied fabrication outlets, organizational buildings, and outsourced experience–it is just simply now starting to exist as a studio craft motion in the identical vein as different extra established craft traditions–one who’s follow is straight engaged with the medium fairly than simply being a method to an finish.

What do I imply by that? I imply that the prerequisite for exploring a medium as a studio craft–by my estimation– is that an artist should have the ability to deliver your entire enterprise below their management (one artist, one studio). In essentially the most decadent manner, each side of a follow should grow to be obtainable for inventive appropriation, deconstruction, and exploration. I say this extra as an aspiration than a tough rule, however a solo artist follow is among the few settings that gives the liberty mandatory for the uninhibited degree of investigation it takes to create artifacts that each affect, and distinctly signify, a medium. 

Private entry to fashionable types of metalworking gear–the type that makes essentially the most rigorous creative exploration attainable–has been largely out of attain for many practising artists till very just lately. Historical past has loads of examples to reveal how a course of blooms as soon as situations change, permitting artists to really personal the technique of manufacturing, so let’s use high quality artwork glass for example.


Glass work: A really temporary and incomplete historical past.

Ornamental glasswork has been round for hundreds of years, however for brevity I’m skipping over the Egyptians, and Romans to create a barely extra up to date instance. 

I believe one of many higher recognized glass makers from the flip of the twentieth century is Tiffany glass. Louis Consolation Tiffany arrange the Tiffany Studio in New York and produced a big selection of stained glass and different ornamental glass designs. He developed a lot of improvements within the science of making glass and tremendously expanded the way it is perhaps used for creative functions.

Nonetheless, the construction of this outfit was as a design home and manufacturing facility. It was run by groups of artisans and designers working to provide ornamental and utilitarian items. There have been loads of profitable makes an attempt at artwork, however by and huge it was a business affair that catered to an ornamental class of collectors. The work was constrained by the socio financial guardrails of what a “collectable” glass object may very well be. To be able to maintain the manufacturing facility, the overwhelming majority of its output was stained glass, lighting, vases, and the like.

Distinction this with the delivery of the studio glass motion.

In 1962, on the heels of a growth in curiosity within the studio ceramics motion, Artist Harvey Littleton and analysis scientist Dominick Labine developed a design for a small and reasonably priced furnace that would soften glass. This small creation eliminated the necessity for groups of operators in addition to tremendously diminished monetary and bodily infrastructure wants. It singlehandedly created the situations for solo artists to deliver the manufacturing of glass artwork straight into their studios. In the identical method as a painter may paint, artist have been in a position to work freely with glass, away from exterior eyes and business affect. This meant glass artwork may very well be practiced by one artist in a single studio.

Glass artwork’s recognition started to develop and this period noticed an explosion within the inventive output of artists utilizing glass. The guard rails have been instantly gone and a chunk of glass artwork may very well be actually something (or nothing in any respect). Experimentation was rampant and this gave rise to the high quality artwork panorama we see in glass as we speak. Lots of the examples of glass sculpture we see in museums have been born out of this period.

The story of glass artwork resonates with me as a result of very equally, and till very just lately, artists trying to leverage machine instruments and fashionable digital fabrication know-how for the creation of artwork would probably have wanted to depend on design companies, tech faculties, and fabrication studios with groups of specialists who might help in programing, operating, and sustaining the machines that have been past their expertise and monetary attain.

Like early glass factories– this restricted entry to instruments has a manner of constraining the way in which digital fabrication know-how is used. Restricted entry can have the impact of relegating the artist to being primarily a designer, which locations them in a extra perfunctory function within the manufacturing of their very own work. 

Now do not get me mistaken, institutional settings are completely applicable for early schooling. Maker areas, apprenticeships, and faculties are essential sources for creating a follow. Likewise, there’ll at all times be reputable causes for artists to share sources and rent exterior expertise for the manufacturing of labor, be it for conceptual causes, or sensible constraints. However that’s no cause not advocate for an excellent. 

Each artist who’s invested in straight exploring their craft, ought to try for inventive independence and plan their exit from institutional reliance as quickly as it’s applicable. There isn’t any substitute for proudly owning and operating your follow in its entirety. Something that limits when, the place, or how one can pursue an thought could be detrimental to your capacity to create. 

Historical past backs me up on this. So seize the technique of manufacturing and make it a conceptual a part of your artwork. 


Machine device know-how over the past twenty years has grow to be fairly scalable (small). Monetary accessibility remains to be up for some debate on what’s achievable for an artist trying to pursue concepts over revenue. Nonetheless tough, it’s presently attainable to deliver these instruments below an artist’s roof, and it has been my intention for the final twenty years to do exactly that. 

I began out exploring fashionable machine work with a watch towards high quality artwork sculpture, however over time, pursuing work within the spirit of lots of the studio crafts which have come earlier than has additionally grow to be an essential a part of how I outline my work. So lengthy story quick, right here I’m with a razor sharp ornamental urn made from machined knives and ornamental hardwoods. A chunk that’s (by some means) imagined to embody all that I’ve stated. Sheeesh!

I hope a few of you’ll respect the nuance I’ve poured right into a venture like this, it’s actually what retains me digging ever deeper into the chances of my craft.

Some further ideas: I need to shut this out by saying that I attempt to watch out about subscribing to varied dogmas. I’ve enumerated a really specific mind-set in regards to the evolution of craft. One which simplifies and ignores variations in geography and time (that’s, folks used instruments and supplies in another way, elsewhere, at completely different instances all through historical past). In doing so I’ve little doubt implied that there’s some better worth or function in creating “high quality artwork” as it’s understood in western tradition. However this isn’t fairly proper.

I need to be clear that life is just not as neat and tidy because the above abstract–or artwork canon–depicts. Artists, designers and craftsmen will at all times fall alongside a spectrum in how they make the most of instruments, supplies, and ideas; little doubt overlapping many various worlds throughout their lifetime of making.

Nonetheless, I really feel it’s instructive to consider the assorted levels that materials applied sciences undertake as they transfer by a specific tradition. Creating high quality artwork is only one of a lot of equally noble ends (like science) that assist us to understand the means by which we specific ourselves. How processes make their manner from discovery, to utility utility, to tradition producer, to conceptual image for a singular second in time, is a helpful framework that may assist us all make higher work–no matter that work could also be.

Technical Notes: In constructing this piece, I. was in a position to incorporate lots of the methods and processes I’ve been honing over time. Most up-to-date of these being the dyeing and stabilization of hardwoods. 

After my experiment making a number of turned picket bowls, the place the integrated woods have been structural components of the piece, I needed to show to a way more ornamental method. The inexperienced maple burl items on this design are usually not structural, however as a substitute serve solely as inlays and managers. They operate as allusions to different ornamental components I’ve admired in my analysis.

I am calling this third work an “Urn” but like most of my works, strict classification is neither easy, nor necessary. above is the earliest concept sketch for the whole series. 

As you can see, as the project slowly progressed (less than one work a year) the deviation from my original plan became more and more severe. My original urn design (on the right) is completely unrecognizable from what I ended up creating. This is exactly as one should expect, as each work in the series added new information and challenges that needed to be incorporated.

My original urn design did have an interesting assembly mechanic, but perhaps I will use that somewhere else in the future.

As an urn, this piece is extremely over engineered. Slightly than being machined from one piece, the internal vessel has half a dozen interlocking and threaded segments that stack to create the quantity of the piece. This allowed me so as to add some fantastic particulars and shade to the inside house of the urn, in addition to create a assist construction that might maintain the picket components with out counting on them for structural assist.

This advanced association additionally gave me a small quantity of adjustability to make sure the blades may very well be correctly put in.


Which brings me to the blades themselves. I’ve tried to rationalize my use of razor sharp blades in varied methods. Now that I’m on the finish of my journey, I believe they want little justification. Their aesthetic contribution to the work may be very evident on this piece. That they add a conceptual layer to the work is just an extra bonus.


Turned knife blades? 

Generally you simply should strive one thing as a result of you’ll be able to. In all my analysis into knife making, it at all times appeared like the graceful curved bevels on some blades is perhaps achieved utilizing a going through operation on a lathe. There isn’t any cause to do it this fashion in fact, and I’ve by no means seen it completed this fashion. All of the extra cause to strive it. So I designed the blade varieties aspiring to try to flip the bevels on a lathe, which is a really uncommon arrange for a knife maker. 

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