Touch - The Ignored Quality of a Piece

I?ve just finished turning a piece of a mini-log of deador cedar that my
chiropractor gave me a few days ago - a remnant of a major pruning done
several years ago. The slice I cut had evidence of some tiny cracks but
I turned it anyway. The finished piece, a short fat cup, isn?t a
particularly elegant form and though the small cracks are still
noticable they don?t seem to threaten the future of the piece. I used
Mahoney?s Walnut Oil on the outside to pop the grain a little - but left
the inside bare wood - leaving the pleasant smell of cedar for the
curious. There?s nothing remarkable about the piece - visually.
But it?s the feel of the piece that got me. The bottom is concave and
while going through the sand paper grits - dry to 320 and then with oil
through 400, 800 and finally 1200 - then just oil on my fingers, the
piece turning at 1200 rpms, that this piece got interesting. From
bottom to top lip, the smooth, but not glass like, feel flows smoothly
from one surface to another, no beads or coves or grooves, nor sharp
eges - just a flowing smooth wood pleasant and interesting tactile
sensation, the feel of a tiny imperfection, mingled with the subtle
scent of cedar.
And I think I have an inkling of what the Japanese call wabi-sabi - the
beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
We spend so much time and effort making something with the perfect
proportions, perfect execution of technique, perfectly smooth and
finally a perfect finish. The end goal - a perfect piece - to LOOK at.
But in doing so we overlook the sense of touch, for after all, the eye
can only provide part of what the piece is. Yet handling a piece is
discouraged - fingerprints you know - and god forbid, it could be
And as I run my hand over the surfaces of this odd little piece of
deodor cedar I find that the little imperfections only emphasize the
smooth flowing feel of the surface around them. The subtle scent of
cedar adds to the experience of things ?just so?.
Look But Don't Touch! - and miss have the fun.
charlie b
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charlie b
I have also noticed this. Often with certain pieces, if I can get it in their hands it is sold. I have had customers just walk around with a piece in their hands and a far away look, ignoring all the other bowls which may look better to the eye.
Reply to
Gerald Ross
One of the reasons I quickly dropped the beeswax and mineral oil treatment was that a lot of the places I go to sell are on the waterfront. The clammy air does nothing for the "feel" of waxed pieces, rather the opposite.
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Good post Charlie. I believe that a serious attempt for perfection although it will always fail, is a necessary part of appreciating tactile imperfections. To me, deliberate imperfection or just not to try for it is no good.
Not only is art in the eye of the beholder, but it's also in the palate of the taster, nose of the smeller, the ear of the listener....and the hands of the handler. Or something like that. :)
Turn to Safety, Arch Fortiter
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Charlie... when you sell your "pieces", it's a different ball game... Some folks will buy because they like the "look" but most aren't really interested until they pick it up... It's a "touchy-feely" kind of market..
IMHO, the simple "apple" shape is the most eye appealing and says "pick me up" to most folks...
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mac davis
It gives me a warm feeling when i see someone pickup a bowl and run their hands over it/smell it. and carry it around while looking at others then head for me with a smile on their face..
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Perhaps a decace ago, at the annual city sponsored crafts show I caught a ceramic piece out of the corner of my eye as I walked past a booth. It was a 6 or 7" diameter dark mat gray sphere with a concave depression in it. In the depression was a flower built into the surface - stark white - contrasting with the dark gray. Next to it was a much smaller sphere in mat white - a pattern of a black flower built into the surface.
"Can I hold these?" I asked the woman - who I soon found was the creator of this piece.
She smiled and said "Of course. Please Do." And she watched as I tried to fit the smaller sphere into the concavity in the larger sphere.
"It's just a fraction too big." I noted.
"It's grown a little since it was born." came the answer.
We both smiled that idiot "Ah!" smile.
Of the tens of thousands of people who'd walked by her booth, and of the thousands who'd stopped in to look at and examine her work, no one before had actually picked up the two parts of this piece and tried to put them together. The patience she must have had to wait for someone to try it - without prompting.
That piece sits in a display case in my home, waiting for someone to ask if they can hold the two parts of the piece. And I wait to explain why the little one doesn't quite fit in the big one.
Raw wood, even sanded to 8000 and then burnished, still maintains a hint of the feel of wood. How much of that feel depends on the wood, but the feel is there if you pay attention. Why some put a glass like finish to eliminate this unique feature of wood is beyond me - but to each his/her own I guess.
And I think of the Maloof rockers sitting in various museums, never to be sat in, never to be explored by a hand or a finger tip - eyes closed to reduce one distraction. Seems that when a piece becomes "ART!" it stops being what it was meant to be. And that is our loss.
charlie b
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charlie b
On Fri, 22 Sep 2006 01:24:03 -0700, charlie b wrote:
We do???!!!??? In response to this, and another post on the wreck that discussed proportions, I can only say "bah". :)
Now, please don't do this while the lathe is running (though I confess to being guilty of it), but what I've found after a lifetime in the metal and woodworking trades is that touch is one of the most important senses in the crafting of any object. Most of my peices are fairly minimalistic on the lathe- emphesizing fair curves over beads, coves and the like. To achieve the right balance, I often close my eyes and use my palms and fingertips to feel for slight defects and overall form. Closing your eyes is important- your mind has a limited ability to process sense data, and when you limit one, the others sharpen. If you don't believe that, try lightly skimming your fingers over your keyboard- then close your eyes and do it again. For me, at least, the increase in sensitivity is almost exponential. When I train people in sawing technique on both miter saws and metalworking bandsaws, I always make a point of showing this- your fingers can align two pieces far more accurately than your eyes can. Parallax and shadowing can trick you, but the fingertips don't often lie.
More generally speaking, the classical proportions are derived from a combination of nature and human form- your hand, with all it's joints and flexability, is able to conform to an amazing range of shapes- almost all of which will describe a fair curve. If you consider the bone structure of a hand, it moves from long bones in the palm to the very short bones in the tips in an orderly progression that (and this will vary for every person) roughly simulates the Fibbonaci numbers- the same system used to diagram an ideal conch shell or to create a French curve. They're the most important tools you can have next to your mind and determination, and not to be lightly discarded in any trade or art.
And when it comes to finish, high gloss should never be the default- while it is stunning in the right applications, it is not appropriate in most. I don't believe I've sanded beyond 120 grit in the last ten or twelve turnings I've done- the high gloss is for exceptional grain. When the grain and coloring is more prosaic, a soft tactile finish adds far more to the piece than a good french polishing.
Anyhow, I agree! Nice post- it hadn't even occured to me that anyone may *not* have been caressing the things they turned.
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Hi Jesse, Another good post to Charlie's thread.
You are right about all those bones. Only way I could remember the eight in the wrist was: "Never Lift Tillie's Pants, Mother Might Come Home" for Navicular, Lunate, Triquetral, Pisiform, greater Multangular, lesser Multangular, Capitate and Hamate. An OT inappropriate use of bandwidth, against all rcw rules and probably not funny to most tuners. :(
Turnings displayed in pretty pictures or out of reach on a shelf or behind glass not only can ignore the poor tactile qualities of bumpy work, but also can hide an equally disturbing inappropriate weight or it's improper distribution throughout the piece. However, a "don't touch" presentation doesn't hide our sense that something's not right when it's jolted by a blotch of crushed fibers, a trough of poor tooling, an excess of busy ornamentation, the discordance of a wrong finish and the disappointment of a badly designed form.
Conversely, turners who get these things right, add much to our enjoyment of turned wood by pleasing our sense of lift and feel.
Turn to Safety, Arch Fortiter
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