James Stevens

Wood Artisan

My pieces consist of small to medium sized wooden vessels which combine several species of timber. These timber pieces are the culmination of 40 years of experimenting with timber to tease out a response to the highly distorted grain  and coloured figure that arise as a tree responds to the forces of nature, be it wind, water, insect inhabitation or viral infestation. These grain and figure changes cause the timber to have striation and three dimensional patterns reminiscent of an animal’s skin.

The timber species that I select emphasis the fragile relationship that each one has in its natural environment, in particular the Gold fields  and wheat belt species from Western Australia. The size and shape of each vessel is dependent on what I perceive can be used from the selected blank piece, usually a burl cut from the roots or main trunk of the trees.

I combine these strikingly varied timbers with a contrasting species which  forms  the legs and feet for the vessel. The shape and size of each burl is the driving force behind the final shape of the item. As I incorporate the timbers  defects into the form I continually adjust the size and shape. The basic shape of the forms is inspired by quadruped animals in particular hippos and swine, with an elliptical low slung body incorporating thin fine legs of contrasting colours.

Technique

The shape and size of my pieces are determined by the size of the burl/block of timber I have and the defects, insect holes and gum veins in it. I spend a while mapping out the timbers shape and position of the defects, trying to make sure I incorporate them without compromising the structural integrity of the final shape.

After I have the exact measurements I begin to sketch out ideas on paper, and then move over to a CAD package to draw the bowl in 3D. Once this is achieved I am able to create a STL file and download it into a machining program, which converts into machine language, which I can then run on a CNC milling machine.

This will give me my basic shape, which I then sand (up to 7000 grit with the harder timbers), attach legs and polish using Organ oil (an Australian version of Danish oil).

I collect the timbers on my trips around Australia. I particularly like the timbers of Western Australia, the ones I value are from the South West regions and the Goldfield Regions where the rainfall is quite low and the country marginal enough not to support intensive agriculture, leaving a diverse and thriving natural landscape. The timbers are harvested by licensed collectors and supervised closely by that states forestry commission. I also collect timbers from the west coast region of Tasmania in around Tullah and Strahan .

On occasions where a split or defect is present on the outer rim of the bowl I will incorporate some Gold wire or plate silver with rivets to hold it in place. I sometimes make plinths from brass and aluminium and fasten them to the bowl, to give a wood /metal contrast.