The Sculptural Knife Urn or SKU

Craft, whether or not a part of the positive artwork panorama or some other place alongside the spectrum of utility and decor, is a crucial a part of how we innovate to unravel tangible wants. When materials processes are introduced into being, normally by the sciences or engineering, their makes use of are slim 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 However when the know-how round that course of is sufficiently superior (and even out of date for industrial use), it’s artists and craftspeople who assist flesh out the myriad other ways by which that course of may be utilized. 

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

I speak loads on this weblog about how utilizing trendy 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 positive artwork – by varied fabrication retailers, organizational constructions, 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 convey your complete enterprise underneath their management (one artist, one studio). In probably the most decadent manner, each side of a follow should change into out there 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 needed for the uninhibited stage of investigation it takes to create artifacts that each affect, and distinctly symbolize, a medium. 

Private entry to trendy types of metalworking tools–the sort that makes probably the most rigorous inventive exploration doable–has been largely out of attain for many practising artists till very 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 positive 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 modern instance. 

I feel one of many higher identified 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 wide selection of stained glass and different ornamental glass designs. He developed quite a lot of improvements within the science of making glass and vastly expanded the way it is likely to be used for inventive functions.

Nevertheless, 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 might be. As a way to maintain the manufacturing facility, the overwhelming majority of its output was stained glass, lighting, vases, and the like.

Distinction this with the beginning of the studio glass motion.

In 1962, on the heels of a increase 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 might soften glass. This small creation eliminated the necessity for groups of operators in addition to vastly lowered monetary and bodily infrastructure wants. It singlehandedly created the situations for solo artists to convey the manufacturing of glass artwork straight into their studios. In the identical method as a painter would possibly paint, artist had been capable of work freely with glass, away from outdoors eyes and business affect. This meant glass artwork might be practiced by one artist in a single studio.

Glass artwork’s reputation started to develop and this period noticed an explosion within the inventive output of artists utilizing glass. The guard rails had been all of a sudden gone and a bit of glass artwork might be actually something (or nothing in any respect). Experimentation was rampant and this gave rise to the positive artwork panorama we see in glass at the moment. Most of the examples of glass sculpture we see in museums had been born out of this period.

The story of glass artwork resonates with me as a result of very equally, and till very lately, artists trying to leverage machine instruments and trendy digital fabrication know-how for the creation of artwork would possible 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 had been past their expertise and monetary attain.

Like early glass factories– this restricted entry to instruments has a manner of constraining the best way 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 position within the manufacturing of their very own work. 

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

Each artist who’s invested in straight exploring their craft, ought to attempt for inventive independence and plan their exit from institutional reliance as quickly as it’s acceptable. 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 concept may be detrimental to your potential 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 software know-how during the last 20 years has change into fairly scalable (small). Monetary accessibility continues to be up for some debate on what’s achievable for an artist trying to pursue concepts over revenue. Nevertheless troublesome, it’s at the moment doable to convey these instruments underneath an artist’s roof, and it has been my intention for the final twenty years to just do that. 

I began out exploring trendy machine work with an eye fixed towards positive artwork sculpture, however over time, pursuing work within the spirit of most of the studio crafts which have come earlier than has additionally change into an necessary a part of how I outline my work. So lengthy story brief, right here I’m with a razor sharp ornamental urn made from machined knives and ornamental hardwoods. A chunk that’s (one way or the other) presupposed to embody all that I’ve stated. Sheeesh!

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

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

I need to be clear that life shouldn’t be 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 alternative worlds throughout their lifetime of making.

Nevertheless, I really feel it’s instructive to consider the varied phases that materials applied sciences undertake as they transfer by a selected tradition. Creating positive artwork is only one of quite a lot of equally noble ends (like science) that assist us to understand the means by which we categorical 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 capable of incorporate most 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 wood bowls, the place the included woods had been structural components of the piece, I needed to show to a way more ornamental strategy. The inexperienced maple burl items on this design usually are not structural, however as an alternative serve solely as inlays and executives. They perform 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. Somewhat than being machined from one piece, the interior vessel has half a dozen interlocking and threaded segments that stack to create the amount of the piece. This allowed me so as to add some great particulars and coloration to the inside area of the urn, in addition to create a help construction that may maintain the wood components with out counting on them for structural help.

This complicated association additionally gave me a small quantity of adjustability to make sure the blades might 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 feel they want little justification. Their aesthetic contribution to the work could be very evident on this piece. That they add a conceptual layer to the work is just an additional bonus.


Turned knife blades? 

Typically you simply need to strive one thing as a result of you may. In all my analysis into knife making, it at all times appeared like the graceful curved bevels on some blades is likely to be achieved utilizing a dealing with operation on a lathe. There isn’t any motive to do it this manner in fact, and I’ve by no means seen it carried out this manner. All of the extra motive to strive it. So I designed the blade types desiring to attempt to flip the bevels on a lathe, which is a really uncommon arrange for a knife maker.