The Sculptural Knife Urn or SKU

Craft, whether or not a part of the nice artwork panorama or someplace else alongside the spectrum of utility and decor, is a crucial a part of how we innovate to resolve tangible wants. When materials processes are introduced into being, normally by means of the sciences or engineering, their makes use of are slender and particular. However when the expertise round that course of is sufficiently superior (and even out of date for industrial use), it’s artists and craftspeople who assist flesh out the myriad other ways wherein that course of might be utilized. 

Artists are those answerable for reworking materials improvements into cultural improvements that extra broadly affect a society.

I discuss loads on this weblog about how utilizing fashionable machine instruments to make artwork is a comparatively new phenomenon, however I don’t suppose I’ve precisely portrayed what I imply by that. Certainly artists have been using machine instruments to supply numerous sorts of paintings 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 take advantage of have been employed within the manufacturing of nice artwork – by means of numerous fabrication retailers, organizational buildings, and outsourced experience–it’s only simply now starting to exist as a studio craft motion in the identical vein as different extra established craft traditions–one who’s apply is immediately engaged with the medium slightly 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 be capable to carry the complete enterprise below their management (one artist, one studio). In essentially the most decadent means, each facet of a apply 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 apply 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 tools–the sort that makes essentially the most rigorous creative exploration attainable–has been largely out of attain for many training artists till very not too long ago. Historical past has loads of examples to show how a course of blooms as soon as situations change, permitting artists to really personal the technique of manufacturing, so let’s use nice 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 believe 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 big selection of stained glass and different ornamental glass designs. He developed numerous improvements within the science of making glass and drastically expanded the way it is likely to be used for creative functions.

Nevertheless, the construction of this outfit was as a design home and manufacturing unit. It was run by groups of artisans and designers working to supply ornamental and utilitarian items. There have been loads of profitable makes an attempt at artwork, however by and huge it was a industrial affair that catered to an ornamental class of collectors. The work was constrained by the socio financial guardrails of what a “collectable” glass object could possibly be. With the intention to maintain the manufacturing unit, 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 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 might soften glass. This small introduction eliminated the necessity for groups of operators in addition to drastically decreased monetary and bodily infrastructure wants. It singlehandedly created the situations for solo artists to carry the manufacturing of glass artwork immediately into their studios. In the identical method as a painter may paint, artist have been capable of work freely with glass, away from outdoors eyes and industrial affect. This meant glass artwork could possibly 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 all of a sudden gone and a chunk of glass artwork could possibly be actually something (or nothing in any respect). Experimentation was rampant and this gave rise to the nice artwork panorama we see in glass at the moment. Most 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 not too long ago, artists trying to leverage machine instruments and fashionable digital fabrication expertise for the creation of artwork would possible have wanted to depend on design corporations, tech colleges, and fabrication studios with groups of specialists who may help in programing, working, and sustaining the machines that have been past their expertise and monetary attain.

Like early glass factories– this restricted entry to instruments has a means of constraining the way in which digital fabrication expertise 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 unsuitable, institutional settings are completely acceptable for early training. Maker areas, apprenticeships, and colleges are vital assets for creating a apply. Likewise, there’ll at all times be legit causes for artists to share assets and rent outdoors expertise for the manufacturing of labor, be it for conceptual causes, or sensible constraints. However that’s no cause not advocate for a really perfect. 

Each artist who’s invested in immediately exploring their craft, ought to attempt for inventive independence and plan their exit from institutional reliance as quickly as it’s acceptable. There is no such thing as a substitute for proudly owning and working your apply in its entirety. Something that limits when, the place, or how one can pursue an thought might 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 software expertise over the past twenty 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 tough, it’s presently attainable to carry these instruments below an artist’s roof, and it has been my intention for the final twenty years to just do that. 

I began out exploring fashionable machine work with a watch towards nice artwork sculpture, however over time, pursuing work within the spirit of lots of the studio crafts which have come earlier than has additionally change into an vital a part of how I outline my work. So lengthy story quick, right here I’m with a razor sharp ornamental urn fabricated from machined knives and ornamental hardwoods. A bit that’s (one way or the other) purported to embody all that I’ve mentioned. Sheeesh!

I hope a few of you’ll recognize 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 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, in other places, at completely different instances all through historical past). In doing so I’ve little doubt implied that there’s some higher worth or objective in creating “nice artwork” as it’s understood in western tradition. However this isn’t fairly proper.

I need to be clear that life just isn’t 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.

Nevertheless, I really feel it’s instructive to consider the varied levels that materials applied sciences undertake as they transfer by means of a selected tradition. Creating nice artwork is only one of numerous equally noble ends (like science) that assist us to understand the means by which we specific ourselves. How processes make their means from discovery, to utility software, 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 lots of the strategies 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 included woods have been structural parts of the piece, I wished to show to a way more ornamental method. The inexperienced maple burl items on this design will not be structural, however as a substitute serve solely as inlays and executives. They perform as allusions to different ornamental parts 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. Relatively 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 colour to the inside area of the urn, in addition to create a assist construction that may maintain the picket parts with out counting on them for structural assist.

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


Which brings me to the blades themselves. I’ve tried to rationalize my use of razor sharp blades in numerous 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 simply an additional bonus.


Turned knife blades? 

Typically you simply must attempt 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 going through operation on a lathe. There is no such thing as a cause to do it this manner after all, and I’ve by no means seen it achieved this manner. All of the extra cause to attempt it. So I designed the blade varieties aspiring to attempt to flip the bevels on a lathe, which is a really uncommon arrange for a knife maker.