Saturday, August 2, 2008

An interview

An interview on deviantART by the Artisan Craft Team done back in June, partly reposted here for your reading pleaure... Though I'd suggest going to the full interview, as it has many nice pictures of our work though out it that aren't posted here.

deviantART First off, please introduce yourself? Who are you, where are you from?

DryadStudios Hello.....First off... thanks to all who have commented on, supported and encouraged our efforts. Dryad Studios is a family project. I, Michael, and my wife, Judy, were married in 1972 in Baltimore, Maryland and began planning our escape immediately. At the time, we rented a farm, cut and sold firewood, and raised pigs. The first oil embargo made our firewood worth 2X or 3X what it had been. The economic miscalculations in the USA caused a rapid inflation of food prices. Our pigs were suddenly worth 55 cents a pound, not the 19 cents a pound we had been selling them for.We amassed enough cash to spend two months driving around the rural backwaters of America's abandoned agricultural past. In 1974 land was available in remote locations for an average price of $50.-$100 per acre( $125-250 US$/hectare).We found a beautiful 160 acre mountaintop in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas. It was completely covered with timber. The North and East slopes were covered with massive, second growth, Red and White Oaks, Hickory, Elm, Basswood, Sycamore,Cherry,Walnut, and there was a nice stand of Yellow Pine on the rougher land on the top and South side. In the past 34 years, I have managed the timber, improved the entire forest, and cut over 225,000 board feet of lumber.With this managed harvesting, there is more and better timber than when we started.We started in a tent,and built a 14'x14' log cabin. We bought a small portable sawmill in 1978 so that we would not just be selling the logs, and proceeded to cut high grade lumber for sale, and low grade lumber into beams and dimension lumber to build a house and shop. I also pulled the sawmill to others properties, and sawed out many houses in the surrounding area. It was at this point that our intimate knowledge,understanding and personal familiarity with the basic material of our craft began. We built ourselves a large timber frame house, and had a metal building constructed to air dry and store our lumber in. Okay, so far, Judy had helped every step of the way farming,cutting and splitting firewood, growing 2 acres of garden every year and freezing or canning the results. We homesteaded the 160 acres and made our lives and a living from what the property would produce. In previous incarnations, I had been a competent Auto Mechanic, Electrician, Marine Corps Diesel Mechanic and Rifleman. I had adapted all my skills of hunting and trapping and keen outdoor knowledge of the woods to our new endeavors of homesteading, timber management, logging, sawing, maintaining and operating all the equipment needed to keep it successful.

deviantART How did you get started doing your craft?

DryadStudios In a 19 month period in 1984-1985 we had the three kids. Alana and Jennifer were first, and about 9 minutes apart. You all will recognize them from their "nomme de guerre" =InKibus and ~frocktart here on deviantArt. Chris, born 18 months later is my right hand. Both of us being over six feet tall, we are able to handle the difficult physical portions of logging, sawmilling, and assembling the lumber to be air dried, kiln dried, and stored safely. Once the three were born,I realized that I had lost all delight in firing up a huge chainsaw, a bulldozer, and clawing my way into the woods every day,after logs for a living. The next logical step was to reduce our production of lumber to a level that we could use it to produce some "Value Added" product. Furniture was the logical alternative for our own use of the lumber. I set about teaching myself to be a competent furnituremaker. We sold most of the logging equipment, bought a half dozen of the basic, large, shop power tools and a very nice grouping of hand planes,saws,chisels,rules,clamps, and all the other smaller hand tools that were necessary, and I built a 20' x 20' building that we insulated the walls and ceiling with 24" of sawdust from the planer. I installed a Nyle Dehumidification Kiln Unit, and was able to kiln dry a beautiful 5000 bd ft load of quartersawn Red and White Oak.

deviantART How would you describe your personal style?And when did you know you had one?

DryadStudios I purchased 20 or 30 books on woodworking and furniture making, including all of the works by, and about Tage Frid. His Scandinavian model of competence, sound, design, pleasant proportions, and limited eccentric flourishes has been my guide for the past 25 years. I quickly gravitated to the Arts & Crafts Movement and it's furniture in 1986. It was esthetically pleasing, of sound construction, honest furniture. Through word of mouth, I found myself in contact with some of the best Galleries, Collectors, and Antique Dealers in the country. Almost overnight, and in rapid succession, I built a series of reproductions of the most coveted Antiques for some of the top interests in the Arts & Crafts field. My furniture was used to reacquire the copyright on the Roycroft Orb and Cross symbol. I then built and showed a full range of Stickley reproductions at the Grove Park, Arts & Crafts show that is held every February. In 1989, the review of my work by Fine Homebuilding called it, " of the highest quality."Over the next 10 years,while Judy home schooled the kids, I honed my skills making reproductions for a myriad of commercial and private customers. I made A LOT of furniture. I am proud of most of it, embarrassed by some of it, and certain that every piece was the best I could make at the time.The value of doing reproduction work is evident. I was able to examine a vast amount of furniture that was built by persons far more knowledgeable and talented than me. Equaling their quality was a goal that I could focus on daily. There is no faster way to build one's skills. I had daily access to answers to every construction and design problem. Antique dealers would provide me with ample photographs and measurements of a piece that they wanted. The quality of our commissions improved throughout the 90's as I began to integrate the kids into the shop. Jenny, Alana, and Chris began woodworking when they were 10. The culmination of my efforts, and the real integration of the kids and Judy into the shop came in 1999 when we were asked to design and build furniture for the Restoration of the Arkansas Capitol in Little Rock. Up till then, everyone had done mostly what I told them to do. We collaborated equally on that project, with Judy designing all of the furniture, Chris and I cutting it out and machining the pieces, and the twins controlling the assembly, staining and finishing. To this day, that division of work had continued.....Judy does most of the design work...AND...she has built and maintains our Web Site... [link] Chris and I handle the logging, sawmilling, kiln drying, selection of the lumber,layout, and machining of the parts. Alana, Jenny, and Chris do all of the final preparation of the pieces, and the assembly of the furniture. Jenny and Alana do the final prep work, and the staining. I (Michael) do the spray lacquer, but the three kids do all the touch up, sanding, glazing, between coats. They also do the final rubbing of the finish, and inspection.

deviantART What tools and materials do you use?

DryadStudios To survive economically, we must use power tools to maintain a sufficient level of production. To survive artistically, we refuse to leave a machined surface where we can hand plane, or hand sand smooth. All boards go through the jointer first. Surfaces and edges are straightened and trued. We have 3 table saws that we rip and crosscut on. Two of them have sliding tables for repeated accuracy on crosscuts. A power feeder on the table saw that is set up to rip keeps us out of the "shooting gallery" behind the blade of the saw. We tenon by making multiple passes on a table saw with a sliding table and a dado blade.Mortising is done on two hollow chisel mortisers. We have two shapers, but we use them only rarely. Most profiles and bevels are applied with hand planes. All of my drawer dovetails are cut with a router on a Leigh Dovetail Jig. I can cut dovetails by hand, but we could not make a living doing it. We have a small 16" wide belt sander, and a 36" double drum sander. Many of the components are sized with 36 grit on the small sander to minimize tear-out. When working in quartersawn oak, or other figured wood, tear-out is a constant problem. There are also several brush/flap and pneumatic drum sanders. A large stroke sander allows us to work on pieces that do not fit through the drum sander. A new scroll saw does the cutouts on our beds. A recent purchase of a high quality 18" band saw has made resawing and curved component cutting a breeze.We most often stand pieces to near finished dimensions and then hand plane them to finish. As most of you know, nothing matches a hand planed finish. We have a dozen or more hand planes, and 100 or so chisels of all sorts. Four massive tables are set up with large bench vises on the ends and sides. All edges are hand planed, and 75% of the surfaces are. All joints are roughed in with the mortisers and table saw tenoner, then they are completed accurately with chisels. Block planes are used to put a crisp bevel on everything. We hate a rounded edge, sanded or routed, on a board. A crisp, clean, even bevel sets our work apart. All planes and chisels are sharp enough to shave with. We keep them razor sharp on a 10" horizontal wheel with a fine, 400 grit, stone. We never let them dull more than what a few second sharpening will correct. For years, I had to sharpen everything, but Alana and Jenny do a very good job now.A drill press keeps the dowel holes straight and precise. We have several dozen small hand power tools....drills, Lamello joiner, orbital sanders, Dremel Tools, routers, etc. Most are electric, but several are air powered. A 7hp compressor provides shop air.

deviantART In your view, what makes a great crafted creation?What ispires you to create? Where do you create - home, studio?

DryadStudios Success depends on two factors, technical expertise and design talent. My past experiences have provided me with mechanical proficiency. Any creativity that I possess, and it isn't much, is a reflection of our lifestyle. For the past 35 years, my nearest neighbor has been a mile away, the nearest town 25 miles. I am surrounded by the beautiful scenery of the rugged Ozark Mountains. Forests and rocky bluffs and cliffs are covered in a mix of Oaks and lesser species. The woods are filled with deer, bear, bobcats, turkey, coyotes, and an occasional mountain lion. In winter, the bald and golden eagles stop here for 4 or 5 months. The air is clean, and the only noise is the birds, coyotes, and an occasional bobcat scream.I am a master mechanic and technician, but I have absolutely no artistic skills. We have encouraged those skills in the three children. It will seem impossible when I relate that I have no drawings, very few shop notes, and no measurements recorded. I can, however, walk to a pile of lumber, cut out, machine, and give to the kids to assemble, any one of the 500 or more pieces of furniture that I have previously built. I have a very good eye for proportion and form, and I have rarely made a "clunker". My " inspiration" is born in the woods. I am now cutting trees that I have watched grow for over 30 years. I know more about the lumber in a tree while it is standing than most people know after it is cut. I cut the tree, saw the lumber, then dry it. It is air dried, then kiln dried. In both drying processes, the lumber will "move" and shrink in ways that will reveal its suitability for a particular use. So, I can fairly say that the tree tells me what to make from it, not the other way around. From that concept was born the "Dryads" of Dryad Studios.From the outset, I have refused to insult my customers with a less than exquisite finish. Rather than go into detail here, I will just comment that our finish gets more attention and praise than any other aspect of our work. I have sold several thousand copies of our "Finishing Guide", when magazine articles were done on our work. [link] I am including a link to the 30 page guide, full of stain and finishing tips. Free to all of you amazing artists and craftspersons, I hope some of what I have learned is of value in your efforts. I envy the talent that is so commonplace on the Deviant Art site. Download and print it out, it contains 25 years of knowledge.My suggestions for success are the same that any instructor or teacher would and work. I may have some additional insight though. Do not scorn imitation, at least at the beginning. There is no better way to insure a focus for developing talent than to attempt to flawlessly reproduce something that is already acknowledged to be sound design and attractive. I mean reproduce, not make to look similar. Force yourself to reproduce flawlessly, and your skill will develop rapidly.The added advantage of reproductions... There is already a market for the originals, and usually a secondary market for accurate reproductions. You will be making money while you are learning. I could still be making money, and be behind six months, if I was making reproductions. The demand for Arts & Crafts reproductions is tremendous. Make a living making something, and you will never look back. Feed yourself with your talent, then try to shift to doing what you want to do. The force that controls my creativity the most is....HUNGER.

deviantART Do you take your own photos? Any tips you want to share for presenting your work?

DryadStudios Yes, we do. To put it frankly, the digital age has made it possible for anyone with a craft to catalogue their works easily with photos. We've purchased basic gray background papers over the years, and they do their job well ‘neutralizing’ the background field.Most digital cameras do the work. Basic needs are a tripod and utilizing the camera's built in lighting setting that take the hassle out of studio work. Having a fundamental understanding of camera setting and basic lighting techniques does make the difference between a 'op-shot' and a good photo. One big life saver; Get a Polarizing lens. Lacquered and buffed pieces have a high reflectivity and sheen, even without direct lighting. The form and general color of our pieces speak for themselves, but bringing quatersawn out that would be lost to glare is a real winning element in our photography. We are working to improve and expand our photography 'studio' all the time. A bed that is almost 6 feet tall and 8 feet long is no subject to capture easily in a small setting.

deviantART What are you up to? Any projects planned?

DryadStudios I hope to organize the past 30 years into a book, and accompanying videos. I can envision detailed instructions for each of the hundreds of pieces we have made, and a video presentation of the techniques we have developed to make it all easier. We have a lot to offer in knowledge about wood and shop tips. I would like to see all of that passed on. I have dozens of requests each year from people who would like to apprentice with us, and I see the book and video concept as the best way to offer some of that.

deviantART Where would you like to see deviantART head in terms of it's Artisan Craft galleries and community?

DryadStudios Artisan Craft is still a small part of DA, and it tends to be over looked outside of the deviantArt community. I still run in to people that know of deviantArt, but are unaware that is has galleries for woodworking, costuming, leatherworking etc. I think though that this is just a temporary state of things, as I’ve seen it expand very rapidly over the last year. I’m very proud to point people to our DA page when they want to see examples of our work. I guess to sum it up, I hope that soon the Artisan Craft element of DA gets more recognition outside of DA, as we have a very lot of very talented people here. A perhaps more catergories for specific 'Woodworking'.