A Marriage of Fine Art and Furniture


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elow you will find my unedited article. The edited version can be read in the pages above. Two photographs were taken by Tom Chown, but the other two were taken by myself (of myself) using a timer and tripod. The article required process pictures and it was too late to find Tom.

here are diagrams on Page Three. I drew them in Microsoft Word, a bad choice, but it worked. I sent the editors an inkjet print and a digital file of this drawing. They chose to scan my print and place it as an image on the page rather than to use the digital file! Maybe it was easier that way. So when you look at Page Three, the diagrams went through this process: drawn in Word, printed on a home quality inkjet printer, digitally scanned, converted to a halftone, printed on an offset printer, sat around for about 5-1/2 years, rescanned, resized, converted to a jpg file, uploaded to my webpage, and downloaded to your screen. Some people might even print it on their home inkjet printer!


Are you one of those people who came to woodworking from a background in fine arts? From a place where craft and functionality were considered the evil stepchildren of true art? If not, you're lucky. If so, you?re like me. Often I have been on the verge of abandoning the tenet of "art for art?s sake" for the more sensible, "form follows function". The trouble is, I believe in both! It has taken a while to understand that making useful things is as profound a form of self-expression as any other art.

I love drawing and woodworking. One dark and rainy night the thought came to me, "Unite them!" So I did. For me, this has been like my marriage: really good. I have begun creating works that incorporate drawing and cabinetry skills without compromising either. My cabinets both inform and store junk.

This marriage of art and craft enhances design options, making the work more personal. Art images, like windows, open the mind (and physical space) to another world. I presently create scenes of nature for their calming effect, but any feeling of emotion can be obtained given the right form of expression. There must be a true symbiosis between cabinet and image, or the artistic meaning will be destroyed.

Which comes first: the artwork or the carcass?
Simultaneous creation is best, but if you are not an artist, you can commission new work or find special pieces to fit your needs. Commissioning artwork can be quite lovely because it gives you the ability to specify dimensions as well as content. Another option is to collaborate with an artist. This could be fun- if the two of you set boundaries. Be ready for a few philosophical discussions. Remember: you are building for generations, so be choosy and have a good eye.

Where does the artwork go?
Depending on the furniture?s function, it can be within doors, side panels, top surfaces; anywhere! Art is intended to be displayed. You must consider this in any design. Be careful; too much of a good thing will kill the piece.

How do I handle the art?
When working with fine art, care must be taken to ensure its long-term preservation. Wood is generally acidic and shouldn?t directly contact paper or canvas. Also, the utility of furniture means that close physical contact with the artwork is bound to occur. Glass protection must be added to minimize any possibility of damage. Further, the art itself must be created with archival materials so it can (like the furniture) last for generations.

Mounting depends on the type of artwork created and it?s materials. Works on paper can be glued directly to a stiff, acid-free substrate. I like 23ga sheet aluminum because it is strong, thin, light weight and impervious to wood acids. This can be backed directly by a thin veneer, plywood sheet, decorative paper, or fabric on the interior of the carcass for a finished look. I affix the artwork with YES? Glue because it is pH neutral, spreads like wax, and doesn?t wrinkle or soak through the paper. Avoid paper to wood contact by making the artwork at least 1/4" smaller in all dimensions than the substrate. Canvas can be mounted in a similar way, or if on stretchers, should be isolated by a pH neutral material such as 1/8" thick foam board for preservation. Alternative: affix the stretcher to the substrate with screws through the back, suspending the canvas and eliminating the foam board spacers.

The protective glass can vary in thickness depending upon size and function. Table surfaces should be tempered and at least 1/4" thick. If you are worried about the possibility of breakage, place a 1/16" to 1/8" thick sheet of polycarbonate or acrylic under the glass. Doors and side panels can be protected by 1/8" glass.

When the environment is not subject to rapid temperature and humidity changes, watercolor, ink wash, prints (etchings, intaglio, etc.), pen & ink and pencil can all come in direct contact with the glass. These will not lift or off-gas. Special care must be taken with media that slow-dries like oil paint, acrylic, and oil pastel; they should be separated from the glass with a spacer by at least 1/8" to 1/4" to prevent adhesion. The spacer should be wood so it will blend visually with the carcass. Miter the corners. After placing the glass, adhere the spacers to the rabbet with double-sided tape. Dry pastel (my medium) needs a 1/4" gap to keep the pastel dust from lifting onto the glass due to static charge. Never put plastic over pastels, or you will be looking at the artwork through a haze!

In areas where sudden atmospheric changes occur, small venting holes or desiccants can be added to balance humidity and absorb/dissipate vapors. It is a good idea to screen even small vents to halt the encroachment of insects. I once discovered a framed photograph with a silverfish caught between the glass and mat. We had it hanging for years with no silverfish. I never did figure out how it got in there!

When do I unite the carcass and artwork?
Pre-finish all wood pieces and let them cure before installing the artwork. Vapors are not just harmful to people. All glass and artwork should be removable. These can be fixed in place using a variety of methods. On doors removable stops, held by tacks or screws from the back, are appropriate. An elegant solution to side-panel installation is to route a groove around the inner surface of the frame, as with raised panel construction, but with the top or bottom slotted to accept artwork and glass. Secure the open end with a wood strip to hold the artwork in place.

The finished piece should be kept from direct sunlight as well as extreme humidity and temperature changes (in other words, in an art gallery!).

Michael McGinnis is an art instructor and Exhibit Specialist at Santa Rosa Junior College, in Sonoma County, California, and is devoted to the making of things.

All Images and designs Copyright © Michael McGinnis

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