I recently had the opportunity to play a part in a very special occasion, the celebration of fifty years of marriage. The family had decided to honor the occasion with a lovely painting of the family tree by one of the couple’s talented grandchildren. She creatively features each family member as a bird in the tree. A son had made the frame — beautifully and solidly built from figured quartersawn cherry, 25″ x 21″. I was asked to design and carve lettering into the frame and also to incorporate elements related to the tree theme.
After I had played around sketching some ideas, we agreed on a design that focuses on the lettering, but is complemented by a message told by delicate flowing lines of roots and branches — and a couple love birds. Below is a slideshow of photos. These are pre-oil, which is why the cherry appears so light.
I thought I’d also share a really simple project idea that some might find useful. Projects like this frame call for some full-size drawing on paper, which allows for lots of risk-free sketching and erasing. An angled drawing board at an appropriate height would be nice, but I don’t have any space at all for one, and it would only be used occasionally anyway.
So I came up with an idea for a drawing board that sets up on my workbench top and can be broken down into a flat panel for easy storage. I just slide it between a cabinet and the wall when not in use. It can be built with nothing more than a hand saw and a screwdriver, and with a total of $20 of materials. It only takes about an hour to build, which is a nice change of pace.
When I need it, it sets up in less than a minute. I can stand and draw comfortably, or I can sit at my shop stool and extend the drawing board out over the edge of the benchtop.
At most lumberyards and home centers they have sheets of plywood pre-cut into smaller sizes. I bought a two foot by four foot piece of 1/2 inch birch plywood for $15. And a pine 1×4 (actual dimensions 3/4″ x 3 1/2″) eight feet long was under $5. Finishing washers keep the 1 1/4″ screws from poking through the face of the drawing board.
In the photo below, the legs are fitted for storage, held in place by a couple small opposing wedges. At only an inch and a quarter thick, easy to store.
The legs just friction-fit into place…
…and it’s ready for action. The edges of the plywood are straight and square to each other, making it convenient for use with a T-square. The pine boards also act as battens to help keep the top flat.
A couple notches in the back make it easy to secure the assembly to the benchtop with holdfasts if you wish, or hold it cantilevered out over the front of the bench.
Here are a couple sketches that may help if you want to build one.
You are my hero! Nice work on both projects.
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Hey Dave, I saw in your last post that you’re a history teacher but where did you learn to draw? This is an area I’d like explore but I’ve never been a “draw-er” (I just couldn’t type drawer because it would be too confusing). My woodworking and musical backgrounds put me in the “artistic” category but drawing has always alluded me or felt too daunting to try. Any tips are much appreciated.
All the best,
Well, I understand how you feel about drawing, because music has always alluded me or felt too daunting. I can admire it and be awestruck by it, but understanding it does not come naturally (or, even, with effort!) to me. But then, I don’t take the time to really work at music. Not that I’m a natural at drawing or anything, but I’ve always liked to do it. In terms of learning, I suppose I would have benefited from some classes. I’ve always marveled at illustrators and the like that can draw a horse, for example, in any position, in action. But I realize that this is because they’ve drawn horses thousands of times. As with a lot of things, the best way to improve at drawing is to draw. The best way to draw more is to enjoy the process and celebrate what you’ve created without harsh judgements or comparisons (Easier said than done — you should see me cry when I look at Peter Galbert’s drawings). Whether making music, drawing, carving, knitting, baking, etc. we should all be thrilled by the act of creation.
Well, I guess I got carried away a bit! The short answer is to grab a pencil and go out and draw something you see — YOUR version of it. Have fun, and if you want to work on some specific techniques or something, there are some great books. One that I really enjoyed and would recommend is “The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature” by Cathy Johnson.
Pure gold my friend. Thanks for getting carried away.
I love that font. Beautifully done.
That drawing board is a cracking idea. All elegantly presented as always.
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Thanks. I wish I could tell you what the font is, but I don’t know that it is anything in particular. I just drew letters. Based on Roman I guess, sort of sans serif, but with well-waisted stems. Although, I didn’t think about any of that terminology before I drew them.
Heh. I’ve seen that somewhere before…what’s (really) old is new again?
Would help if my link worked…http://www.restorersart.com/images/temp/Biblioteca%20Braidense%20MS%20AC.xiv.44.jpg
Thanks for the link to the great illustration. First of all, I love the “G” surrounding it — great lines. That slant-top box is very similar to one that Peter Follansbee has made more than once https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/here-come-old-flat-top/. My solution is definitely less of an heirloom!
Considering combination of history and calligraphy, check out Erik Kwakkel’s work out of Leiden. I’ve quite enjoyed his Twitter posts, which put my image to shame: https://twitter.com/erik_kwakkel
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Very nice carving. Could you go over your technique and tools for letter carving, please?
Thanks very much.
Thanks, Thomas. For letters this size, 1.25″ high on the top of the frame and 1″ high on the bottom, I use the finely sharpened pen blade of a pocket knife for just about all of the cutting — essentially cutting one side at an angle, then the other, to form a v-cut. At a certain point, larger letters require more chisel work, or a little preliminary excavation with a v-tool. On some of the tighter curves of some letters, I may do a little slicing cut with a gouge. Honestly, I’m still exploring and experimenting with techniques, probably always will. Techniques that work in certain circumstances don’t work as well in others.
I’ve talked about some of my techniques in bits and pieces through several blog posts. If you click “lettering” in the drop-down category list on the right side of the screen, you’ll find the posts related to lettering.
Wonderful work Dave as always! I also love to sketch ideas, most never make it to the shop. I used to do a lot of artwork, it helps immensely to be able to put it on paper and visualize an idea, I feel fortunate to have the ability to do so and its part of the process for me. Love the Blog. JReed
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I was looking at your old blog posts for some lettering ideas to use on a bowl I just finished carving, and was gobsmacked by the frame you carved. By coincidence my bride and I were also married on December 18, 1966. It is a small world.
Thanks, Martin. Small world, indeed! That frame was a fun project to design and to carve.
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Dave, I finally have a need to build your portable drafting table. Simple question. When cutting the plywood pieces, do you take the line or leave the line? Or better yet, do you make the first cut, then remeasure to make sure the two standing sides are the same height?
Good question, Chris. At the heart of it is the fact that I didn’t bother to account for the wood lost to the two saw kerfs when cutting out the pieces. I would begin by cutting the line to separate the legs from the drawing surface. Make the drawing surface the full 24″ x 32″. This will leave a piece for the legs that is something like 24″ x 15 7/8″. The essential thing is to separate that piece into two pieces that match each other. I’d measure 11″ over from one corner and make a tick mark, then 11″ over from the opposite corner and make a tick mark. Connect those marks for your angle across and make the cut with whatever saw you’re using. You could cut right through the center of the line, or mark a parallel line a bit to one side to account for the kerf of whatever saw you are using. Set the two pieces upright beside each other (hypotenuse upward) and see how they match. The cut doesn’t have to be perfect, but you could always clamp the two pieces together and make a couple passes with a hand plane to make them match perfectly.