Thursday, January 24, 2013

Breaking the Mold

 More pen designs come into my head than I have time to produce. There's a whole line of "The Big Lebowski" themed pens drawn out and waiting like fantastic creations in da Vinci's sketchbook. Ok, that was a bit presumptuous. But like that great master artist, I find myself starting projects and moving on before finishing them. Sometimes they're too hard to do. Eric B. requested a ribbon design like the breast cancer awareness ribbons, but despite repeated attempts I have been unable to produce it (without a laser engraver, that is).
                But I refuse to give up.
                There was a design I came up with shortly after I started making pens. It sat drawn in my sketch folder for months. I knew what I wanted but had no idea how to make it happen. Tinkering took place, followed by failures. It got shelved. More experiments, more failures, more time on the back burner.
                Have you ever seen the work of M.C. Escher? His drawing and optical illusions are mind blowing. I've always loved the ones with endless staircases defying gravity. Inspired by these, I had a design I drew as a kid, a simple spiral of triangles looking like a spiral staircase from above. Put two of these side by side and they make a really cool design. It should have been a simple matter of cutting wood into triangles and putting them together, but in practice it was much more difficult.
                I gave it another try. To my surprise, it held together. Hmm. I added another layer of triangles. It was working. I used contrasting wood, making the spirals more dramatic. It came together. The first successful assembly featured black walnut over pine with a large ebony square center. It was pretty cool. The size required a larger pen kit, so I set it in a rich bubinga base and used a rhodium and gold Majestic kit. The result is "Escher's Stairway," a pen of which I am very proud.
                Now that I've got the spiral technique down, more of this line are in the works. The next creation has a smaller center square in black walnut surrounded in alternating triangles of hickory and maple, covered with another layer of alternating hickory and maple, and finally topped with alternating triangles of black walnut and a black polyester resin. It rocks. I'll post pics when they're ready.
                It took a 27-step process to create the first design and a 36-step process for the second -- and that was before cutting into a pen blank and actually turning the pen. After calculating the hours it takes to produce this design and factoring that into my calculator program, I actually lowered the cost out of sense of consumer sticker shock. Who would pay more than $174 for a pen without ivory or solid precious metal or gemstone? But when I posted it on one of the pen turners' social media pages, they unanimously said I was giving it away at that price.
                So if you liked Escher's Stairway but were taken aback by the price, stand by to snatch it up because the next few in this same line will reflect actual cost. Of course, they're using smaller and less expensive kits than the Majestic, which may balance out the overall end price. I have yet to do the math on that, so we'll see. But if you like the design and want to see it throughout the pen body in a large Majestic kit (and cost is not an issue), then be patient. In a few weeks Escher's Stairway IV will make its debut, breaking the mold on handcrafted wood pens.