Marquetry: More Art than Craft
By Alan Mansfield of the Redbridge Marquetry Group, U.K.

Lesson 4: Let's Make a Picture!



First, a brief word about copyright
The ownership of whatever design you choose to depict in marquetry lies with the originator of the design, or with the subsequent owner if the rights have been sold or transferred. In most countries, you can usually make your marquetry picture with no copyright problems as long as the picture is only for your own viewing in your own home. You normally can't place your version of a copyrighted design on public display without it infringing copyright laws, unless you have the consent of the copyright owner. Many designs are vigorously protected by their owners - for instance the Disney™ and Coca Cola™ companies. These companies have designs that are globally recognized, and I think that they would quite rightly seek to protect any of their designs with the utmost vigor. So, the most important point is to make sure that you have consent, especially if you intend to place it on public display. This will certainly save you a lot of problems if your picture ever ends up in print or on television.
Original Clip Art Image  
Final Marquetry Picture

Selecting a Subject
For your first marquetry picture,
I and my colleagues from the Redbridge Marquetry Group have decided to select a subject that will work well with a standard palette of veneers. We are going to need a picture with well-defined cutting lines that are easy to follow, and easy to match with our veneer palette. One other important point is that the picture should appeal to us. Otherwise, we run the risk of becoming bored with the process and then end up making a half-hearted attempt -or worse, decide that marquetry is not for us.

A good source of marquetry pictures is clip art - designs that have obvious cutting lines defining where various veneers need to be placed. The picture chosen for this demonstration is a clip art image of a clown (Figure 1, above). It's an uncomplicated, but nonetheless pleasant picture. The veneers I've selected for this project are sycamore for the waster veneer (the background), Bombay rosewood for the outlines of the face, eyes, hat, etc., and pear wood for the main face color. I selected beech for the lighter part of the face around the mouth, and also the whites of the eyes. For the red nose I picked padauk, and for the gold in the flicks of hair above the ears I chose ffara. For the hat, I used koto for the yellow and Cypress green burl for the darker section. Lastly, for the flower I again chose Bombay rosewood for the outline and purpleheart for the inner section of the flower. You may find that you are not able to obtain some of these veneers, so you might have to do some shopping on the internet. Alternatively, you could substitute colors to suit your own purpose and design. For instance, where I have used Cypress green burl for the deep green band on the clown's hat, you could substitute a piece of green magnolia, which, although it is a lighter shade, will still be suitable.

The first step in construction is to decide on the size. For this one I have decided to make my waster veneer 9" x 7.5". Print the design to the size you would like the finished picture to be, then make a tracing of the print (using wax paper) as a template for cutting. If you can print on transparent film with your printer, you can use that instead of the wax paper. Use a sheet of carbon paper to transfer the design from the tracing paper onto the waster veneer (Figure 2). It's a good idea to tape the top edge of the tracing (wax) paper onto the top edge of the waster veneer, to retain alignment as you redraw parts of the design after cutting out sections of the waster to fit new pieces. The wax paper will stay taped in position throughout the project.

The first piece we cut into the waster is the Bombay (Indian) rosewood which is going to act as our outline veneer. Here, we'll use the Window Method, which calls for cutting out a window from the waster veneer and then filling the window with a replacement veneer. Place the empty window over the sheet of replacement veneer and follow the outline of the window with your cutting bladeto create a perfect match. Following this procedure, you'll be building up your picture piece by piece. The following description of the Window Method is edited and abridged from Redbridge Marquetry Group tutorials:

Now comes the time when you will be making your first tentative marquetry cut. If you feel a little wary, practice with some thin cardstock. When you feel ready to make your cut for real, take your scalpel, dip the tip of the blade in a piece of wax to lubricate the cutting point, and start making your cut on your waster by following the outline of the design you previously traced. Make sure you have a cutting mat underneath the veneer. If you don't havet a cutting board, try using several sheets of newspaper. An alternative method for cutting veneer (especially useful with hard veneers) is to prick out the cutting line with the tip of a scalpel. You end up with a pattern on your picture veneer that looks like a join-the-dots puzzle. This pattern should perfectly match the window in your waster veneer. If this is the case, join the dots with your scalpel and remove the new insert piece of picture veneer.

As you replace the new veneer pieces in their windows, you will need to apply glue to their edges. Glue won't cure instantly, so use paper veneer tape or 3M's Magic Tape to hold things in place. Don't use other kinds of sticky tape (for instance, masking tape) if you can avoid it, because the adhesives the manufacturers use often cause unfortunate side effects with marquetry pictures. If you do have to resort to other tapes, remove them as soon as the glue has set (a couple of hours are generally about right) and you should avoid trouble.



Having cut the rosewood veneer for the outline (Figure 3), our next step is to redraw the design onto our new piece of waster, which is the rosewood veneer we have just inserted. By removing the waster to create a window, we also removed part of the design. In the images here, I've redrawn the design using a white line for clarity (Figure 4). You will be using black carbon paper.

The next step is to cut out and remove the window for the main face color, which is going to be pear wood. Follow the same method, but leave a rosewood veneer outline when you insert the pear wood piece into the window of the rosewood veneer (Figure 5).

Once you have inserted your pear veneer into the rosewood window, redraw the design on the pear veneer so that it now takes over the role as waster veneer for the rest of the clown's face (Figure 6). You'll continually need to re-establish the design on each new piece of veneer until you have finished the picture. You can now see the reason for taping the wax paper design to the top edge of your original waster veneer, to ensure perfect alignment each time you renew the design on new pieces.


It is generally a good idea with most marquetry pictures to work from the outside in. I personally start with the biggest pieces and cut in and replace progressively smaller pieces until I'm down to virtually microscopic slivers for the final details. Other people like to make up small intricate pieces of their pictures separately and insert them as finished sections as they go. There are no real hard and fast rules. A picture is worth a thousand words, so follow Figures 7-17 to see how the picture is built up stage by stage. It's easier than you might think!


Next month, we will look into the effects of figuring in veneers and the uses we marquetarians put these veneer traits to. See you then.


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