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

Lesson 8: Natural Coloring



(Editor's Note: Scroll down for charts that show which veneers can be used for different colors.)

Using fine lines is a highly respected technique in the world of the Marquetarian, whereas the use of brightly colored dyed veneers is rather frowned upon. Some say that they take away from the beauty of the natural wood. Others ask if a marquetarian has had to resort to using brightly colored dyed veneers, why didn't they just paint a picture instead? I don't altogether agree with this sentiment. I have used colored veneers, I think, to good effect, in a couple of my own pictures, especially the one shown below which was a picture of a map of "Old England". I had composed this picture in the style of the old John Speed maps drawn up in the ages of Shakespeare and Elizabethan England.

These old maps made use of 'hand coloring' with the judicious application of thinned paints in order to enhance various topical features of the maps - for instance, hills, county boundaries and large buildings. To retain these essential qualities in my 'pseudo' John Speed map, I needed to use a certain level of colored veneers. I did, however refrain from using too many colored veneers and wherever I could, I used naturally colored veneers or Harewood veneers to achieve the desired effects. Where no naturally colored veneers would fit the task, I opted to use subtly tinted veneers which were not too glaring.

Colored veneers must complement the picture - they must not be the immediate focus. If the choice is not subtle, a lot of hard work and careful cutting can be wasted. I think the rule of thumb for the use of dyed veneers is - can natural un-dyed veneer be used to give the same appearance? If the answer is "Yes", then I would not use dyed veneers. Most of the colored veneers I used were dyed to the required subtle tints by my Redbridge colleague Dave Walker. In fact, I think he did such a splendid job that I shall try and persuade him to write a short piece on the technique for inclusion in one of our chats a little later on in the year. (That particular picture became an award winner in the 1999 National Exhibition.)

Although dyed veneers may work in some instances, in nearly all cases it's best to try and stick with naturally colored veneers whenever possible. If you must use colored veneers, try to limit their use and only use them when they can blend in without being obvious or intrusive.

Let's now look at naturally colored veneers that could be used to represent various colors. Some time ago the President of our Redbridge Marquetry Group, Alf Murtell, handed me a list of veneers in their appropriate color ranges (shown below). Some of these veneers may be difficult to obtain or may be known by other names in the USA. By the way, there are no naturally blue veneers in the list. Some of the Harewoods can turn out to have a blue tint, but I personally don't think that blue colored (or dyed) veneers work very well. It seems out of place to use a color that is so diametrically opposed to the color spectrum of natural woods. On the odd occasion that I've seen a blue dyed veneer used for depicting sea or sky, I have found it looks totally out of place. It just doesn't fit as well as a carefully selected piece of Avodire or Aspen, Cherry, Olive Ash or good old Sycamore.

Following Alf Murtell's chart below are four photographic plates showing the veneers he mentions. It's a good idea to print and keep these plates as a handy reference for future marquetry projects.

Next month, we will consider how to blend one veneer into another for a smooth transition. Until then, please do enjoy your marquetry - and, happy cutting!

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