Monday, September 2, 2013

W35: The Driftwood Book

When I walked into the Monkey’s Paw this week I noticed a familiar book on one of the tables:
So we meet again...
As you might recall, a few weeks ago I had received a book called Wood’s Natural History and jokingly remarked that I was worried theBiblio-Mat had given me a book about wood, since the very subject just screams awe and excitement. With that at the back of my mind, I put my two dollars into the machine only to have it pop out this:

Popular enough for a second round.
Printed in 1966, The Driftwood Book by Mary E. Thompson had a nice retro feel to it from the cover design to the interior layouts and paper quality. Filled with over a hundred and sixty photographs, it was quite a visual book. Sadly, outside of the vibrant dustjacket, the interior 244 pages were all black and white, even though the descriptions below the photos pointed out the colour schemes and pairings that make the piece work.

Either that or I'm selectively colourblind.
The Driftwood Book started off with a foreword that talked about the art of driftwood arranging but somehow switched to the importance of having an amazing photographer halfway through, which was a bad sign not unlike a cookbook talking about how to make the pictures look good more than the actual preparation of food itself.
The first section covered how one would obtain the driftwood, followed by the preparation of the wood, then the art of creating a piece, and finally accenting it with other elements. For a book that marketed itself as a tutorial book, though, there was very little instruction given on how to actually arrange pieces. 

Every other piece had small Chinese figures.
There were a few bits on design theory as well as current trends and creative freedoms but it was greatly lacking on how to actually build a piece. Focusing on the photos of the author’s work, The Driftwood Book seemed to believe in case studies more than exercises. That or the author just wanted a platform to showcase her work.

Captures the essence of the abandoned lot.
Nonetheless, I decided to follow the information in the book to create my own piece of driftwood art, section by section.

Part 1 – Acquiring the driftwood

According to the book, the best places to find good driftwood were ocean beaches. Living in Ontario, this was not an option. The book described lakes as decent sources, but only in late fall or early winter due to water conditions. It also advocated sawing and hacking off interesting looking exposed tree roots, which I feel is against the spirit of “driftwood” art, and environmental conservation for that matter.

After walking up and down the beach at Polson Pier, I realized the pickings were slim at best. There were a lot of branches and logs but not a lot of driftwood and definitely none of the interestingly shaped ones shown in the book. I ended up picking up the least slime-covered piece that wasn’t harbouring parasites. Extremely lightweight with a patina that could be best described as dirt-covered, I settled with the notion that it looked like it could have one-time been in the water. In hindsight I should have gone to the island.

Then again, “getting wood” has a different interpretation on the island.
Part 2 – Preparation

The preparation phase was a bit easier. Soap, warm water, and an old toothbrush cleaned up the driftwood along with other pieces of materials that was picked up at the beach – a piece of brick and some clippings shrubbery by the beach. Using a utility knife, I followed the book’s instructions of trimming away all the parts of the wood that didn’t look like art.

The piece of brick surprisingly turned out to be red after washing.
Part 3 – Assembly

In this section, The Driftwood Book provided guidelines on: 

Framework: The piece should flow with the shape of the driftwood.
Scale, proportion, balance: The elements used should not look out of place.
Use of different materials: Should compliment or contrast without clashing.
Accessories: Figures are good. Chinese figures are better.

As the book suggests, I tried two different setups. The first arrangement:

Figure 1.
For this piece, I wanted to capture the seemingly unnatural lines that occur in nature as this piece of driftwood had a grain that ran almost ruler straight. Flanked by the red man-made brick and the still green unmodified branches, the lightly trimmed driftwood bridges the two aspects of nature that are constantly at odds with each other - man versus wild. The slight tilt upwards symbolizes progress in that the more we build the further away we move from the land.

The second arrangement:

Figure 2.
I just wanted to use the Thor figure.

Book rating: 5/10 (Not that useful or pretty)

Random quote: “I have found three things to be most pertinent to the art of flower arranging, and especially to driftwood arranging. They are creative imagination, courage and freedom of expression.” (1 and 3 are related, 2 not so much)

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