Here is the roughed-out shell commission. Having heard Hank Gilpin give a talk at Gallery NAGA two days ago, I've been thinking about what he said about commissions, how they are a great opportunity to do interesting things that he wouldn't normally do (he gave an example of a ten foot long table six inches high). I think this is a good example. There is no way I would have thought of doing a giant sea shell but I'm happy to be doing it and pleased with how it is looking. In this way, it is really a collaboration with the client. I don't mind collaborating; there is no reason I need to work alone with self-inspiration. Although there is always a risk in working with other people - that you may create a camel when you really want a horse - but done right, it can be an opportunity to make something much better than one would otherwise do.It looks like it will turn out to be 83" rather than the 80" I had in my drawing but I'm sure that isn't a problem. I was able to select curly yellow birch boards with similar figure and all the curls are moving in the same direction so it should look like one consistent board throughout the piece. I'll bleach the heart wood out of the top three sections so it won't distract from the coloring. The section second from the bottom is darker than the rest because I had started shellacking it to get an idea of what it would look like.
Working with yellow birch also has me thinking about Hank Gilpin because he is famous for his use of rarely used species, which yellow birch is. Though, I now have a good understanding of why yellow birch is such an under-utilized wood. Frankly, it is a pain in the butt to cut. The wood is so hard and the curl so intense that you need to make the very smallest cuts on the joiner and planer or the grain will tear out with deep gouges. Then, there is so much tension in the wood that I can't get it through the table saw in one pass; the boards pinch the blade as it is going through so I have to repeatedly stop the saw, pull it out, and start again. A four foot board can take 4 tries to get it through the saw (rough cutting with the band saw might have been a good idea). Although it is extra work, it will be worth it. Yellow birch is the right species for this project and it will look great when I'm done. Besides, cutting the boards is an almost insignificant part of the project. I'll spend so many more hours painting it, I won't have any memory of the difference in cutting time when I'm done.