intarsia has become a popular hobby in recent years, and woodworking,
craft, art, and hobby shows are displaying more intarsia every year.
Many of the pieces are for sale. We offer the following to inform
potential buyers of what they should look for in terms of quality
workmanship, which can be sadly lacking in some cases.
are a couple of obvious things to think about:
foremost, of course, you should like the subject-matter
of the piece, or else why buy it. If kittens are not your thing,
why would you buy an intarsia of kittens? Fortunately, there
is a wide range of subject-matter available, and almost certainly
something to please everyone.
the size of the work must be suitable for your situation.
A piece that is too big for the location you expect to hang
it will look crowded and out of place. Conversely, a too-small
piece will look odd if the allocated space is too large (although,
of course, you could fill in some of the space with additional
there are other things to consider, as well.
of pieces is a good indicator of quality workmanship. The
gaps between the individual pieces should be very narrow, and
they should be uniform. Of course, a good close, uniform fit
is only achieved through the investment of extra time and a
high degree of skill, which sometimes (but not always!) translates
into higher prices charged.
is another consideration. The more complex the work (i.e., the
larger the number of individual pieces), the more effort and
time must go into the preparation of the work. This is not to
suggest that complex works are necessarily better somehow than
simple ones -- often quite the opposite is true. But once again,
the price of the work may reflect the greater complexity.
at intarsia often simply round the edges of each individual
piece slightly, and leave it at that. A more dedicated artisan
knows that sculpted pieces give the work a feeling of
depth. For example, look at the sculpting in the rose
or the dancers, or
the crease in the jawbone of the polar bear.
It takes extra work, to be sure, but it makes the result so
much more pleasing.
gives the work character. Cutting and fitting the individual
pieces, and even sculpting them, may not be enough. By carving
a texture into the surface of the wood, even more realism is
achieved. Some examples of texture can be found on the bison
and in the hat of the male dancer.
of the most telling indicators of quality is demonstrated through
care in choosing the woods used. There are two aspects
to this criterion:
of the wood
(what is often called grain)
two schools of thought among intarsiasts with respect to color.
One believes that only the natural colors of woods should be
used. The other one permits the use of dyes or stains (and sometimes
even pigments) to provide variety in color. We use only nature's
colors, so we spend a great deal of time and energy searching
through a wide variety of both exotic and domestic woods to
find just the right shade for each individual piece. Sometimes
Mother Nature puts wildly different colors inches away on the
same board; we try to capitalize on that. If a wolf needs a
yellow eye, we look and look until we find some suitably yellow
wood. Less demanding intarsiats pay less attention to wood color.
Indeed, some use only one kind of wood, and judging from the
finished results, you might get the impression that the colors
of the individual pieces were something never considered.
many people speak of the "grain" of the wood, what they are
actually referring to is figure. Grain is actually the
direction of the bundles of cells that constitute wood, whereas
figure is the pattern that can often be found on the surface
of a piece of wood. Some common figures are curly, quilted,
birdseye, etc. Once again, low-quality intarsia works have little
or no attention paid to figure, or even to the direction of
the grain. But see how much more life is brought into the cowboy's
hat, collar, and coat by orienting the grain the right way.
And see how the figure on the pieces chosen for his face enhance
the weathered and wrinkled look you might expect a range rider
to have. Or examine the body of the bighorn,
as well as the rocks and mountains around it. Ditto for the
of the finish on the wood is the result of a lot of careful
sanding. There should be no sandpaper scratches remaining, let
alone marks from the blade of the saw.
the work should have a pleasing finish. This is to some extent
a point of personal preference. Some people like glossy finishes,
others like matte. Whatever your choice, the finish should be uniform
and free of bubbles, blemishes, streaks, and brush hairs. We don't
really care for the look of the thick layers of high-gloss polyurethane
found on some intarsiasts' work, so we use a very thin (yet durable)
finish that lets the true beauty of the wood show through.