Hell and Heaven

We all know that artists are their own worst enemies and some of us are worse than most. For a lot of months now, I have lacked that excitement, that wow factor about something I had created. I’ve made a bunch of good stuff (some, very good) but nothing that has made me want to simply hold a finished piece. It almost didn’t happen tonight either.

I have been working on some drinking cups that will fit & function nicely in the SCA. Now that I think on it, my first SCA related project was a cup. A selection of folks were gathered around the Marchmount table & someone asked if I could make a wooden cup. I said, “I don’t know. Let’s find out” and proceeded out to the shop and a short while later returned with a goblet-like thing that now belongs to Lady Ailis.

Anyway, tonight I had a beautiful piece of freshly cut ash on the lathe. The grain was nicely figured and had great promise…until I started working it. The stuff Would. Not. Cut. Cleanly. I sharpened my gouges. No love there. I honed the cutting edge to a mirror polish & took the lightest cut I could. Figured ash doesn’t care. Figured ash does what it wants. I kept going, doing my best and resigning myself to a future filled with much sanding.

Working on the inside was even worse. I tried every hollowing tool in my arsenal to no avail. The torn out grain was so bad that in spots, I could see light coming through the walls. No happiness in Einar-Land could be found. Realising this cup was no longer going to work out the way I wanted, I grabbed a gouge & cut the top half of away.

Lo and behold, the wood cut cleanly. Like, so cleanly that surface shimmered in the light. At this point I could only assume that Loki was up to usual mischievous self, playing with my hands and mind.

Another pass with the gouge…brilliance.
I move to the bottom of the piece, searching for the perfect curve that had alluded me so often in the recent past. And to my utter amazement, there it was; a perfect, sensual, organic curve that pleases the eye and thrills to the hand. (looks over his shoulder, no sign of any of the Norse gods except Odin. I couldn’t tell if he was winking at me or dozing off). Well…damn.

I returned to the newly established upper portion of the piece, determined to continue that precious, delightful curve towards the top, gently travelling in towards the centre. Success.

Now I had to turn my attention back to the inside. It continued to scoff at my efforts to make it clean and fair. In desperation, I picked up my detail gouge to try and get a decent surface. It wasn’t perfect by any means but, it was easily sandable (I know, not a terribly period technique but back in the middle ages, turners didn’t use lathes with 2hp motors, electronic variable speed and 600lbs of Australian iron either).

After I sanded the entire piece, including wet sanding with tung oil on the outside, I stepped back. I was happy.

Parting this cup off the lathe I was left holding it. I checked every surface under different kinds of light, looking for flaws, touching it, checking the curves and proportions. It was…perfect.

I wonder whether a little cup like this will have commercial appeal. It ought to hold about 250ml so it’s hardly big enough for a cider or even a coffee. Scotch perhaps? (I doubt that because scotch aficionados are rather particular about their drinking vessels). For now, it is going to rest with me so I can enjoy it. Maybe I will use it as a mead cup at Pennsic. I don’t think I will sell it because to out a price tag on it would…demean it somehow. Perhaps, I’ll leave it lying around somewhere on Runestone Hill with a note attached to it. I’ll ask the finder to care for this simple cup; to use as his/her own as it certainly now is and just ask that they pass it on to someone special.

Yes, I think that will work nicely.

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