During this time period at Ibanez guitars there were a lot of fun custom projects coming way from Ozzfest to Sony Halo 3 but this was my favorite by far. (and still is)
One of my earliest memories was at 5 years old when the Phanatic ran across the top of my Dad car pressing his face against the back window where I was sitting and completely terrifying me. My brother still has to bring this up.
I was raised a Phillies fan. Dreamed of playing baseball for them but this is as close as my skills got me to the field! I'm happy that 15 years later the guitar is still in use at random games.
The one criteria for this project was to make the guitar as light as possible so I created the body out of foam that was then fiberglassed and painted.
Another fun project along with the prop guitar was creating a custom guitar for the great Skip Denenberg with the Phillies theme as well for the release of his album Songs from Inside The Park.
Propelled by the mojo created through the Phanatic guitar the Phillies went on to win the World Series in 2008 and I got a call to make a giant sized prop ring for the Phanatic to show off.
I was excited to see what the 2004 theme for the Esherick show would be. Every year they would select the theme based around a creation that Wharton had made at some point in his life and send out the the invitation brochure. The 2004 would be chess sets.
Although I never learned how to play the game of chess I do feel that the craft of woodworking (and life) is a chess match. You have to be constantly thinking and planning many steps ahead. That concept was the basis of the title of the work "Before" as it's always wise to think before acting, a lesson I sometimes still (always) forget!
I wanted the piece to be viewed as a celebration of beautiful woods.
It was most important to me to create a unique playing surface and designed the board to have a "woven" look. It took two tries to perfectly engineer this so that the walnut and cherry blocks created a free floating aesthetic.
I encased the board with beautiful tiger maple and added ebony squares on the corners.
I really loved how the finished board came out, as described in the newsletter for the exhibiton:
I also wanted to create a box for the pieces to be held in when not in use. I designed the work so that the playing surface would lift off the box to accomplish this.
I was gifted an incredible piece of Koa and was excited to use it. Koa is a wood specific to Hawaii. It has always been my favorite wood species as the color range is incredibly rich and has amazing 3d luster when there is figure in the grain like the photo above.
At the time it was becoming scare and expensive and has become even more so today as exportation of the wood is highly restricted. This would be the only time I've ever had the opportunity to use the wood and literally had just enough to create the box.
I lined the lip of the box with brass to create a beautiful glowing combination of wood and metal.
I finished the work with red and blue pieces that would color pop off the board with the queens embellished with freely drawn gold lines.
As far as craftmanship and design it may be one of my favorite works still to this day. The work was accepted into the exhibition and I was tremendously excited. Most importantly to show with Michael Brolly who was someone who I really looked up to!
As I look back at 2004 it may not be my most productive year as an artist but it is a year that laid the foundation for who I became as an artist/woodworker.
Moving into my new house, no longer in school and having limited machinery I began to create more "sculptural works" as well as develop what has become the style I have become most accustomed to which is creating works out of single panels of wide wood.
One of the first works made in the second half of that year was "Self Portrait" carved out of basswood. It was mostly improvised and very loosely interpreted with about 3 carving tools at my disposal at the time.
The next piece I created was Komposition #1, a reflection an existence.
At the time I only had a lathe for wood turning, a band saw and simple hand tools for carving. I turned a square piece of mahogany on the lathe with 8 rings around the center to represent power, balance and a new beginning. I then cut it up into pieces and rearranged them to create the red sections of the work.
The raised black panel represented the protected fetus and the turned fractured "egg" on a spoon represented life and fertility.
The last piece I created this year and maybe the most important to me was :
Stars and Stripes Suicide
I have had many influences in my life and the attitude and mission of punk music flavored this piece.
It was a commentary on all the things going on in popular culture in America that I just saw a vapid. The figure in the piece is just trying to escape what is being forced upon him.
This piece would represent the first time I purchased a wide single board of mahogany to carve on. Once again at this time I am lacking machinery and money to create more elaborate works so I utilize simple carving tools to communicate my feelings.
The crudely drawn face is exploding from the side of his head with quickly drawn stars that float into an upside down flag showing distress.
As a woodworker it's always tough to be "punk." Most woodwork is polished and meant to look pretty for the consumer. I'm always impressed when I see attitude in woodwork as wood can be a tough material to communicate these feelings through.
One of the highlights of 2004 was going to Dallas, Texas to be a part of the Eric Clapton Crossroads festival as an employee of Ibanez guitars. It was an incredible weekend filled with a ridiculous lineup of so many guitarists that influenced me growing up.
I suggested to create a special guitar to be displayed for the event and designed/created the "Texas" guitar in less than two weeks.
The "Texas" guitar is one of my favorite pieces I've ever made. I sprayed it with a dark sunburst to create a guitar that looked like it had been aging in the hot Texas heat as well as placed the star/volume knob over the approximate capital city of Austin.
As awkward as the guitar may have looked it was actually kind of comfortable to play and ripped tonally due to a custom Seymour Duncan pickup.
In the fall of 2004 I enrolled in woodcarving studying under the man of many talents Jon Alley. This would be my final class studying fine woodworking.
I didn't realize at the time that this class would open the door to what would become my calling and passion in life.
Previous to this class I did enjoy the act of shaping wood whether it was guitars or various projects. Jon would bring in examples of his work and I was always blown away and wanted to become as good as he was.
During this semester I did more experimenting versus making complete projects. I do not have any works left from this time period as I did a big cleanup of my shop a few years back and felt it was best to offer them up to the trash gods instead of occupying space.
This was the only woodworking class that I didn't get an A in. I got a C and it bothered me, not that I didn't deserve it but my goals were always to do A level work.
Although we learned to carve placing our work on benches I found it to be most comfortable for me to carve on my lap. I feel it gives me the advantages of being very close to my work, be able to quickly reposition the work, create angles that a more advantageous to carve at. (and thankfully I've only had one minor accident carving on my lap when the gouge slipped driving it straight into my leg )
One of the other benefits that emerged from not having to use a workbench was the ability to carve wherever and four years later began the time period when I began to fully focus on carving and creating outdoors around Philadelphia.
I love the energy of being outdoors, the fresh air as well as the ability to see flaws that need to be worked on that may not be caught with indoor lighting.
I really loved the simplicity of wood carving : hand tools + wood + artist. (+good music)
Woodcarving is a craft that occupies most of the senses at once. The obvious being sight, the smell of the wood as it's being paired away, Hearing the percussive chisel strikes from the mallet to slick almost paper tearing sounds of more delicate glides across the wood. The touch and feel as a piece progresses as well the sense of proprioception.
Proprioception is the brain understanding where your body is in space. I would imagine that through playing guitar for most of my life and spending thousands of hours carving I have developed a noticeable ability to catch objects when they fall for instance. Almost like there is an added half second in a second that I can relax and have confidence in knowing I don't have to panic if something falling or really even look. The development of this sense is more aparent in striking the gouge with a mallet and knowing where the tool will be without looking.
I wanted to be a drummer at first growing up but when I went to the music store the drum set was $400 and guitar was $99 so it was an easy decision. Carving on my lap makes me feel very close to how a drummer is set up.
I have been also very lucky that my dear friend/brother Brian has been working as a guitar tech for Lukas Nelson for over 15 years. In 2010 Lukas was opening up for BB King at the Keswick Theatre outside of Philadelphia.
I was hanging out for BB King's soundcheck which basically consisted of the great drummer Tony Coleman going from instrument to instrument to get the right sound levels for the concert. He sat down his main instrument of the drums close to where I was standing and said to me one of the most important things about drumming was the economy of motion, that he is not reaching but everything is right infront of him.
I took this advice to my craft of carving . When I carve my tools are placed to my left which is the hand they are generally held in therefor avoiding having to reach across my body.
To celebrate my 10th anniversary in woodworking in 2011 I decided to treat myself to $1000 in new carving tools while most importantly choosing to have them lasered engraved with some quotes by some of my favorites including the wrestler Ric Flair and boxer Mike Tyson to give them extra magic.
I also began to paint the main gouges I use in various colors so that when I carve I'm not searching and fumbling around . I know that pink is my small straight or lime green is my #5 fishtail etc.so everything flows.
REFLECTIONS ON WOODCARVING
Woodcarving has created a special place for me to exist in. A place of joy, peace, deep thought, spirituality. It will challenge me to the day I die to continue to get better. My carvings are songs and expressions of where I am in life and where I dream to be.
Woodcarving is an escape in that no matter how tough of a situation is in my life the second I start carving my focus is shifted away to the creative space where I can only concentrate on what I am working on.
My art represents my life story, hopes, thoughts, dreams and the pursuance of greatness in my craft and I'm thankful to have found woodcarving as the vehicle of my expression.
The second year I entered works in for the Esherick competition/exhibition the theme was mirrors. I came up with various concepts for the exhibition and because you could enter up to three works I created Response, A Moment in Time and Of Love.
The first one I created was Response made out of a beautiful deep red wood called Bloodwood which was perfect for emulating the color of bricks.
It was an ode to the my youth in the 1980's and seeing wonderful bright colored graffiti around Philadelphia.
I was always amazed at the size, colors and dimension that artists created as well as the punk element.
I created the frame then routed the lines. I then filled it with texture and paint to create a true brick look. There was also a realistic turned wood can of spray paint that was mounted in front of my signature that has been lost over time as well as currently not having the mirror.
The next work was made out of Cherry called A Moment in Time.
This was my first mirror design hat could be displayed in any direction creating a new interpretation. It was also an early attempt into relief carving and shaping.
The piece depicts a body in free fall and the beauty of motion that exist in fractions of seconds.
Last was Of Love made from figured maple with a painted maple base.
This piece reflects the many sides on relationships from a couple interlocked in a kiss to conversation to non conversation.
I was really loved all the works I created and was hopeful at least one piece would be accepted into the exhibition but ………...
Just like every profession or anything you put your time, heart and soul into a letter like that can be so discouraging.
I remember being bummed out and talking to my teacher Mark about it and he stated "Hey I still get reject letters" which I was really surprised about but eased my feelings. #sensitiveartist
And no it wasn't my last reject letter but as time goes no matter what in life can be seen as discouraging I'm always reminded of the quote ”It's not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up."
Although I wouldn't tackle the concept of mirror form for another 10 plus years I can look back at these pieces as laying down the foundation for me as one of my main focuses in life. I love designing and creating one of a kind inspired mirrors blending art/sculpture into functional form.
My 3rd an 4th semesters in the fine woodworking program I took classes in table construction , chair making, design, production techniques and architectural woodwork.
Many of the pieces I created I no longer have nor have pictures of. The two pieces that I do however still own are from my table making class.
I chose to make two coffee tables to utilize techniques and joinery learned over the semester as well as techniques from other classes
The first piece was insecTABLE made out of mahogany.
As I thought of creative designs the concept of taking the traditional four leg table, flipping it upside down and adding a ridiculous amount of legs.
At some point the concept of a giant dead bug on it's back emerged. It was a good opportunity to utilize woodturning and steam bending techniques that I was learning about.
Each leg was turned unique to itself as I also saw the legs as a crowd of people engaged in various conversation.
I first turned the body on the lathe using a technique Mark was well known for called "off center" turning out of 4" thick mahogany. By offsetting the wood from exact center on the lathe you can create asymmetrical forms like the oval body on this work.
I also use the turning gouge and with a sharp point to rip against the grain creating the fuzzy look on the ends.
I then turned the legs on the lathe much like the typical spindles you would see in chairs and railings but gave each one a unique identity.
I then created a simple jig of a portable electric stove burner with a tea kettle filled with water that boiled steam into a 4" wide PVC pipe. I placed the turned spindles into the pipe relaxing the natural glue cells in the wood making them able to bend in curved jigs I created.
My sister suggested I call it insecTABLE and who can really argue with that name.
The second piece was called Big City Dream based of a poem I wrote.
It featured a wood from Australia called Lacewood for the panels with tiger maple rails/ mahogany legs with maple, bent maple intertwined on the inside.
I once again wanted to employ non traditional legs that had volume and designed the curved and tapered V sections of the legs with ebonize maple rings creating a unique sculpted look.
The panels for this piece were turned on the lathe to create portholes. It was definitely a little scary and dangerous to be turning the sections out of balance.
At the time I was taking a production techniques class creating acoustic guitars and learning how to steam bend the sides of the guitars.
It was challenging at first to try not to crack the thin the wood bending it to shape so I started creating more abstract bends to work on technique . I utilized it to create a sculptural element to the center of the table as it represented the captured energy of a city.
I was awarded the core 10 award for both works at the student exhibition that year
As my first year of studying fine woodworking was coming to an end my teacher Mark encouraged us to create a piece for an annual woodworking competition/exhibition held at the Wharton Esherick museum.
Wharton Esherick is considered the dean of American craft bringing elements of artistry and sculpture to the field of woodwork from the early 1900's to 1970. His awe inspiring home and studio are located roughly 40 minutes from Philadelphia.
I was excited to find out that the 2002 theme was music stands.
I didn't have much machinery at my disposal as school was over so I designed a work that I could create with rather simple tools, mostly a jigsaw and bandsaw.
I saw the stand as a musical composition. I took elements and concepts from jazz, relationships of shapes, space, structures and colors intertwined.
It was important to me that the shelf that holds sheet music be fully adjustable depending on whether the musician is sitting or standing.
original sketch for O' Norman
NAMING THE WORK
After completing the piece I took it outside to take slide photos of it. Yes if you were creating works pre 2004ish you probably experienced the task of submitting slides to be juried for exhibitions before the digital era took over.
I took the pictures in my parents beautiful garden to submit for the exhibition then left for the day. Upon returning home I was greeted by my dad who was really upset.
He explained that he wanted to get pictures for me on his camera when a gust of wind knocked over the piece cracking it in the center section. He blamed it on "Norman", a name I never heard. He was supposed to be named Norman at birth before it was changed to Paul.
Having been involved in repair work for a couple years it seemed easy enough to fix.
I had the music stand on a pedestal in the basement as I began to repair it. I got a call at work from the Esherick museum that the piece had been selected to be in the exhibition.
I was beyond ecstatic. I went home to tell my parents the great news when I was greeted by my mom in tears.
Recently out of surgery and carrying a laundry basket down the steps when she knocked over something that fell into something that fell into the stand knocking it over and damaging it even worse than before.
I figured well ok I have about 4 weeks to correct the issues before I had to drop it off for the exhibition.
The next day the Esherick museum called again to ask if I could take pictures as soon as possible of the work behind a white background as it wouldn't look good in the exhibition brochure with the garden background. I didn't want to tell them that "well the piece is in pieces."
I told them that I needed a week to be able to find a place to take professional pictures which was more about working super hard to create as close of a replica as possible. i disassembled the original and used it as a template for the new Norman.
(the original Norman)
The exhibition opened in September and Norman won second place. It took me a couple years to fess up to those at the museum that the piece on display was not the original and tell them the story of Norman.
Obviously Norman holds a dear place in my heart for many many reasons.
Our assignment for the remainder of my first semester studying fine woodworking was to create a piece comprised of drawers and doors that utilized hand cut dovetailed joints for the construction of the work.
I wanted to design a functional art piece that had rhythm and motion as well as utilize unordinary pulls to open the drawers and doors.
For the front of the piece I interpreted guitar lines from the jazz guitar solo on Four on Six by my favorite player Wes Montgomery.
The hand dovetailed carcass and internal drawers were made from beautiful ribbon mahogany with the drawer and door fronts being routed and hand shaped out of 2" thick mahogany.
One of the other features of the piece was hand smithing the base for the cabinet to rest on.
Growing up I learned a ton watching and helping my Uncle Rudy, a metal worker, lover of blacksmithing and overall important person in my life. Although I sadly never have time to create in the medium of blacksmithing I love and appreciate the craft of shaping dangerously red hot metal into malleable forms.
Reflecting back on the piece:
I really love the pairing of wood and metal and wish I had more time to explore designs around that combination. (someday!)
The piece will always remind me of my grandpop. He was a sweet, kind, gentle, happy and humble man. I remember how proud he was of what I created. Sadly he passed away a short time after creating it but I'm glad that he got to see the first piece of furniture I ever made.
second semester :
fine woodworking II
desk for Andrew
walnut exterior/ maple interior/ bubinga top/ ebonized ash legs with natural ash wedges
The second semester of fine woodworking focused on joinery and techniques used in furniture construction.
I grew up loving an antique roll top desk I had and wanted to create my own version of a desk with a top that slid into the back when in use.
I designed a pod type body that had both a traditional and futuristic feel.
I learned about trestle style joinery/construction and felt it would work the best for my design. The angled wedges are driven into a mortise on the cross members of the desk provided a very solid joint.
Another benefit of using this type of joint was it could be easily disassembled for transportation as at the time I had a small sports car that wouldn't fit into otherwise.
This piece is dedicated to my cousin Andrew who tragically passed away way too young at 19 when I was creating the work.
Andrew had been and will always continue to be an inspiration in my life as I pursue my dreams, my way.
I really didn't know much about wood turning until enrolling in the class. I was fortunate that my teacher Mark was a pioneer in furthering contemporary concepts in the craft. I really enjoy the process of creating on the lathe. Although simple in theory by shaping a piece of wood that is rapidly spinning it challenges the artisan to design and bring their own unique ideas to the craft .
I do not have all of my turned work from this semester but I enjoyed a lot of experimenting. I turned a lot of decorative bowls and especially loved creating transparent air brushed sunburst effects on them as seen above on my first semester drawers/doors piece as well as below.
to view the inspired and dedicated works of my teacher Mark check out :
My journey into bringing my own unique concepts to the field of woodwork/wood art and sculpture took motion in 1999. While attending Temple University for jazz performance I was hired at Ibanez guitars to perform quality control on guitars eventually turning into specializing in repair and custom work.
My first day I was immediately drawn to a shop full of woodworking machinery that was no longer much in use other than for research and development purposes. I was constantly sanding/painting/customizing all the guitars I owned since I was 12 including the Yamaha acoustic my mom bought for my dad before they were married as a graduation gift. My dad was not too happy when he came home one day when I was 15 to see that I had decided to add a little embellishment to his pristine guitar. Looking back it was I guess my first attempt at wood etching/carving .
(my dad's 1969 Yamaha)
One of the benefits of working at Ibanez was the ability to create/purchase "Frankenstein" guitars made from random parts. I began to use the machinery to create various wood parts for my custom guitars.
Through much trial and error I taught myself the ins and out of the process of creating a guitar from lumber selection to flawless finish work. After creating three guitars from scratch I thought it would benefit me to learn more general knowledge of woodwork.
(first three handmade jazz style guitars circa 2000)
I was lucky that there was an incredible woodworking program being led by Mark Sfirri, a pioneer in contemporary woodwork close by at Bucks County Community College. I enrolled in classes in 2001. Mark's passion and teaching ability in the field of woodwork/sculpture and art exposed me to a new universe that I immediately knew was my calling.
STUDIES AT BUCKS COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE
2001 FALL SEMESTER
Our first project was to create a box that was hand dovetailed. Growing up around antiques and having the love for finely crafted works I was excited to learn the process of dovetail joinery!
I went to a local lumber retailer and was drawn to a really cool piece of Bubinga. I chose it because it had a landscape effect, almost sand to red hot sunset sky that I thought would look great wrapping around the box.
At the time I didn't know much about exotic woods and found out the next class from Mark that I selected a more difficult species of wood to try my first attempt at dovetails due to how dense and unforgiving it was.
My art has created a timeline of my life. In this case reflecting back on this piece and time period instantly takes me back to a Tuesday as I was looking forward to going to school and working on dovetailing the box. I still remember the bright blue sky and crisp morning as fall approached.
Then news started to break. Unsettled feelings. Disbelief. Shock as the 9/11 attacks were unfolding. Anybody who is old enough to remember that day will remember that it took a long time to get back to "the norm" and in many ways it will never be back.
Reflecting back on my first project :
Yes Mark was correct that Bubinga was a little more challenging than the mahogany that I hand dovetailed on the following project.
Hand made dovetails are very time consuming and generally never seen in production woodwork even in higher level craft. I really loved everything about creating the box from laying out and marking the dovetails. Hand sawing the lines as accurately as possible and using a chisel to clean up and create as tight of a fit as possible.
I love opportunities like this to participate in traditions that rely on simple tooling but challenge the skills of the craftsperson.
I used walnut pieces for the lid with a piece of Zirocote extending upwards to act as a place to grasp and open the box as well as add detail to the piece
19 years later the box still remains a very significant object to me. The beauty of natural woods and interlocking dovetails create a timelss box that became the true geneisis on my journey in the feild of woodwork.