Who am I?
My name is Becky Barnes, and I enjoy painting pictures with wood. I am a full-time Wife, Mother, and Paleontologist. I come from a family of artists – each with their own unique talents. Seamstresses, goldsmiths, ceramics, painters, tattooists, mead-makers, mechanics, and carpenters. As a young child, I remember visiting my grandparents, going downstairs to my grandfather’s wood shop to raid his scrap bin. Those chunks of pine and oak made the BEST building blocks. As the years passed, he would allow me to sit in the corner (there was a special red stool) and watch him work. He was a quiet man, but he would occasionally rattle off tidbits of information or techniques, quizzing me on why he was doing something a certain way. Occasionally he would ask for “help” holding something. More years passed, and I would drop by – “Hey Grandpa! Can I use your saw?” He would always manage to find a project nearby, in case I had questions.
In 2011 I decided to make wooden wall plaques for friends and family as favors at my wedding. It seemed completely out of the blue, but I fell in love with the detail, the dust, the smell of each type of wood – as I worked with my scroll saw, it felt like Grandpa was looking over my shoulder.
What is Intarsia?
It took a little time to try and figure out what my woodworking style was called. Intarsia was described as a woodworking technique that uses varied shapes, sizes, and species of wood which are often shaped and fitted together to create a mosaic-like picture with the illusion of depth. This is also similar to the term inlay, which uses wood, metal, or other materials to create a design. Of course mosaic was also thrown in there, which is decorating a surface with small pieces of glass, porcelain, precious stones, and more, to create a picture or a pattern. Similarly, marquetry is described as decorative work where elaborate patterns are formed a wood veneer applied or inlaid to a surface.
Marquetry, which on the surface seems a good fit, uses thin veneers of wood, generally cut with sharp blades and fit together. Shading is generally done using heated sand, carefully scorching the wood in a gradient.
Mosaic was thrown out quickly, since it uses small pieces of generally hard, stone-like material, and the pieces are not pre-shaped to fit a design.
Inlay is pretty close to marquetry, using thin pieces of wood and metal. The shape is chiseled out of the surrounding material, and the metal, shell, or wood is added to the space.
Intarsia uses thicker pieces of wood, cut and glued together to form a picture. Bingo!
So what do I do?
I love the look of stained glass, and finding a wood medium with a similar result is perfect. I prefer working with the two dimensional format of the 14th through 16th century, which is why I do not carve or sand down pieces to create an actual three dimensional piece of artwork. This is simply my personal take on a style. I do not stain the wood – I only use a clear finish over the top to let the natural beauty of each species of tree stand out. Some woods are picked for color, others for rarity, some for meaning, and of course some for affordability. A fresh-sealed piece will not have the end colors of an aged piece. Because of this, I have aged pieces of each tree-type to better gauge my colors.
Every design you see in the gallery is an original pattern. Sometimes drafting a pattern ends up being the most time-consuming portion of the project. If a design is for a pet portrait, that pattern will only be used once. Other designs may be used many times, with similar or different species of wood. Regardless each piece is truly unique, as every tree has different grains and textures. Each piece of my wood puzzle is cut by hand using a scroll saw. No computer programs, no laser fitting – just me. That’s half the fun.
Where does the wood come from?
I try to use as much reclaimed wood as I can. Some comes from old flooring or wall paneling. Pallets can be dismantled. Maybe a friend has a tree that needs to be cut down. What I can’t get from recycling, I purchase from local hardwood stores.