Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Black Duke - the Box (part 1)

As previously mentioned, "The Black Duke" was a series of prop items that I was commissioned to make for an independent film project being mounted by Blackedge Productions. This set of items represents a turning point, in my mind, in my development as an artist. The set consists of three pieces. The Diary, The Box, and The Tome.

Once I had the Diary well underway, I began working on the Box. I already had a suitable pre-fab box that was the right size and had an interesting "treasure chest" sort of shape. I thought it would be perfect for this project. I had been sitting on it for several years, just waiting for the right project for which to use it. I do that a lot. My biggest problem (in that regard) being that I am always loath to actually use something I have been saving for fear that I am wasting it and that a better project for which it was more suited will come along. I tend to collect stuff, even when I don't mean to, and I have a hard time letting things go. I did make an attempt to find another box for this project, but it was soon clear that this was the one, so I gathered up my courage and got down to business.

The client had specified that he wanted a design on the lid of the box. It was to be the emblem of the Duke, so a medieval looking coat of arms design. I warned him of the limitations of my engraving skills, and after several rough ideas were emailed back and forth, a design was chosen. The design is a rampant lion in a shield. I have seen this design many times before. To me it looks like the Lowenbrau emblem, so that's how I thought of it while I was working on it. Sort of my own personal joke.

I took the image that the client sent to me and did some clean up to it in photoshop. Then I printed it out, traced it with a sharpie, and re-scanned it to get the image that I would use to transfer the design. I did this to get nice sharply defined lines instead of the dithered pixilated image I started with. I transferred the design using carbon paper and an embossing tool (ball pointed scribe).

Once the image was transferred to the top of the box, I set about engraving it using a Dremel tool. After it was completely engraved, I colored in the grooves with a black sharpie. This gives the appearance of age darkening and looks good after the box is coated with a dark stain.
"Tonight is kind of special..."
To stain the box, I decided to try something new. I had read about a technique for aging wood using a solution of steel wool dissolved in vinegar. I had tried it once on a scrap piece of wood back when I first heard about it. It turned the piece of pine wood black after a few minutes. The bad part was that it took several days for the vinegar to dissolve the steel wool, and it doesn't keep. You have to make a new batch for each project. So I set some steel wool and vinegar in a jar to get things rolling. I'm not sure if it was quite ready yet, but after a few days I decided to test it out on the inside of the box. To my surprise, it did not turn the box black, but rather a nice deep tone of brown. It looked rather good, and I thought I had found a good alternative to wood stain.

Unfortunately, after covering the whole box with the solution and then allowing it to dry for several days while I continued work on the Diary, the finish took a turn for the worse. The surface of the wood became chalky and more of a pale rust color than brown. Also, the finish would rub off of the surface like dust, leaving the wood barely discolored. It was not at all like the test pieces, and not at all acceptable. So I went back to plan A, which was to use a gel stain on the box and make it a nice dark walnut brown.

Here is the box all nicely engraved and stained. The stick under the lid is there to keep the lid open for ventilation wile the stain dries.

At this point I thought the box looked very nice and would have sold in my shop for sure. I loved the look of it and I dreaded what I knew was about to happen...
(to be continued)

See also:
The Black Duke - the Diary (part 1)
The Black Duke - the Diary (part 2)
The Black Duke - the Box (part 2)
The Black Duke - the Box (part 3)
The Black Duke - the Tome (part 1)
The Black Duke - the Tome (part 2)
The Black Duke - the Set (fini)

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