Intarsia Projects

The intarsia art-form can cover a pretty broad range of things, if one doesn’t worry too much about narrow definitions. In a narrow sense, intarsia refers to making pictures out of pieces of wood, with the colours provided by the natural colour of the woods used. Further “brushstrokes” can be achieved by the orientation of the grain of the wood. A related artform is “segmentation”, which is the same as intarsia except that the pieces are painted or stained.

Yet another variation are puzzles … are they scrollsaw art, are they segmentation, or are they intarsia? Well, I’m not sure, but to my mind they are like intarsia/segmentation except they aren’t a permanent assembly. Whatever.  They are all fun & challanging projects to make!

Here’s my most ambitious intarsia project to date — some 256 pieces, for a project that’s about 20×29 inches.   It was a gift for my wife on our 20th wedding anniversary.  Ahem … well, she got it somewhat late, if truth be told.

All the colours are from different woods … cedar, pine, maple, basswood, poplar, and purpleheart.  The scariest part of something like this (aside from the grim realization that it wouldn’t be completed on time) is that you cannot really know what it is going to look like until it is done and glued up and the finish (Danish oil, in this case) is applied.

intarsia owl scene

Here’s my first attempt at traditional intarsia, made for my wife. Traditional intarsia uses only the colours found in the wood, as well as the grain direction, to produce the piece. This particular piece is made up of scraps of oak, maple and basswood, and finished with a danish oil. Each piece is cut individually, and then one attempts to fit them together without too much of a gap. It was a *lot* tougher to do than I expected, but very rewarding. I didn’t really know how it was going to look until I put the oil on it, which was pretty scary. One way to get a rough idea of the wood colour is to put a bit of water on the wood … but that just shows the one piece, not how everything looks together.
[May 2004]

Intarsia owls

This intarsia dragon was done for my wife for Christmas 2004. It’s about 13-inches wide, and 4-inches high. The tricky bit was shaping all the pieces to not look so squarish, but the hardest part was getting the tail wrapped around the front. The wood is 1/2-inch cedar, and I got the different colours (on the gill and underbelly) by doing a wash with acrylic paints, and finished with a natural oil … turned out not too badly!

Here’s an intarsia version of the famous painting, “The Scream”, done as a gift for Christmas 2004. Each piece is painted with acrylic paint. Getting the correct colour was quite a challange, and I came away with a MUCH better appreciation for the colour-sense of the original artist … the colours aren’t random, but are rather very “quantized” blendings of one colour into another. Oh, and I “improved” the painting by making different parts of the piece different heights … the screaming figure is the highest, the “bridge” portion the second highest, and the background is just that.

This intarisa “war god” is inspired by Hawaiian designs, and was done as a gift for Christmas 2004. It is made from 3/4-inch pine, and stands about 10-inches high. The eyes and the inside of the mouth are painted, and the rest is finished with a natural oil.

Here’s my second attempt at true intarsia. The design is an eagle, in the Haida-style of art. The wood is maple and basswood, finished with a natural danish oil. It’s hard to see in this picture, but there’s quite a few different heights in the various pieces.
[June 2004]

Intarsia haida eagle

This segmentation piece was done for my wife for Christmas 2003. It’s about 11-inches wide, and 12-inches high. There are millions of pieces (well it SEEMED like that when I was doing it … I’m not sure but I’d guess at least 90), each of which was individually cut out, shaped, and painted. It’s difficult to see it from the picture, but the muzzle section is actually higher, and the interior of the mouth lower, to give a 3D-ish effect. The interior of the ear was dished-out with a carving chisel. I finished it Christmas Eve (not as bad as it sounds … all I had left to do was to make the backer section and glue it on).
[December 2003]

This segmentation piece is called “First Kiss”. It stands about 11-inches high.
[December 2003]

This lovely puzzle is one I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It stands about 18-inches tall, and is made of 3/4-inch basswood, painted with acrylic paints. I call it a puzzle because I shipped it to the recipient in pieces, forcing him to assemble it before he knew what it was.
[December 2003]

This fun-to-make pelican was made at the same time as the parrot … the pattern is from the same designer as the parrot. It’s about 4-inches tall.
[December 2003]

I’m not sure if this is sculpture or multi-layered intarsia … but I like it! It is about 18-inches by 11-inches by 2-1/2 inches. The face frame is cherry, the outer frame is maple, and the inner “mouth” is maple. It’s finished with tung oil. It’s hard to see from the picture, but the teeth are actually sitting freely between the mouth and the back. The teeth themselves are 1/2-inch plywood, painted white and glued onto spacers. With it’s plywood backer, it is a very hefty piece!
[December 2003]

I made this “segmented art” rooster for my sister’s birthday. The rooster was so delightfully tacky that I couldn’t resist!
[July 2003]

Scrollsaw panther

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