Marquetry is the art and craft of applying pieces of veneer (typically wood) to a structure to form decorative patterns, designs or pictures. It was popular in France in the 16th century from where it developed into a sophisticated art form much in demand across Europe in the production of furniture.
The process typically involves drawing the desired design on the base wood, or tracing it to the base via a paper pattern.
Veneers – thin slices of natural wood – are then cut with a saw or scalpel to the desired shape and glued in position on the base. Once a veneer is in place a second has to be cut to fit the contour of the one in place. This continues until only borders need to be added to complete the project.
The one on the left was created using this ‘stick-and-go’ method. It does require care to fit the shapes, but has the advantage that the picture is built up in discrete stages, each firmly fixed in the desired position on the base board. However, it may require some remedial work to fill in any gaps between the veneers.
An alternative mode of construction, and one that is most commonly used now, is the ‘window method’. You still need a pattern to follow but the difference is you first have to select the veneer which is to be the background to the picture. In the image opposite the background veneer chosen was the one that would form the sky. The size of that veneer has to be sufficiently large to cater for its appearance in the finished picture.
The design needs to be traced onto this base veneer and a decision made as to which will be the first part of the picture to be created. Here the sloping roof of the building was chosen, and the roof shape was cut out of the base veneer. A suitable piece of dark veneer was then placed under the opening in base veneer and oriented so that the grain gave the desired affect for the roof. Some low tack masking tape was used to attach the roof veneer to the base veneer to hold it in place while the shape was cut out using the ‘window frame’ as the guide for the shape. Once cut out the roof section was fitted into the ‘window’ in the base veneer and held there with masking tape.
The process of selecting, creating and fitting successive parts then continued – for the water mill, the focus was initially on the roof beams and house walls. As each new veneer section was added masking tape was applied to the top to hold all sections together – not forgetting to add any required borders. Having removed any masking tape from the rear of the picture, it was glued to a suitably sized baseboard. This was achieved by first applying a glue (such as PVA) to the baseboard and using a heavy weight (around 30 kg) to press the wrapped and protected taped picture to the board and retaining it there overnight. Once revealed, the masking tape needed to be carefully removed from the top of the picture to avoid damaging the veneers.
With the water mill project, it was found that some parts of the veneers had not sealed properly to the baseboard and were of warped – but you can see from the image above such defects are not that obvious. To deal with this the warped areas were dampened using a paint brush and once soft were flattened, or cut to insert more glue and then pressed down with a suitable weight till dry.
A Beginner’s Guide is available from the Staffordshire Marquetry Group here
The Window Method – a video here
Cutting techniques – a video here