All of my previous marquetry pictures were created from commercially available kits which usually included the required veneers, glue, scalpel, pattern and carbon paper to transfer the image to the base board. While they provided great satisfaction in building up the final picture, I did not have a personal connection to the picture’s image. After much thought I decided that a marquetry picture of our previous and much-loved house, ‘Timbers’, would provide a suitable subject as it had well-defined features that could more readily be created using suitable veneers.
Creating the design
The first problem was how to create the required pattern for a base board when all I had were numerous colour photographs taken from different angles and under various weather conditions. Eventually, I chose the photograph shown below.
I might have used tracing paper to select the required outline directly from the photograph, but this soon proved unworkable as it was difficult to tease out what were the distinguishing features. A search on the internet found the ‘Pencil Stencil Maker‘ which automatically converts photos or pictures into a stencil., line drawing or pattern. I uploaded an extract from the photo of Timbers (to focus more on the building) and used the online software to produce printed outputs with differing emphasis on such features as line width, edges and threshold – as shown below.
Image 2 above was selected from which an outline was made on tracing paper. Given that much of the building’s structure was hidden by foliage the missing features of the building were filled in from memory aided by consulting other photos of Timbers. Several copies of the completed tracing were then made on normal paper to provide spares. One of the paper copies was used to trace the image onto a 1/2 inch thick A4 size base board made from MDF using the point of a red ball point pen and carbon paper. An image of this tracing paper is shown below (the tape was to repair a tear).
Choice of veneers
A range of veneers was available to me from my earlier marquetry projects but none to simulate the white paint and insufficient offcuts in black and silver-like for the beams and windows. I therefore obtained some Tulipwood white and light grey coloured wood veneers from Original Marquetry These proved to be easy to cut to size thanks to the straightness of the grain. For the black veneer I bought a rolled strip of 50 mm wide walnut woodgrain edging from Totton Timber. This came backed with adhesive which would be activated by applying heat, such as with a domestic iron. The walnut colour was not quite dark enough, so I bought some black ebony stain from Littlefairs to create the desired effect. An advantage of the pre-glued strip was that it could easily be cut into thin strips to simulate the beams without fracturing.
The journey through to the completed picture – warts and all!
With the pattern traced on the base board the first decision was to select a suitable veneer for the sky. As with most of the veneers I covered the backs with masking tape to hold the woods structure in place while cutting out the required shape. I used 3M Premium Sharp Line masking tape as it offered medium adhesion so would be easy to remove before gluing the veneer to the base board.
Having cut out the ‘sky’ shape, I glued it in place using PVA glue applied to the base with a brush. Later I was to find that I had failed to remove the backing tape! Consequently, it soon became clear that the veneer had not adhered, and I had to lever it up, remove the tape and reglue causing the veneer to split in places along the grain – as seen in the image opposite. But the story does not end there – wait till the varnish was applied!
Next, I glued in place the first of the house’s oak beams by covering the cutout pieces with the masking tape and a thin cotton cloth applying heat over the top from our domestic iron set at about cotton temperature. The shape of the dormer window was simulated by direction of the veneer grain. I also experimented filling in the splits to the left in the sky using a white Liberon wax filler stick.
Placement of the house beams continued in stages, heat-gluing them in place. I also completed part of the house to see how well the veneers performed for the white areas and windows. One vertical beam on the first floor can be seen sloping to the left and I corrected that later as it did not reflect reality. I noticed that part of the sky to the right had been cracked by the heat of the iron.
Sometimes after gluing with PVA a veneer will buckle and needed weighting down with whatever was available – in this instance a bottle of English sparking Rosé and an oil stone were handy! The pre-glued veneer strips did not buckle but tended to stand proud of other veneers.
Most of the veneer pieces to stick in place were small narrow strips and it would be difficult to precisely pour PVA glue in place from the container to the board. Hence, I used a small brush to take glue from the container’s sealing cap which I filled by turning the bottle upside down with the cap on.
Cutting and gluing continued till all the main elements were in place. However, the detail around the chimney and elsewhere needed completing as it had not been possible to cut the veneer precisely to deliver fine detail. This was in part achieved by using coloured wax fillers – in particular those from Briwax. The image shown is nearly ready for varnishing.
One coat of Galeria gloss varnish was then applied but caused part of the cloud veneer to lift where the underlying tape had not been removed. The veneer was cut to allow tape removal and regluing. The varnish did not adhere to any wax filling. Although the quality of the finished product was marred by these mistakes, I was content with the marquetry picture of our previous house.
Some Lessons Learnt
- Always ensure any masking tape is removed from the side that is to be glued
- If wax fillers are used then the only final finish can be wax. As the supplier said ‘Trying to overcoat BRIWAX is like trying to paint a candle, nothing will adhere to the wax except, of course, another layer of wax‘
- If mixing pre-glued with normal veneer aim to apply pre-glued veneer before standard veneer as the heat needed to soften the glue may dry out or split other veneers