The following is just a small taste from Jögge Sundqvist’s lastest book, “Karvsnitt: Carving, Pattern & Color in the Slöjd Tradition,” newly available in English.
Cutting patterns and symbols in wood, and enhancing them with vibrant color, are folk traditions kept alive in the slöjd craft. Through decorations imbued with meaning, chip carving has given soul to slöjd woodcraft throughout history. Even today, chip carving offers a natural complement to an artfully crafted spoon, cutting board or shrink box – and it provides the opportunity to develop your own creativity and meaningful patterns. This book teaches you techniques for cutting triangle chips, fingernail cuts, lines and letters — plus you’ll learn what kind of wood, knives and tools you need to get started, and techniques for painting your finished work. You’ll find 15 projects, from simple decorations on knife handles and signs to more demanding objects such as boxes and combs.
When designing a pattern, there are several things to keep in mind. It’s important to balance both the overall look and your own personal style. Allow time for the process of sketching and cutting samples.
A slöjd object with a consistent expression and a purpose connected to the context in which it is used tends to last longer in terms of design. When patterns and symbols align with function, the different parts are bound together into a whole by the subtext — a certain unity to which they all contribute. The small relates to the big as the big relates to the whole, goes a proverb coined in Florence, Italy, as early as the 15th century. On some objects, a pattern serves to add something, but sometimes the decoration takes over and demands too much attention at the expense of the whole. If so, it’s a good idea to break it down into its constituent parts and consider the different components. It’s a reflective process, which — as you experiment with new elements of form — allows for a constant development of your artistic expression through forms and patterns. Think of pattern composition as a playful and fun sketching that lends a personal expression to your slöjd.
Begin by considering the desired character of your pattern. The design of lines and patterns contributes to the overall feel of an object. Reflect on whether the lines and patterns have an expression that is distinct, exhilarated, broad and steady, delicately uneven, rough or subtle. Sometimes, mixing expressions creates a nice contrasting effect.
Continue by sketching and working with different forms, borders or ornaments, one at a time, making simple geometric shapes. Repeat or stack them on top of each other, place them close together or spaced apart. You can offset any shape vertically or horizontally, turn it upside down, invert it, bring two together or make them overlap. Geometric patterns involve a lot of mathematics. Here, you can test the golden ratio, which stipulates that the most harmonious relationship between the sides of a rectangular surface is a ratio of 3:5. Multiply the length of the shortest side by 1.618 to get the length of the longest side.
Things to consider when constructing patterns
• Choose a main pattern that will catch the eye.
• Surround the main motif with a balanced amount of decoration.
• Divide the pattern into sections. Frame the decoration with borders and lines.
• Create suspense in the geometry using rhythm, movement and variation.
• Compress and expand, make it denser and more spacious. Be aware of symmetry and asymmetry.
• Consider both positive and negative forms — the pattern in relation to the space in between.
Stripes and borders
By dividing a surface into large or small sections using vertical, horizontal or diagonal lines, you can create stripes or borders. These can also be full circles or semicircles, reinforced with surrounding lines. Group and distribute the lines or shapes rhythmically over the surface, creating dense or spacious borders.
Smaller shapes, signs or symbols placed at an even or symmetrical distance from each other create the same effect. A border can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, sometimes inverted around a center point. But avoid mixing styles, which may easily give a cluttered impression. Alternate with uncut, undecorated surfaces; this brings space and balance to the border. Adjust lines and the way borders and patterns are grouped to bring them into balance with each other.
Grids and braids
Grids arise when systems of lines intersect to form oblique or right angles. Sometimes, it’s the lines that are central and create the pattern. Other times, the empty space is essential and the lines are secondary. If the lines are brought closer together or moved farther apart, the spaces become either square or rectangular, and when they are repeated vertically or horizontally with a certain rhythm, a decorative surface is created.
When the lines intersect at an angle, they can be intertwined to look like wickerwork or braided birch bark. Alternating between thin and thick lines creates rhythm and variety in the grid or braid. One over, one under is simple math, but if the braid is to fit the intended surface without being demarcated by lines, the composition becomes more difficult. The middle grid pattern in the top row is common in Southern Sámi slöjd culture.
Often, grids are used to frame a stylistic decoration involving animals, human figures or vegetal elements in a square or rectangular shape. The pattern above is copied from a detail on a metalwork decoration on a late 12th-century coffin in Rydaholm Church in Småland.
Common elements of form
• The square, circle and triangle are considered the basic forms of a carved surface. Even with simple shapes, the possible combinations quickly become numerous.
• Lines and borders, dots and circles, ellipses and ovals, rhombuses, vesicae piscis, waves, grids, braids, letters and numbers.
• Roses, suns, stars, moons, leaves, flowers, trees, feathers, tassels, pillars and columns.
• Figurative shapes such as animals, faces, and people.