Friday, October 30, 2015

My Danish Apprentice - September '15

Back in April - and out of nowhere - a young woman from Copenhagen emailed me and asked me if I could teach her what I do. I've only had one other teaching session with a student from Asheville, NC - a one day thing, so I wasn't sure if this was for me. After thinking about it, and discussing it with my wife (of course), I decided it might be a fun challenge. Originally, (my apprentice) Laura wanted to come for 90 days because that was the longest visa she could get. I said I could teach her what I know in a month. So we planned on her coming for the month of September - when it's not too hot or too cold in Atlanta.

When I told my friends and family I was getting an apprentice, most people thought it was like an internship, where she would be working for me. Since I understood the European concept of apprenticeships, and had to tell them that she was not working for me, but that I would be teaching her how I create my artwork.

So was here, staying with us, for the whole month of September. I've never thought of having an apprentice, (it's not a thing here in the US), and I discovered what it must feel like to be a teacher. 

The first week was spent taking apart some of the pieces I had here, and showing her the basic principles of mechanisms. Once she understood the basic concepts, she began to make her own piece. Besides teaching her mechanisms, I was also teaching her how to (safely) carve wood. She apprenticed for 4 years with the oldest Danish furniture maker in Copenhagen, Rud Rassmussen, so I knew she had good woodworking skills. Carving is another thing. And it has to be done safely - I wanted her to leave here with 10 fingers after all. 

Here are some pictures from our time together, and a rare glimpse into my sunny studio in Atlanta......

This is me teaching her how I carve.  
I've never talked so much - and it was interesting to verbalize my creative process, to think of things I've never thought of before, and to examine exactly why I do things a certain way.

Laura's work table. I brought in some of my older pieces, and collected lots of reference books for her to look through.


She decided her first piece would be an articulated raven, with wings that flap. Here she is figuring out the bird's proportions and how to make the wings move.

Her reference material, and the carved bird in progress.

Her mechanism in progress. It's a motor-driven cam and lever system. The lever will pull down on the small rods on the wings; making them go up and down.  

 The final piece - it worked really well, and her carving, and her attention to detail, were impressive.

Happy apprentice.

Working in the wood shop. You can see my tools are sized for my 6' 4" stature.

The next piece she did was a fully articulated figure, in the style of my "Mr. Oddball" piece shown above. She drew it all out, and started carving. I showed her how I did my connections and joints.

Her figure in progress - hand-carved from basswood.

She got this far before time ran out. The figure is a female boxer with an alien's head. The two levers out front operate the arms. She disassembled this piece but took the figure with her, and I'm sure it will show up in some future piece of hers.

One night she was nice enough to make us a delicious pasta dish, with garlic bread - so good.

Here she is off to her next adventure - she'll spend the month of October with another automata artist in Japan, Kazuaki Harada.
I was so impressed by Laura's willingness to learn, her sense of adventure, and overall pleasantness. I couldn't have asked for a better apprentice. She's a hard worker, tidy, and fun in the studio. All-in-all it was a really great experience. I guess you never know, but we all got along so well. My wife and I hope to visit her in Copenhagen sometime soon.

Thanks for looking.

tom