Marshall Stokes: Mixed Messages
>From the Working As a Team Series:
Lesley and Jeff Wyatt--Nautical Themes
Marshall Stokes at Exhibit
American artist Marshall Stokes got his start in woodburning
when he was 8 or 9 years old--with a gift he received of "a typical
kit from a toy store." It was "a variable tip burner and came
with ten pieces of wood, some patterns, and a little set of
watercolors." He remembers using it a few times with nothing
serious coming out of it at that time. However, he notes that his mom
still has the first driftwood piece he did back then.
He may not have done too much with his woodburning as a child, but since he was 21 years old or so and got back into this technique in a serious way, as you will see, Marshall Stokes is on fire!
Years later, when he began woodburning seriously, driftwood pieces would
be some of Marshall's first explorations. He still has driftwood pieces
in a mental queue of ideas for new works, he says.
Up until this year, Marshall was almost completely unaware of other pyrographic artists. Things changed dramatically, however, when he recently went on the internet.
Just Time, detail
It wasn't until Marshall was 18 and in college that he really started
focusing on art and doing a lot of drawing. Seven years ago, at age 21,
he moved to South Lake Tahoe to follow a snowboarding dream.
"That freedom of self determination," as he called it,
"opened up the artist that I am today, and woodburning came back to
me." It was then when he began to focus heavily on pyrography.
Five years later he moved to Arcata, California where he has had the opportunity to show his work both in solo exhibits and with a local group of art students there.
Tool. Although he started as a child with one of the usual
variable tip solid point tools, a few years after he got back into
pyrography as an adult, Marshall acquired a Detail Master IV, which he
has found very useful for his work.
Wood. As mentioned earlier, Marshall used driftwood pieces for some of his first pyrographic explorations and they remain in his mental queue as ideas for new works. Not surprisingly since Marshall is in northern California, Redwood is another support for some of his works. Because of its deep color, it is an unlikely choice for most pyrographers, but Marshall employs it with wonderful effect, thanks to his high contrast work.
Finish. "Finishes are application-based," Marshall explained, "that is, the guitars get marine varnished, as I was told by a guitar maker in Lake Tahoe that this will produce close to the same resonance as the original finish. This is also good for tables, as it is water resistant. I've just used lacquer for the first time on Marco's table, and it's great since it dries in an hour, and you can get multiple coats on in one day, whereas the varnish takes 24 hours in between coats. I've noticed that the darker finishes tend to take away some of the value of the shading."
Jordan's Guitar, No. 1
Jordan's Guitar, No. 2
Jordan's Guitar, No. 3
Jordan's Guitar, No. 4
In regard to his increasingly intriguing designs, Marshall explains them
"They are not really things that I choose. They are a specific point in a process for me, or a journey really."
"The weaving started as one small idea of producing the effect of a weave using shading. I've been influenced by graffiti quite a bit as well, and these two themes tend to interact from time to time. Anyway, from the first weave, in my mind, I have been elaborating on them, and trying to produce more dimension on the flat surface. This is fascinating to me--to see something flat that wants you to reach into it."
"Jordan's Guitar (above) is a good example," Marshall says, "of the mix between graffitti and weaving."
"With Loose Weave (above)," Marshall explains,
"I imagined a tension holding the weave together from all sides,
and then being cut suddenly on one side, hence the loose ribbons."
"For me, these things are visualized first. While looking at a piece of blank wood, I build the woven design in my mind, and then start drawing."
"As for the visualizations," Marshall elaborates, "yes, I do see these in my head, and don't use anything to draw from. However, that is not to say that they come out exactly as I see them. The 'loose' parts are usually free-formed, and are developed as they are drawn, although a rough idea exists before the pencil hits the wood. Yes, I draw them out first. But it's fun to close my eyes and start imagining these geometric shapes morphing into more complex ones. Once I get one down, the next visualization will usually start where the last piece leaves off."
Hard Drive Suture, side view
"The mixed media pieces began," Marshall says, "when I
had an idea to bolt a piece of metal onto wood, and it just went from
there. I started with what I call my mecha series, which
involved representations of common electronic items, such as
televisions, clocks, etc. Those eventually led to pieces like
Hard Drive Suture (above) and Infusion
"Mecha for me," Marshall explains, "is short for mechanical, and was a way to differentiate the mixed media pieces from the other ones. The metal and wires are intended to signify a technological parasite, or the collision of nature and technology, with the wood being the natural element."
Marshall explains that "these pieces are representative of, once
again, simple small ideas that have been elaborated upon. The ones and
zeroes on them are binary code and spell out either the title of
the piece or a relevant quote."
"The knotholes and other 'imperfections' are always a part of the wood as I find it. I don't like to change any piece more than sanding it, and even that I will only do if it's really rough. Hard Drive Suture actually had a large crack that ran 3/4 of the way through it lengthwise, and I 'stitched' it up with metal and screws, hence the title. Some of the pieces of 'found' wood have pencil marks from the construction site. I don't like to change the wood, other than the art part."
Marshall has been exploring his prolific ideas once more and has turned his attention of late, among other things, to applying his designs to two pieces of furniture. The one pictured immediately above (shown with his Detail Master IV pyrotool) and in a close-up below (showing the snake!) is a free-form piece that--at about 3 ft by 5 ft--is the largest thing Marshall has done yet.
Marco's Table, close-up view, partial
He nicely handled the challenge of the irregular surface by creating a nature scene that flows right along with the form of the table. Certain elements he employed to form a border are hallmarks of his distinctive style.
It was not surprising to learn that Marshall majored in Architectural
Engineering Technology when he attended Wentworth Institute of
Technology in Boston. As for art studies, he says, "I have no real
formal art training, but I've had a lot of artist friends and family
members. Good influences."
Although he is not yet earning a living from his art work, Marshall is hopeful that his next and imminent destination of Portland, Oregon will allow him to show his work to a larger audience.
See more examples of his innovative work in the Marshall Stokes Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.
2005, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.