Vincent Doan and Marquetry of the 21st Century

The original interview was a mix of Vietnamese and English. Online Vietnamese version here. Photo courtesy from Vincent Doan.

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Today, people still use hand saws to cut pieces of veneer for their marquetry works. Not with Vincent Doan. He is bringing marquetry up to date with the 21st century technology with his skills and knowledge of software engineer – the field he left to pursue marquetry.

Anvi Hoàng: Is the presence of your marquetry booth at Laguna Beach’s Art-A-Fair Fine Art Festival a good sign for marquetry?

Vincent Doan: My marquetry is the only wood medium at the festival. There are exhibitions of glass paintings, oil and watercolor paintings, pencil drawings, ect. In a way, it is a plus that I am the only one working with wood there.

AH: How come marquetry is not popular in the US?

VD: It is difficult to sell, and to make, especially a good one.

AH: What do you need to do in order to create beautiful marquetry?

First place award in “The 2011 Koi Fish Marquetry Challenge” from The American Marquetry Society

VD: I don’t know what other people do, but for me, each piece of wood is different – the wood grain and the tonal value or the range of colors. I use these characteristics to create shadow or highlight depending on the subject on a piece of wood, instead of using different pieces of wood to create shadow and highlight – that is what people do: they use dark brown and light brown woods, cut them and use them as shadow. That means they have to cut two pieces and put them together. What happens is that the shadow would appear too sharp. Or they burn the part they want to be the shadow so the color is darker. It does not look natural either way.

For me, I take one piece of wood with a variety of tonal values on it and precisely cut where I want the shadow and highlight. So you have one piece of wood on which you have both shadow and highlight, and the transition between them is very smooth and natural.

AH: You work with natural wood with natural colors, does that mean you have a limited number of colors to work with?

VD: Limited colors to work with, limited wood grain, but I manage to do it because I create my own software that allows me to instantly see a piece of wood in my inventory, rotate it to the shape I want to cut, move it around and see immediately the result. All the wood pieces I have, I already scan to the computer. That means I can basically cut the pieces of wood, assemble them in the computer, see the whole picture virtually before I actually physically cut it. I develop that software in order for me to see and place the shape onto the piece of wood and get the shadow and the highlight correctly, as well as the color combination for the whole piece before I begin to cut. (see how Vincent is making marquetry here.)

AH: With your own software, how is your marquetry different than others?

Soaring Eagle – red gum wood landscape

VD: I design my own picture. I look at a piece of wood and see the wood grains as resembling nature and landscape. I try to add the subject onto that piece of wood to intensify what I see there. If I see a river or a creek, I would put a deer drinking water there. Sometimes the mountain is already there in the wood so I just try to compose it to harmonize the whole thing together with animals and trees. So the landscape you see on my marquetry is usually the landscape that is already there in the wood itself. I don’t cut and create the landscape. That is my approach to marquetry. Each piece of wood is quite different because each has different landscape on it – the river is wider, it’s winding differently. Even if you have the same subject, each final piece comes out differently because the wood is so different.

AH: What are the next steps to the finished product?

VD: After I sketch the picture and convert it into digital vector format, I send it to the laser machine. It will mark the shape on the piece of wood – meaning, instead of pencil marking, the laser will mark it and create the groove, then I follow the groove with my knife and finish cutting the shape.

Then, I put all the pieces together like a puzzle, glue them on a three-quarter inch piece of wood, sand it, and polish it.

AH: Could you estimate how many pieces of wood there will be in a picture?

VD: It is an on-going process. Let say if I have a shape but don’t know what kind of wood I want to use for that, I keep searching in my data base, looking at different pieces of wood to see what works. When I draw the picture, I don’t usually put colors on it. A deer usually has orange color. I would try to get couple of pieces of different orange wood with some wood grain that resembles the fur and play around to see what works best.

AH: Does the limited number of natural colors affect the design you want to have?

VD: I try to work within what I have. Believe it or not, there are thousands of different kinds of wood species that I have in my inventory that come from all over the world. I have lots of different colors and textures of wood to work with. I don’t have problem with finding the right colors or texture or tonal range that I want to use on my pictures. Let say if there is no natural blue, I substitute with a complementary color like purple.

AH: The main themes of your works are wild life and nature. Are they your signature?

Mysterious Innocence

VD: Yes, they are. I love animals and am intrigued by them. I do portraits as well. They are pretty challenging and I enjoy doing that.

AH: Are you considering doing abstract art?

VD: I will do that as well because wood has so much abstract texture on it that I want to do some abstract marquetry as well.

AH: What brought you to marquetry?

VD: I saw a beautiful piece of marquetry and loved it. So I tried it as a hobby. When I saw that I could cut with the laser machine that gave me more precise cutting, I played with it couple of months. Then I thought, “what if I could have a software that allows me to see the picture before I cut it.” I started developing the software. So, my marquetry techniques evolve as I play along. 

AH: What is your plan to develop the business?

VD: Right now I just go the shows and let people know that I do have something to offer. When more people know, I hope to create more quantity and hopefully can sell them at lower prices.

AH: What does marquetry bring you that engineering does not?

VD: Freedom to do what I want, to create what I want to create, not as stressful, meet people and other artists when I go to arts shows. I am very good at engineering but I just want to do something else with my life when I can.

Hurricane Alley – French walnut sky, American walnut rocks, orientalwood water

See more of Vincent Doan’s marquetry here.

Art-A-Fair Fine Art Festival, Laguna Beach, CA: June 29 – September 2, 2012

Season passes: $7 for adults; $4 for Senior, Military and Students; free for children under 12 and Laguna Beach residents.

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Vincent Doan Bio:

Vincent Doan was born in Vietnam in 1961 and came to the United State in 1975. He graduated with a BSEE degree in 1984 from Iowa State University and worked as an Electrical and Software Engineer for over 20 years. His outstanding contributions to the engineering industry include inventions such as avionics equipments for airplanes, fiber optic equipments for telephone systems, security camera equipments for commercial sector, audio/video entertainment systems for commercial airlines and most recently, computer chips for personal computers and computer server storage components for Hewlett Packard.

Vincent studied music, with concentration on classical guitar at a very young age. For years, he had played lead guitar and sang in local bands in a variety of musical styles including his most favorite – Jazz.

In recent years, most of his time has been devoted to his other passion – Marquetry. It is the natural wood color and texture that has drawn him to this rare art style. Wood can be manipulated in many ways, but what makes his works special is that Vincent just lets the natural wood colors and textures radiate their own beauty and warmth in his artworks.

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