Getting Started - Inspiration
I googled "wood laser cutting" on Pinterest, and came across a work that I thought was interesting. It has both the aesthetic value and somewhat technical challenge.
New Laser-Cut Wood Relief Sculptures by Gabriel Schama
Obviously, doing something at this level is beyond my current capabilities, so I sketched a simpler version: a sculpture of Beyoncé's outfit for her Grammys 2017 performance.
I love Beyoncé.
I proceeded with creating my vector illustration on AI. I traced the photo and took liberties in simplifying the shapes and creating contours via repeated lines.
As I was drawing, I realized that I was having a hard time trying to visualize the multiple layers and how it looked like. Especially because I intended to have different parts of the illustration to have different depths.
So, I simulated how the sculpture would look like on illustrator by having the shapes filled with different colors (different level = different fill color).
My exhausted brain finally understood how the sculpture would look like.
After that, I divided the illustration into multiple files, one file for each layer, and put them in the template.
At first I wanted to use a hard board (maybe MDF), but I still have some birch wood panels lying around, and I decided to use them.
Step 1 was cutting the panels into manageable 23" x 11" pieces using the panel saw.
I also tested with card board.
It turned out quite weird and the little details seemed to be too close to each other. I then enlarged the illustration from 5 inch to 6 inch, hoping that it will eliminate the detail issue (also, I didn't have enough materials for bigger sculpture).
Onto cutting actual wood I went, and out of a whim I decided to cut the simplest (last) layer first. I did speed 30 and power 80 at first, and increased it to 6/100 (recommended by shop staff).
I (not so) violently used scissors to poke the hole out.
It was not perfect, and I was kind of horrified by how charred the face looked. But I moved ahead with the two layers above it.
Not bad! The second layer's cut was definitely cleaner. The third layer's teeny holes didn't cut through properly, but this would create similar effect anyway.
Unfortunately the next layers were much harder due to the sun-crown-looking thing. The lines were just too close to each other and the 6/100 setting with laser just burned and charred the wood really badly. Any weaker/slower setting just wouldn't cut the wood (maybe if I did 20 cycles it eventually would?).
So I went home and restrategized. I decided to have one less layer and make the shapes to not have so much detail and to have more spaces in between the lines.
Came back in Sunday, and I played with slower setting to cut the crown. The rest of the vector was cut at 6/100, but the crown was at 20/80 multiple times. At the end I still had to poke through the wood with a pen & scissors to make the holes (note the imperfect shapes).
Pretty far from the original illustration but it's still pretty(?)
I glued the different layers together with wood glue, adjusting the position so the layers would make optimal contour that I liked.
After that, I sanded it to flush the edges and smoothen the surface. And it kinda created a texture that a classmate liked, so I sanded the surface more to create the effect.
Finally, I used wood finish on the first layer. I liked how it created a color contrast between the first and subsequent layers.
Learnings & What I Would Do Differently
When working with harder material like wood, maybe I could have instead used (a) 75W machine, and (b) larger artwork.
Or I could have used thinner wood or other materials instead.
Wood finish is great and adds polish to my work.
Would love to try this artwork with acrylic.