Being Freed Up. Seeing wood and woodworking in a new light.

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 04-14-2008 03:18 PM 2180 reads 2 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Ok, I promised myself and my wife that I would quit typing so much and work in the shop more. So, I’ve been fairly quiet, only admiring all of the growth of LJ, and the projects and blogs a few times a day quietly. This growing bunch of folks has been truly inspirational for me. But, when I type too much, I don’t make things, bills come in the mailbox, upset spouse, thus the silence. After all, what I have to say isn’t all that important anyway. Something else my wife taught me that nobody else had been able to do.

BUT, this morning, I stumbled across Daren Nelson’s posting about using sap wood (, and his discovering of this genius by accident.

I started to just nod my head and say, “Amen brother.”

But, I couldn’t stop at that. The wife is occupied with her aerobics video for awhile, so I’m sitting here with my hair still standing up since I have not taken time to shower yet.

“Off to the shower,” I keep telling myself and then to the shop, but I just couldn’t stop the urge to comment on his project.

“Put down the keyboard, and step away.” But, I couldn’t. Then, I got so moved by what I was confessing to Daren, that I decided to add it to my blog.

So, here it goes:
I first saw the “light” in sap wood when I accidentally discovered the work of Cody artisan John Gallis many years ago. Then, I read how Maloof uses sapwood also. Hmmm? Gotta listen to him right? That all sort of just changed my way to see wood. I quit collecting magazine articles on “Staining Sap Wood”. In fact, I don’t even know where the file is anymore.

I remember the first time I saw something John Gallis made published in a magazine gallery section. It was a walnut slab desk with branch legs, simple, elegant, original. It wasn’t square, rectangular, or “normal” in any way. I thumbed on through the magazine, and read the dry “how to’s” and the boring tool reviews, and opinionated blowhard’s thoughts, and threw out those nasty little post cards. And tried to move on.

But, I just couldn’t get the image of that Gallis desk out of my mind. For weeks, I carried the magazine around in my briefcase, showing it occassionaly to other people to get their impressions. The more I thought about it, the more confused I became. Continental shifts were happening in a guy raised by a woodshop teaching father. “It’s just not right.” I just couldn’t understand how he did it, or where the ideas sprang from. How did he find that wood? Oooh, that walnut he uses! Those twisted junipers. Wow. (Head scratching sort of stuff).

Then, after a few months, it happened, I changed my view. Like taking sunglasses of inside of a movie theatre, I was suddenly seeing as I had never seen before.

Over the coming months, I began to hate the hours I had to spend at a corporate desk in an in airport doing my “day job”. The endless committe meetings, the stupid reports, the boring estimates, and proposals to write, and terms and conditions to scratch through. In those years, I still wasn’t building anything in wood at that time, I was into “Harleys” in those days. But, that Gallis desk wouldn’t leave me.

That “desk” moved something so deep and forgotten within me, that in a few years, I would hear myself saying, “I quit!” and carrying my little box of stuff to my car, filled with the remenants of a past life, and perspective, that I wanted to leave behind. I was onto a new adventure, something that lined up with who I was inside, who I was born to be. The kid that had been stuffed in a closet to pursue a respectable “Career”.

The kid was freed. Not freed from bills, and worries, and wife’s questions, and lots of other adult problems. But, the kid inside had broken free like an alien leaving a chest cavity.

So, as you can see, I was smitten with John Gallis. Not like I was when I first met my wife sitting behind her desk at work in a smart blue dress, but so moved that all of my previous notions and ideas about furniture making just went blank.

It takes some years for that change to work through my life, but I was definitely changed. Sort of like good Chili in a pot. Sure, it’s good the first day, but let it sit in the refrigerator and blend, and the second day it is better. Gallis can have that affect on a guy. I’ve never seen blue dresses, nor furniture, the same since. All by accident. Was it accidental?

I’ve discovered others that inspire me since that first “unnatural” exposure, but Gallis’ work moved me first, and the most. I’ve been quiet about John’s work here on LJ, as he doesn’t need a whole bunch of woodworkers trying to copy his work, it is a tough enough business (Gallis-wannabees). A true genius he is, and I later discovered that he is also a great person, taking time from his own work and worries to offer advice and encouragement to me in my own journey with wood over the years. I’ve prayed earnestly for his success for several years now. I want to see him freed from the business aspect of woodworking, to create, to live, to run.

So, I started looking for Gallis’ work in other places and books, and eventually this motivated me to end up in Cody in 2006 at the Western Design Conference mainly because he told me it was a good place to show my work. At that show, I felt it was mainly influenced by three people: Maloof, Molesworth, & Gallis, not in that order. There were other orginal ideas in the show I guess, but were they really?

Then, in this process of growth and enlightenment, I discovered Dan Mack’s limb/tool furniture pieces, and that added another whole mystery to using strange and unique things in the work. I was so moved that I used an exacto knife to whittle tenons on cedar tree limbs to make my first log chair. I’ve since discovered better ways than exacto knives, but when something moves me, I just have to use what I’ve got at the time.

There have been other influences since then. Actually, a lot of them. All saying the same thing to me. “Be Free Mark, run!”

The other influences though, are all like “curing cement” to what seemed as a foundational change in my mind with the “craziness” of Gallis’ works. If I had money, I’d be buying him out of anything he had, it would be a great investment.

This discovering I’m in has been Breaking my mind free of the European, Asian, and historical influences of what Furniture is supposed to look like. Earthshaking, unsettling, paradigm breaking.

Where is this heading? I don’t know either, but I like it. I like the mystery. Now, I find myself driving the back ranch roads looking at old osage orange fence posts in a new way. Hmmmm?

Make that #4520: “You might be a lumberjock if you spend time driving by yourself lusting after a neighbor’s old twisted fence posts.”

Try to explain that one to your wife who is wondering where you have been for the past two yours. Trust me, come up with a better excuse.

”Can’t Sleep?”
This is the sort of stuff that wakes me up at night with ideas. Not because I’m stressing out over an upcoming difficult glue-up, like I used to do. And of course, in my mid forties now, I don’t dream of the things a younger guy does all of the time, at least not so much.

I stopped waking up worrying over money problems several years ago. Not because there aren’t any problems, but rather, because the idea generation process is so overwhelming and powerful, that it has pushed those money worries out of my mind during my sleeping hours. I can reserve those money problems to daylight hours now.

Wow, dreaming about knots and twisted limbs? Something else your wife won’t understand when you tell her why you were talking in your sleep. “So, who is Osage?!”

”A Woodmill”
All of this has pushed me to the point that a wood mill is a high-priority item for my life. I can push back the big surface planer that I want for now, a woodmill is the “real” money maker idea for me. Not because I can sell the wood, or reduce the cost of the wood that I buy, but it will allow me to discover the gems that only a guy who cuts up trees can find. So, now you can add, “woodmill dreaming” to the night time interruptions.

What I’m discovering in this process is that once you discover the gems in wood that make it “abi-normal”, you can be released from the normal way to see wood, and let it naturally decorate a room. It is so freeing.

When I can find wood like that, I don’t need to carve it, as my carving pales in comparison to the natural look of extradorinarily unique wood, such as a huge knot. This was the essence of the Nakashima genius, still being done by Mira and her team. Their work was another great discovery for me several years ago, causing me to study and see how they use the natural odd things in wood to make a statement in a room. A major statement.

Once you break your mind free of the square/rectangular/straight paradigm of clear woods with brown stains and smooth textures, there are many ways to use wood you hadn’t considered before that goes way beyond just using knots and sapwood.

Paint Wood? Nah!:
Mike Livingston, another famous Western Style woodworker changed my concept of painting wood. He lives not to far from me, outside of my home town. So shocking was his painted furniture concepts to me, that I found his unaddressed business location one time like “Dog The Bounty Hunter” chasing a suspect in Mexico. So passionate I became about pursuing something creative like Mike was doing, that I begged him for a job in the mid-1990’s. “Sorry, I work alone.” Rats.

I remember him saying, “Heck, I’ll paint walnut if it gives me what I want.” That was so shocking, so elementally wrong to me at that time, that I couldn’t settle it in my mind. Paint walnut? “What a shame,” I thought. Then, came Gallis, and others, and things started to really blow my mind to what woodworking can be in skilled hands driven by a creative mind.

Still, I struggle with painting wood, but to be free to do it like Mike Livingston is an inspirational thought.

“The Process is the Journey”
To be honest, this whole journey of woodworking is not about income, or happy customers, or anything other than a creative outlet for what motivates and makes me passionate. I sense I’m on a journey from a bigger Power than I can comprehend. I just can’t quit.

I guess I could quit if I had to. But I would be like the Black Knight with no arms and legs and saying, “Come back and fight like a man!” No, I’m not ready to quit yet.

I didn’t quit a good corporate job for the money of woodworking, but the chance to live out a passion. It seemed more like a “calling”, and less like a business. Ok, ok, it didn’t seem anything at all like a business, and really isn’t yet. Now, 11 years later, This process is still blowing my mind, and I am excited to see where it will run out in my work in the coming years.

Lately, I can’t get Dan Walter’s masterful Arts & Crafts framed tiles out of my mind. Where does that take me? I don’t know either, but I like it.

I haven’t spoken about here before, but Silver jewelry motivates me. I can’t bring myself to wearing much of it, but I want to. It is battling the brick walls of conformity that are inside of me. So much so, that since I was 12 years old and a silversmith showed me how she makes a stone set ring, I’ve wanted to do it. So, after 32 years of waiting, I’ve completed my 3rd silversmithing class. I can’t wait until the next one this week. I only have 6 more sessions, and too much to learn. I’m not a jeweler, don’t aspire to be one. But, the ability to work silver into my woodworking sounds cooooool. Knives, Canes, door handles, who knows. I’m having fun dreaming about that also.

Then again, some would say that it must just be an overgrown kid with ADHD. I can’t argue with that.

Following Your Passions:
I suppose in a way, when the inspiration fails to motivate, it is time to lay down and wait for the Return of the ultimate Master Woodworker….

I have enjoyed feeling this evolution happening in my work the past 3-4 years, and importantly, the response from the buying public. The variety, the craziness, the contrasting materials, the oddness of my “Presence” seems to be a good fit with a handful of people looking for unique things from unique people. Cool.

When I have taken pieces to a show, the Arts & Crafts pieces I’ve made show well, and people comment on them, and admire the carving, and talk about their memories reading books on Grandpa’s lap while sitting in his Morris Chair, and it is all warm and fuzzy, and encouraging. BUT, it has all been done before, by lots of other woodworkers. There is a piece of me that says, “I like it, but what’s next?”

BUT, when those show attenders see a piece in my booth with huge knots, and smoothed natural edges, and turquoise and sap wood, and the “freedom” that this all exudes, they just stand there and look and say “wow.”

It isn’t my “work” that got their attention, but rather the natural beauty that I released from the wood. It’s a humbling thing to realize that without the God-given tree, I couldn’t make a thing. Looking for the odd things that the lumberyards and factories don’t use, couldn’t use, is a journey in it’s self, especially with a limited budget.

The downside for the woodworker is that you can’t go online and buy “plans” for a piece like “that.” Conventional woodworking doesn’t work on pieces like that. Cooooool. I gotta get some of that!

Sure, you still have to do expertly crafted mortises and tenons, but how do you do that on a piece of wood that doesn’t have a straight edge, or flat surface. Hmmm? Figuring it out is half of the fun. Learning the baisics of the craft, any craft, allows you to take the skill to new places. For myself, I can’t wait to see where it is heading.

Go, dream, learn, & follow the passions you have (the good ones), run.

Thanks for reading, off to the shower, got things to do today.
Mark DeCou

(This writing is protected by copyright, M.A. DeCou 4-14-2008, all rights and privledges reserved)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

18 comments so far

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4809 days

#1 posted 04-14-2008 03:27 PM

Great Post Mark! Dare I say you will be one of our inspirations, when we become successful enough to be asked about our influences – as you are one of mine.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4581 days

#2 posted 04-14-2008 03:34 PM

Thanks for sharing. It is amazing to me how much I identify with your writing. It just lets me know that I am not on this journey alone. On one hand you want to be unique. On the other hand, you want to be around people that are like minded and understand.

Thanks again for sharing.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4728 days

#3 posted 04-14-2008 04:03 PM

I hear a little bit of Frank sneaking in there too. I love that kind of wood working also. Look at my little bugger I made. Just a little Gem I found full of water and worms that I half turned and half sanded. You could’nt ream out the insides, it was just a rotted hole. I know what you mean about the lumber yard. Man would’nt that be great to peal off a four or five inch chunk of prized walnut slab full of knots and burls and figure, iit would be like a pirate finding treasure, mine, mine, heh! Heh! All Mine!. Or something like that. Pearls in the burls. I can’t wait to see what you come up with buddy. You, my friend, are on a quest! Good Luck and God Speed. mike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View dlcarver's profile


270 posts in 4212 days

#4 posted 04-14-2008 04:09 PM

Wheeew ! That’s a mouth full Mark. Nothing can beat the inner beauty of wood. Thanks !


-- Dave Leitem,Butler,Pa.,

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4887 days

#5 posted 04-14-2008 04:11 PM

Thanks guys
Mike: Frank was included in my “Other influences since then” comment.

thanks for the comments,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Lakey's profile


97 posts in 4254 days

#6 posted 04-14-2008 04:37 PM

I’m so glad to have read this, as I’ve often wondered how the hell anyone could call any wood (sapwwod) “undesireable.” Nice read. Thanks, Mark.


-- "No Board Left Behind"

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4728 days

#7 posted 04-14-2008 05:22 PM

You know though buddy, anything you touch is going to turn to gold. We both know that.. Like I said before, someday we’ll be saying, ” why that’s a DeCou”. Just like we do now with Maloof. mike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4444 days

#8 posted 04-14-2008 05:48 PM

I too have been inspired by Gallis but not to the point of attempting to duplicate his work. Can’t do it, he’s one of a kind. So is Mark DeCou.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4643 days

#9 posted 04-14-2008 05:52 PM

A great story Mark. Nice to see others are following a similar journey.

I hope you were able to sneak that one in before your shop time. Would hate to see you get busted!

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4887 days

#10 posted 04-14-2008 06:09 PM

Thanks Mike and Thomas. Glad you have respect for Gallis also. I couldn’t copy what he does, even if I tried really hard. Yes, I’m unique also, and I think it’s my ADHD. I still feel sorry for my grade school teachers. That was back in the day before medications. They used swats in those days. Never hurt me a bit long term either. Well, maybe it did, can’t tell now.

Bill, I got busted, back to work,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4304 days

#11 posted 04-14-2008 06:10 PM

Thanks for the blog Mark. I am sure many of us are following a similar journey. I commented to Yorkie today about a box he had posted with a natural edge. Not too long ago I would have removed the “defect” and worked with the good wood. But after being on here a while an epiphany of sorts has set in. I now am beginning to see the inner beauty that lies within these natural pieces. I doubt that I will ever get to the level of Frank and Debbie and yourself but who knows.

Good post.

By the way I could not open the link.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4781 days

#12 posted 04-14-2008 06:23 PM

It always amazes me to see the wonders of mother nature in a piece of wood.

And you’re the guy that can embellish nature in one of your

piece’s of art, plus your words.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4642 days

#13 posted 04-14-2008 08:28 PM

ditto to everything said above.
I miss having my daily dose of DeCou-ism.

and just one more thing (not to take away from the power of your words, but I just have to say this)—I am now a Mike Livingston fan: “Heck, I’ll paint walnut if it gives me what I want.”
I rest my case!!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View TomK 's profile


504 posts in 4356 days

#14 posted 04-14-2008 08:46 PM

Right on, Mark! I am inspired by your passion. I’m still working on the more mechanical parts of making tight joints and I’m getting better at builiding, especially from someone elses plans. Design has always been my shortcoming at least in the traditional sense. But I too love to see a twisted, burly trunk of a pecan, or oak or other tree and just imagine what could be…... I too work in the corporate world and find myself daydreaming
sometimes about how I would or will go about accomplishing a step in a project. One of the things I love so much about LJ’s is getting inspiration from woodworkers and artisans for whom woodworking is not just a vocation, but an advocation, or even a calling! That I believe, is what sets LJ and many of it’s members apart from other forums.

Thank You Mark!

-- If you think healthcare is expensive now, wait until it's free! PJ O'Rourke

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6866 posts in 4461 days

#15 posted 04-15-2008 05:22 AM

Hey Mark;

You sure do hold things in, then explode. You should vent more often. LOL

Nicely written, and I was with you till you started lusting after fence posts.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

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