We are extremely happy to unveil a new monthly feature on Woodturners Unlimited that will showcase one of our members.  On the forums side of our site, we all share what we turn, how we turn it and discuss a variety of tools, embellishments and finishing techniques.  It doesn’t take long before a turner becomes associated with a certain style or form and we can pick their work out of a page of thumbnails, however, while we may know their work, we often know very little about the person.

We are proud to present our newest feature, Behind The Art, and hope these glimpses into the lives of our members opens the door to even closer friendships.

Presenting our very first interview…

 

MIKE FOSTER

Mike is an amazing turner whose recent mathematical work has been an inspiration for many of us at Woodturners Unlimited and for turners around the world.  We wanted to know more about him and his work, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your real job.

I am a married man with 2 grown children.  Natalie is an emergency room nurse and gave birth to our first grandchild 2 months ago.  Colin is in his senior year at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) majoring in sculpture, but has interests in CNC, 3D printing, robotics and multimedia sculpture. Susan, my better half, is a retired librarian and spends much of her time spinning and knitting.

I am a full time dentist in my other life.  After graduating from the University of Colorado School of Dentistry (I grew up in Denver) in1982, I entered the US Public Health Service and spent 20 years serving in the Indian Health Service.  During that time I worked and lived in South Dakota, way upstate New York, Phoenix, the 4 corners area of Colorado and Sitka, Alaska.  My wife did not care for the dark and rain of Sitka (though I loved it there), and we decided to retire from the USPHS and move to the home she grew up in here in Vermont.  I am now working in a community dental center 4 days a week (and I thought I was retired).

 

 

Our place in Vermont was homesteaded in 1792 by Susan's ancestors and has been in her family since then.  We are blessed with 100 acres of woods and about 20 acres of fields.  I spend a lot of time on my Kubota maintaining the property.  I just love that machine (Every man needs a tractor).  I use it logging, cutting fields, moving earth, plowing snow, moving rocks and on and on.  I actually gave up golf because I would rather be doing something constructive on the property than chasing a little white ball.

 

 

 

What got you into turning?

I started turning about 25 years ago.  I bought a Shopsmith Mark V and started making stuff with it.  I tried my hand at turning and had some pretty exciting times figuring it out on my own.  I can remember chasing that machine around the shop from the vibration.  I decided I needed some help, and took a weekend class with Russ Zimmerman.  I think he is still teaching, but he now lives in Florida.  Since then, I have attended symposiums and demos, and I’ve slowly gained skills.   I had a long spell turning segmented pieces when I lived in Alaska.  I used the Shopsmith to cut and sand all the pieces, but by that time, I had acquired a Woodfast lathe for turning.  

 

I built my dream shop when I moved to VT.  It has some features you can't see in the photos, like piped in compressed air to multiple outlets in the shop, a closet in the basement that houses dust collection and the compressor, and lighting that doesn't stop.  I actually wired in more fixtures than I use now for when I get older and my vision deteriorates (it's bright in there now).  I spent a winter designing the shop for ergonomics and versatility before our move and am really pleased with the results.

 

 

Do you have any other creative outlets or pastimes away from turning?

I have always loved the sciences and read books on physics, astronomy and biology just out of pure curiosity. These interests have naturally crept into my wood turned art. In my reading on physics, some of the math I find really intriguing. I don't pretend to understand the math, but some results of the math are pretty amazing. I am not sure where I originally was introduced to minimal surfaces, but that branch of math generates some really amazing 3D forms when graphically rendered. There are numerous programs that allow you to fiddle with the inputs and get some pretty amazing structures.

 

  

Where'd you get the wild idea to incorporate mathematics and electron microscopy into your turnings?

I love looking at great photos and National Geographic always has amazing photography. I had a picture of a giant Lobelia plant that one of their photographers shot from above (I don't know how he got the shot as these are very large plants). I was intrigued by the arrangement of the leaves and decided I had to try to do a turning based on it. I realized that the plant had 2 different spiral arrangements in the leaves and started counting them. I found there were 13 spirals in one direction and thought that can’t be right, but my wife said, no it was probably because of the Fibonacci series. Well I realized that indeed this was the case and I was hooked. Fibonacci spirals show up in nature, and I just can't resist adding them to my work. I stumbled onto cool SEM pictures of microscopic life, especially the frustules of diatoms and radiolaria. They were so cool and intricate, and their structure has some geometric symmetry that is just irresistible to me. So you can see that I draw my inspiration from things that interest me.

 


 

 

 

If you were stranded on a desert island that just happened to have a lathe and electricity, what are the few turning tools that you'd rather not do without?

If I were stranded on a desert island that was equipped with a lathe and electricity, the tool that I would want would be my Glaser V15 1/2” gouge. The Glaser is my go-to tool and is in my hands far more than any other tool I have. If I could bring just one more, I would probably opt for a Stewart armbrace hollowing tool. I could use this as a scraper for bowls and for hollowing. If I could bring just one more, I might opt for the necessary evil of a parting tool, but I might be able to make one of these from scrap metal I found on the island. After that it gets tougher to pick. A skew, a Hunter #5, a detail gouge and a real scraper would all be high on the list.

 

Any trees you'd hope to find on that magical island?

For trees growing on the island, my first choice would be sugar maple. I could tap them and make some maple syrup, and they provide some nicely figured woods. I often use just plain maple for my work that gets coloring and carving because it turns so sweetly, has no open pores and takes detail well. I think I would pick pear as my second choice. I love the fruit, and the wood is silky smooth, and like maple, takes detail well and has no open pores.

 

Name a couple of turners who have inspired you.

Turners who inspire me…  That’s a very long list. I saw Richard Raffan demo in Phoenix perhaps 15 years ago, and he is probably one of those who influenced me the most. I don't know how many times I go back to his books for reference. My journey into segmented work was largely inspired by Ray Allen.  I still have an article he wrote long before segmented work was popular. I loved his work, and met him at a couple of craft fairs in Arizona. People whose skills I covet include, but not limited to, Garret Van Ness, Art Liestman, Binh Pho, Jacques Vesery, Ron Layport, Paul Fennel and Gordon Pembridge.

 

Is there anything on your turning 'to-do' list?

My “to do” turning list is so long that I don't really think I'll ever get to it all. I know I should keep a sketchbook of ideas, but it really just resides in my head. I find my drawing skills really don't do justice to my ideas, so I just let them brew until I have time to attempt one. I use a computer quite a bit in the design phase of many of my pieces. I will use 3D math programs, Adobe Illustrator, and Photoshop to do some initial planning. Much of the design work actually takes place on the turned form, so I can adapt what is in my head to the real wood in front of me.

 

I understand that you've done a little demonstrating recently, is that something you plan to continue or expand?

I have done a few demos, but would not say that I plan to hit the circuit. I have precious little time for turning, and the travel and prep work for demos just takes up too much time. Besides, I am no public speaker, and I’m really not comfortable in front of a large audience.

 

Anything else you wish I'd asked or anything that you want folks to know about you?

I have said this many times in many forums. I do art that I am inspired to do. I am not really out to make a big splash on the wood turned art world. I have been told several times to focus my work on a style to establish a body of work that is recognizable as mine. I could do that, but I don't like to limit myself. I like to try my hand at what appeals to me. I may fail, or not do it as nicely if I limited myself to a style, but I am not really concerned about that. I have limited time for my art, and I do not depend on it for a living, so I'll just do art to satisfy my own creative urge. If other people like it, that’s all the better.

 

More photos of Michael’s work can be found at his website…  www.breezyhillturning.com.

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Tuesday the 21st. Thanks for visiting Woodturners Unlimited.