Christopher Cantwell Artist Review


One of the oldest sculptures ever discovered is form the Paleolithic period and dates back to around 35,000 BC. Since then, sculpture has been ever present in the arts from the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, to the sculptures of the Gothic, Renaissance, and 19th and 20th centuries all the way to Modernism. Sculpture is favorited with artists who seek to create a three dimensional representation of their subjects. With clay, metal, stone, glass and other mediums artists can create works of art that transcend our concepts of size and space. 
Tlingit Totem Pole and Community House Totem Bight State Park Alaska
Tlingit Totem Pole and Community House, Totem Bight State Park

Inlay, which is a process of implanting mediums into one another through careful sculpting and carving, offered new avenues of exploration for artists working with wood. The first inlay works are attributed all the way back to the first Egyptian dynasty in 3000 BC. With inlay, various materials can be used such as glass, ivory, precious stones, and wood. In the inlay process small cut materials are inserted into depressions carved into the base object so they sit flush, yet are distinctly separate in their design and often their medium. Inlay is a favorited mean of decoration in fine furniture, musical instruments, and works of art. In a wood matrix, other materials like mother of pearl, horn and ivory were traditionally combined for their luminosity and change in coloration and texture. Creating works of art with wood inlay requires extreme precision and complete focus as they must be perfectly aligned and shaped.
Tropical Inlay 2019  McPherson Guitars
Tropical Inlay, 2019
McPherson Guitars
Christopher Cantwell’s love affair with wood began at a young age and by his teens he was making and selling furniture and wooden boxes. Like many artists, Christopher experimented working in many different mediums for creative expression but returned to working with wood as his main source of inspiration. The lengthily process of learning the methods and challenges of wood inlay challenged Christopher to master the supreme precision and care that he puts into every piece. He works with over 200 varieties of wood, always preferring the exotic and rarest selections. Following the grain patterns of the wood help Christopher create his compositions to heighten the beauty of his materials.


Principals of Art:

Space: Space is demonstrated to create dimension in the composition. Christopher’s work balances between positive and negative space. You can see how in Cartoon Falls the positive dominate space is the highly detailed flow of circles. The two layers of surrounding wood have less detail and deeper values. These open spaces in the composition balance the cluster of detail in the flowing center form and give an idea of spaces in the composition.

Color: Christopher polishes the many wooden pieces to a reflective sheen that brings out the natural variations of color and grain. You will also find iridescent mother of pearl and other shells amongst the wood that pop and shine. The natural colors of the wood and shell stand boldly against each other and are expertly paired and matched by the Christopher to work harmoniously together.  

Shape: Flowing shapes help define and create space in Christopher’s work. Notice in Cartoon Falls how the flowing shapes in the center portion are reflected in the upper left corner in their roundness. Oppositely, the right geometric shapes contrast against the flowing shapes of the left and center. These patterns and variances make the piece more interesting to look at as well as prompt the eye to move around the composition.

Form: Circle is to shape as sphere is to form. Christopher’s compositions are two dimensional design works that do not strive to demonstrate form. Space and dimension is created however through the less detailed wood serving as a background to the main focal points of the piece.

Value: Value relates to the tint/shade of a hue (color). Every color can be tinted by adding white or shaded by adding black. The purpose of considering value in a work of art is to help create both dimension and a mood. Changes in the value of the wood make them pop against one another. This is clear in Cartoon Falls with the dark wood in the upper third of the composition contrasting against the warm wood in the lower two thirds.

Texture: The surface of Christopher’s creations are irresistibly smooth, yet the viewer can find interesting textures in the naturally occurring wood grains that decorate the surface. The pattern of the wood grain creates a visual flow and is a magnificent showcase of these naturally occurring textures.

Line: Flowing and curving lines are favorited in Christopher’s compositions as they reflect the whimsical mood he intends. Clear and distinct line use defines the spaces in the composition and heightens the importance of each piece of wood. The lines also serve to act as visual cues for the eye to move around the composition.

Three Reasons why original wood inlay artwork by Christopher Cantwell


Principals of Design:

Balance: Christopher uses a change in detail and color to balance his compositions. In Cartoon Falls the highly detailed flowing form is balanced by the less detailed warm wood, and even more by the darkest wood in the upper third portion of the piece. The detailed flowing form takes up the least amount of space in the composition, yet is balanced due to it’s visual interest in opposition to the larger surrounding proportions.

Unity: The unity of a piece is what creates a sense of completeness. The reflective polished surface of the artwork unifies the piece and the hundreds of different types of wood and shell used. 

Variety: Variety is what adds interest into a work of art. Christopher will use up to 200 different types of wood in a single work of art. This variation in color, wood grain, and size creates a buffet of visual variety for the viewer to enjoy.

Emphasis: Emphasis is what the artist uses to create a focal point. Focal points can vary viewer to viewer, but a truly successful composition will have one clear focal point that the eye is continually drawn to over and over again. The highly detailed flowing form in Cartoon Falls is the clear and obvious focal point. The viewer can’t help but to look closer to appreciate every small detail in amazement.

Movement: Movement implies motion is a snapshot of time. The flowing center form in Cartoon Falls feels like flowing water off of a rock face. This creates a feeling of movement, and also prompts the eye to move.

surfing the big burls by wood inlay artist christopher cantwell
Surfing the Big Burls
Christopher Cantwell

Pattern: Think of pattern as the visual skeleton that organizes the parts of a composition. This underlying structure uses consistent and regular repetition. You can have both natural and man made pattern. The repetition of the circular shapes that compose the flowing center form create a visual pattern that stimulates the eye and catches the viewer’s attention heightening it’s emphasis.

Perspective: Perspective is what creates a three dimensional work of art vs a two dimensional work of art. The dark wood used in the upper third portion of Cartoon Falls makes it feel separate and distant to the detailed form. This creates a subtle idea of depth and visual perspective.


To began the process of wooden inlay, Christopher selects the base that will serve as the surface in which wood is inlayed into. It is at this stage he must decide the color scheme he wishes to work in, as it will be the dominating background color. Christopher will then begin to cut and shape the individual pieces of wood that will be inlayed. This is a time consuming process as Christopher will often use over 200 different types of wood, stone and shell in his compositions.

Once the inlayed shapes have been carved and established Christopher begins to cut into the base surface. This process must be exact and precise, as a small slip of the hand can never be undone. The wood is cut just deep enough for the inlayed piece to sit flush against it’s surface. The artist is looking for a tight fit when the wood in inlayed to the base. To secure the inlayed piece a mixture of wood dust and glue is used to fasten the two woods together.