Two years ago, Steve Thomson fell in love with creating art, with wood as his medium. The graphic-designer-turned-marketing-director decided to steer his artistic passion toward the workshop.
Beginning merely as a hobbyist, he created gift items like cutting boards and jewelry boxes, gradually learning enough to move up to quality furniture. However, he discovered a deep passion to basically “paint with wood” when he produced a creation made out of multiple species of wood. That breakthrough piece paid homage to his and his son’s favorite retro Jordan sneaker, the Black Cement III.
Although an artist his whole life, when viewing his work, one might be amazed that Steve has only been developing his style of woodworking over the last two years. This style, which is his own twist on the art form known as intarsia, is done by shaping many different pieces of wood, and painstakingly arranging them to bring a primary image to life. Amazingly, his palette relies completely on utilizing the natural tones within the various wood species, never applying any paints or stains to the wood forms.
Knowing how far his skills had come, he then decided to take on a vision that he thought would be really unique. Why not give a Kobe Bryant tribute portrait a shot?
As Steve began working on this challenging new piece, he stumbled across Kutzall tools at his local Woodcraft store. This new discovery became a game-changer in the way he was able to masterfully construct his art. The Rotary Burrs gave him a new level of control, allowing him to work with-or-against the grain, to effortlessly contour and shape the wood pieces. In addition, their remarkable efficiency allowed him to go from a rough cut to final shape and finish much more quickly, shaving countless hours off each project.
When the time came to reveal the 3’ x 2’, portrait of the late, great Kobe to family and friends, the reactions were wonderful. The question everyone was asking was, “how did you make it look so real, and what was the process like?” The piece was then purchased by Kobe’s longtime friend and teammate Pau Gasol, whose intention was to gift it to Kobe’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, and her daughters.
Almost two years later, he has now worked on projects for many people all across the country. These clients have trusted Steve with putting his heart and soul into HappyLifeWood pieces that honor their heroes and loved ones. His goal of bringing happiness to people, one project at a time, has now become his full-time business.
With Steve’s new found admiration of Kutzall tools, and considering how well they complement his technique, we came together to formulate an exciting collaboration, in the form an Instagram Giveaway. Contestants were encouraged to enter by following both of the Instagram pages @HappyLifeWood and @Kutzall, for a chance to win a custom piece handcrafted by Steve. As one of the conditions of entry, each hopeful applicant was asked to specifically describe their desired piece.
The entries started pouring in, and soon after, we had selected a winner; Karlie. Karlie’s request was emotional and compelling; she very sadly had her father pass away over the past year. It was her wish to have a portrait of her father, crafted by Steve, to memorialize him and grace her household for years to come. Steve jumped at the opportunity, and began working with Karlie to design the piece.
The agreement was that she would not be able to see the process, or Steve’s creation, until it was revealed at a private showing upon completion. Steve dedicated over 100 labor hours, meticulously cutting, shaping, sanding and gluing piece by piece, with the care of a surgeon, all while utilizing 7 different species of wood. With the long anticipated reveal approaching, Karlie had one final request – to gift the piece to her mother, who had no knowledge of the events that were about to unfold.
When Steve completes a commission, and it’s time for the final reveal, he is always filled with anticipation, as he awaits the moment when his client sees their piece for the first time. Overwhelmed with emotion, and frozen in disbelief, what they see is nothing less than astonishing.
His masterfully-defined style beautifully portrays the spirit, and preserves the memory, of the individual. He feels a connection with the piece, and the person whom it represents, although that does leave a void afterward, which drives him to the next project
With Karlie’s sisters joining her alongside her mother, the cherishable moment had finally arrived. As the cloth was folded back, a strikingly life-like portrait was revealed, of the beloved husband and father, now once again surrounded by his precious girls.
We are presenting you a video, which serves as a trailer for this heartwarming human-interest story. We were fortunate enough to document the entire process, from material selection, tools and techniques used, all the way through the emotional reveal.
Steve Thompson @HappyLifeWood