illusion woodturned bowl basket louis toweill

Illusion Baskets — Woodturning Art by Louis Toweill

illusion woodturned bowl basket louis toweill

It looks like a woven basket, but is actually a painted, woodturned bowl. Aqua Terra Cotta Illusion Basket by Louis Toweill

In the right hands, by the right people, for the right reasons, illusion is a delightful thing.

For instance, when it comes to a news story, illusion has no place. At. All. But when it comes to a block of wood, illusion turns a bowl into a basket that isn’t a basket at all.

“They’re called Basket Illusion Pieces,” says Louis Toweill, a woodworker who creates bowls, platters, vases, even pens turned on a wood lathe. “They are woodburned with a pyrography tool and embellished with acrylic paint. The results are single pieces of wood that appear to be woven beaded baskets.”

mountain scene basket illusion woodturned bowl louis toweill

Toweill graphs out his designs on a software spreadsheet first, and then paints the pattern onto the cells of the bowl. Mountain Design Basket Illusion Woodturned Bowl by Louis Toweill.

Highly complex and time consuming, basket illusion pieces start out as bowls turned on a wood lathe. While the piece rotates, Toweill (whose name rhymes, appropriately, with bowl) shapes the horizontal grooves. Afterwards, he burns on the vertical lines, one ridge at a time, by hand with the pyrography tool. What results is a series of squares or cells covering the entire surface of the bowl. He then maps out a design for the piece, using a software spreadsheet as a form of graph paper.

Spreadsheet Design and Painted Wood

“I put in asterisks on the spreadsheet to mark the major elements of the design,” the Yakima, WA, artist explains, “and from that I start painting the cells on the actual bowl. You have to know exactly how many cells surround the piece (usually it’s 96), and then once you start painting, you have to be awful careful about counting — if you miss by one cell, you mess up everything. It’s very . . .  well, the best word for that part of the process is trepidating. I don’t think that’s an actual word, but it describes the feeling exactly.”

natural edge maple woodturned salad bowl louis toweill

Toweill’s non basket illusion pieces include this natural edge maple salad bowl.

Toweill, who started seriously creating woodturned art in 2000, had long been interested in illusion work but was daunted by the time required, as are many woodworkers, he adds. “A lot of people are interested in it, but don’t follow through because of that time factor,” he says. “I myself started an illusion piece way back in 2009, but set it aside. Finally, in 2020, I pulled it out and finished it.” Pleased with the design and feel of the finished piece, Toweill put aside his misgivings about the time factor and leaped into basket illusion.

“It’s very precise, but it’s also a little by the seat of your pants,” he observes.

Distilling Information

A member of the Mid-Columbia Woodturners, Toweill is receiving increasing requests from other woodworkers on the process. He is more than willing to share what he’s learned, he says; the problem is distilling so much information and actual work into the three-hours or so allotted for a presentation.

“It really is time consuming,” he says. “It’s hard to condense and fit it all in.”

Two Blues Basket Illusion Woodturning Bowl Louis Toweill

The color of the wood itself, left unpainted, gives the illusion of woven straw in a basket. Two Blues Bowl by Louis Toweill

The resulting artwork, however, is worth it — a wooden bowl that mimics the feeling and look of a woven basket, creating a fusion of medium that is unique, original, and unexpected. Sycamore, maple, and walnut are three of Toweill’s favored woods with which to work, and while he does purchase material for his woodturning creations, he prefers to find someone who has a tree they are downing and glean.

“A friend of mine had a sycamore tree and I have made bowls from that. I’ll also use wood from my own yard. I’m always on the lookout for wood.

“It’s serious challenge obtaining seasoned hardwood thick enough to make a piece of art. But wood is a great medium since it is so pleasant to touch and is very workable. It’s fun to see what shapes can be made from each block of wood.”

Full-time Retirement Work

Growing up with a background in logging and road construction, Toweill first used a wood lathe in high school wood shop in the early 1960s, but never used a lathe again until he bought an old one in the 1990s. He replaced it with a new model in 2000.

Upon retirement (he worked as an electrical engineer for Pacific Power and Light until 1992, then taught mathematics and business courses at various colleges as an adjunct faculty member until 2013) Toweill immersed himself full time into woodworking art. He displays his work in various retail art galleries and at festivals, shows, and other sales events. Twice he has shown his art at the American Association of Woodturners national symposiums.

Each artwork, illusion piece or not, is as unique as the tree from which it derives, Toweill says, and while the skill of the artist is a major factor in the finished artwork, the wood itself  has say in what it eventually becomes:

“There are innumerable numbers of tree species to work with, and each piece has its own unique grain pattern and color. One never knows what pattern will be revealed while turning.

“The beauty of wood inspires me.”

And, he hopes, inspires others as well.

Wenaha GalleryLouis Toweill is the featured Art Event at Wenaha Gallery from April 26 through May 23, 2022.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at





Handcrafted rolling pins by Wenaha Gallery guest artist Rick Woodard.

Art That Is Meant to Be Used — the Woodturning of Rick Woodard

Handcrafted rolling pins by Wenaha Gallery artist Rick Woodard.

Handcrafted rolling pins by Wenaha Gallery artist Rick Woodard.

A work of art.

Generally, when we use this phrase, one of the last images that comes to mind is a French rolling pin, but woodturner Rick Woodard blends and integrates four hardwoods — Walnut, Maple, Osage, and the exotic, richly purple-brown African Padauk — into a smoothly sensuous kitchen utensil that is as beautiful as it is pragmatic.

“My work is to be used,” the Burbank, WA woodturner says. “I haven’t gotten into the real artsy stuff, but focus on bowls and platters and rolling pins with the idea that people will use them.

American Elm Bowl by Wenaha Gallery artist Rick Woodard

American Elm Bowl by Wenaha Gallery artist Rick Woodard

“I have my own rolling pin that I pull out for making pie crusts, and bowls that I use for different things.”

Woodard, who has been creating wood-turned, functional art since 1995, learned under noted Alaskan wood artist Buz Blum, who taught Woodard, over a period of time, how to turn natural edge birch bowls using freshly harvested, green birchwood. Sometimes called “bark edge” or “live edge” bowls, the bowls are created with a base originating in the center of the log, and the edges incorporating the bark from the outer edge of the tree, according to

“I wanted to make bowls, for some odd reason,”Woodard remembers.

“I had been in construction all my life, and because of this, I found myself around different kinds of machinery, including lathes, and one day, I just bought one. I started messing around with it for awhile and decided I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I looked around for someone to help me advance.”

Maple Bowl by Wenaha Gallery artist Rick Woodard

Maple Bowl by Wenaha Gallery artist Rick Woodard

Because when he decides to do something, he figures that there’s no reason to wait around to get started, Woodard saw Buz’s work in an Anchorage shop, liked it, and contacted him directly after running into Buz’s name, again, in a woodturning magazine. Quite fortunately, they both lived in the same state at the time, and 50-some miles was a manageable distance to travel for lessons from a master.

In a short time, the student was creating bowls and platters worthy of being sold, collected, and used, and Woodard offered his woodturned art through All Alaska and Gifts, an artists’ co-op located in downtown Anchorage.

“Tourists from around the world would come into the store, and there are people from Japan, England, Australia, Germany, and all over the lower 48 states who have my turnings,” Woodard says.

Lidded Flower Bowl by Wenaha Gallery artist Rick Woodard.

Lidded Flower Bowl by Wenaha Gallery artist Rick Woodard.

When he headed south and wound up in Burbank, Woodard transitioned from using greenwood birch to experimenting with the many hardwoods, seasoned and cured, that he found in his new Washington home.

“There’s a lot of maple around here, oak, walnut, black locust, honey locust; there’s a lot of variety around here,” Woodard says. “But it’s not like you can just go out there and cut it down.

“The trees are pretty big, and it involves a lot of wood. I generally find someone who is cutting down a tree — for firewood — and arrange to purchase some large pieces from them.”

Like many serious woodturners, Woodard has a stash of wood — most definitely not intended to be burned — which he stores in a shop behind his house. When it has dried to less than 10 percent moisture, the wood is ready to be worked, with no worries that the final piece will crack or misshape as it dries.

Woodard finishes his woodturnings with a blend of beeswax and carnauba wax, both food grade, and he encourages purchasers to not be afraid to use his art for its intended purpose.

“Just don’t wash it in soapy water,” he says. “Clean it with a damp cloth and wipe it with walnut oil or olive oil — not cooking oil — because those two don’t turn rancid.

“Like I said, it’s made to be used.”

Wenaha GalleryRick Woodard is the Art Event: Pacific Northwest Artist at Wenaha Gallery from January 26, 2015 through February 21, 2015 at Wenaha Gallery’s historic Dayton, WA location, 219 East Main Street.

Contact the gallery by phone at 800.755.2124 or e-mail Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at

Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.