Designer’s Alphabet, W is for ……

Bluets, Photo by Geo Walker

Bluets, Photo by Geo Walker

durer wonder – as in a sense of wonder. Most children have it, but adults let it slip away like wind driven clouds. You may experience wonder peering through a microscope, yet it isn’t something you can pin down and dissect. Wonder lies at the heart of every creative work and gives us the great gift of living in the moment. Intoxicating like a drug yet without the ill affects, wonder draws us into our true inner core. Wonder sparks that adrenalin rush when creative ideas surge as though driven by a storm. It lurks unexpected waiting to surprise us. A walk in an abandoned orchard and the chance glimmer of an heirloom rose peeking out from the bramble; crisp peels of thunder not dampened by four walls; a line of poetry that tosses ice water on our slumbering thoughts.

Every once in a while folks write about the difference between art and craft, or try to define some boundary between them. That may be a fools errand in today’s world  but it is certain that some creative works lift themselves, defying gravity with some invisible inner force.  I know my own opinions might be pigeonholed as naive and dated, but to my mind the one thing that elevates a work is wonder. It may be found in the simplest of everyday craft objects like a wooden spoon carved from a crooked mountain laurel branch, or a painting that captures sunlight glowing through a breaking wave.

While you are making new years resolutions, resolve to nurture your sense of wonder. Feed it by giving space to the part of you that still is capable of awe and starve those soul killing distractions that threaten to swallow us.

How will you nurture your sense of wonder in 2014?

George R. Walker

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Designer’s Alphabet, V is for ……..

Carved Volute on Windsor backsplat by Richard Grell, Photo by G. Walker

Carved Volute on Windsor crest by Richard Grell, Photo by G. Walker

durer-latin-v is for volute. The Oxford dictionary defines a volute as a spiral or twisted formation or object. For the furniture designer, a volute is a graceful way to terminate a line. No doubt inspired by the unfurling organic forms that abound in nature, volutes are employed in endless variety, from the massive scrolls that grace an Ionic capital down to countless tiny detailed carvings. Most of the historical design books include a section on how to DSCN1103generate a volute with a straight edge and compass. At first blush this seems a bit useless for a woodworker as the actual layouts in furniture are too small to layout with a compass, akin to neutering a hummingbird. For that small carved volute on the end of a chair arm, a freehand layout is needed. Recently I was speaking to a group at the Woodworking Workshops of the Shenandoah Valley and we discussed this freehand layout dilemma. I proposed a little experiment. First I had everyone draw a small volute freehand about the size of a silver dollar. Then we whipped out our compasses and walked through the steps to draw a large classical volute complete with all the 9hieroglyphics and voodoo. Amid all the stumbling and some cursing, I could hear the “ahas” bubble up as the logic clicked at everyone’s fingertips. Finally everyone executed another small freehand sketch, this time using using the knowledge they had just gleaned. Here’s one example of a before and after.  With a little practice and this knowledge, anyone can quickly and easily draw a graceful organic volute.

First attempt is on the left.

First attempt is on the left.

George R. Walker

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Designer’s Alphabet, U is for …..

Some urn forms from Benjamin Asher

Some urn forms from Benjamin Asher

durer-latin-v

This Latin V was used for both U and V.

is for urn. This is an example of cross pollination between furniture, architecture, and related decorative arts. The urn or vase form goes far back into pre-history in the ancient world from the clay vessels used for the for a wide range of uses from the utilitarian to the ceremonial. The variety of urn shapes is uncountable and were perhaps the first craft medium to explore graceful curved lines. Urn’s  show up in many furniture designs both as turned objects like decorative finials, but also expressed as a

From the Index of American Design

From the Index of American Design

profile like this vase shaped back splat on a Queen Anne Chair.  If you have a nice example of an urn form integrated into a furniture design, send along a photo to georgewalker.design@gmail.com  I’ll add it to this post.

George R. Walker

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Great interveiw with Jim Tolpin

Design - Back to Basics 2

It seems like yesterday I was wrapping up my keynote address on furniture design to a packed house in Chicago. Then a woodworker down in front raised his hand and posed a question I didn’t know the answer to. A little embarrassed, my brain froze and I fumbled through an awkward ” I don’t know”.  The woodworker was Jim Tolpin and he hung around after the event and peppered me with more questions I didn’t know the answers to. That was the beginning of a great new friendship that eventually led to the two of us collaborating on our book “By Hand & Eye. They say that co-writing a book is a recipe for wrecking a friendship, but  in our case we must have lost that recipe. As the project reached that point where it’s a slog (as all books do), my respect for Jim increased as his inquisitive mind and generosity of spirit rubbed off on me.

Charles Brock interviewed Jim for the November edition of The Highland Woodworker . It’s worth a look.

George R. Walker

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Do Your Best Work

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When I look back over my journey as a woodworker, there have been three great leaps that marked turning points in my work. They didn’t have anything to do with buying some fancy machine or hand tool (though I kicked up my heals when I first roped a Unisaw), these leaps had to do with pushing my skills to new heights.
The first leap was when I broke through the sharpening barrier. At the time I had only one scabby block plane that felt like a car that had been wrecked and drove with a stutter. Somehow I knew that a razor sharp blade might set it right but I had no idea how it would transform that blob of unruly metal into an extension of my hand. To my surprise, wispy shavings poured off the blade leaving behind tiger maple that sparkled. That one skill opened up the world of hand tools and with it the opportunity to venture where machines couldn’t.
The second leap was when I built a solid workbench. Not sure why I took so long to get around to it but I spent nearly fifteen years working on a variety of bench like things that were more suited to small engine repair than cutting dovetails. Finally I broke down and pulled together all the heavy timbers I’d been skeeving away and built a Frank Klausz style bench. Dang. Immediately my joinery and execution took a giant leap for the better and again the possibilities broadened as I felt confident about tackling more challenging projects.

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The third leap is a bit harder to explain. Broadly speaking it’s when I finally steered away from printed plans and ventured into design. But more specifically the leap came when I learned to see with my inner eye. It wasn’t quite the big eureka moment like when that block plane came alive in my hands but more like a gradual dawning on a whole new world. Of the three leaps, this ability to see and design is the most profound because it enhances all the other hard won skills. My best hand work, my best joinery, my best furniture is in front of me now and I can see it waiting to be built.

If you’ve wanted to venture into design but unsure where to start, or you’ve already begun but could use help focusing your inner eye, 2014 may just be the year. I’ll be holding workshops across the country to help you take that leap. Here’s my schedule with a few more yet to be added as things firm up.

Guild of Oregon Woodworkers, Portland Oregon – Two Day design workshop March 14 -15, 2014.

Port Townsend School of Woodworking (PTSW), Port Townsend Washington – Five Day Foundations of Design Workshop – March 17 – 21, 2014

Port Townsend School of Woodworking (PTSW), Port Townsend Washington – Two day Workshop with Jim Tolpin “By Hand & Eye” – March 22 – 23, 2014.

Lie–Nielsen Toolworks, Warren Maine, Two day workshop – May 17 – 18, 2014.

Kansas City Woodworkers Guild -  Two day workshop – September 19 – 20, 2014.
The Woodworkers Club, Rockville MD -  Five day workshop – November 3 – 7, 2014.

George  R. Walker

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Free layout tool at WIA

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Stop by the SAPFM booth right by Mike Siemsen’s Hand tool Olympics and pick up this nifty sector. It’s perfect for resizing a molding profile to suit your next project. There is  a catch. You have to build it on the spot. I’ll be there to walk you through it and give you a lesson on scaling moldings up or down.

Look forward to seeing you this weekend.

George R. Walker

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Designer’s Alphabet, T is for ……………

tansu wiki

durer-latin-tansu, a name covering a wide range of traditional Japanese storage chests. Often associated with portable movable furniture, tansu chests developed into specialized forms for use on merchant ships, carrying swords, lock boxes for securing valuables, as well as storing clothing. In addition tansu chests were sometimes organized into a stair-step configuration to double as access to upper floors of a home. Tansu chests often use asymmetrical drawer and door layouts and bold decorative hardware. Here’s a link where you can see more examples of traditional Tansu chests.

George R. Walker

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