Salvaging a Design Failure

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I know artists who save some of their early paintings as a reminder that in spite of their doubts, they are making progress. Others more ruthless, cast their failures into the fireplace where they can at least enjoy a bit of light and heat as it disappears up the chimney. Samuel Beckett described the creative process as “Fail again, Fail better”.  This little side table is a fail better. I wrote earlier about all the things I disliked about the first version that went up the chimney (except I salvaged the legs). Every design challenge doesn’t have to result in a masterpiece. It can be a success solely because we are moving forward from our past work. I have my own reasons for liking it better, but the biggest plus is that Barbie is happy with it.

George R. Walker

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Handy layout tip

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This is from “Practical Geometry for Builders and Architects” By J.E. Paynter 1921

Here’s a slick way to layout an octagon from a square blank without resorting to math or measurements. Just connect the corners with diagonals and then use a combination square or a small wooden gage block like this one, set to half of one of the diagonals.

 

George R. Walker

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Mastering Design, Is there a Shortcut?

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Yes, but it’s not what you might think. Design, like almost any other creative act involves some fundamentals. My wife Barb loves to paint. She’d humbly say she’s still paying her dues, but she’s put the time and effort into understanding color. I’m always amazed that she uses just four tubes of paint – red, yellow, blue, and white to create any color. And she does it almost without a thought.

So is there a shortcut to good design? No, if you are looking for it in some new touch screen whizzbobble. Yes, if you think there has got to be a better way than endlessly stumbling around in the fog trying to latch onto something that might resonate. Truth is, the shortcut is putting in the time and effort to understand the fundamentals. Once learned those basic skills become enough of who you are that they spark the intuition.

 

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If you would like to awaken that intuition within, I have two workshops lined up in coming weeks you won’t want to miss. July 11th & 12th at Richard Grell’s in Hudson Ohio,  and Aug 8 & 9 at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks in Warren Maine.

George R. Walker

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Thoughts on Handworks 2015

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It was much more than tools, even though the tools were spectacular! Rabbet Plane by Matt Bickford

 

I can give a hearty Amen to all the positive things already written about the recent Handworks event in Amana Iowa. The fact that it exceeded the first gathering two years ago says something larger about hand tool woodworking. We are a community now. At the risk of sounding sappy, we hand tool woodworkers somehow have come to be a family. I say that because this gathering had such a different flavor. Sure, vendors and toolmakers were there to sell their wares. Yet if you walked around and just listened to bits of conversation, it sounded like banter between friends. It was such a pleasure spending time with folks who share a passion.

I heard folks asking questions because they actually wanted to know answers and not because they wanted to show off what they know. And I saw people listen to each other with respect. Most of all I saw woodworkers having fun. Not fun in the way much of the culture sees it, a big glittering bang that’s an inch deep. Instead fun in the sense that we are engaging in something we are made for.  How fun (and rare) is it to spend time with other folks that get that?  

“One works because I suppose it is the most interesting thing one knows to do. The days one works are the best days.  (Georgia O’keeffe)

A month later I can still feel some of that energy.

George R. Walker

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Might be your lucky day

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On the fence about attending Handworks next week? Allow me to nudge you past the tipping point. Many of the exhibitors are contributing tools for prizes that are handed out throughout the day on Friday and Saturday. I’ve been busy this Spring with Jim Tolpin writing a design workbook for Lost Art Press, but  I still managed to steal away and work up this set of mahogany bench tools for some lucky woodworker. Hope to see you there.

George R. Walker

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Top Ten Reasons To Take a Design Workshop

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These “Top Ten Reasons” I gleaned from woodworkers who have taken my two day intensive design workshop.

1. Improved judgement – designs you like, you will know why you like them.

2. Improved judgement – designs that suck, you will know why they suck.

3. Improved judgement – designs that fall short of the mark, you will have an idea why and how they can be fixed.

4. Feel comfortable (excited even) designing with curves.

5. Learn multiple simple drawing methods and tips that will help you think through a design and yield results that delight you.

6. Become a better critic of your own work.

7. Learn enough structure to get from blank paper to finished project while still leaving plenty of space for creative surprises.

8. Learn to make small adjustments that can push an ok design into a splendid design.

9. Learn to read and deconstruct great furniture and architecture to deepen your understanding.

10. Find out you have ability that you didn’t realize was there.

I’ve added several additional weekend By Hand and Eye workshops to my schedule in 2015. Think about signing up and joining me for two days of challenging fun.

“NEW! July  11 – 12, 2015  Hudson Ohio,     R. Grell Fine Woodworking Workshops

August 8 – 9 Warren Maine, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

A few folks have asked about the Lie-Nielsen workshop. It’s listed as “build a spice rack design class”. We are building a small rack as a way to put the design principles into practice. If you want to build a rack for your chisels, whiskey flasks, or kazoos – that’s fine also. It’s more about the design skills than any specific project.

Oct 17 – 18, Franklin IN, Marc Adams 

“NEW! Nov 7 – 8, 2015  Hudson Ohio,     R. Grell Fine Woodworking Workshops

 

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For all Practical Purposes

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The design aspect of every craft has some theory, a bit of myth, and a sprinkling of mystery. But, there’s another category of knowledge,  things that work because – well.. they are just practical and intuitive. The best of all worlds is when theory, myth, mystery, and the practical converge. Best, because that practical thing we reach for has some deep thought behind it along with a bit of mystery beneath the surface.

Here’s an example from Sebastion Serlio’s early treatise on design and architecture circa 1611. It’s a challenge to read since it’s 17th century English translated from a Dutch text, translated from Italian, with  a Gothic font. Ouch!

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It reads:

There are many quadrangle proportions, but I will here set down but seven of the principlest of them, which that best serve for the use of a workman.

Modern paraphrase:

Here are a handful of rectangles, seven in fact, which are useful in design and building.

Then he goes on to show seven simple rectangles, six of which use whole number ratios to govern their width to height, ie 1:2, 2:3 etc. These are practical because you can easily step them off with dividers. Serlio also mentions a specific name for each rectangle. The rectangle below he names in Latin (As though we don’t need another confusing language thrown in)  a ” Sexquialtera ” Translated that simply means a ratio of 3: 2 but it’s also a medieval reference to a fifth in music. That’s the bit of myth and mystery thrown in. He also explains how this rectangle relates to a square,  showing how these all flow from something we can easily picture in our minds.

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Now when I mention myth and mystery in the traditional sense, I’m not talking about the tooth fairy, but more like some deeper reality embedded out of sight. Things that we haven’t the words to explain properly. Like  the way the ancients saw a connection between simple proportions and musical harmonies.

If a solid grounding in theory helps you (and it should), ride it and squeeze every possibility you can from it. If a taste of myth and mystery frees you to experiment and play, drink it deep. But sometimes it’s the simple and practical bits that are most helpful. Like a few simple rectangles that you can use to rough in a form for a desk, a cabinet, or a tool chest.

George R. Walker

Here are links to a couple of older posts where I discussed harmonic proportions:

Harmony

Simple Shapes

Jim Tolpin and I cover a wide range of furniture design theory, myth, mystery, and practical knowledge in our book   “By Hand & Eye”

 

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