Years ago I thought cutting good tight dovetails with hand tools was something beyond my reach. My first few efforts were pitiful. In bowling terms I threw a lot of gutter balls. But something told me that I could do this or at least get better. Good tools made a difference, but I’ll be honest. What really turned the corner for me was just cutting a lot of dovetails by hand. Not sure when it happened but after about a two dozen tries they started to look respectable, after fifty they looked good and the whole process became second nature. Maybe I’m a slow learner but that’s the way it often works for me.
I also used to think that an eye for design was sort of magical, something you were born with or bestowed on you because you had good mojo. Well I still believe that there are people born with exceptional talents and gifts. But if you take the time to study about gifted creative people you often find that they really work at it. They take this raw talent and through effort make it better.
I now believe by my own experience through trial and error that anyone with some effort can improve their eye or design sense. There are concrete exercises you can do to improve your ability to design and visualize. One very simple thing anyone can do is to take up sketching. I’m not talking about becoming an artist. True confession here, my drawings suck. Sometimes I go to a museum and I sit down and sketch furniture on display. Security folks come up to check on me and walk away snickering because it looks like something a labrador retriever had drawn. Doesn’t phase me. That’s because, somewhere after the 12th or 20th drawing I started seeing things a different way. Sketching helps me see more when I look at a design and often I pick up on sublte details that would normally escape my grasp.
Something unique happens when you sketch. My own thought is that it requires you to flip a couple of switches marked “focus” in your brain that are normally on the off position. Whatever the reason, I keep a notebook with me and sketch when I have a free moment.
Sometimes I sketch buildings while waiting for my wife while she’s shopping. I sketched this house the other day.
I’ve been looking at it for years but never realized how many dormers and angles are in the roofline. Make this a part of your design training. It need not take you away from your workbench. You can grab a few minutes of sketching on a lunch break. That is, if you can put up with an occasional snickering hyena.