Finding your designer’s eye


Photo by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

It’s simple for a Midwesterner to get lost in Maine. I pulled over to ask for directions from an old guy in Bean boots and a faded Red Sox hat. “Do you know how to get to Owl’s Head?”

He paused without looking up and said, “A Yup”.

Silence ensued……..

That pretty much sums my early design journey, unfamiliar landscape, confusing maps, and no help from the locals. It took a long time to understand the difference between the technical elements of design and what I call the creative element. Using music as an example, the squiggly lines we call notes and arrange on paper is the technical aspect; the sound we hear in our heads is the creative. For design, that inner vision is key to unlocking everything else. The technical is largely sterile without that inner designer’s eye.

This isn’t about sharp vision, I had that nailed. As a machinist it was commonplace to eyeball a scale and take measurements within four or five thousands of an inch. But learning to see with the inner eye is whole other kettle of fish. The idea of being able to picture a form clearly in my head much like a musician hears a song always seemed impossible. I know better now. The ability to visualize was always there, I just couldn’t access it. Sadly it stayed neatly tied behind my back while I kept my head busy on crap like filing taxes or sorting junk mail.

Happily this can change. Your inner eye is like an ember, coax it a little, gently blow and it gives off a flame of light. And what a light it is! The designers eye is the conduit that all creative discovery flows through. Those aha moments come when you begin to see shapes and forms play out on the stage in your head. Back to that stubborn Midwesterner in me. I took the long route with plenty of mistakes and wrong turns. Yet when I began to see – really SEE, all that stumbling and confusion seemed a small price. I’d take that journey again in a heartbeat. But here’s the really exciting part, you can tap into your designer’s eye fairly quickly with a little help. I’ve been putting together a workshop called “ Design – Back to Basics” to wake up your ability to visualize. It starts by clearing out some of the stuff blocking your view and then equipping you with a primitive pure visual language made up of simple shapes your brain can latch onto. Coupled with some insight on proportions you can explore those shapes internally much the same as a songwriter works out a melody on the piano. If this sounds like the roadmap you’ve been searching for, you can join me Aug 26th – 28th at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking for the Design – Back to Basics workshop. A weekend that will forever change how you see. Hope to see you there!

George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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8 Responses to Finding your designer’s eye

  1. George,
    Is there possibly a new video or series on the horizon for the “back to basics”?
    Love the blog.

  2. George Walker says:

    Several projects in the works that I’ll be announcing later this year. Appreciate your interest.


  3. Shannon says:

    “a-yup, but you cahnt get thera from herah” You have to love navigating the Maine coast.

  4. Jim Tolpin says:

    Last time I was in Maine, I asked an old Mainer in the little town of Blue Hill: “Say, do you know where the hospital is?” His reply: “Why, right where its always been!”

  5. dan mosheim says:

    nice post george ! … i think your key words in it are: ‘Yet when I began to see – really SEE’ … that’s the root of design, craft, art, all of it, right there, in my opinion. and then, when you finally figure it out yourself, then next you have ‘teaching someone else to SEE’ … (like the people who work for you), someone should write a book on that one … maybe you …. thanks for making me think …. dan
    ps. take your ‘drawing on the right side of the brain’ to your course with you …

    • walkerg says:

      Thanks Dan,
      Surprising how many parallels there are between this newly framed concept of tapping the right side of the brain and much of the material I’ve gleaned from historical literature. Guess it should come as no surprise. Creative minds have been tapping into the creative potential for thousands of years. Much of this is timeless and the product of centuries of experiment and serious thought about design. Fun stuff!

  6. Dean says:

    Sounds like a wonderful class George. However, it’s limited to 20 people and it is located too far from where I live. With many thousands of woodworkers interested in design is any of this information covered in your DVD’s? I realize that even if it is, there is no comparison to a 3 day hands on class with you.

    Thanks, Dean

    • walkerg says:

      Keeping the class size at 20 people means this won’t be a lecture series but a hand’s on workshop with plenty of interaction. We will be covering material from my DVD’s but at a deeper level. Will also cover quite a bit of additional material with an emphasis on applying that knowledge at the workbench. One of the masters from antiquity stated that a designer would benefit most if both theory and practical skill are combined together. That’s my goal with the workshops.

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