Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the Ohio River Valley chapter of SAPFM (Society of American Period Furniture Makers). Don McConnell of Old Street Tools (Formerly Clark and Williams) presented – or should I say, let us pummel him with questions all day. Don generously shared with us his expert knowledge on wooden planes, both bench and moulding planes. All day I was struck with how these amazing tools are both simple, yet sophisticated. Watching Don stick some mouldings, it was apparent that a lowly hollow or round is capable of becoming a creative extension of the artisan himself. It brought to mind something I’ve been thinking about a lot. There’s no escaping the fact that we live in an age of technology, a grandchild of the industrial revolution from the 19th century. So much emphasis focused on machines and automation, all aimed at replacing muscle with machine power and eventually man himself from the picture. Industrial drawings are a key part of this equation and for much of my life in industry I was immersed in that world. As an apprentice in the mid seventies, I just caught the tail end of the hand drafting era where engineering departments had huge rooms filled with fleets of big cumbersome drafting boards. Thirty five years later we were downloading drawings directly into machine controllers with all the data needed to manufacture a part. Actually these “drawings” no longer contained any graphic images just code, but for some reason we still referred to them as prints or drawings. This type of drawing performs flawlessly in the industrial world of mass production. It matters not at all whether the human tending the machine is a mechanical savant, a recovering alcoholic, or both. The technology removes the human element. Every foible, stutter, shake, and mishap we are prone to, gets sidestepped. Makes perfect sense when you produce parts going into the landing gear on a fighter jet or delivers power to the wheel of a high speed rail line. Yet this steady march of progress that makes men the servants of machines is not without side effects.
One side effect I think about a lot is the difference between the way we think of drawings from a mass production, versus a creative standpoint. From a creative view a drawing is a completely different animal, something meant to pull the human element back into the creative process. These simple apprentice sketches are meant to do just that, pull you (with all your human foibles) back into the process. These are not meant to help you duplicate someone else’s idea, instead they are intended to help you visualize forms in your mind and build a spatial vocabulary. As you draw these with dividers and then freehand you create new bridges, tunnels, and roadways on a mental drafting board in your head. There’s nothing magical about these sketching exercises except they create some hooks in your mind you can latch your creative ideas onto. More and more when I have a choice that involves technology or even when choosing tools, I ask myself a simple question, “Does it exclude or enhance the human element?” Does it extend my skill and imagination? If the answer is no, that, tool, software, gadget ultimately ends up limiting creativity.
Now let’s turn to the exercise itself. James Gibbs in his circa 1732 “Rules For Drawing” describes a Scotia as a mixti-linear form. I tried looking up mixti-linear and both my giant print dictionary and the on line version came up blank. My guess is it means a line form containing multiple or different in this case radii. Combining curves with faster (sharper) and slower curvature is found in abundance in nature. A Scotia is often found at the base of columns on a classic order. It’s circular and usually encompasses more than a half circle and the curvature usually contains several radii.
I’ll let the drawing itself guide you. Draw this a few times with compass and then switch to free hand. Fill up a couple of pages of freehand Scotia’s and drill the form into your mental sketchpad.
I didn’t post this to explore the lost world of “mixti-linear” forms but I guess one of the fun things about a blog is not quite knowing where it will end up. That said I’m adding a snippet of a plate from Thomas Sheriton’s “The Cabinatemakers and Upholsterers Drawing Book” Circa 1793 showing several examples of mixtilinear forms. His explanation is as follows –
Of Mixtilineal figures. No 17 (refers to drawing) is of this kind; and every other figure that is bounded both by right and curved lines is called mixtilineal. Of these figures some are regular, and some irregular. When a figure of this kind is composed of equal curved and equal right lines, then it is call a regular mixtilineal figure; but when its sides and ends are formed of unequal curved and unequal right lines, then they are called irregular compound mixtilineal figures.
Now there’s a nugget to impress your freinds!
George R. Walker