By Hand and Eye

Public Domain image

The manuscript for the furniture design book with Lost Art Press is on the cutting floor. That means it’s largely written and we (Jim Tolpin and yours truly) are going back through it with a hatchet to hack out brush without mercy.  Brush may be too harsh a term. It’s more like sifting out the good, so the best can sparkle. Gone in the trash can is our original idea for the title “Divide and Conquer”. It sounded great over beer but as the work took shape we both began to see it in a different light. As we plunged deeper into the design language of the pre-industrial artisan, some themes emerged. Traditional design has a craft element to it. By craft I mean something other than sharpening and joinery skills. Artisans became fluent in simple geometry to make quick accurate layouts, and acquired a deep knowledge about proportions that informed their work. The result of mastering this craft is that design becomes intuitive and the creative process moves closer to the workbench, often played out right at the point of a tool.   Perhaps another way to say it is that this craft knowledge allowed artisans to trust their gut. By that I don’t mean guessing, but making informed decisions based on a solid knowledge base.  The title “By Hand and Eye” speaks to this approach of intuitive design based on skill. What’s really exciting is that this isn’t nostalgia, it’s timeless knowledge that will inspire and empower the modern woodworker.

At the beginning of this project both Jim and I knew that writing this book would be a great learning adventure and we were not disappointed. Our research took us into the world of renaissance violin makers from Italy, Greek sculptors from the golden age, all the way to aviation pioneers from the dawn of the era of flight. You don’t need to tackle luthery to design furniture, but so many concepts overlap and confirm the tradition.

Case in point. On this artist’s study of the human arm, note the small flats where large muscle groups are attached at joints. These were referred to as points of rest and this small detail gives the composition spring.  Note the positioning of fillets or small beads on a complex moulding. These small flats echo those points of rest. Remove them and the composition seems cartoonish.  Tons more to share as much of what gets trimmed on the cutting floor will end up on this Design Matters blog.

George R. Walker


About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to By Hand and Eye

  1. The arm figure is from an exceptional book “Modelling and Sculpting the Human Figure” by Edouard Lanteri p. 124 – I highly recommend this for anyone at all interested in the human figure, or sculpting (and for me this includes woodcarving)

    • walkerg says:

      Thanks for reminding me, I should have cited the reference. I took this from a different edition “Modelling – A guide to Teachers and Students” by Lanteri, Chapman & Hall 1902, page 124.

  2. Joe says:

    ..Or vol. II ??

  3. Joe, The book I have vols. I & II in one book, but the figure is from Vol I – Pages may be different in other editions.

    • Joe says:

      Kelly, What I was inferring was that Jim and George would have Vol II of “By Hand and Eye” with what their gleening out of their forth coming “Design Book”


  4. Tico Vogt says:

    Can’t wait for your book!

  5. Kurt says:

    Looking at the above trim profile, I can’t help but notice the 45 degree angle vs. a more common 52 degree angle typical of crown molding.

    How does one know when to use various angles?

    • walkerg says:

      The short answer is mouldings are oriented in relation to how they are veiwed (called facial angle). A moulding below eye level (edge treatment on a table) is tilted the reverse of a crown so the profile is visible. On cornice mouldings, many facial angles have been used at different times on furniture designs. Tilting the top towards the veiwer creates a more severe contrast of shadow. The book, “Theory of Mouldings” By Walker (no relation)touches on facial angles.


Comments are closed.