Merry Christmas!

Unto us a  Child is born, unto us a son is given.... Oil on canvas by Barb Walker

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given….
Oil on canvas by Barb Walker

Barbie and I wish you and your families a blessed holiday.

 

George R. Walker

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What can you gain from a Design Workshop?

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Design workshops are a horse of a different color. The focus isn’t on a single project, but instead on every project you build going forward. OK – if you must have a clear idea of a project before signing on, my design workshops project involves a bit of demolition, setting a foundation, erecting walls, staircases, installing windows, running miles of new wiring, and it all takes place inside your head. Oh, and we accomplish all of this with a pair of dividers, a stick, and a pencil.

Students run the gamut from beginning woodworkers, to professional carpenters, graphic designers, engineers, free thinking artistic spirits, to the average Joe who just wants to take his or her work to another level.

Some common themes resonate with all.  Everyone senses when a design looks right, but most can’t go much past just a vague feeling.  After a workshop, that inner sense is decidedly stronger and students can begin to pinpoint why a design works or fails. Much of this progress results from getting a firm grip on what you already know intuitively.

That simmering doubt surrounding proportions evaporates. Yet, this is not about recipes or formulas. Students get the opportunity play and experiment with proportions, much like learning how spices combine to create depth of flavor in a good chili.  This quickly leads to the ability to unpack proportions in the wild. Great buildings, furniture, and works of art reveal their secrets and become a practical source of inspiration.

Most notice a marked improvement in the designs coming off their pencil by day two, and the ability to execute and self critique takes a dramatic step forward. Treat yourself to a weekend in 2015 that will change every aspect of your woodworking by attending a By Hand & Eye Design Workshop. Here’s a list of dates and locations for the coming year.

January 24 – 25, 2015  Hudson Ohio,     R. Grell Fine Woodworking Workshops

February 20 -22  Phoenix, Southwest School of Woodworking

August 8 – 9 Warren Maine, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

Oct 17 – 18, Franklin IN, Marc Adams 

 

George R. Walker

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A rose in the Woodshop

A gift from Bonner to a budding woodworker

A gift from Bonner to a budding woodworker

On this Veterans Day I’m re-posting this tribute to a woodworker and mentor, Bonner Hall.

Bonner Hall stooped down and flicked a Japanese beetle off the barely open rose blossom. He paused to relish the fragrance and take in the beauty unfolding before him. Bonner was sixty years my senior, quiet, spent most of his time putzing in his rose garden and cleaning freshly caught bluegills, his wrinkled hands now struggling to keep a knife blade steady. He was a hobbyist woodworker with a tiny shop tucked away in his basement lined with baby food jars nailed to the rafters filled with screws and tacks. He had an assortment of 1950’s vintage Sears power tools. All underpowered and wobbly by today’s standards, but somehow he managed to turn out some beautiful furniture pieces. I remember the first time I stood in his shop in the early 1980’s. He was finishing up a doll bed for a very lucky great grand daughter. “Doll bed” is such a poor way to describe it. More like a wonderful miniature with a piece of nicely figured walnut highlighting the graceful headboard. Like that rose blossom, one of those pieces that begged you to pause for a closer look. Bonner took note that I at least had eye enough to appreciate it, and that moment somehow bridged the gap between our ages.

On the wall above his workbench almost hidden amongst the collection of chisels and workshop flotsam was a small framed portrait. A pastel sketch of a young army officer with ruddy cheeks, a strong jaw and penetrating blue eyes.  Bonner tapped his pipe against the edge of his workbench and didn’t look up as he said,

“That was me in Paris on leave, right after the battle of the Argonne Forrest in 1918, hard to believe I was ever that young?”

Like most veterans he had few words to share about what he endured in the Meuse- Argonne offensive that claimed  thousands of  American soldiers, other than it was rough. He changed the subject by pulling down an old wooden bench plane from a cubbyhole and began loading me up with a box of hand tools and a small bundle of walnut cutoffs.

Bonner’s generosity is one that I know so well amongst woodworkers. Passing along tools, wood, and freely sharing hard won knowledge. But Bonner passed on something more. Apart from being a fine example of a man, he unashamedly brought his love for the things he cherished into the furniture he created. It makes no sense to put so much labor into a rose that can only be appreciated for a moment, or a doll bed that may not be appreciated by a child until Bonner was long gone. Yet he had other reasons to squeeze life out of every moment – 14,000 of them buried in the fields of eastern France. It’s somehow fitting that when Bonner’s heart finally gave out, he crumpled to the ground out in his beloved rose garden. We should all be so lucky.

George R. Walker

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Design and the search for Beauty

Klismos chair, Drawing by author.

Klismos chair design by Philip C. Lowe, Drawing by author.

Our western tradition in building  has as it’s cornerstone the maxim that a design should embody Firmitas , Commoditas & Venustas – which roughly translates as sturdiness, function, and beauty. This is closely linked to another ancient western idea,  that to be human,  is a search for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Ephraim Chambers in his circa 1680 Cyclopedia touched on this traditional approach in a discussion of Greek architecture.

“A Greek building has not a single ornament but what adds beauty to the whole. The parts necessary to sustain or shelter it, as the columns, cornices, etc derive all their beauty from their proportions. Everything is simple, measured, and restrained to the use it’s intended for. No daring out of the way strokes; nothing quaint to impose on the eye. The proportions are so just that nothing appears very grand of itself tho the whole be grand.”

Bluets

Beauty and our search for it are the most human of endeavors. Here is a short video clip from an unusual source that highlights one human facet of beauty. Enjoy.

George R. Walker

 

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Design Workshops Far and Near

By Hand & Eye Graphic

Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.

Daniel J. Boorst

 

Game changer! That’s the comment I hear most often during a “By Hand & Eye” workshop. Lights click on, gears start to mesh, and frustration and doubt gives way to confidence and big smiles. Folks who shied away from curves can’t wait to do some off road woodworking. I have one more workshop this year and 2015 is beginning to take shape. Consider signing up for an experience that will influence every aspect of your woodworking. This weekend I’ll be traveling down to The Woodworker’s Club in Rockville Maryland for a Saturday session with the Chesapeake SAPFM chapter and then a two day design workshop on Monday and Tuesday.  There’s still a few spots available for the two day. 2015 workshop dates are firmed up but not yet open for enrollment. I’ll post when signups begin, but for now you can mark your calendar.

2014

  • Saturday Nov 1st Rockville Maryland – Presenting to the Chesapeake Chapter of SAPFM, The Woodworkers Club
  • By Hand & Eye Workshop, Nov 3-4 (Monday and Tuesday) The Woodworkers Club, Rockville Maryland. Sign UP

2015

  • By Hand & Eye Workshop, Jan 24th- 25th, R. Grell Fine Woodworking Workshops, Hudson Ohio. Details coming soon.
  • By Hand & Eye Workshop, Feb 13-15th, Southwest Center for Craftsmanship, Pheonix AR. Details coming soon. 
  • Design presentation, March 28th-29th, Northeast Woodworkers Association Showcase, Sarratoga Springs, NY. Details coming Soon.
  • By Hand & Eye Workshop, Oct 17th-18th, Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Details coming soon.

George R. Walker

 

 

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Visit the Design Graveyard…

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With Halloween just around the bend I’m reminded of one of my favorite haunts (no pun intended) for thinking about design – old graveyards. The monuments in all shapes and sizes are like a lexicon of design, sort of a mini museum without the alarms. My last blog post had a photo of an obelisk shaped town marker in Nantucket which inspired Dave Fisher to send me these obelisk

Mathers Obelisk

Mathers Obelisk

photos from a nearby cemetery. I had to grin inside at the thought that I’m not the only one strolling through the democracy of the dead, trying to keep my designers eye alive. Dave crafts free form wooden bowls which are featured in the November 2014 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. He commented “To my eye, the most beautiful obelisk in the entire cemetery is the Mathers obelisk.  Much of the reason, I believe, has to do with the base (plinth?).  The quickening curve of the base roots it firmly to the ground, then leads the eye on a ride up to the obelisk itself.  There is still a clear indication of where the obelisk itself begins, but without jarring the eye on the way up.  The whole piece is organic, much like a tree rising from the ground. ”  

obelisk 2

Packard Obelisk

I concur with Dave’s educated eye and would add that several other examples, the Roberts and Packard obelisks, look like they took a standard monument and plopped an obelisk on top of them. Not certain I ever noticed that before until they were side by side with the Mathers example. One is a unified organic composition, the others are just combinations of parts. There’s a powerful lesson illustrated here. How often does a design or a work of art fail because it’s a busy mechanical  assemblage of parts rather than an organic flowering? I’m interested in your thoughts as you compare these different interpretations of a design.

 

George R. Walker

obelisk 3

Roberts obelisk

 

Mathers base detail

Mathers base detail

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Training your eye for Design

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“We need to be willing to let our intuition guide us, and then be willing to follow that guidance directly and fearlessly.

 Shakti Gawain

If you are new to design, telling you to trust your eye sounds like some joke that everyone’s in on except you. How do you know what your eye is telling you?

First of all, those times when your eye feeds your imagination with rocket fuel is a rare event even for gifted artists. So much so that when that explosion of  juice starts to flow, it’s wise to ride it irregardless of eating or sleeping. Magic should not be squandered.

But aside from those rare bursts of inspiration – every day our eye talks a lot. Mostly it’s like that beeper on a garbage truck when it’s backing up the alley. It tells us what it doesn’t like. A crude example of this is plumb and level. Even though we have accurate tools to measure level and plumb, most of us can do a fair job of gauging it just by eye. In fact, our inner eye is pricked when that picture frame on the wall looks tilted in spite of what a level tells us. Our eye is filled with judgments, mostly negative about proportions. We may not think all that negative feedback is that valuable. It may feel frustrating, like we hired a travel guide who tells us all the sights not to  see. But if you realize that this is the eye’s way of guiding, you can learn to listen to it and best of all, learn to train it. I may get a burst of inspiration, a spark of an idea of what I want to design. But the actual design process is listening to a series of nos that gradually morph into yeses.

This Doric Classic Order is a lesson in proportions. Drawing by  Author

This Doric Classic Order is a lesson in proportions. Drawing by Author

But training the eye? Traditionally this was done by studying masterful work. All the old design guides waxed glowingly about the classic orders. Truth is you may never incorporate a single element from a classic order in any of your furniture designs. Yet, drawing the classic orders gives your eye a reference library of no’s that are inescapable – pushing you, guiding you, until the nos start turning to yes. With a basic understanding of proportions, you can let your eye be tutored by great buildings, furniture, nature, and art.

 

George R. Walker

 

George R. Walker

 

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