Edges, Lines and Illusions


Am working on a table to support an electric kiln. As usual, what started out to be a 2x4 quick and dirty has evolved into what is becoming a semi delicate, one shelf, tapered legs, shaped table - with loose tenon joinery. That’s one of the advantages/disadvantages of using traditional joinery - you can put together what you’ve got, as you go, look at it in full size and see possibilities for what to do next. In this case it was “blending” parts together using an oscillating spindle sander, spoke shave, micro-plane “files” and sand paper, with a bunch of elbow grease thrown in.
Along the way I became more and more aware of how edge treatments and “set backs” change the look of a piece and the importance of shadows, or not, as design elements.
The Arts & Crafts style uses hard edges where parts come together and often “step backs”, with a noticable shadow lines, to accentuate the intersection of parts - almost always at harsh right angles. To my eye, this approach is very PROvocative - “Look - THIS is what I want you to notice! See these vertical and horizontal straight lines? See these perfectly square corners? There’s NOTHING here to distract you from what I want you to see, the impression I wanted this piece to make. There’s nothing ambiguous here, no ‘How the hell did he/she do that?’ - it’s all right there.” A very “western” approach to design - big, solid, bold, masculine - very little left to the viewers imagination.
The other edge treatment extreme is the Louie the XIVth, extremely decorative, covered in gold leaf, style - which gives me a headache. It’s so full of details and froo-froo that my eye keeps jumping all over hell as it finds yet another distraction amongst all the other distractions. The forest for the trees thing. The wood itself isn’t even visible, buried beneath the carvings and the plaster and the gold leaf. Gilding the Lily. More is better. But there is such a thing as too much.
Somewhere betwixt and between (that’s redundant right?) is a nuanced place, where all the parts flow together, where each detail is there to enhance the flow of the piece, to gently lead the viewer from the whole to the subtle details, without anything screaming LOOK AT ME! A subtle shadow draws the eye, curved surfaces blend parts together, a tapering of the legs gives the illusion of the piece being taller than it really is. Ambiguity isn’t always a bad thing ,for it can leave room for imagination, the mind’s eye filling in what, in fact, isn’t there - Evocative rahter tha PROvocative. Rounding edges can literally blur the line where two planes intersect and draw the eye around the “corner”, without the STOP Sign of a harsh straight edge.
And that brings it back to edge treatments - Edges, Lines and Illusions. Do your consciously chose step backs to create an intentional shadow line in the design? Do you use a chamfered edge of a particular width for a particullar set of parts? Are stopped chamfers design elements of some of your stuff? Why use a rounded over edge rather than just a slightly sanded or planed eased edge? Do you prefer sharp well defined lines where things meet or more ambiguous, subtle, soft rounded transitions from plane to plane?
Just wondering.
charlie b
BTW - if you want to see another of my quick and dirty projects that got away - and how it happened http://home.comcast.net/~charliebcz/CBkilnTable/CBkilnTable1.html
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Nice cogetations.
I use all of the above in sets to create various feels for each design. I've historicially tended toward the stark look of the Ar ts and Crafts/Mission/Prarie school. I have also dabbled in some of the more prismatic Shaker styles.
On hard lined pieces, I hand brek the edges with a soft (Felt) sanding block and very fine paper (to allow me to control the amount of break). I prefer this to a roundover bit because of the more natural astethic (sp?).
When I do chamfers, I often use a block plane, again, to introduce the minute variability to add a more natural feel to the edge.
Regadring lines and setbacks, I typically fall to the classics of design with beaded bottom edges of aprons and golden triangle of incremented\re-used values like 3/4"top, 1 1/4" setback, 1 3/4" leg, 2 1/4" apron (ie 3/4" + 1/2" + 1/2", etc.) See this month FWW for a treatise on table design with great explainations.
Thanks for asking. Nice stuff to consider.
(Also, I have an idea for a stopped chamfer with a lambs tounge ending for a leg edge on a piece I am working on right now.)
BW
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On Tue, 07 Jun 2005 12:17:12 -0700, charlie b wrote:

Your post got me to thinking what I've used in the past. I took a look around my home office (I've built all the furniture) and it seems I favor rounded edges and shaker styling including setbacks. I've always leaned towards shaker simple designs, eased edges or round overs. Overall my designs are pretty boring, but I like them.
DGA
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