Design threads die like a dog on the Wreck.
It's a damned shame.
Your point about the dependence on plans is well taken. So is the one
about their usefulness when one is starting out.
In any artistic area, when one begins to practice in it, it is useful
to copy, as much can be learned from those that have gone before.
Once a person builds a few items and gets the basics of general
technique down; it may be time for them to go to graduate school.
I've learned most of the small amount that I know from working from
the plans of good designers, working with antique furniture, seeing
furniture in galleries and museums, and trying to incorporate what
I've experienced into what I build.
To me, the design process has become more interesting than the actual
building of the piece. After you've built enough stuff, the
execution, while not diminished in importance, is simply expected.
The fundamental underpinnings of good design can be absorbed in a
number of ways.
For proportion and a sense of scale, I always refer people to
Palladio, and The Four Books On Architecture. In particular, the
study of the classical proportions of the five columns is worthwhile.
A column can be analogized to a room, with the area of the plinth
standing for the base detail; the shaft of the column being the wall,
or the vertical portion of the cabinet between the horizontal
elements; and the cornice being analogous to the crown. I've stolen
classical entablatures for the cornice work of built in cabinets and
it has worked out very well.
But, the sense of proportion within the piece is directly related to
the scale of the piece within the environment that it will reside in.
For my money, there is no substitute for drawing the whole room, or at
least the wall that the piece will sit against, to get a read on the
scale and proportion of the piece in its space.
Graduate school is when you start drawing your own plans.
Designing involves you in all four of the Aristotelian modes of
causality; the Material, the Formal, the Efficient, and the Final.
In few areas of our lives can we be involved to such a degree in
causing something to exist.
Creativity, in this sense, is one of life's great pleasures, and it
would be sad if someone were to satisfy themselves with a subset of
the four - when all are within their grasp.
In a less esoteric expression of the above:
"I thought this up, I made it - and it kicks ass."
Thomas J. Watson - WoodDorker
tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email)
Except my drawing skills are rather rudimentary, and I work much better
in building prototypes, mockups, and final pieces that 'grew as they
Not that I'm in their class, but what I read from and about such
luminaries as James Krenov and Gary Knox Bennett is that their 'plans'
are far closer to sketches than working, scaled drawings.
Lonnie Bird and Phillip Lowe, to name some current authors/craftspeople,
are far more likely to create full-scale engineering drawings, detailed,
and measured to great accuracy. Their apparent focus, seen from the FWW
articles, is reproducing a style of an earlier time.
And David Marks, at least viewed from his television show, cuts MDF
templates before ever working in natural wood.
I think part of the cause goes to basic training, and perhaps
motivation. Marks expects, as part of making a living, to make
multiples. Bird and Lowe make accurate replicas. Bennett and Krenov
(who, by the way, seem to have little love for one another), are, in the
most basic sense, sculptors who happen to work mostly with wood, capable
of multiples, but not really interested in making another "just like the
My training was in ceramics and sculpture, (and calculus and chemistry
and economics), all areas in which one waves their arms, and says
"Something like that. You get the idea."
It is a real chore for me to do more than two of anything of the same
pattern. Even the Shaker wall clocks I made were of different woods.
The pair of nightstands I made in maple and cherry were a single
project, from the start.
I think I could only run a woodworking business if I had trusted
apprentices. It was the only way I could run any of the other
repetitive aspects of the businesses I had. "Do it like this. Holler
if you have a question."
The problem solving, the art, the nice people, the respect - those are
what makes for the rewards.
Agreed ... except for me it is the most frustrating part of woodworking.
I rarely work from plans, and thusly have been handicapped in having to go
it alone for much of my woodworking existence. If there is one area I know
that I consistently fail in, it is +design+. And if I do succeed, it is
entirely accidental ... despite spending many more hours in research and
drawing up of a plan, then in executing it.
I have been making a conscious effort these past couple of years to write
down what I feel are design shortcomings in my projects in hopes that the
"lessons learned" will sink in ... but I am beginning to believe that, like
art, design ability, while something that can be taught, is often better
left to the truly talented.
Hell, the way my "inspirations" always end up looking like a Velvet Elvis,
you'd think I was Jerry Springer watching, poor white, trailer trash. (Could
those pink plastic flamingos in my front yard have something to do with it?)
Somebody I read lately said that the secret is in knowing what the rules
are, so you can selectively break them, at the right times.
It is being guided by principles and judgement, rather than slavish
adherence to structure.
Kind of like coloring cherry. (g,d & r)
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