“I appreciate what George is trying to do with his column. His heart’s in the right place. But it’s like pushing water uphill with woodworkers.”
George Walker’s “Design Matters” column in Popular Woodworking Magazine is one of the publication’s most polarizing. It’s not “love it or hate it” (read “Arts & Mysteries” for that). Instead, it’s more like you “get it or don’t get it.”
For many woodworkers learning to design furniture is as important a skill as learning to accurately sex a fruit fly. They see no need, especially with all the plans out there, beckoning to be built, luring you in with their come-hither cutting lists and scale drawings.
Other woodworkers want to learn the “assembly language” of good design – the architecture of a balanced composition. Like the pivotal scene in “The Matrix,” they want to see the ones and zeros – the straight lines and curves – that are used to create the grand illusion of furniture.
As I’m writing this blog entry, George and Jim Tolpin are finishing up work on a new book for Lost Art Press tentatively titled “By Hand & Eye,” which seeks to decode the pre-Industrial concepts of design and translate them into something we can use and will use in the shop.
Today I got a small glimpse of the work that Jim and George are doing when George made a short presentation on drawing curves at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Popular Woodworking Magazine.
He showed us a simple thing. He drew a circle. Then he adjusted his compasses and drew one-quarter of a circle inside that circle along the diameter. He readjusted and drew one-sixth of a circle along the same chord.
Though the final result looked a bit like a laughing PacMan, the individual curves were powerful stuff. If you had even a passing familiarity with furniture you would recognize them. Then George held up drawings of pediments and photographs of well-designed furniture and began pointing out these curves in the work. He showed how cabriole legs could be broken down into just a series of curves and straight lines.
It was, all in all, an extremely cool lesson.
I can’t wait to read the book when the draft is delivered to my desk in June (right George and Jim?).
— Christopher Schwarz