How I Evaluate My Own Work


If you put your work out on display, you will receive criticism.

There’s the favorable: “Will you sell it to me?”

And the not-so-good: “Wow, that is a nice piece of oak you used.”

I’m used to it, and it doesn’t phase me. But I try not to let the comments of others color my own opinion – good or bad – of my work. I let my photographs do that. When I finish a prototype, it’s helpful to photograph the piece against a plain backdrop. No photographic lights, scrims, gridspots, filters or Photoshop. Just a camera set to f22 on a tripod and flat, overhead fluorescent shop lighting.

I pick a few stock vantage points and try to position the camera where viewers will stand. I take a half-dozen photos and look at them on screen and (more importantly) print them out so I can draw on the printouts.

Today I took a few minutes to record this backstool prototype. What do I see? The seat can be smaller and I’m going to futz with its D-shape a little. I’m happy with the crest rail. And the rake and splay of the legs works, functionally and visually. I’m still getting used to the fact that the chair has only three legs, but it’s sort of growing on me.

Anyone, the next iteration will have a smaller seat. Time to draw some new shapes on the printouts.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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54 Responses to How I Evaluate My Own Work

  1. ahae5d says:

    Very sharp!

    Personally I like the width of the seat compared to the back and the legs but beauty is in the eye of the beholder 🙂

    Rather than make the seat smaller would it be possible to lighten it visually by increasing bevel on the underside of the seat? That way the seat would look smaller but maintain the horizontal proportions.

    I like the look of the three legs, how is it to sit on?

  2. will you post the notes from the print out?

  3. fitz says:

    The paint looks great (and much easier to assess the form w/out the distraction of grain)

    • hickmanish says:

      Agreed. Paint looks great. What is it?

      • General Finished Milk Paint, Lamp Black

      • carpenterman says:

        As an artist I got curious as Lamp Black is widely used in paintings as well.
        Lamp black; true to form for LAP.

        ‘Lamp black was used as a pigment for painting and frescoes. as a dye for fabrics, and in some societies for making tattoos. The 15th century Florentine painter Cennino Cennini described how it was made during the Renaissance: “…Take a lamp full of linseed oil…and light this lamp. Then put it, so lighted, underneath a good clean baking dish, and have the little flame of the lamp come about to the bottom of the dish, two or three fingers away, and the smoke which comes out of the flame will strike the bottom of the dish, and condense in a mass. Wait a while; take the baking dish, and with some implement sweep this color, that is, this soot, off on to a paper, or into some dish; and it does not have to be worked up or ground, for it is a very fine color. Refill the lamp with the oil in this way several times, and put it back under the dish, and make as much of it in this way as you need.”This same pigment was used by Indian artists to paint the Ajanta Caves, and as dye in ancient Japan.’

  4. smbarnha says:

    I had a leg with three legs once.

  5. maross1248 says:

    It looks good to me. The important question, I assume, is, “How does it sit?”

  6. These photos were taken with shop lighting? They look great. I wasn’t a huge fan of the “tripod” design until I saw these pictures. You might be winning me over.

  7. ejcampbell says:

    How out of phase are you? Or did you mean faze?

    Sent from my iPhone


    • gyegreene says:

      Yep: “faze” better fits Chris’ (presumed) intended meaning, compared to “phase”.

      (Surprised that Megan didn’t comment on this…) 😉


  8. How thick is the seat? Looks a bit fat. But I’m also used to American Windsors. I like the simplicity of it. Nice lines.

  9. zowtiak says:

    Is it best to be a few beers in to sit in it?

  10. beshriver says:

    I’m distracted by the curve of the back top rail, it makes the ends seem like different angles, but comfort is more important. I don’t think I am brave enough without the fourth leg.

  11. skywalker011 says:

    Looks fantastic! Can i sit in it and drink my vodka tonic?

  12. KampWood says:

    Is the lower back supported well?

  13. Rachael Boyd says:

    I like it and it will be one of my projects, is the seat flat or does it have a bit of a scoop to it?
    sir you do good work.

  14. Thomas Scott says:

    Hey Chris,
    If you do reduce the seat, would you also publish the plan with the wider seat for those of us with the corresponding wider parts?

  15. Ryan Starkey says:

    Looks great. The grain showing through on the crest tops it off nicely. Love the footer on the past few posts by the way.

  16. Looking at your own work, is a challenge. it never gets easier, but you can get better at it with practice. There are also a few techniques you can employ.
    Putting a piece in a public space like an exhibition or a forum is a great way to see it afresh. I have a large mirror in the studio that helps me catch the piece from a different angle so I see it briefly as a new piece, not the damn thing i have been labouring over for weeks. I set the piece up at night so in the morning i can, for moment, catch it new and fresh and make a true judgement.

  17. ant11sam says:

    What are your feelings about Canon vs Nikon over Pentax?
    This is a wood “working” Blog not a photo blog 🙂
    This is worst then pins vs tails!

    I like this prototype! A LOT!!

    Sorry, but I’ll not buy it! If I did I’m pretty sure I’ll pay more in taxes, fees, transport and the boat, crossing the Atlantic, could hit and iceberg , anyway. So…
    Is on my to do list this year. I’ll add a note “design by Chris (Anarchist) Schwarz

    P.S. I like Your Blog!
    P.P.S And Your work in general too 🙂

  18. John Rowe says:

    I like this a lot. I’m sure the 4 spindled, 3 legged design has some rationale but I wondered if you’d considered a 3 spindle version to maintain some kind of design continuity? The drawback I could conceive is that the center spindle might hit your spine if not canted appropriately.

    Regardless, very sharp!

    • You have spotted the problem with using an odd-number of spindles. You can get away with it in a chair with both an arm bow and a crest rail because those pieces will isolate the spindles from your back.

  19. clmb512 says:

    Chris, what is the back ground in the photos? A bed sheet?


    • A roll of white paper. Available from any photo store. Bed sheets look like bed sheets….

      • Chris,

        Do you clamp the paper to your floor joists or do you have a more sophisticated but simple setup? I’m in my basement like you with exposed joists. I’m trying to make my photos better – background is next on the list. Any help is appreciated as always.


        • I buy the seamless in rolls — it’s cheap. I now have tripods that I use to hold it so that I can use it on the road with authors. Before, I had the roll attached to my joists with (no lie) 12-gauge wire that I threaded through the roll and screwed to the joist at either end. Worked really really well for a fixed setup.

          • Cool, thanks. I just did a search for seamless paper and will put that on my list of things to try. I was thinking dowel rod myself but I get the picture (pun intended).

  20. ctregan says:

    Do you use the same tapered tenon methods for the smaller back spindles?

  21. Kyle Barton says:

    I really like the GF Lamp Black too. To me it gives this very functional/early form a modern touch. Did you bush or spray it, and did you topcoat it?

  22. Brian Clites says:

    So, will you sell it to me?

    • Brian,

      If you’re serious, I don’t know how happy you will be with a prototype. This chair is about 80-percent there. Good enough for the Schwarz household, but not what I typically sell. You might want to see the next chair first….

      • Brian Clites says:

        I was serious indeed. Although I’m skeptical I have enough savings for a Schwarz prototype! last name + b + r (no symbols or spaces) at gmail . If it turns out I’m too poor, then count me in with Dave for a future class on this one! (Probably with the plan for this version of the wider seat, like Thomas said)

  23. rushbycraig says:

    Love the black paint!
    Did you use green wood for the spindles?

  24. Are you going to leave the shoulder on the leg tenons on the final version?

  25. Dave Bless says:

    Absolutely stunning. A chair pared down to its essentials, including the legs. Very zen. If you published a book, I’d buy it. And the DVD. And then travel across country to attend a class you taught on how to build it. Yes, those were hints.

  26. I think it’s very elegant. How does it feel on the posterior portion?

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