Simple is Complex

All projects need refinement, lightness, simplicity.

I tell my Mastery students often in a critique to lose 10% of their design. Sometimes 20%. Mass is not always required for strength. Careful engineering is required. Where can you remove material?

Adding lightness and simplicity is a difficult chore. How much work do you need to do to make something simple? How do you know what is unessential in a piece? Where do you stop?

Make copies. Make models, drawings. Try one thing and then another. Keep checking in with your gut to see how it feels. Keep practicing your paring skills. You will make mistakes. Try again.

 

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Slow Furniture Movement

Why not a slow furniture movement?

An early aphorism I placed in our literature was a quote from John Ruskin: “When we build, let us think that we build forever.”

This is a sentiment I am fully in support of particularly these days when you see a “modern” building go up and 5 years later, they’re replacing the siding on it. There’s quality today for you.

But one of my Mastery students quoted Ruskin in a different way that I think is equally valid. Perhaps you’ll agree:

When we build, let us think that it takes forever.

Weekend projects do seem to take on a half life of their own. Some of mine are decades long now. Sigh. I keep plugging away at it.

1-China cabinet GR

 

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Quality

Dream all you like. Think about what it would be like to be skilled in a craft. But skill is gained only by work. Mastery comes after years of study, the rewards through discipline & sacrifice. Sigh.

Quality work does not come through an afternoon’s study. It is the work of a lifetime. And why not? What great skilled worker learned their craft in a weekend? What musician became masterful in a few hours of study?

It is this very process of learning your skill, of practicing your craft that is the goal. Never reachable, always worth striving for. Quality is not perfection. It is real, it is actual, and changeable as we learn more, as we discover more about our tools and about ourselves. Begin.

1-USFS Bass carving GR

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Gathering

It is autumn, once our gathering time. For collecting ideas, it is always time. There is a designed world all around us. Ideas hanging from the rooftops and tree branches and scattered on the ground below our feet. A designed universe whether created by your particular deity or Ma nature or random atoms smashing together: the design of the world is astonishing.

The key to it is opening your eyes. Look for forms, find patterns, see the symmetry around us. In the flock of birds, the march of columns, or the burned trees in a forest. This is a gift of design for those of us lucky enough to be able to see. I took my interns out yesterday and said: Look around, buildings, the sky, leaves on the tree, a Porsche sitting next to a junker. Design is everywhere and the ideas for design all come from the same place inside. Learn to find it.
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Deadlines

Deadlines are critical to working. Without one I let jobs slide for days, months, years. I have no deadline to fix my house and therefore I get little done on it but basic maintenance. The big jobs I am still considering. So too with furniture projects. Without a deadline, most of us let the idea simmer on a back burner for a good long while.

Our Mastery students have had this Thursday’s show date as their own deadline since beginning the program. Displayed this Thursday at the Studio from 5-8pm will be their Signature Pieces. This should be a great collection of work. The only stipulation put on their design was to have three drawers in it. It is always a great surprise to see what folks come up with. Please join us in celebrating their work and their accomplishment on hitting this deadline.

This Signature Piece was done by Brad Ewing for last year’s show. A knock-out Drafting Table. Please drop by to see the work of our graduating Mastery students. It promises to be another great show.

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Prodigies

Forget the 1 in a million prodigies. The rest of us strive every day just to be good. Forgive yourself your humanity & get on with your work. There’s so much to accomplish within ourselves in the process of building. This is the important work.

As my old friend Bogy said to me years ago, “You don’t make the work. The work makes you.”

1-Standing cabinet John RMP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Merrill, Resident Mastery Student, Graduate 2014

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Wood & Water

Don’t be afraid of wood & water. Wood loves the stuff. Most of the tree is water when it’s standing. It’s why they’re so heavy when they come down. It’s all that water inside of them.

Once I had a 1/2″ thick maple table top, 20″ square, all shaped and sanded. I decided to raise the grain and sand it off. Wet sanding I call it, although I wait for the water to dry and just sand off the fuzz raised up by it. Well I wet down this top and it cupped almost 3/8″. This is a very good way to increase your heart rate by the way. Seeing hours of hard work go wacky in a minute.

But I didn’t panic. I breathed deep, flipped the panel over, and wet down the other face. The table top came back to flat. As did my heart rate. If your wood gets wet, wet down the other side. It will be in balance. It’s imbalance that causes movement.

1-Lightning Bolt Table GR

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Practice

Getting back to the bench is as much elixir as it is simple nourishment. I spend most of every day working in the shop. When I want to relax, where do you think I want to go? To the bench of course. To work with my hands. To make something. To talk to myself perhaps above all. No matter. It’s practice.

Practice is what is needed to learn, to become proficient, to master. I worked next to a Japanese Living Treasure one year up at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado. He was a ceramic artist and spoke no English. His daughter was his helper, translator, and student. She would help him in class and she would practice her own craft. Every day, she would make the same pot and then crush it. Make it again, and then crush it. Over and over again. She worked every day to get the pot into her hands, into her bones so that in the end there was no thought required. It was a part of her like her breathing.

Musicians practice scales, ballplayers practice slides, craftspeople practice skills. Come join us at the Studio and learn new ones or practice the old. Either way you will enrich your life and get the craft into your bones1-Bedrock plane-002

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Create

Quit believing that you are not creative. Kurt Vonnegut said: “do art and do it for the rest of your lives”. If you stifle yourself you will fulfill your prophecy of silence. If you explore your life, your interests, the ideas and images that excite you, then you will unlock all sorts of unforeseen doors. Can’t know, won’t know, unless you try.

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Clean Up

Wait five or ten minutes to clean up your glue squeeze-out from a joint glue-up or lamination. It should be almost plastic and then it will peel right off. On a table top you can use a putty knife or my new discovery, an old chip breaker off a hand plane. It works great. For insides of boxes or cabinets, I use my sharpest chisel. That way if I cut into the wood, it will be a good clean cut. Also the color of the cut will match the wood inside which is always hand planed.

Patience is a virtue here. Let the glue skin over and almost set, but not quite. It will come off easily and there will be no smearing into cracks, corners or pores. This smeared glue will then only become visible when you put on finish.

 

Cafe chair rail detail Gary

 

 

 

 

 

 

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