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The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator
An aggregate of many different woodworking blog feeds from across the 'net all in one place! These are my favorite blogs that I read everyday...
“Ornament is an act of love – or at least a token of esteem. We embellish what we revere. We adorn that which we love. We do not decorate the hero, returning from the wars, to make him pretty – we decorate him to pay him honor. Ornament is deep stuff, greatly misunderstood in recent years.”
— Alvin Holm
This quote above is from an article you can link to by Alvin Holm (Ornament) .
Much of our rabbit hole material comes from the thoughts of architects and scientists. Here’s a few thoughts about ornament from an architect. I find it also applies to furniture. Hope this proves insightful and helps you to see in a deeper way. Feel free to share your thoughts.
George R. Walker
Proportioning Systems Outside the Western World
(Your host of this particular rabbit hole is Jim)
One question George and I often get is whether this whole scheme of designing to whole number ratios is limited to the classical (i.e. pre-industrial) “western” world. What about the vast, and just as ancient, built world of the Orient? That’s a big question, and probably the deepest rabbit hole we would ever want to jump into.
But what I do know from speaking with Dale Brotherton, a classically trained Japanese temple builder; and more recently gleaned from a book on Japanese joinery (“The Art of Japanese Joinery” by Kiyosi Seike), is that the sizing of Japanese joinery elements as well as the overall layout of structures were based on an idealized system of modular (i.e. whole-number) proportions called “Kiwari”. (A Japanese word which literally means: “wood dividing”). According to Seike, the first written evidence of this system has been traced back to the mid 6th century AD, while a five volume set of artisan’s manuals appeared in 1608.
Drawing: A “four-and-a-half Tatami” room layout
By the 15th or 16th century AD, the module for sizing rooms became the tatami mat, which was a double-square rectangle about 3 ft. by 6 ft. (in our western imperial measurement system). Two of these mats–which together formed a square–were called a “ma”, and I believe served as the module for ceiling heights as well. Rooms were defined and sized by the number of tatami that could be contained in the room. In the drawing AT DIRECTION is a typical room layout for four and one-half tatamis. Other typical room sizes were six and eight tatamis. Essentially, they were growing the rooms in a Fibonacci series.
So what about now? It seems that the ancient artisan ways came to an abrupt end in 1868 with the downfall of the last shogun during the “Restoration of Monarchy” and the subsequent conscious and aggressive opening to industrialized western “modernization”. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)
Is for niche. A recess built into a wall to house a statue, trophy, or work of art. Often niches are capped with a semi-dome. The domes were sometimes carved to mimic the inside of a seashell. Found in Roman buildings from antiquity, niches were exploited by joiners and cabinetmakers for interior architectural work. The interior space for built in corner cupboards often included the graceful carved domes with dramatic effect. Sort of sheds light on the saying “Carved out a niche for oneself”.
This is one of those architectural elements that shares DNA with other bits and pieces often found in traditional design. Did this semi-dome from a niche inspire the fanlights capping a doorway (also found in some glazed furniture doors)? If you have any examples of niches to share, e-mail me at georgewalkerdesign.com and I’ll add them to this post.
George R. Walker
Renaissance architects saw a clear connection between music and design. They equated proportions with musical notes and often said pleasing proportions were music for the eyes. There’s a rich legacy of this musical/proportional connection going back to ancient Greece, yet to my thinking there’s something more profound lurking beneath the surface.
The ability to imagine is a huge step, possibly the biggest step on your design journey. In fact the question I’m asked frequently is – Can you really teach design? I’m not sure, but I am certain you can make giant strides in your ability to see. And in the case of woodworking where the tool to visualize (dividers) is also the tool to execute layouts, visualizing becomes intuitive. But here’s where the music comes in. How many times have you heard an annoying song on the radio (“Lydia the Tattooed Lady” by the Marx brothers comes to mind) that you just couldn’t shake from your head?
What’s that have to do with design or visualization? It illustrates our innate ability to visualize. You don’t have to be a musician to have good or bad music playing in your head, though I believe musicians can hear internal sound with more detail. The point is we all routinely visualize music with hardly a thought.
Then why is it we struggle to visualize designs and proportions? Jim Tolpin and I are convinced that we visualize music not because we learned to write notes in grade school but because we fell asleep to a lullabye while still in the crib and took up song before we could talk. The notes were imprinted.
We don’t imagine objects in space because we never imprinted visual notes. With one voice the historical design books emphasized proportions and charged the aspiring designer to draw standards like the classic orders. This has little to do with building furniture fit for the Parthenon and everything to do with learning to make music with proportions. Welcome to the new /old/classic/contemporary way of making music with proportions.
Here’s how – By Hand and Eye
George R. Walker
Tom Schaefer offered up a chair design he’s been working on for a critique. You can click on the link above to a PDF that shows his sketches for the design. As always with a critique your comments are welcome, please be specific about what you like or would change. Here is Tom’s description:
Attached is a drawing of a chair I started a few years ago. I appreciate any feedback you are willing to dispense. My apologies for the crude drawing, it’s all freehand.
Here is my thinking on some of the design elements.
- The frame is walnut.
- The fill wood is zebra.
- The cushion fabric of wool and cotton with a small square weave.
- The legs are a long taper.
- The side profile the back rail works in conjunction with the back cushion to form an ogee.
- The front view the legs work in conjunction with the top to form another ogee.
- The arm rest is twisted to form more to the arm and hand.
- There is a visible space between the cushion and the walnut frame, so the zebra wood is noticeable in that space.
- The front rail is zebra wood and scooped at the top for legs. I’m undecided to frame the bottom at least in walnut. I kind of like it without the walnut rail.
- The back of the chair has a center stile that connects to the bottom rail. In the sketch it appears to connect to the leg, but does not.
- There is a dotted line on the side for a possible walnut rail. I may decide to make the side open from the top of the seat cushion to the bottom of the arm rest.
- There are two (possible three) stretchers under the cushion and the flush mortise joint is visible on the side bottom rail.
- My concept was that the lines should blend together as on unit. Like a wave so to speak.
I look forward to your comments.
Last Friday Jim Tolpin shared a brief teaser about the artisan design language we explored together in our soon to be released book “By Hand & Eye”. In the comments that followed, Jim made a reference to the Rabbit Hole.
What exactly is a Rabbit Hole and what does it have to do with furniture design you might ask? The short answer is that it’s a bucket where we tossed anything that didn’t make it into the final draft. The long answer is that much of the Rabbit Hole material is a playground Jim and I explored during the research phase of this project. This artisan design approach didn’t evolve in a vacuum and a good amount of corroborating evidence came from science as well as the arts. We chased down many a faint trail, often ending in a Rabbit Hole.
The drawing above is a good example. It’s my attempt to draw a historic re-creation of the geometry behind the original violin bodies created in Italy. As it turns out musical instrument makers pulled knowledge from the
same wellspring as furniture builders. Here’s a link to a compass sequence that lies behind the form and another link to more information Traite de Lutherie. What’s it have to do with furniture? Well that’s why it ended up in the Rabbit Hole. Yet it is fascinating stuff and it does illustrate that in the hands of a capable master, incredible ideas can spring from a few simple shapes. I can’t help but mention that the form starts with a square and contains several key proportions based on simple whole number harmonic ratios, the same ratios often found in architecture and furniture. Don’t worry, you don’t have to master anything this complicated to design furniture but it does illustrate that we are only scratching the surface of some profound knowledge that’s all but lost.
Jim and I agreed that you may enjoy this as much as we did so I’ll be posting snippets over the coming months. Keep an eye out for Rabbit holes to jump down.
George R. Walker
My brother and I looked on as a gunsmith at Colonial Williamsburg expertly fit together a black walnut stock with a metal lock. Without raising an eye the artisan patiently answered our questions as though we were fresh off the boat and in need of a good rifle. That is until my brother volunteered that I was a machinist in a former life.
“A machinist” He said as he set his file on the workbench, and peered over his spectacles at me, “In that case, I’ll…. talk…… slow…. for…. your…. sake.”
I often get questions that are less about design and more about engineering. It’s innocent enough and usually no fault intended. Yet to my mind there is a quite a gap between the world of design and the world of engineering. When I think of engineering I think strength of materials, load bearing capacities, slide rules, and efficiencies. For many, engineering is the default starting point. Our education system and industry is geared towards that approach. Engineering is logical to the core; much of it is expressed in numbers and formulas.
When design comes to mind I think of aesthetics, creating something with a “delight” factor. Yes, a chair has to function and bear the stress as we lean back and rack the undercarriage – that’s a given. But a chair also has to invite us to sit and beckon us to grasp the armrest as though it were a bit of shelter from the wind. Design is about learning to visualize a fair curve and a sixth sense for proportions. It’s about gaining something I call “spatial pitch” where the eye can sense visual music in a composition.
Jim Tolpin and I are excited about our book “By Hand and Eye” which is just a few weeks away from going to the printer. If you are hoping for a book to help you engineer furniture, you may be a bit confused and disappointed. But, if you ever wondered what it would be like to unlock that inner ability, to gain a designers eye, this book can help you begin that journey. Sure, we do go through some nifty layout tricks with dividers that will make you a better woodworker, but the heart of the book is about learning to visualize, gaining that perfect pitch, crossing that invisible line called delight.
George R. Walker
Louis Majorelle (1859 – 1926) a French furniture designer and manufacturer, and leading figure in the Art Nouveau style. Classically trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His designs feature an organic theme often incorporating flowing plants and flowers sculpted in wood and metal, along with naturalistic themed marquetry designs that included metals and semi-precious stones. Majorelle’s factory was devastated by fire and then looted by the German army in WWI, bringing his work to a tragic end. Here’s a link to the DIA (Detroit Institute of Art) with a closer look at this cabinet.
George R. Walker