Monday, June 1, 2015

Regulae Stultis Sunt

I wrote this little essay a few years ago. In giving my website a facelift – it was left out. I thought it worth re-posting though. A condensed version appeared in Popular Woodworking .



My eight grade math teacher, Mr. Gayda, was fond of saying, "Rules are for fools."
Although this little maxim sounds like a rallying cry for anarchists, Mr. Gayda was a man of many rules and by no stretch of the imagination a member of some radical organization. I took his meaning to be more along the lines of: "Society has many rules and they are there for a good reason - but it's foolish to follow them blindly." Mr. Gayda's philosophy has stayed with me and over the years has taken on added meaning.

I recently asked my seven-year-old granddaughter, Victoria, "Are rules for fools?" She replied with enthusiasm, "NO!" I told her she was correct. But life isn't so black and white. Good rules are there for a reason and understanding why they are there is the most important part of a rule. Blindly following the rules has contributed much to the world's suffering. 

There are rules for every aspect of life. Art and furniture design are no different in that respect. 
Back in the BC (before computers) days of T-squares, I had many of the rules prominently displayed on my drawing board. My designs were infused with Fibonacci numbers: golden rectangles were abundant. Without fail, secondary mass would play second fiddle to primary mass. I thought I was doing everything right and I admit I had a few "acceptable" designs, but nothing that had any real fire in its soul. I had the rules in an iron grip, but they were not taking me where I ultimately wanted to go.
In the year following 9/11 my orders dropped off (as most everyone's did). There came a point when I ran completely dry of work. Previous to this my comfort level was about a 6 month backlog. I was now in the panic mode! If nothing came in soon, I may have to get a real job! I had spent years getting to where I was, and was not prepared to let it slip away without a serious fight.

But what to do?  About this time  an old Star Trek episode popped into my mind. Spock is in a dire situation and facing certain death. He had done all the possible logical things to save himself. Faced with a seemingly impossible dilemma, Spock concludes that the only logical thing to do is the illogical; he must rely upon his intuition, which he does, thus saving himself with only nano-seconds to spare.


So given the fact that desperation was setting in, the Spock episode was on continuous loop and Mr. Gayda's maxim was still making the mental rounds as well, I decided on a course of action.
I had a file cabinet stuffed full of never-built designs: all lacking 'fire'. It was time to re-visit these pieces. But forget the rules - This time I would rely on intuition with the only constraint being the function of the piece. I spent several weeks reworking the designs. I posted the results on my website. To encourage commissions, I offered a discount on the first commission for each of the designs (just a note here - I no longer offer discounts). I was overwhelmed by the response. Not only had I clicked into the right groove artistically, but I was backing up orders in a decidedly down-market! For the first time I could feel real fire in my work.
An act of desperation had rejuvenated my portfolio and in so doing had re-launched my woodworking career in the right direction. 
I still believe that rules of design are valid. I refer to them when giving design advice, but they no longer rule me. After many years the rules have been fused into my consciousness. They have become a part of what I "feel" when I am designing.
There is only one eternal rule: ........"No rule is so sacred that it cannot be broken"

Inspiration and intuition are the major players in artistic pursuits. Without them, art is lifeless and sterile. The rules play a part but must be subordinate to intuition.
I recently read Louis Sullivan's biography and was not so surprised with his approach to design and his views concerning the rules of art. Sullivan is considered the father of the modern skyscraper and was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright called Sullivan "the Master." Sullivan was an active architect in the late nineteenth century when skyscrapers were in their infancy. Up to that point most buildings were lower and more horizontal, so naturally the horizontal line had been historically dominant. Early skyscrapers were designed following this established rule. Louis Sullivan, who is credited with the phrase "form follows function" (actually it was Horatio Greenough who first said it), intuitively realized that the dominant horizontal line did not apply to extremely tall buildings. Sullivan's skyscrapers were the first to accent the vertical line, as skyscrapers do to this day.
A quote from Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats (1901-1902) explains his views concerning the rules:
"……formulas are dangerous things. They are apt to prove the undoing of a genuine art, however helpful they may be in the beginning to the individual. The formula of an art remains and becomes more and more rigid with time, while the spirit of that art escapes and vanishes forever. It cannot live in text-books, in formulas or in definitions."

"Regulae Stultis Sunt" (in English "Rules are for Fools") is a gross simplification of my views, and on a literal level it is a bit too black and white for me. But to me it is a symbol and represents much more than those simple few words can convey.

I am about to put the finishing touches on a new shop building. As you enter the shop there will be brass letters embedded in concrete that say, "Regulae Stultis Sunt". But also on the wall near the brass letters will be Louis Sullivan's quote.

Rules are not bad: Just don't follow them blindly and remember "no rule is so sacred that it cannot be broken." In artistic pursuits let your intuition and inspiration rule the day.
Darrell Peart
  

Monday, January 27, 2014



The Furniture Begets

Much of my work is spawned by my previous work. I like to call it “The Begets”.   One design begets the next and in turn that one begets the next one - and so on.  The line of begets can be rather long and intertwined.   

A beget starts out as an idea.  The idea is usually some shape or theme found in my environment.  These ideas are not available upon demand. They are most often spontaneous and come uninvited. They are a gift.

Once an idea has solidified and the initial design is complete – the variations (begets) on a theme can begin. Begets can materialize in a number of ways. Occasionally they are self-emanating, as when I revisit past work and see something that could have been done better. Many times the impetus is client driven in the form of a request for a companion to an existing piece.  Sometimes there is the need to re-purpose a detail or theme to a different function.

The begets have been good to me. They have forced me to seriously think about context and given me a deep appreciation of the work of Greene & Greene: the masters of detail and  context. Because a detail works well on one design, does not mean it will do the same in another setting.   Cut and paste – doesn't cut it. Each new use must be given careful thought.  This is the basis of my “Furniture DNA” scheme, which I have written about in various articles and blogs.  It is also the underlying groundwork that forms a personal style.

 For our purposes here, I want to narrow the focus of discussion to a just a few specific design elements and their derivatives (begets).  This is not meant as a catalog of all my influences nor is it a detailed discussion of an element's nuance of change as it  transits  from one design to the next. This is nothing more than a brief stroll through my work – selectively pointing out some of the lineage.

A beget doesn't necessarily take the shortest route from point “A” to point” B”. The path leading to my Rafter Tail designs has been a rather long and crooked one. It started about 20 years ago with one of my early Audio Cabinet designs.  At that time, my work showed a lot more Krenov influence. The case for this piece set upon a grid-work which in turn set upon the base.  
The idea of a base with an intermediate grid work has been stuck in my head ever since. I finally revisited the idea a couple of years ago in a design for a pair of speaker stands. In the interim my design skills had improved and my influences had moved on. This time around the grid-work was infused with G&G DNA to become my "Rafter Tail" series. 




Audio Cabinet
The beginnings of the Rafter Tails

Speaker Stand
First use of the Rafter Tails

Yuki No Hana ( Snow's Flower) Table
One of many Rafter Tail Begets

Tercet Table
A Rafter Tail derivative currently in progress 

Tall Hall Table
A Rafter Tail Cousin
Same base structure as the Rafter Tail Tables


 The Aurora Bridge (Seattle) has been the inspiration for numerous begets. The initial spark for this line was born out of both desperation and frustration. It was pivotal point for me. At the time, the economy was in a tailspin and I had a burning desire to go beyond the mediocrity which I felt stuck in. I have written about this in both magazines and blogs and because of that I will not take up more space with it here.

Essentially the Aurora line takes a gentle arch (often found in bridges) and introduces it to the design. What follows is the interaction with the other elements of the piece. This was the beginnings of my  DNA scheme in which  nature is imagined to be the force driving the design.


The Aurora Bridge
The inspiration for both the Aurora and Fremont begets

Aurora Table Desk
The 1st in the Aurora line

Aurora Table Desk
The Aurora Table Desk re-purposed

Aurora chest of Drawers
Has the arched Aurora  rail -  but also the first use of the
 tapered leg which would  later become the Fremont Line

The Aurora Nightstand 



The Fremont begets are closely related to the Aurora begets - in fact you might say they are maternal twins.  Seattle natives may get the connection without the bother of my explanation.  The Aurora Bridge joins the Queen Anne neighborhood with the Fremont District.  When the inspiration for the Aurora line hit me – I
was standing on the Fremont side.   The reason for the Fremont branch came when I designed a 2nd Aurora Style Nightstand and did not want to have a #2 next to the design’s name. This piece features a tapered leg which was initially inspired by a Charles Limbert detail and was first used on my Aurora Chest of Drawers.  This time though, I added a little out-turn at the top of the leg, which sort of reaches out to support the top.  
The Fremont Nightstand
The first piece named in the Fremont series.

Fremont Dresser
The Aurora Chest of Drawers in a horizontal configuration. 


As happens, differing ideas, in due course, can meet and beget yet another line of begets.   Currently on my computer is a design for a stereo rack.  Central to the design is a Fremont style tapered leg, but with a cloud-lifted notch (that cradles the top) which is similarly found in my rafter tail pieces.   The initial design is yet un-built and may take a few turns before it makes it to my work bench. 


Stereo Rack currently on my computer.
A project that combines the tapered leg of the Fremont line
with the cloud-lifted notch from the Rafter Tails. As of yet unbuilt
 and may go through some changes before making it to my bench.


Ideas for new begets come to me in their own time and on their own terms. Sometimes an idea goes nowhere. Or at least it seems to go nowhere – it may bounce around in my subconscious for a very long gestation period – then re-appear. Recently the Space Needle has caught my attention.  Stay tuned and have patience – something  may or may not mature.


The Space Needle
Future Inspiration? Stay tuned....

Saturday, July 13, 2013

In a Flash !


My mother was a firm believer in the power of positive thinking. She taught me that the mind is a potent instrument, and if focused properly can perform near miracles.  

When my mother would find herself faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, she would concentrate on the issue at hand as she fell asleep at night.  Upon waking, the answer would be there. This was not hocus pocus – it was the power of the subconscious put to work. While she was asleep, the inner workings of her mind was not – it was busy running through scenarios looking for the answer.

I have often used my Mother’s method to solve both design and construction problems in the shop. It’s like having a secret weapon at my disposal. It is truly amazing.  I am unaware of the in-between mental process that solves the problem – I wake up and it’s all laid out. This get me incredibly excited every time it happens.

I am currently in the process of installing a custom made CNC router ( made by Carl Bruce).  Years ago, I worked at Harry Lunstead Design and ran a CNC machine – so I thought I had a leg up on the learning curve and would build on that knowledge. I did however see a small  problem looming on the horizon that would require a bit of head scratching.  At Lunstead’s, I cut out conference table tops - all the machining was done from one registration on one face.

 I wanted to take this a step further – route the shape then turn the part over for machining on the backside, then clamp it  to the end of the table (my machine over-travels the end) for joinery routing ( box joints – etc.).  This presented registration issues - after the first routing the shape of the piece has changed and the point of registration needs to reflect that – but how?

But then I got hit with a double–whammy! There is no registration grid on my new machine. The Lunstead machine existed in a different world – a high end industrial world that can afford luxuries that are out of my reach.

So what was I to do?????  Even the initial registration seemed convoluted and time consuming. I went to sleep with this problem on my mind last night.  I woke up at 3AM this morning (actually that’s my usual wake up time) and IN A FLASH – it was all there!! It was embarrassingly simple – put down a sacrificial spoiler board then route the initial registration in the spoiler board. When the subsequent registrations are needed - simply re-route that registration in the spoiler board as well.

 I am certain my answer is not unique. If I had read the CNC discussion boards, I am sure the solution would have been there. But who needs message boards when you have a secret weapon.


Thank you Mom, for this, and all the other things you taught me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Adventures in Daydreaming! or... .....WHOA!... What Was THAT!


I have a long and fruitful relationship with daydreaming. I do not daydream just to daydream though. It is not something that I set time aside for, nor do I intentionally practice it. But daydreaming does serve a special purpose in my life; it occupies my mind, when my current task cannot. In high school, while biology and algebra were being expounded upon, I was intensely daydreaming and doodling.That was a very productive time; those doodles formed my early sense of design!

Several years ago, while stuck in a long slow line at the grocery store, I found myself deep in a daydream that mingled the view out the window, with a desk design I was struggling with. It hit me like an electric bolt! The answer to my design problem was right in front of me. The arches in the (Seattle)Aurora Bridge -- that was it! As I saw in the bridge, I added a long continuous curve to the rails connecting the legs, and the design took on life.

Just last week I started on one of the last chapters of my new book. The writing was nearing the end, but it was not going well. My brain was in a funk. I had taken on the more challenging and interesting chapters up front. My Grandpa Miller used to say "Get the hard stuff out of the way first" - and I had. But this material was simply too simple to engage my mind. And besides, I had run out of words and ideas!

Then came my Friday conference call. I was not looking forward to this at all. An hour discussing a legal document was even less appealing than banging my head against the wall to get this last chapter out. With several people on the call, I sat back and didn’t say a word.

 My computer was in front of me and the internet was beckoning. In true Walter Mitty fashion, I was soon gone. The legal document was a haze in the background. Why not surf over to the G&G virtual archives and have a poke around … maybe look at the subject of this last chapter… the waterfall detail.

Amazing site, the virtual archives, you can zoom way in for incredible detail views. And that’s what I was doing, when -- WHOA- WHAT WAS THAT! Before I explain what "whoa" was about, I need to fill you in with a little background. I get all excited about design, always have. I am also a confirmed Greene & Greene fanatic. While engrossed in their designs, I can effortlessly work myself into a solid stupor.


So back to what "whoa" was. The waterfall detail, as I call it, is a small taper on the two inside faces of a lower leg. This detail was only used in the Gamble house Master bedroom, but on several pieces within that room. The taper has two unequal steps. In typical G&G fashion each step begins with a round over to soften the transition. Up to this point, I thought I knew this simple detail intimately. It’s interesting and very pleasing, but not a lot of complexity or nuance going on: hence my so-so enthusiasm to write about it.

 Remember now, I am still on a conference call and am supposed to be talking about a legal document. On my screen I have zoomed way in on the waterfall detail and it is WRONG! It’s not the way I thought it should be! The unequal steps are reversed! How can that be? Well, it looks like someone was not paying attention to their work that day. Rather than correct the mistake he probably decided to move forward and hope no one will notice…… Looks like he got away with it – it’s been over 100 years.

There’s a voice in my head, something about paragraph this and line that, but this stuff on the screen is getting more interesting. I’ll take a close look at some of the other pieces…… Well look at THAT…… they’re all bad in this piece too! This guy was having a bad week! I can relate to that, but I don’t think I would have dug the hole even deeper….or
I wonder…… maybe the one I have been using as a model all these years, is the bad one. This is really getting my attention… It’s time to put this zoom feature through its paces…..

What’s going on HERE! Some are one way…..some are the other…..doesn’t make sense…. very perplexing. Finally, those voices in my head have disappeared … just about time too….. they were distracting.

Charles Greene did not design in the willy-nilly mode. He had a purpose for every little detail. This was no mistake!!!! This deserves a serious inquiry…. have I grossly underestimated this little detail?

WHOA again! ….AM I seeing that right?.... Those legs are reverse tapered!!!! Yikes!!!! What’s this – what’s going on there!!!

All at once those little synapses are firing Gatling gun style in my brain …... Ideas are formulating... Scenarios about visual weight are working out….. Time has stopped and has no meaning…. The inspiration to write is burning me up.

BUT ….WHOA!!!!.......
There are voices in my head! …..Where did they come from?..... What’s that? …"Paragraph this – line that"….. The Conference call!!!!!

Maybe I can just hang up? I have some serious writing to do!

This was one productive phone call!


 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Design - Danger,Danger


Danger, Will Robinson, danger, warning, warning!!
Is young Will Robinson facing yet another intergalactic threat initiated by the devious Dr. Smith, or perhaps Will is embarking on a study of the rules of design? No matter, the same dire warnings apply.
Any journey fraught with danger must be preceded by a full and complete disclosure of those dangers. Woe be to those who choose not to respect the rules! But woe is waiting in equal measure for those who blindly follow them as well! So how can this be?
The rules of design are nothing new. The Golden Mean, the Fibonacci sequence, and numerous other systems for guiding our creative endeavors have been around for centuries. These many interrelated systems lay down a basic set of guidelines that keep our designs grounded in the reality of balance and proportion. There is a primal truth buried in these ageless ratios and equations.

The rules are based in the intellect, which must quantify everything. But creativity defies quantification. It is driven by two innate components: intuition and inspiration.
Inspiration is the original spark that ignites the creative fires. It is the very thing that makes time stand still for hours while the process is being played out. Inspiration knows no bounds, and in fact, will utterly suffocate if put into a neat little box and told to conform. Intuition is inspiration’s symbiotic cohort. It is keenly sympathetic and like an adoring parent gently guides the new-born inspiration from a base that is deeply instinctual but tempered with experience and knowledge.

For a young child, there are rules they do not fully understand. But the rules must be obeyed and practiced. If a parent has done their job well, that child will someday mature and break free. With the rules understood on a much deeper level, the now young adult, no longer needs to recite them. The young adult is now free to respectfully disagree with the parent and in fact may freely choose to do so. The same learning process is true for the beginning designer.

A quote from Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats (1901-1902) parallels what I am saying here:
"……formulas are dangerous things. They are apt to prove the undoing of a genuine art, however helpful they may be in the beginning to the individual. The formula of an art remains and becomes more and more rigid with time, while the spirit of that art escapes and vanishes forever. It cannot live in text-books, in formulas or in definitions."

Ultimately, inspiration must be the spark that ignites the creative fires, and intuition the guiding force that tames and guides inspiration. Although intuition is an inherent trait, it is molded over time in some ways by our experiences and knowledge base. If the rules are given a serious and rigorous study, they may, in time, become fused into our consciousness and in so doing, become an inseparable component of our intuition.

It is easy to get acceptable results using the rules, but nothing with real fire in its soul. Therein lays the danger. Do not be lulled into complacency. The rules can only take you so far. Learn from them, but do not be bound by them. When the time comes, let them go. Give your inspiration and intuition free rein. That is where you will find your best work.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Product Review

I am sure you have all encountered products that are somewhat less than advertised. Below is my letter of appreciation I sent today to the maker of just such a product. In my original letter all the "shxxxy" text did not have the x's ( you can guess what the x's represent - no ,it was not "shoddy" ) but did have a strike through.
Obviously I have xxx'ed out any reference to the real company and thier products.


Hello,
I am writing to tell you what a shxxxy lousy product line you have, although given the ill-conceived nature of your tools and accessories, I am quite certain you have heard this before. In fact, you probably get emails and phone calls of this nature on a daily basis. But please bear with me as I am in need of some serious therapy (stress release) after my encounter with your shxxxy half- baked xxxx xxxxx.

I must take part of the blame here myself though for being so gullible. I first owned one of your xxxxxxxx years ago, which I had purchased used. It was not such a great xxxxxxxx, but the hype around it was such that I was convinced that the problem was a matter of simple adjustment, that I (for some unknown reason) was not able to achieve. In an act of desperation (in an effort to make a bad product good) I was sucked into purchasing your xxxxxxxx accessory. The retro-fit to my specific model was poorly thought out (in retrospect I believe it was simply not given any forethought whatsoever!)

Now fast forward to about a year ago. My shxxxy crummy xxxxxxxx was dying a horrible death and I needed to buy a new one on a limited budget. One thing your company does well is advertising and hype. As you most certainly know, good advertising and hype can, and often trumps inferior merchandise – your company is the ultimate testament to this!
So dumb me bought another one of your xxxxxxxx. I must admit the new xxxxxxxx worked better than the dead one and it performed OK with the exception of a few little bothersome details, like the fact that your xxxxxxxx accessory did not work much better on the new xxxxxxxx than they did on the old one – I had incorrectly thought there would be an improvement in this regard since this was not a retro-fit situation.

Now here comes the part where I must admit to incredible gullibility. After my experience with your products I should have known better. Last week I bought your shxxxy stupid xxxxxx accessory. The manual is appalling and the video about the same. I would never consider submitting a manuscript for a book or magazine article (I have done a fair amount of writing) that was this pathetic.
I have wrestled with your shxxxy damn xxxxxxxx accessory for way too many hours trying to set it up properly. It may have been a good idea in the beginning, but was obviously not well thought out (that’s being very kind).

Thanks to you I have found my life’s second calling. In the future, I will do my very best (and go way out of my way) to tell my students and anyone who will listen (as well as any captive audience I come upon) what a shxxxy crappy product line you have.

Sincerely,
Darrell Peart

Addendum:
After way too many hours I was able to get the offending accessory to work. A big part of the solution was solved with a trip to the hardware store to replace some small parts that were inappropriate to the intended use and /or cheaply made.
This entire experience was actually a long term plus for me (did not seem that way in the midst of it though). It forced me to really think through what I was doing in minute detail. In the process of ruling out the many variables, I now understand fully how the tool is supposed to work (and a few things I would have changed on it).  But most of all I have a more thorough understanding of the specific process I was attempting to perform.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Woodworker's Bag of Tricks

In woodworking, there is much to be learned from books. But not all knowledge is to be found there. Many “tricks of the trade” never make it to print, but instead, exist as sort of a vernacular knowledge base that is conveyed from person to person “on the job”.
Adding to my “woodworking bag of tricks “has been a lifelong pursuit. I have never reached a point, nor will I ever, where I can say “I know it all”. What I can say is “This is the best way I know at this time, until I discover or learn a better way”
Every new woodworking acquaintance presents an opportunity to trade tricks and mutually advance. Many years ago, I had the very good fortune to work alongside a couple of extremely knowledgeable and skilled woodworkers. There was nothing these two guys could not do, and do exceptionally well – it was enough to give me an inferiority complex. I made a point to glean whatever information I could from them. At first, I was surprised when they were doing the same to me: constantly picking my brain. But after some thought, I realized this is how they got as good as they are. They were open and eager for knowledge at every opportunity. It was not just me adding to my bag of tricks, they were doing the same as well.
It’s the intermingling of woodworkers that keeps tricks circulating and alive. Early in my career I did not realize this on a conscious level, but used it to my advantage nonetheless. When a new employee would come into the shop, I would introduce myself and ask right away “what kind of woodworking have you been doing”? I was not trying to be nosy – I was on fire to learn and the new guy was potential fresh fodder in that regard.
Back then , I would also regularly apply for woodworking jobs, which I had no intention of taking. Typically, the shop in question was known for something that fascinated me and I wanted to learn how they did it. The interview (almost) always included a shop tour in which I would ask a variety of questions, trying not to sound as though I was on an espionage mission (which I was).
Writing and teaching has, not surprisingly, been a great source for adding to my bag of tricks. Although I am supposed to be the one teaching, it often goes the other way as well, with me on the learning end of the equation. This is especially true when I travel to somewhere new.
Earlier this month I made my first trip to the Northeast to teach at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. The northeast has a different woodworking tradition than the west coast, and therein exists a great opportunity for the exchange of ideas.
Upon arrival, Bob Van Dyke, (founder and director of the school) greeted me. I soon realized, (although it was not stated) Bob and I were both on the same mission: to add to our respective bags of tricks. As I unpacked my jigs for the upcoming class, Bob was eager to learn how they worked. When I asked about a router bit for one of my setups, Bob (with a smile) pulls out a bottom bearing flush trim spiral bit – and waits for my response. It took a double take and a few extra nanoseconds for it to hit. For some time I had wanted just such a bit for flush trimming (greatly reduces blowout) when using a router table.
The bit is not an “off the shelf “product, but its individual components are. Bob gives credit for idea to Will Neptune, who regularly teaches at the school. This is vernacular woodworking at its best: ideas that are freely passed from one person to another.


In that spirit, I now pass this trick on to you:


Bit : Onsrud ¾” spiral bit #40-141
Bearings: (2 each) Whiteside B19 ¾” OD , ½’ ID
Bearing Stop Collar: Whiteside LC-1/2




May you freely give and take in the exchange of new ideas - may your bag of tricks forever grow and overflow.