Design Approaches - Start With A Blank Slate - Or ...?

One approach to coming up with designs for turnings is to look at as many pieces as possible - photos, drawings, hands on - then pick a style or an aggregate of styles that appeals to you and start turning your versions. Start an Inspirations Binder - a three ring binder, a bunch of blank pages, some glue, some scissors and start collecting ideas. Cut them out - or copy them and then cut them out - and glue them in your Inspirations Binder. The Web is full of images and Google as well as AllTheWeb make it easy to find interesting images to inspire a turning design. And don't just look for "bowl", "vase" or"plate".

Another approach is basically the application of western classical proportions - derived, unfortunately, mainly from Greek architecture - lots of geometry and layout lines. The wood is merely the medium for creating The Ideal Form. 1 : 1.618, The Golden Mean / Ratio is the foundation of all Good Design. The Rule of Thirds, or, for the more progressive, The Rule of Fifths are relatives of The Golden Mean / Ratio approach.

The Form Follows Function Approach - a vase for a long stemmed rose - tall and narrow, with most of the weight as low as possible so it doesn’t tip over. The wood should not detract from the rose(s). The piece is intended to be an element of a greater whole - the rose it is to hold, the table it sits on, the room in which the table is located, the color of the walls of the room, the location of windows, the type of light, -.. . .

The Design Follows Tooling Approach (aka I Have This Slick Tool Which Does _____Effortlessly) is the cousin of The Form Follows Function approach It's non-identical twin is "I'm Really Good With This (skew, spindle gouge, skewgie, Ellsworth Grind bowl gouge) Tool." - . Folks in this camp are proned to make pieces that can only be done with a special set of tools and jigs, or do only those things which can be done with their favorite tool -even if they have a gouge and chisel collection of EVERYthing Sorby makes.

Some come at designs from " It looks like it's made of (leather, metal, ceramic, stone) - BUT IT’S WOOD! ". I see Turned Wood Cowboy Hats and all Segmented Turned Pieces in this "school". In the late 60’s and early ‘70s we used to call this sort of thing MIND F*CK - just screwing with your head - man.

Then there's the Mixed Media Approach - "If you look hard enough you'll eventually find the wood in this piece, amongst the gold and silver leaf, the titanium wires, chemical and paint patination and the ground stone and epoxy and mother of pearl inlay.".

The current D'jour Design Approach seems to be heavy on "texturing" - chatter tools, carving tools and grinding tools ads everywhere. At some point, someone will discover the pipe maker's Coral Cutting Machine (two flat spear point "drills", set about 20 degrees apart which rotate and alternate making contact with the wood - distance between contact points can be varied) and "coral" texturing will become the rage.

The What The Hell Is It approach sets out to create things in wood which a) don't look like anything anyone's ever seen before and b) selects wood that'll allow the making of some or all of the components of the piece. This one’s a little hard to pin down but You’ll Know It When You See It.

The Arts & Crafts Movement may be represented in wood turning by The Natural Edged Form (plate, bowl, vase). Leave the bark on the rim of the piece to maintain the integrity and honesty of the piece. If you can see the color of the wood, its grain AND the bark you can identify/verify EXACTLY what wood was used. No hiding behind tints, dye, paint, patinas, texturing or gilding - just the wood. And since this approach usually works with “green” wood, if the piece is warped - well it’s OK because it’s honest - wood moves.

The Emperor’s Tailor may be the ultimate hero of The Thin Wall turners. Working with freshly cut wood, the objective is to turn a piece, typically some form of a cone, as thin as possible, preferably to the point that the wood is translucent or, in the extreme, transparent. There is an underlying method to this madness. Green wood shrinks as it dries. If the difference in the rate of shrinkage between the “inside” and the “outside” of a piece is too great, the resulting stresses built up in the wood will cause the wood to tear itself apart. Cracks, splits, “shakes” and “checks” are all the result of differential drying rates. BUT, if the “inside” and “outside” of a piece of wood are only a few wood cells apart - well that problem is solved. Of course, something that thin gets pretty delicate so the solution may create another problem.

Being formally trained as an engineer, I find the How In The Hell Did He/She Make That approach interesting. Escoulen's asymetric and eccentric turned pieces fascinate me. These are the pieces that sometimes keep me awake for a days trying to work out how they were probably done. Some remain a mystery - UNLESS - you buy the artist’s DVD on How To Make ____ - for $69.95 US, along with the $39.95 US book. Hey, Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone - and there’s a reason for the term Starving Artist. But if you can create an After Market - say a Signature Series of tools and/or instructional DVDs and books, . . .

I personally lean heavily towards “I wonder what’s hiding in this chunk of wood?”. I just turned a series of small lidded boxes from an old split rail cedar fence post. Under the rough gray surface, below thirty years of dirt and grime - tight straight grain. Perfect for aligning the lid to the base of a turned box. This approach often ends with nothing left to turn and a floor covered a foot deep in curlies and chips. Alas, large quantities of horse manure does not always mean there’s a pony somewhere close by, if not within the pile. But I HAVE found a lot of ponies and the rest makes good composting material.

So what approach do you take when it’s for a piece just for you?

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