The Design Question
I’ve never been able to put my finger on it really. What is it about designing and making furniture that really lights my fire? I started making furniture for a living in 1986, and I've never been able to put it into words, until a couple of days ago.
It turns out that making furniture is like writing or reading a Whodunit. Why? I’ll tell you, but first I need to tell you a few things about myself or it won’t make sense.
Family apart, there are four things I love in life. Well, five really, but this is for general consumption and the fifth will have to remain my little secret. I’ll leave that to the excellent work of Sue Dinum, if you see what I mean?
In no particular order, the loves are: music, sport, designing furniture, and writing. I guess you’d call it an eclectic mix. The first two I do for fun and not very well. I’ve never won anything sporty in my life. I can though, clear a room in seconds - all I have to do is reach for my guitar. Writing, technical prose, not fiction is starting to swell my bank account, but not by much. I actually keep the wolf from the door by designing and making furniture.
To put it frankly, I love working in wood. The feel of the stuff, even in its rough sawn state, is pure magic. I have the skills and patience to turn planks of unpromising-looking wood into really beautiful things, even if I do say so myself.
However, by the time a project is over and the finished article has been delivered to its new home, I’m lost in another job. I’m buried in other things and the feeling of excitement is gone. There’s always a sense of anti-climax at the end of a project. Sure, there’s satisfaction in doing a job well, and a cheque helps, but that’s not it. Not all of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I get a real kick out of seeing how well something a client and I have designed together is received. Some clients have a deep hand in the design process, while other’s give me a general outline of what they want and let me run with it. I love it either way, I don’t have a heart of wood. I can do ‘feelings’, but the finished object is not the whole reason. It’s not even the main one.
Designing is like a drug to me and it’s only recently, when I started to turn my hand to writing fiction, that I’ve been able to put it into words. I’ve just started thinking of it like this:
You are reading a crime novel, a thriller, a Whodunit. If the book’s any good, the author is keeping you guessing. Some of the facts, the clues, are laid out early, but others are being held back to be drip-fed into the story until the dénouement is reached. You either guess the outcome or you don’t. You like the book or you don’t, but you’re never quite sure of the results, until you’ve turned the final page.
You are the writer. You have the idea. You know what you want to write, the story, the characters, the settings, the plot. Sure, they can develop and change as you write. Some characters are dropped, some are added, scenes are chopped and changed, honed until you have it just the way you want it.
That’s what it’s like for me when I start a new project. I can picture it in my head. I can draw it on paper, and even animate in 3D graphics nowadays. But until it’s there, finished and complete, I never really know how it’s going to turn out. It’s like that fantastic mystery novel you can’t put down. You think you know what’s going to happen, but you’re kept guessing ‘til the end.
I can start working on a board that looks exactly right for the part it has to play in the finished concerto, but sometimes it’s not right. I expose the hidden grain but it doesn’t fit the ensemble. I move it to another place and it plays a better tune, harmonising with the whole. I try not to waste material, it’s too rare and expensive, but if it hits the wrong note, it’s held back in the wings for later.
Occasionally, I can be stumped by a challenge. Like the author ironing out a difficult plot twist. I usually come up with an answer, a work-around. It’s the thrill of the chase that gets me, the search for that design that truly works. I’ve come close once or twice, and I know it’s in my head somewhere. I hope I never find it though, because it might just stop me from searching.
I get the same vibe with my writing.