Sunday, July 13, 2008

I didn't do it, Katydid.

I just got the following comment on an older post:

I really don't know the process you go through to create the furniture, but do you have a staff or do you do it alone?

"Just to break it down a little further, each leg of this bench has approximately 40 - 60 hours of work in it."

That sounds like a lot, but with a staff of 4-5 workers, wouldn't it take a much shorter time? Is it not as profitable or do you just not trust others to create your art?

Tangent: Do you feel that if you don't physically produce every part of of your art, it's not yours? I've always wondered how Michelangelo felt about having all his assistants and I was hoping you could give me some insight about it.

Interesting timing on this question. I'm just about finished with the drafting/engineering on a pair of chairs, and thought it would be cool to post about the process of actually making them as I go, so look for that to begin within the next few days. I'll post pictures of the progress, and describe what it takes to actually make these things - not a "how-to," but more a look at how much work is involved, and how deep the dedication has to be.

And, honestly - I thought it'd be nice to show a bit of the stuff I love so much, and stop whining all the damned time.

As for the actual questions -

Generally, I work either alone or with a part time assistant. I don't produce enough to have highly skilled full timers, and unless they were ridiculously good, I couldn't even if I had them. Hopefully some of the upcoming posts will explain that better.

There is some reality in the difficulty of finding people who are as skilled as I am, and yet are interested in producing someone else's work. I know how pompous that sounds, but the facts is the facts, and much of the work I do requires some really intense skill. My dear friend and an astonishing craftsperson in her own right, Kate Hawes, has done a bunch of work for me in the past, for example, but is now concentrating on her own work exclusively (which, by the way, is incredible work).

But Kate is an excellent example for an answer to the next question, do I feel that I must be the one doing the work?

No, I don't. I have to be involved, as any good artist/designer should. Let's look at the last piece Kate and I built together (click the pictures to see larger images):

This piece is my design. Kate did all the casework and the doors. She cut those beautiful dovetails with the mitered front corners, she fit the doors so that they slide like butter. She matched all the grain so that it wraps perfectly around the corner from top to sides.

Because I asked her to. I was right there, ten feet away the whole time. We worked together as we looked at the three consecutive slabs of walnut, drawing with chalk all over them to determine where the parts would come from. We worked together in choosing the details, in reading the wood, in creating the overall feel of the piece, and Kate did what Kate always does - she fucking nailed it.

When it comes to straight up crisp woodworking, hand cutting perfect dovetails and things like that - I think Kate is better than I am. And it was the perfect use of her skillset.

On the other hand, when it comes to carving and sculpting free hand, flying by the seat of your pants, my personality is better suited to that kind of thing. So there was never any question about who would carve the drawer fronts:

That part fell to me, and I did what I do. I nailed it.

It's obviously more complex a relationship than that, and both Kate and I would argue on any given day that the other is better at either of those styles, but the point remains.

I enjoyed that process immensely. Watching the thing that was in my head take shape across the shop every day was hugely rewarding, regardless of whether I was making it or not. It was what I imagined, my silly little notion coming to life. I got to play a part in every decision, no matter how small, and I got to go and work on something else as Kate realized my vision. And then, at the very end, inspired by the great work she had done, I got to come in and do the glamorous work, the fancy carving.

Hell, if I could do that on every piece, I would.

But it's not always that simple. Sometimes you just don't know exactly what a piece will turn out to be. Sometimes you have to go and chase that shape yourself. Sometimes it's much easier to do it yourself than to try to explain it to another.

And sometimes, you just can't find someone skilled enough.

Either way, in answer to the one question I ignored: 40-60 hours is 40-60 hours, whether I'm doing it or someone else is. If five people were working on it and qualified to do it right, than it would happen in 12 hours, but it would still be 60 man-hours. And the truth is, no matter how skilled, no one is going to be able to find a shape that came out of my skull faster than I am.

Maybe in a later post I'll talk about the possibilities of computer aided manufacture, but for now we'll just leave it at an old-school conversation.

I'll leave you with a tease - the two chairs I'm about to start are going to come from two 12" x 12" x 8 foot long columns of Macassar Ebony. That is unheard of - this material is unbelievably rare. It's also wicked heavy - they weigh in at about 550lbs each.

But they're absolutely beautiful, and I'm dying to cut into them and get started...


Blogger Savage Henry said...

Those logs are really cool, but there is some kind of strange growth attached to the top.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really enjoy your blog, thanks for sharing! Question: do you have any Orthodox Jews working in your shop? I'm sure your readership would love to hear all about's...uh...his exploits, whoever he is. Oy.

11:37 PM  
Anonymous WickedFree said...

Amazing work, but I'm just as impressed with your workshop.

6:35 PM  

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