Trusting your Eye

We don’t trust ourselves. It’s a lamentable fact. We go into the shop and face a design problem and freeze up. We ask: what would Maloof do here? What would Wegner do here? What would Herter or Greene & Greene & Greene & Greene do here? What would anyone but us do here? Anyone with half a brain, not my own, which is barely half a brain on a good day, and I can’t trust it anyway when it comes to how something looks. What would they do instead of me?

Why is that? By what authority do you have it that your eye is somehow lacking?

You know of course that your eye is capable of seeing differences of less than a thousandth of an inch. Put two try squares up on the bench butted up to each other and a light source behind them. Notice the tiny difference between blades that you can see. It’s amazing what your eye can detect.

Some years ago I started a little game with myself where I would try to judge everything just by eye. No tape measure, no folding rule, no Starrett 604 RE, without which life in the shop is barely possible. None of that. Just my eye to measure to center or to measure out in thirds. And you know what? My eye is pretty darn good. I would get very close just by looking carefully. I would check things later of course with the highest calibrated standard I could find, but my eye was usually very good. It was capable of detecting the smallest amount of “off”. You know, you look at something, and it doesn’t look quite right,
it’s not centered. You know that it looks off or feels off. Well I’d check my eye with a rule and I’d be right, it was off.

So this has led me to trust my eyes more. To depend on them and use them for measuring. Sure I still use a tape and a ruler. But my eye is good. I just have to trust it.

Now the same is true when designing something. Your eye tells you things right off the bat as soon as you look at a piece. The problem is understanding what it’s saying. Figuring out how to decipher that little feeling in your gut when you look at a piece that you’ve been working on for weeks and weeks. You feel that something’s wrong. Well your eye is telling you what. You just have to figure out what it’s saying.

My approach is to look at the thing, the piece, the detail, the post or the rail, whatever it is, and check in with my gut. I may leave it at the bench for a night and walk away and then come back the next day to check again on it. If it still feels wrong, then it’s wrong. I try out new options, new lines or details. I trust my instincts on this, not what some book has said is good design. Sometimes, I turn the piece upside down on my bench to look at it in a different way and then right it again. But I’m constantly checking in with my eye and asking: does that feel right?

People write in a lot and ask what are the rules for such and such. Folks, there are no rules. The only rule is that you make up your own rules. The true artists among us do this from the beginning making it up as they go. They steal from the best sources of course but they make each design their own. Something in their gut tells them: this is right.

It’s not a simple matter, but it is simply by listening to yourself that you learn to trust what you know to be right. Quit looking to the books for the answer. Learn to trust your
eye.

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Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 9:24 am  Leave a Comment  

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