Everybody is a Star

June 11, 2008

Everybody is a star. Sly Stone said it best, years ago of course. I used to be convinced of quite the opposite. Certain people had artistic talent, certain people could draw, certain people could design and I could not. I came from the land of potato farmers and vodka. Oh sure, a talent or two rose up from the plains but mostly it was hard work and sacrifice for my ancestors. I surely could not have gotten any of the leavings of the few Polish geniuses.

Why was everyone else capable of building such cool stuff and I could only build pine bookcases with dado joints? Others made great dovetail joints in fabulous pieces and then inlaid pictures into their projects of the sinking of the Spanish Armada and I could make a bookend nailed together. Why did everyone else have all this talent and I was laden with none? It was such a burden really to carry around so little.

But something occurred to me years ago as I was teaching myself how to build furniture. I realized that I wasn’t teaching myself how to design work at the same time. I was learning how to use a band saw and a jointer but completely missing out on how to make stuff that was peculiarly my own. Now I know that there are plenty of folk out there who think that design began and ended with someone named Chippendale. [Doesn’t he dance in a club somewhere out in the suburbs?] But I felt that I needed to start learning about designing my own work. Work done in my style, whatever that turned out to be. Designers I figured learn a vocabulary just like everyone else. Why couldn’t I?

Now some folks of course are gifted. They’re genius right from the start. I used to have a girlfriend like this. We would go to this one restaurant where they had those paper tablecloths and a glass full of crayons. I would spend 20 minutes, frowning and making faces as I carefully put stroke after careful stroke down on the paper. After about 15 minutes into one of these drawings, when I realized that realism was not my schtick, I would turn the portrait into something more arty and edgy, you know, an impression of her face as she sat across from me. She would then grab a crayon and in five minutes draw my face onto the paper that looked like a photograph of me, look at it and throw it away. She had talent, but never wanted to use it. More’s the pity. Here I was desperately trying hard to draw well and feeling like I was paddling uphill with my crayon.

But I kept after it. I read Betty Edward’s wonderful book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and recognized the ability that I had, the ability that everyone has, to produce art. It’s in us. It’s well buried of course. We have a school system dedicated to turning us into mindless clones of one another and forgetting that art is the best thing to teach anyone interested into going into business. It opens up a part of the brain that goes dormant and for many, stays that way. But when you learn how to access it, you too can design and draw and can be artistic.

We try now at the Studio to teach some of these skills. Designing is a teachable and learnable skill like any other. It is not just the privilege of the wealthy or the unfocused. It is within us all. The key of course is learning how to look at things carefully, how to see things carefully. And then borrowing from the best sources, from a variety of sources, to design something that you can call your own.

But you, you are trying to design your way out of a paper bag, need to know that you can do it

Published in: on June 12, 2008 at 11:55 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Gary,

    Interesting to see this post. I was just writing about design on my blog as well…

    I think that the link with art and drawing is a real one – that as well as studying appealing things that were designed in the past. I’ve always had some aptitude for drawing, but it was never really encouraged. I too read Betty Edward’s book and it showed me that this skill could be developed – with some effort.

    It seems that the skill of design, like anything else is one that has to be developed by doing it. You know that they say that you can learn more from a failure than from a success! So, I keep trying things and developing my ability to design. It’s seems that it’s a lifelong journey.

    Great post!


    The Craftsman’s Path

  2. As long as you’re talking books, another worthwhile one on this subject is “The Creative Habit” by the Broadway choreographer Twyla Tharp. In a nutshell, her message is that “creativity” in art lies not so much in flashes of inspiration as it does in simple hard work, persistence and in making your creative enterprise part of your daily routine (i.e., draw some furniture ideas in your sketchbook every day). — Bob

  3. Good job Gary … Teach design … one of the best thoughts there is… It’s ‘how?’ that’s the challenge .. Betty Edwards is certainly a good start and what she teaches about seeing is everything. Design is seeing what you like and what you don’t like and trying to use the things you like in creative, different ways. I agree with Bob above about doing a little drawing everyday … Making thought visible … Now if we can just find some customers for those homeless ideas we could really have some fun ….Keep it up. I enjoy your blog … Feel free to check out mine to see if it would be useful to your classes …. Good luck
    dan mosheim http://dorsetcustomfurniture.blogspot.com/

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