“No deriving past this point”

This is the sign on the door that greets students as they arrive for our “By Hand & Eye” design workshops based on the book of the same name. For these students, one of the most appealing and exciting things about the artisan’s design language is the absence of mathematics. For many would-be woodworkers, the modern “engineering “ mindset with its focus on  numbers and specifications, is a sterile approach to design. It takes the fun right out of it!

But in the artisan’s language of design, mastering proportions takes center stage and numbers play a minor role. In fact, with just the fingers on the end of your hand for a calculator, and a handful of simple whole number ratios, you pretty much have a handle on all the math you’ll need to design anything from a cradle to a coffin to any furnishing in between.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.  –John Muir

That’s essentially what this artisan’s design language is all about, mastering proportions that in the words of John Muir, hitch everything together. All the proportions needed to create durable and appealing wooden structures spring up from our eye intuitively because at a deep level they relate to the proportions found in the human body itself.

This artisan’s design language is not about magical rectangles; it’s not about arithmetic derivations; and no, it’s not about working to prescriptive formulas, either. It’s just an immersion in the kind of geometry that needs only a stick, a string, a pair of dividers, to ignite your imagination. Welcome to the world of artisan design hiding right in plain sight!
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