Monday, July 10, 2017

making minor adjustments in perception of the real world.

I am in Montana for a family reunion but have brought work with me in the form of digital photos that I'll select, label and caption for the article about making a box guitar for Woodcraft Magazine. I am also working on a couple more articles for Fine Woodworking Magazine. One will be about making finger joints on the table saw, and the other being considered is about making a child's workbench based on those we've used for years at the Clear Spring School.

It is beautiful here, and it is a treat to see so many members of my extended family. Today's our cooking day. We will prepare dinner for the whole family. My jobs will be to tote and chop.

When artists look at the world in an effort to draw what they see, they are encouraged to look at both positive and negative space. In positive space, shapes are formed by light falling on the boundaries of the object. Negative space consists of the emptiness or empty space between positive forms. As examples, if you are standing with your hand on hip and your elbow extended, the triangular space formed between the crook of your arm and your torso would be called negative space, or if two people stand apart, the space between would be negative space.

Unlike the artist, we are taught to dwell upon and identify positive forms related to positive space. It is easier to simply name an object than to comprehend all the relationships of that object's place in the world. And yet things are complex and profound. One of the exercises I use in teaching box making is that of thinking outside the box. It is easy to think of a box in a simplistic matter, and yet, a simple box, when viewed from a variety of perspectives is complex. What is to hold, what are the materials used, how are the corners secured, and how does it open? How is it decorated (if it is), and what skills are expressed in its making? And of course what's the point?

The exercise of examining the real world, beyond the prejudgements we and others have made of it requires that we examine the not so empty space that surrounds us. We are given a choice in life. We can think of ourselves as isolated, separate and alone, or we can instead understand that the artificial boundaries within which sequester ourselves is illusion. The space between us in not empty space. It is filled with relationship. When we we make an effort to understand both positive and negative space we know that we are not truly individuals, but are instead, part of an incredible wholeness. And as parts of that wholeness and as we begin to understand our opportunities within that wholeness, we may choose to go great lengths to take great care of each other.

This is not new information. Anaxagoras, in the image above holds what appears to be a model of the world even before the earth was known to be a sphere. He was the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who said that "Man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands." Anaxagoras also believed that "in everything there is a share of everything," foreshadowing Froebel's concept of Gliedganzes or inter-connectedness. So all this is about things you can learn in Kindergarten and wood shop.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Re: a child's workbench. Recently I gave my 11 year old grandson a workbench. This bench had formerly been used in my office where we repaired computers. It is large (30" x 72") and made with steel legs and a rock maple top with a riser including plugs. Just the sort of thing you'd see in any industrial shop.

    What surprised me was the focus that bench brought to his tinkering. My daughter reported that he would sit at his bench (on stacks of boxes until I got him a stool,) until late at night. He added a fan because the garage was hot. His friends came over to watch the work he was doing on his RC ATV. He made a place for his tools and asked me to buy him a light since he was working in his own shadow.

    I'm sure the workbench will become the root of much learning and a 'Christmas Tree' on which I can buy him gifts that he'll use to make, fix and create for years to come.

    Such a simple thing - I could have made him one much sooner. I didn't realize how important having a 'making place' would be to catalyze his creativity. Shame on me for not understanding that.

    Now - I need to figure out how to give his sisters access to the same resources! They aren't exactly at the age where sharing is caring :)

  2. My wife and I made a work table and chairs for my daughter when she was 3. It was her place to make things until she got too tall for it and we put it in the attic for the time she has children of her own. It would be wonderful if all schools understand what we know, but until that time, the introduction of tools and making will rely on parents and grandparents. Your encouragement of your grandson and grand daughters will give them advantages that the digital world will not. Most importantly, the power to actually change the real world.