By Hand & Eye
By Hand & Eye
After reading the authors’ first draft of “By Hand & Eye,” a curious question occurred to me:
Can a book teach someone to sing?
Throughout this book, George Walker and Jim Tolpin use music as a metaphor to explain the mechanics of design. The metaphor is helpful in understanding their material, but I wondered if the metaphor exposed a weakness in their method. Namely, that design, like music, is something you can develop only through the act of doing it and gauging the response of others to your work.
But as I read the book for the third time during the editing process, I realized that Walker and Tolpin have indeed created a book that can teach you to sing. And they have done three things that no other book on furniture design has accomplished.
1. They refuse to accept that furniture design is a system of secret codes and numbers that merely need to be applied at the drafting table to create beauty. Or that design is innate and un-teachable.
2. They reveal a much simpler system – similar to notes on a scale – that can guide your efforts to train your hand, eye and mind to create pleasing forms.
3. They give you a roadmap (instead of a plane ticket) for you to follow in the journey ahead. They show you the musical scales you need to practice. They show you how the instrument works. And they even play a few of the scales to show you the results.
The next steps, however, are up to you. Take this book, try the exercises and see if they can teach you to sing at the drafting board. The trip ahead might be long, but with this book (and some traveling music, perhaps) you won’t ever get lost.
“By Hand & Eye” is a deep dive into the world of history, architecture and design. And the authors have emerged with armloads of pearls for readers.
Instead of serving up a list of formulas with magical names (i.e. the Golden Section, the Rule of Thirds) that will transform the mundane into perfection, George R. Walker and Jim Tolpin show how much of the world is governed by simple proportions, noting how ratios such as 1:2; 3:5 and 4:5 were ubiquitous in the designs of pre-industrial artisans. And the tool that helps us explore this world, then as now, are dividers.
The key to good design is to master these basic “notes” – much like learning to sing “do, re, mi.” How to do this is the subject of the first three-quarters of the book. It offers exercises, examples and encouragement in opening your inner eye, propping it up with toothpicks and learning the simple geometry that will help you improve your design.
The last quarter of “By Hand & Eye” takes these principles and puts them into practice by designing nine projects that are decidedly contemporary – proof positive that design isn’t reserved for highboys and 18th-century Philadelphia side chairs. The projects show all of the book’s design principles in full flower, and yet the projects are small enough and simple enough (for the most part) that you can use them as a way to explore the book’s concepts without risking a lot of wood or time in the process.
“By Hand & Eye” is not, however, a recipe book for better design. The principles of good design are learned through exercise and repetition, and the authors offer the critical exercises in every chapter. Reading about good design is not enough to be able to master it. You have to practice it until it becomes second nature and your hand and your eye work together as one.
“By Hand & Eye” is 200 pages long with full-color illustrations printed on heavy #80-pound matte coated paper. The book is casebound and Smythe sewn so it lasts a long time. The hardback boards are covered in cotton cloth with a black matte stamp. Like all Lost Art Press books, “By Hand & Eye” is produced and printed entirely in the United States.
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