If you can’t draw it, you can’t make it. This was drilled into my head early on in my middle school shop class. I thought my teacher just didn’t want us kids using the tools, but the theme was repeated during my formal arts classes and really driven home during my collegiate career as an industrial design student.
My sketch books through the years have become tattered pictorial transcripts of my life. Without any conscious effort, I’ve created a timeline of events, ideas, and growth through my sketching. Most of my sketching isn’t museum quality stuff. It will never be displayed for people to admire. They are records of ideas, events, and emotions.
So how does all this artsy fartsy stuff apply to woodworking?
All of our emotions impact our 9-5, our relationships, and recreation. A sketch book, for me, is a place to harness these emotions and dream up ideas. My sketch book is where I begin. Here, I work out design and proportion. Here, I ask questions and solve problems. I’ll even make notes about fabrication constraints or generate a bill of materials. Heck, I started in my sketch book when designing my wood lathe! A sketch book isn’t just drawings, but notes and reminders too!
When you take the time to build a musical instrument, you realize that if you’re going to spend the minimum amount of time to create such an item, you might as well invest enough time to make your instrument amazing. Luthiery taught me that anything that is worth making, is worth spending the time to do it right. This starts with a sketch, and a sketch is applicable to painting, carving, furniture, musical instruments, woodturning, and much, much more.
If you’re not picking up on the theme here, it’s good to keep a sketch book. But, ugh, I don’t wanna.
A 100 page book of empty pages is dang intimidating! I get totally blocked on inspiration when I buy a new sketch book. It’s silly. I’ll open my old, busting at the seems, cover fell off a year ago sketch book and start cramming thumbnail images into the small pockets of remaining white space.
Stuck for inspiration? Go outside! Take a walk, go fishing, visit a gallery, or get lost in conversation. My wife just loves it when we’re 30 minutes into just catching up and my face washes over with an idea. Inspiration happens at the strangest times, so be ready. Small sketch pads great for your back pocket!
Look at stuff. Examine the shapes, the relation of form and how it impacts it’s environment. No judging now… Look at flowers! Those things are awesome! I mean, come on God…too cool. All those tiny petals folded up inside this ridiculously small bulb just waiting it’s turn to burst outta there! I’m doing good to get past 5 marshmallows playing chubby bunnies. Or look at insects (from a distance/on the computer if they fly and sting is my policy… Slightly scared, as in, Mike goes running like a little girl) those guys are super details and interesting. As much as I hate being around wasp or bees, the shapes that create their bodies are quite remarkable.
Anyways, if you’re stumped, look around you and explore. Analyze what is visually appealing to you and why.
Sometimes just getting in the shop can get the creative juices flowing. When it comes to turning, I don’t always work from my sketches. Many times my previous sketches flash in my mind as I’m roughing out a piece of wood on the lathe. As I start to shape the wood, grain patterns or the shape being formed will inspire new ideas. This in turn gives me “sketching fuel” that covers up those intimidating blank pages!
The questions to ultimately ask yourself are:
What forms make you anxious or relaxed? What colors impact you and how? Figure these things out and think about them. Don’t just let your design be haphazard.
You know the saying, $h!t happens. Don’t let your work just “happen”. Design is intentional.