• Friday, March 21st, 2014


A nice byproduct of messing around with photography using a fancier camera has been that I think I’m also improving my seeing skills for woodworking. By this I mean learning to better observe and process visual elements of composition and design.

The simple key is that this takes effort – it’s not automatic – and it takes practice. Sure, it’s easy to have an immediate reaction when confronted with a creative work. “Wow, beautiful,” or “Please, you’ve got to be kidding.” This sort of intuitive response does have its place and value, and, at the other extreme, over analysis is probably capable of dissolving any creative work into boredom.

Between the extremes there is a very valuable habit of pausing, observing, absorbing, and seeing what the maker has in mind, including if the maker is you.

It is similar to the difference between quick snapshots versus truly observing and appreciating the light and visual elements before you, then using your technical skills to compose a satisfying photograph.

Among many woodworkers, including me, there is a tendency to too soon get absorbed in the intricacies of construction and joinery. Pause and see first, I tell myself, and in this, photography is good training. Photography is humbling because so often the photograph shows you that what you thought you saw when you took the shot is not quite so.

It is amazing what the trained brain can see. During a guided walk in the woods with an expert naturalist, I marveled at his ability to spot interesting things that I walked right past. Yet, in the more subjective landscape of designing and making good work in wood, I think one must be similarly astute.

The main thing is that, just like cutting joinery, it takes effort and practice.


Category: Ideas
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3 Responses

  1. 1
    Tom Danforth 

    Rob: I enjoyed reading your comments as I was a pro photographer in the late sixties before I became a “designer-crafstman” in the early 70’s. The progression from one discipline to the other has always made sense to me because it was through photography that I really learned to “see.” As a woodworker I have always been able to visualize what I am going to do aided by a few chicken scratch sketches for dimensions and some joinery details. In the late 80’s in San Antonio I had a small collection of pieces I had found time to make on the side of my commercial activities. A photographer friend and I did a studio shoot with good lights and all and we proofed all shots with a polaroid back on his 4×5 view camera. I took those proofs home, lined them up against the baseboard in my bedroom and surveyed them from the futon on my floor. it was an epiphany to realize at that moment that I have always visualized my work as photographs! In two dimensions. The third dimension just naturally follows my two d photo concept. Interesting, n’cest pas?
    Left San Antone in the late 80’s and took up residence here on the Cape. Still knocking out woodwork for billionaires when I’m not fishing and really enjoy photographing their mansions. I enjoy your blog. Encourage you to continue to enjoy your photographic interests. It’s all about learning…seeing more every day.
    Yours, Tom Danforth

  2. 2

    Thanks for reading and for the comment, Tom. What an interesting background and evolution. By the way, if you get too busy, feel free to send a few of those billionaires my way for custom furniture.


  3. 3
    Tom Danforth 

    Rob: The billionaires don’t buy custom furniture, just custom houses. The millionaires I’ve worked for go to carpet barn, etc. for their furniture as they are trying to have as many house as the billionaires. The few clients I’ve had in the past who really appreciate what we do are old money people or people who really can’t afford us so they do what we do and get it anyway. If you build it they will come. Tom