Thursday, January 21, 2010

Start to Finish

Here are the beginnings of another rocking chair.

Starting another project has brought to mind the one skill that comes into play in every project. That skill is the ability to see a project all the way through, with pleasure and a small amount of dignity.

From conception to completion, making something can be a wild ride. First, there's the excitement of making something new. I can see the finished piece in my mind, perfectly realized and fulfilling all of my goals. Then comes the first stages, often a honeymoon, where the parts are being made and the first hints that the maker is indeed human start creeping in.

On to the joinery, where excitement yields to focus, dogged determination and sometimes a hint of melancholy as the scope of the project finally starts hitting home. This is also the stage where I start saying things like, "I'll put that on the bottom", or "no one will ever see that".

Next it's on to assembly, where the object in front of me fully confronts the gilded image in my head, accompanied by the thought "it'll all come together better when it's finished". This is often where projects can stall out, bled of the momentum of starting and confronted with the reality of the labor yet undone. If left at this stage, the parts turn to stone.

Then it's a battle, mano a mano,"I will finish this thing and move on to something fun" (which is anything but this). This is where that time tested technique of "rushing" comes into play along with it's constant companion, "the stupid mistake". As I push across the finish line, the satisfaction of a project complete can be bittersweet. Soon, I begin to look forward to the promise of the next project and leaving all the small joys and ills of the experience embodied in this one.

Usually, after a period, the trials of making the object fade away, and the project takes it's rightful place in my esteem, as something that taught me a lot and in the end, looks pretty fine.
Sound familiar?

Having run through so many projects, I've come to focus on leveling out both the ups and downs of making things. Creating something should come with all of the emotions we can muster, it's a great mirror for the maker. But my goals as a maker and teacher are increasingly becoming about recognizing and enjoying each of the stages of seeing a project to completion.

To make something is to risk failure and exposure to the unknown, I'm beginning to think that not only is it inherent in the process, but it might just be the whole point.


Anonymous said...

This strikes too close to home. I have a project (7 foot clinker dinghy) that has been ongoing since 2003. I have been using the prospect of building chairs. (I have built three.) to spur me on. I am purposely not building chairs and sublimating this desire into finishing the boat. This has succeeded in softening those parts that were turned to stone and I'm "rushing" to get finished by the spring. The stupid mistakes,however, have been constant companions.
Harry in TO

Unknown said...

I was sure I was the only one who feels this way! You hit every emotion exactly. Keep up the good work.

Herman Veenendaal said...

Ditto what Lee said. I just finished a linen press that I started in early December, confident that it would be done by Christmas. I've felt all of those emotions on pretty well every project I've ever done. I, too, thought I was the only one who felt that way.

I'm about to start another windsor chair and am already agonizing about where I'll find the right red oak log, the right maple etc etc.

Peter Galbert said...

If you'd left me hanging, I might have thought that I was the only one!! I've learned a great deal about this from my students, it's helped me smooth the rough waters in my own process.
thanks for the comments!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Pete , I think we are all normal ( thank goodness for that ). MiM .

Anonymous said...


You nailed it. If your pieces come out with anything close to the flair with which you write about them, you have nothing to worry about.


Anonymous said...

Peter, Underhill turned me on to David Pye's "The Art and Nature of Workmanship". He talks about, amongst other things, the workmanship of risk VS. the workmanship of certainty. This along with your post here, has pulled the draw strings snug around our wondrous charge.

Bob Glenn

Peter Galbert said...

Thanks for the comments, I think that it's important that we connect on more than just which type of sharpening stones to use!
David Pye is required reading in my shop. I hardly make a move without hearing a faint voice echoing from his books.