Mark ( on July 21st, 2008

Recently, I was watching Neil Lamens’ interview (Part 1 and Part 2) with Wendell Castle. Neil did a great job talking with Mr. Castle about his approach to the craft and art of woodworking and his approach to design. If you have not seen the interview, I’d urge you to give it a look.

Even if you do not care for Wendell Castle’s work, it’s hard to argue with his affect on the crossover from furniture to art in wood. His work is a curious mix of form and function, furniture and sculpture at the same time.

For me there’s an interesting coincidence with Wendell Castle. His studio is located in Scottsville, NY which is a suburb of Rochester, NY and about half an hour from where I live. Mr. Castle also taught at the Rochester Institute of Technology, School for American Craftsmen. I’m an RIT grad, though in a completely different discipline. Had I had it to do over again, I would have loved to attend the School for American Craftsmen.

In Neil’s interview with Mr. Castle, some interesting points were brought out. Not the least of which is that Mr. Castle sketches designs every day! His approach is that he thinks and works with a pencil – in his eyes, design is work and it requires that time be spent working through and developing ideas. Makes sense if you ask me!

There were many, many things covered but, a couple of significant things from the interview struck me. The first is a quote from Mr. Castle where he said:

“If you are hitting the bullseye every time, then the target is too close.”

This is interesting. What these points say to me are that he that design is work but, we need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone in order to reach our potential. They were stated regarding design yet, I think they also hold true for various aspects of craftsmanship and new techniques, as well. If we aren’t trying new things in our woodworking or design we are not growing as woodworkers, artists or designers.

Something else that Mr. Castle said that struck a chord with me relates to the thoughts I expressed in a previous post “In design, simple is elegant”. Mr. Castle did not agree with going for extremes in design, craftsmanship, materials, price, or whatever. Instead he stated that rather, the design should be the focal point of a piece – it should not be obscured or overpowered by either the material or the craftsmanship. In his words:

“The best pieces live on their own…not because of the craftsmanship or the material but, what they are – their presence.”

This is interesting. Mr. Castle is not disdaining craftsmanship or spectacular materials – quite the contrary, he also spent some time speaking about how he learned to appreciate that exquisite craftsmanship also set pieces apart. However, what he is saying is that the elegance of the design of a piece is what sets it apart and/or makes it unique and valuable. To me this is quite enlightening – a piece need not be ornate or wild to be noticed or to command attention. In it’s design, it can be simple or complex but, it’s the design that should speak apart from how it’s built or what it is made from.

Mr. Castle says that throughout his career, he has made a lot of mistakes. However, he hopes that they have been made in the pursuit of something worthwhile…probably a good lesson for all of us working to develop our skills.

I’ll leave you with one final quote from Wendell Castle:

“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not making anything.”

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One Response to “Moving the target in design”

  1. Mark,

    I haven’t found the time to go over and watch part 2 yet. I’ll make some time later tonight after I put another coat of Arm R Seal on my Windsor. I left some comments on Neil’s site about part 1 and I agree with you completely. It is an inspiring interview and I was riveted. I found myself taking notes throughout it. I have also found myself drawing more. Not every day mind you, but sketching out ideas several times forcing myself not to be satisfied with the first or second iteration. Can’t wait to catch the second part and thanks for your take on it.

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