Friday, March 19, 2010

Hands on

I took a drafting class years ago.  Thought it'd be nice to while away winter evenings by taking a class of some kind. Mechanical drafting caught my attention, seemed fitting for the furniture making I did. Before this I'd done some self study and was proficient already at reading blueprints. There'd been some exposure to the subject in high school. 

The idea of working with sharp pencils and onionskin paper, tasked with detailing drawings and getting a better understanding of the principles, was truly my idea of fun. I saw it as a chance to hone or add to what I already knew.

As it turned out I had little trouble meeting the class goals, and did a decent job on my assignments. I enjoyed revisiting techniques for drawing in perspective, scaling objects, line pressure with the pencil, and so on.  I tried to produce a distinctive lettering style all my own, but others had more impressive results here.  My handwriting is merely expedient in daily scribblings, and though I can carefully block letters into an architect-ey appearance, I think it is a chore to maintain. So except in class, or on paperwork for a client, my lettering isn't very artful.

The truth is, I just liked the tools of the trade.  The pencils, paper, special erasers, the thin erasing shield, protractors, triangles, the whole lot.

On the very first night of class, I was the last one into my seat. I made it on time, just.  Under the high workstation, next to my tall drafting chair, I set a wooden box down. Made from solid cherry and a couple of panels of baltic birch plywood, it held a small collection of drafting tools and supplies, according to the instructor's list of required materials. (Picture the curious looks from the other students....)

The telling thing about this box was that I constructed it with an enthusiasm that outweighed the ambitions I had for the actual class. I sketched a plan, planed and jointed the wood, mitered the cherry frame and rabbeted it for the birch panels. I detailed it with holders and fasteners to keep everything organized. Outside, I fastened a small drawing board with a protractor and a sliding straightedge. The box when open could have its upper half propped at an angle for drawing. Lifting the lid, a narrow box with a long row of holes for pens and pencils was built as a hollow compartment, with foam inside to keep the lead points from breaking. A small lid covered another compartment for leads, erasers, sharpeners, and the like. Behind a divider, large pads of paper could be safely stored.   Triangles, rulers and protractors  nested between foam holders on the inside of the upper lid. To finish, I carved a cherry carrying handle and attached it with wooden dowels so it could pivot.  I completed the whole thing about a half an hour before the first class was to start.

Obviously, my real focus was on making the thing drawn. Doing the hands-on work. It became quite clear that although drafting and sketching is enjoyable, and a useful part of my bag of tricks, what I really want to be doing is raising the physical object into reality. My pre-class drafting box folly was proof of that.  

After more than twenty years, I may have forgotten the intracies of drawing three-point perspective, but I still use that drafting box. A lot of projects have passed over its drawing surface. 

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