Design - Danger,Danger

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Darrell Peart posted 09-23-2011 05:12 PM 2499 reads 4 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Danger, Will Robinson, danger, warning, warning!!
Is young Will Robinson facing yet another intergalactic threat initiated by the devious Dr. Smith, or perhaps Will is embarking on a study of the rules of design? No matter, the same dire warnings apply. Any journey fraught with danger must be preceded by a full and complete disclosure of those dangers. Woe be to those who choose not to respect the rules! But woe is waiting in equal measure for those who blindly follow them as well! So how can this be?
The rules of design are nothing new. The Golden Mean, the Fibonacci sequence, and numerous other systems for guiding our creative endeavors have been around for centuries. These many interrelated systems lay down a basic set of guidelines that keep our designs grounded in the reality of balance and proportion. There is a primal truth buried in these ageless ratios and equations.

The rules are based in the intellect, which must quantify everything. But creativity defies quantification. It is driven by two innate components: intuition and inspiration.
Inspiration is the original spark that ignites the creative fires. It is the very thing that makes time stand still for hours while the process is being played out. Inspiration knows no bounds, and in fact, will utterly suffocate if put into a neat little box and told to conform. Intuition is inspiration’s symbiotic cohort. It is keenly sympathetic and like an adoring parent gently guides the new-born inspiration from a base that is deeply instinctual but tempered with experience and knowledge.

For a young child, there are rules they do not fully understand. But the rules must be obeyed and practiced. If a parent has done their job well, that child will someday mature and break free. With the rules understood on a much deeper level, the now young adult, no longer needs to recite them. The young adult is now free to respectfully disagree with the parent and in fact may freely choose to do so. The same learning process is true for the beginning designer.

A quote from Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats (1901-1902) parallels what I am saying here:
“……formulas are dangerous things. They are apt to prove the undoing of a genuine art, however helpful they may be in the beginning to the individual. The formula of an art remains and becomes more and more rigid with time, while the spirit of that art escapes and vanishes forever. It cannot live in text-books, in formulas or in definitions.”

Ultimately, inspiration must be the spark that ignites the creative fires, and intuition the guiding force that tames and guides inspiration. Although intuition is an inherent trait, it is molded over time in some ways by our experiences and knowledge base. If the rules are given a serious and rigorous study, they may, in time, become fused into our consciousness and in so doing, become an inseparable component of our intuition.

It is easy to get acceptable results using the rules, but nothing with real fire in its soul. Therein lays the danger. Do not be lulled into complacency. The rules can only take you so far. Learn from them, but do not be bound by them. When the time comes, let them go. Give your inspiration and intuition free rein. That is where you will find your best work.

-- Darrell Peart - Seattle - - author G&G Design Elements for the Workshop

15 comments so far

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2744 posts in 3616 days

#1 posted 09-23-2011 05:24 PM

Excellent Blog, Darrell. Thanks for sharing.

-- Dennis Zongker

View tom427cid's profile


294 posts in 2495 days

#2 posted 09-23-2011 06:26 PM

Yup,that just about sums it up.

-- "certified sawdust maker"

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3333 days

#3 posted 09-23-2011 07:28 PM

Well stated..I am not a person who easily puts my thoughts and feeling into words and most of the time I have a difficult time transferring thoughts through a keyboard…I find it easier to do it through my work..but you have done an outstanding job with both.

View Geedubs's profile


143 posts in 3254 days

#4 posted 09-23-2011 08:16 PM

Well put. I personally believe that life in general involves a constant friction between opposing forces…and that our continuing challenge is to find the shifting balances (shift according to the needs of time, situation, etc.). This certainly applies to the friction between conformity and creativity as well. Loved the brain tease…and the stimulation to think about life contextually. Now my brain needs a time-out.

-- Todos los dias aprendemos algo nuevo.

View shipwright's profile


7992 posts in 2822 days

#5 posted 09-23-2011 08:59 PM

You have put the process into words very eloquently Darrell.

It reminded very much of the words of wisdom I was given as a young boat builder by a much older co worker.

I was trying to get the “look” right for some small bit of cabinetry or deck box or whatever. He told me to build it to the golden rule. When I asked what that was his cryptic answer was simply “A man’s hand is built to the golden rule.”

About thirty years later I realized that my whole sense of balance in design was and still is influenced by this lesson in intuition so elegantly stated.

I have no idea if his reference related in some way to the golden mean. It seems to me just to be a reminder to keep in mind the balance inherent in the natural world when trying to make something man made “look” right.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 3372 days

#6 posted 09-23-2011 09:02 PM

Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats ruminations (probably under the influence) certainly have the ‘tug at the heart strings’ don’t they (ha)! Of course Sullivan had Adler to sort out all those things Sullivan was either to drunk or didn’t care enough to concern himself with. As attractive as they are, Sullivan ‘designs’ are really adornments to otherwise very capitalistic system of building (the old Carson Prairie Scott building in Chicago being a prime ex.). He isn’t exactly the best resource for trying to understand the nature of the creation of form, which is a difficult subject to say the least.

“numerous other systems for guiding our creative endeavors”
Good luck to you if you are using any proportioning system to ‘guide’ you in form creation, since they are proportioning systems they are completely form neutral. Proportioning systems are not magical. A piece of grid paper is a proportioning system. Does anyone really want to claim that a piece of grid paper is going to provide you with the ability to create a form? Proportioning systems are very valuable tools but they are not form generating tools.

and about this idea that the relationship between maker/form is on par with parent/child…

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View Darrell Peart's profile

Darrell Peart

362 posts in 3612 days

#7 posted 09-23-2011 09:14 PM

Thanks everyone!
Design is a very personal thing – I am glad my little essay was enjoyed.

-- Darrell Peart - Seattle - - author G&G Design Elements for the Workshop

View Darrell Peart's profile

Darrell Peart

362 posts in 3612 days

#8 posted 09-24-2011 03:46 PM

Thanks Autumn – I will have to make it to Wenatchee someday – maybe a trip later this fall to see my Uncles

-- Darrell Peart - Seattle - - author G&G Design Elements for the Workshop

View DocSavage45's profile


8589 posts in 2867 days

#9 posted 09-25-2011 05:15 PM


Interesting blog. Went to a two day class about designing and building from Marc Laub who is well known in MN/StPaul area. Also looked for direction from books and video, as I have no one available in the area I live in. Foud Seth Stem’s book on designing furniture. Out of print book. I also discovered James Krenov’s writtings which are about the feeling and process of woodworking.

I have always had the feel, and love for some pieces and not others. The information I’ve gained in this journey , like your blog, has helped me to make sense of it all.

Hoping to put it to good use this winter in my heated woodshop/studio. Then I will make the mistakes needed to gain the knowledge.

Thanks for the blog!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Darrell Peart's profile

Darrell Peart

362 posts in 3612 days

#10 posted 09-25-2011 05:36 PM

Hi Doc,
You might have a look at “Arts & Crafts Design” by William H Varnum. It was originally published in 1916 but is now re -published in paperback form. It lays out a good, down to earth system of balance and proportion. The first 4-5 chapters give you the essential stuff. The book was very helpful to me in the beginning. Although I no longer refer to it or any other methods when I am designing, I highly recommend it when teaching – it’s a great starting point

-- Darrell Peart - Seattle - - author G&G Design Elements for the Workshop

View DocSavage45's profile


8589 posts in 2867 days

#11 posted 09-25-2011 06:59 PM

Thanks for the tip!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Andy's profile


1694 posts in 3932 days

#12 posted 02-06-2012 07:28 PM

Very nicely said Darrell.
I too use the golden mean as a referance but dont let it restrict my voice.
I have always been a fan of your work and the Geene and Green style. I also like the Mission style but sectively as much of it is dull and clunkey looking, dark and heavy. I have learned to step out of my comfort zone, away from a particular style and express what I want to say. It was much harder than I thought. Its difficult to take a style and change it just a little without ruining it. I am not taliking about artistic license, doing whatever a person likes just because they can and who can say they are wrong. I am talking about being honest with ones self and admitting that all they have done is modify an old design and say they have improved it or made a new design. Regardless of what others think or say about this ’ new design’, a person
needs to be pleased with it. Thats not easy.

-- If I can do it, so can you.

View Darrell Peart's profile

Darrell Peart

362 posts in 3612 days

#13 posted 02-06-2012 07:45 PM

Andy – yes – its kinda like the old Rick Nelson song – “Garden Party”

-- Darrell Peart - Seattle - - author G&G Design Elements for the Workshop

View DocSavage45's profile


8589 posts in 2867 days

#14 posted 02-06-2012 08:11 PM

When I think I have a New idea, I find someone who has done it very well? LOL

Andy, you have taken box building to a different plane? I also believe we build newideas on old ones?

Darrell ordered the book, thanks. My current vocation is psychology, avocation is woodworker. need to continue where I can make a living LOL!

Interesting when we break down “Arts & Crafts” as an evolution?

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View devann's profile


2246 posts in 2717 days

#15 posted 02-06-2012 08:44 PM

A good blog Darrell. Well stated, and in many cases so very true. But given free rein, my intuition and inspiration has shown me some of my biggest mistakes. And what did I learn from it. Never give up, I’ll get it right eventually. If I feel that I didn’t “get it right”, then I have to learn to to adapt to changes and find another way.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics