While I like and appreciate strict reproductions, I’ve always preferred to design my own stuff.
How do I design a piece? In the only way I know how. It’s not easy. There are no formulas or rules or ratios. It is by a process I call “saturation and feedback.”
Step 1: Absorb everything you can about the form and the style you are building in.
Step 2: Draw something that looks like it was built during that period, but is not a reproduction.
Today I tried to teach a class of 12 students at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking how to design a campaign chest. So we spent the morning looking at tons of photos of campaign chests, from the typical to the outliers. At first I pointed out what I saw in each photo. What I liked. What I didn’t.
After 20 or 30 chests, I started asking the students what they liked and didn’t like about each chest I flashed up on the screen. Their opinions weren’t always the same as mine (a good thing!), but they were developing their eyes to understand the language of the “campaign chest” as it was built from 1740 to 1914.
Then I asked them to do three things:
1. Immediately sketch a rough drawing of a chest they’d like to build.
2. Review all the 58 chests we’d looked at and study the details again – then make another quick sketch of a chest they’d like to build.
3. Make a 3-view drawing of a nice-looking chest that they could build with the wood they had brought to the class.
I was surprised how many of them picked up on the language of these chests. There is a subtle interplay behind the drawer graduations, the different sizes of the two case pieces and the base. It’s not easy to get all three things working, but most of them managed to hit the nail on the head on their first attempt.
Now that we have 12 different designs for campaign chests, we have to actually build 12 different chests in four days. So stay tuned.
Want to play the home game? Download the pdf here that showcases the 58 chests we examined this morning. Then try to draw your own chest.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Read other articles I’ve written about campaign chests here.