“By Hand & Eye”, a Book that Will Change the Way You Look at Everything

BHAE_scan_cover_500_1024x1024From Lost Art Press

By Hand & Eye” is a deep dive into the world of history, architecture and design. And the authors have emerged with armloads of pearls for readers.

Instead of serving up a list of formulas with magical names (i.e. the Golden Section, the Rule of Thirds) that will transform the mundane into perfection, George R. Walker and Jim Tolpin show how much of the world is governed by simple proportions, noting how ratios such as 1:2; 3:5 and 4:5 were ubiquitous in the designs of pre-industrial artisans. And the tool that helps us explore this world, then as now, are dividers.

The key to good design is to master these basic “notes” – much like learning to sing “do, re, mi.” How to do this is the subject of the first three-quarters of the book. It offers exercises, examples and encouragement in opening your inner eye, propping it up with toothpicks and learning the simple geometry that will help you improve your design.

The last quarter of “By Hand & Eye” takes these principles and puts them into practice by designing nine projects that are decidedly contemporary – proof positive that design isn’t reserved for highboys and 18th-century Philadelphia side chairs. The projects show all of the book’s design principles in full flower, and yet the projects are small enough and simple enough (for the most part) that you can use them as a way to explore the book’s concepts without risking a lot of wood or time in the process.

By Hand & Eye” is not, however, a recipe book for better design. The principles of good design are learned through exercise and repetition, and the authors offer the critical exercises in every chapter. Reading about good design is not enough to be able to master it. You have to practice it until it becomes second nature and your hand and your eye work together as one.

This book by George Walker and Jim Tolpin challenged and changed the way I look at everything.  The system of whole number proportions has allowed me stop using measurements, at least imperial and metric, to layout my woodworking projects.  Each piece of a project is now a proportion of the whole and my dividers are what are used to layout lengths and distances.  Once I’ve established a design I can then easily scale the design to fit a particular need or space.  It has been very enlightening as well as liberating.  Even if you are only slightly interested in the process there are geometric constructions and exercises in this book that will make it worth owning.

Greg Merritt

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