The Relentless Push to Fail

One thing that really helped me learn and develop my woodworking skills was having an abundance of materials. Having an adequate supply on hand meant that it wasn’t so valuable that I felt the need to be especially careful using it. This allowed me to experiment and take chances with less to lose.

Failure, or more precisely, his relentless push to fail, is the single most defining thing about Chris’ work.

Working with live edge slabs further improved my abilities. This material presented unique design opportunities and challenged my mind, as often there were no straight edges or reference surfaces on which to rely. The knowledge and experience gained here helped me conquer my future designs with complex curves, twists and angles (although a few designs still elude successful completion). I came up with many of these designs as a challenge to see if I could really make them a reality (many I did, some I did not).

A fine woodworker makes what he believes in. He makes what he sees in his mind's eye. Jonathan L. Fairbanks

I recall that at one point, I actually believed that everything had already been done. Now I know that is not true. Never one to simply follow what’s already been done, I am always looking for ways to do things differently.

A lot of my work is inspired by the thought: “I wonder if it would be possible to…” or “I wonder what would happen if…”

Venturing down paths unknown can be difficult, both technically and mentally. You don’t have the reassuring thought that “it’s already been done before, so I can do this too”. To realize new ideas takes a great deal of belief in yourself. It is definitely helpful to have time and materials to invest in the process. Having a good assortment of tools, visualization skills, and a healthy imagination is helpful too.

Faith is not being sure where you are going but going anyway. Frederich BuechnerAlthough I feel that being able to do something well is important, knowing that you can carry on after something has gone sideways is even more valuable. This confidence, this faith that you can succeed is key in being comfortable taking chances.

Techniques are a starting place, and I do believe that in a sense, technique sets you free. Tom Loeser

The slides in this post were used in my PechaKucha presentation.

What Defines Form?

There’s no part in [a motorcycle], no shape in [a motorcycle], that is not out of someone’s mind… a person who does machining or foundry work or forge work or welding sees “steel” as having no shape at all. Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not.

– Robert M. Pirsig (from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

One of the questions I am frequently asked is how I come up with original designs. Although I do study existing designs, when I want to create a design that I can call my own I start at the very beginning – with the purpose.

Take, for example, a table. If the purpose of a table is to support items at a convenient height, the requirements are to provide an adequate amount of support for the items, elevated to an appropriate height.

One of the most common forms has four legs, aprons, and a top – as seen here in my Table with a Twist.

Table with a Twist (42"x12.5"x30")

Table with a Twist by Chris Wong

Why are tables built this way? Do tables need to have four legs, four aprons and a table top? Of course not. This combination of parts is simply one solution that meets the requirements of a table.

There are other solutions, and once you open your mind to the idea that you are not limited to the usual, or even existing forms you can start designing any sort of table.

Here are a couple interesting table designs.

Brian VanVreede’s Cantilevered Coffee Table features a daring, curvaceous base.

BCCM Cantilevered Coffee Table

Cantilevered Coffee Table by Brian VanVreede

Sculpted Ash Table, which I built, is comprised of a sculpted table top half-lapped into an upright, which is bolted to an over-sized foot.

Sculpted Ash Table Front

Sculpted Ash Table by Chris Wong

Paul-Marcel St. Onge’s Tim Burton Table… well…

Tim Burton Table by Paul-Marcel St. Onge

Tim Burton Table by Paul-Marcel St. Onge

Find more interesting designs on my Pinterest board.

Week Six of #Woodchat’s Picture Inspiration!

Start with a sketch, but make it quick. There’s real work to be done.
– Stefan Hartwing

(This quote has been added to my page Quotables, where you’ll find many more interesting quotes.)

For the past five weeks at #Woodchat on Air, we have been playing our new design game called #Woodchat’s Picture Inspiration. We looked at designs based on a photograph and discussed the creative process and explored potential variations. The discussions were recorded and posted on YouTube.

The first week, we started with a picture of shavings and came up with some really creative designs.

The second week, we examined a colourful scene from KaBoom! The Port Moody Art Explosion for inspiration.

In week three, we studied a photo of a metal bench that inspired a quilt rack built by Dyami Plotke.

The fourth week, our source of inspiration was a photo of an adjustable candle holder, that proved to be tougher to work with than we thought.

In week five, we looked at a photo of an art installation for inspiration.

That brings us to week six. For this week’s Picture Inspiration, our challenge is to design something inspired by this photo.

Jessica Anderson - Pattern Study 1

Inspiration photo: Jessica Anderson’s Pattern Study 1

Designs are due Wednesday May 28, 7pm (e-mail them to me, or share them with us on Twitter using hashtag #Woodchat), when they will be shared on #Woodchat.

#Woodchat on Air runs every Wednesday from 7-8pm, Pacific time.

Qualities of Creative Leaders

Being a self-employed artist definitely has its benefits but it’s not for everybody.  David Ogilvy, the “Father of Advertising”, came up with this list of what he thinks makes a good creative leader.

Qualities of Creative Leaders

  1. High standards of personal ethics.
  2. Big people, without pettiness.
  3. Guts under pressure, resilience in defeat.
  4. Brilliant brains — not safe plodders.
  5. A capacity for hard work and midnight oil.
  6. Charisma — charm and persuasiveness.
  7. A streak of unorthodoxy — creative innovators.
  8. The courage to make tough decisions.
  9. Inspiring enthusiasts — with trust and gusto.
  10. A sense of humor.

From Brain Pickings via Swiss Miss.

Being Creative Involves Unlearning and Rethinking

Usually, when I find a TED Talk that I enjoy, I add it to my list of favourite TED Talks and do nothing more.  Jay Silver’s talk, Hack a banana, make a keyboard! resonates so strongly with me, I am sharing it with you on my blog.  I think what Jay’s son does with building blocks and a book speaks volumes.

The video duration is 13:16.

Roll With It

Many woodworkers are technically skilled and able to create an item exactly as detailed in a plan.  Some lack the willingness to take risks and push the boundaries.  Technical skills are important, but they only get you so far.

Creativity and problem solving are key skills for anyone making original work.  For me, design is very instinctual and I rely on my intuition.  Most of the design decisions I make cannot be made until I’m looking at the materials in front of me.

I believe that woodworkers who are able to adapt to the unique materials and circumstances are more capable of producing something special than someone following a design to the letter.

If you remain insensitive to the individual characteristics of the material you are working with and cut regardless to a predetermined, exact measurement, then the finished piece will lack a certain wholeness and be little better than something you could have bought from a factory.

– Graham Blackburn

 You can find this quote among many others on my pages Quotables and Quotes from Woodwork.

This is the ninth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


A Box Called “Tolerences”

Inspiration, in a Word

Last weekend, I attended a private gathering of 40 of Port Moody’s top artists.  To help everyone get to know each other, we were given an activity.  We were each given a list with everyone’s name and we were to say “hi” to everyone else and share two words that represent an inspiration to us.  To keep things interesting, I used a variety of words, often dependent on the person with whom I was talking.

Here are some of the words that I used, and a brief explanation of their meaning to me.


From my perspective, one line represents an arris (an edge).  Two lines make a surface.  Many of my sculpted edge treatments begin when I think, “what would the surface look like if these lines were connected?”.  (See Table with a Twist.)

Light (and Shadows)

The way that light interacts with a piece is very interesting and has a great effect on how the piece is perceived.  The angle of the surfaces and degree of polish determines how it reflects light.  Opaque materials block light and create shadows while translucent materials tint light.


The idea of having infinite options is overwhelming.  It is much easier to create when there are parameters established.  (See Endurance.)


The visual weight of an object is determined by where the empty space is within its cube (overall size).  A large cabinet atop spindly legs can appear lightweight, perhaps even floating, while a chest sitting directly on the ground feels very solid and immobile.


Part of the fun for me, as a creator, is watching people interact with the finished piece.  Many people walk right up to it and run their hand along it.  Others stand back and drink in the form of the piece with their eyes or admire the beauty of the wood.  (See Relationship Study.)


Tactile properties add another dimension (pun intended).  A lightly textured or contoured surface begs to be felt and invites the user to stay a moment.  It also captures light differently and highlights the irregular surface.  (See Flow.)

An Idea

Art is all about expression, and what better place to start than with an idea?  (See A Box Called “Necessessity”)


The natural beauty and character of wood is very inspiring.  The colours, grain pattern, knots, and live edges guide me when I am in need of direction.  I am also intrigued by the properties of other materials such as metal, glass, ceramics and resins.  (See Deconstructed.)


A white surface is plain, but if there is a black line across it, then it suddenly becomes interesting.  A smooth surface is ordinary but with the addition of texture, it  becomes richer.  Without something to compare to, things simply don’t have the same impact.  Of course, subtlety is useful at times.  (See Maple Slab Table.)


Live edges and the variations that are a natural part of wood are just as dramatic as anything that can be made by Man.  (See Cribbage Board 1, 2 and 3.)


If given too much thought, many ideas would never be realized.  Instead of over-thinking a concept, I try to produce it in real life.  Whether or not I like the outcome, I benefit from practicing my skills in building the model and visualizing the process.


I am always looking for new ideas to try.  When working on an unfamiliar shape, I work slowly and evaluate my process frequently.  Sometimes, while working on one shape, I discover another shape I like part way through the process.  (See Sculpted Ash Table.)

This is the eighth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


How About an Inspirational Talk?

The purpose of PechaKucha is to share ideas and inspire and encourage discussion.  To assist in their talks, presenters use twenty slides, each twenty seconds long.  PechaKucha Nights are held in over 600 cities world-wide (click to find one nearby).

TED (technology, education, design) talks are similar, but with less structure.  Like PechaKucha, TED talks occur around the world.  Many of them focus on creativity and inspiration.  I am compiling a list of the ones I enjoy as I listen to them.

I encourage you to attend a PechaKucha event and even consider presenting.  Talk about your passion, whatever it may be.  Also, find some TED talks that interest you and get inspired!

This is the second slide from my PechaKucha presentation.



New Quote Added to “Quotables”

While preparing for my presentation at PechaKucha Night (which is tomorrow, doors at 6:30, show at 7:30 pm, tickets $12 at the door) I found some new quotes which I have added to my page titled Quotables.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep.

– Scott Adams

Out of limitations comes creativity. 

– Debbie Allen

Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway.

 – Frederick Buechner

All life is an experiment.  The more experiments you make the better.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t wait for a good idea to come to you. Start by realising an average idea – no one has to see it. If I hadn’t made the works I’m ashamed of, the ones I’m proud of wouldn’t exist.

 Polly Morgan

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

– Andy Warhol

New Quote Added to “Quotables”

I think that this quote is very applicable to my Tweet Alongs (not so much Child’s Loft Bed as the others), in which I enter each new step with little or no prior planning.

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.

Ray Douglas Bradbury

Find this quote, along with many other interesting quotes, on my page Quotables.