Category Archives: Uncategorized

Urban planning

20140123_075847

What to do with an empty lot

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Of Similar Minds

I came upon this site today from The Remodeling Guy. It reminded me of an earlier post I made. Here is an excerpt from his post:

If someone told you to go out and have your own unique custom new car made, you would probably think they were either way too rich or just plain crazy.  Cars are expensive enough when mass produced, let alone made just for you. Interestingly, the price bump for custom made building products is rarely as substantial.

There! Why settle for mass-produced when you can get what you really want?

I agree with most of his points, except one. If someone were to show up at my smithy with thoughtfully considered drawings, I would give them a discount. Not only do good drawings make my job easier, it conveys to me that the customer wants to work as a team.

When I have services done for me that I cannot do myself, I try my best to make their job as easy as possible. I try to think what information I would want, if I were them. And I try to keep an open mind, knowing that I don’t know everything.


Buy locally. Is it so new?

The concept of supporting a local economy, using regional resources, might seem like a new idea. But what did people do before the internet connected us on a global level? They bought locally.

As an artist/craftsman/blacksmith with 30+ years of making stuff to fulfill the needs of happy customers, this is not such a new concept. The commissioning process seemed so much simpler back in the ’80’s. People wanted stuff made and they found someone to make it. There was maybe an hour or so of negotiating, discovering that both parties had sufficient integrity (the artist will produce and the client will pay what was agreed upon). And thus a deal was done.

It is a different world now. So much design taste is thrust upon us by mass-marketing of production-made goods. An example that comes to mind is the iPad. It really is an elegant design, thoughtfully considered. But have you ever wondered how many identical objects are made to meet the need of consumers? It is a one-size-fits-all approach.

What do you think an iPad would cost if you were to contact Apple and ask for one 1/2 inch larger? Or 1/4 inch smaller and an ounce lighter. I suggest you try.

This is the need where a local artisan/blackmith can really shine. Do you buy a suit off the rack, or do you get one custom made? With a 2,000+ year history, the local blacksmith in your community has not gone away. We just stopped shoeing horses about a hundred years ago. We are still equally driven to make customers happy.

It might seem odd, in a time of specialization, to find someone capable of making light fixtures, lighting fixtures, railings, hand rails, shelf brackets, curtain rods, drapery hardware, pot racks, cabinet and door hardware, fireplace screens, fireplace tools, fireplace andirons, fireplace surrounds, fireplace grates, handrails, gates, entry gates, driveway gates, wrought-iron fences, hinges, latches, resoration work, sculpture, design consultation, window grilles, nails and so much more. That is what we do.  

 


This is a bit off-topic, but this event happened the other day outside my studio. I heard an unusual sound, which happened to be several hundred crows making a ruckus outside my studio. One of the few advantages of being self-employed, is that I can peek out my doorway when the mood fancies me.

A friend forwarded the picture to someone who knows a little about raptors and this is the reply:

” In my experience, crows are generally not normal prey for diurnal raptors.  At least not in our area here in western WA.  However, it might help to imagine what it is like for these birds of prey  in December.  Obviously, in winter, it is colder which requires more caloric intake to stay warm. Hawks have to hunt, kill and eat more to survive now than in  summertime. The days are shorter, giving them less time each day to procure their food.

In contrast, this works to the advantage of the nocturnal owls. Hawks, and especially Bald Eagles, often congregate in areas with a high density of prey to hunt and may experience more competition from other raptors for scarce prey. Once caught, the prey is often pirated by competitors, especially if you are an inexperienced juvenile. Prey species themselves are more experienced and probably in most cases, harder to catch. So things are pretty intense for hawks right now. In fact, those juveniles that can’t meet these demands are dying out there right now. As a result, hawks, and other predators, are unlikely to pass up a chance  to take any kind of prey that presents itself. As long as it is not too costly to obtain. After all, protein is protein.

Keep in mind that hawks can’t go to Safeway for their food like you. Having said all that, there are specific individual raptors that will specialize on a certain prey species like crows. A falconer will call this process “wedding” the hawk to a particular prey species. I recall Steve Herman telling me about a wild peregrine, I believe at Long Beach, WA (sorry Steve), that specialized in cutting off crows unwise enough to fly out over the ocean. It was a crow specialist. At a peregrine eyrie (nest) in the San Juans, where we banded young, one of the adults was also a crow specialist. When we entered the site, the ledge was littered with a thick mat of plucked crow feathers.

Oddly enough, we rarely saw crow remains in other peregrine nests. But this one was filled with them. This particular pair also liked to catch Pigeon Guillemots, one of my favorite birds and one I always thought of as perfect prey for peregrines. But again, we rarely saw them as prey in other peregrine nests for some unknown reason. But there were several in this particular site as evidenced by several little “glowing” red legs. So if you see a hawk of any kind eating a crow, I’d say that is fairly rare.” Bud Anderson, Falcon Research Group.

I’ve left the text intact. I thought this was too good not to share with everyone. As many birds struggle during this time of year, it is especially true of the raptors.

Eating crow-quettes

Eating crow


Bespoke Design

Bespoke: bih-spohk, adj.
“made to individual order”

The origin of the word comes from the verb bespeak, such as giving an order for something to be made.

This has been a common word in British English and is only getting some acceptance in the United States. Although historically used for articles of clothing, it has gained wider usage to include many one-of-a-kind designed items, such as computer software and furniture. The word not only suggests that a higher level of quality is expected, it also implies that the customer’s individual needs are taken into consideration. This is in contrast to mass-produced goods intended toward a standardized taste.

The word “artisan” has been adopted by small-run cheese makers, distillers, bakers and other industries and might possibly mean that  a human being actually touches (and inspects) the goods before they are ready to be sold (whether or not they truly excel in their field). Other terms, such as “custom made” (or custommade) lack the same glamor that “bespoke” has. For instance, one can get an equally shoddy product made in a different size or color and consider it to be custom-made. That is not always the case, of course, but for want of a word that conveys when a craftsman really listens to a client and delivers the very best of their work, bespoke remains the best word choice.

 


The Elusive Nature of Quality

Demilune table

"Millenium" demilune table

I make things. Although I do make sculptural and jewelry items, I also make a variety of things that fall into the category of “functional art”. While in the process of making something, there are numerous decisions that get made along the way that can affect the outcome of the finished project. Many of these decisions pertain to the quality of the product. It is important to me that I make things well.

The term “quality” has two aspects. The first aspect is measurable. For example, in the case of a table, the flatness of the top and evenness of legs can be measured. So can its load-bearing abilities, its height and other practical concerns related to its function.

The second aspect of quality is more elusive and much more subjective. Much like beauty, our measurement of this aspect is measured internally by our responses to it. We perceive something and interpret it. Our interpretations are swayed by our previous experiences. How many tables have we seen? How does this compare to previous tables? Does the form evoke any feelings? When presented with an object, we approach it with certain expectations. When the perception of an object exceeds our expectations, the object is deemed to have “high quality”.

When artists get together and talk freely, there is often a discussion about how our best work is yet to come, or how we feel that we are always on a course for improvement in our work. Every day is a new day, fresh because it is enhanced by experiences from all the days before it. Any kind of undertaking, when accomplished, brings a unique set of lessons from the experience. Artists get better by making more.


One pair of gates, full view

A pair of old gates

This is a full view of one of the gates I mentioned previously. There is nothing extravagant or outlandish about it. The artisan who crafted it remains annonymous. It is the subtle details that I admire most.


Inspirations

Sweeping curves, traditional joinery

Gates of the imagination

A detail of a pair of gates

There were two sets of gates across the road from where I grew up. I used to visit them as a child and admire the spider webs that decorated them in late summer. I would visit at other times as well; how the stark contrast with the snow made them seem even more solid, or how well-placed they seemed as the first buds of spring began to emerge. When I was small, I would sometimes touch them ever-so-lightly, afraid that I might make them tremble upon the hinges set in stone columns.

It has been over forty years since I first interacted with these gates. Now I call myself a blacksmith and have done so for over twenty years. When I see these gates now, I still marvel over the construction and regardless of how often I have seen them before, I still find new things to admire. The difference between myself as child and myself as a seasoned, adult blacksmith, is that I grasp them with both hands now.


Articulated sculpture

Articulated sculpture, Mended Moon


Red Hot!

Hot from the forge at Quicksilver Metalsmithing

Forging a component of a railing project