A multifunctional house…

The Sugimoto house was made in the 18th century. But it looks like it could have been constructed yesterday. The open, modular space. The duality of functions in a room… In the west this idea would first be introduced by the early modernist architects like Frank Loyd Wright and Gerrit Rietveld.

Our own house

Sandra and I live in a 40m² (around 430 square feet) house. Even though it is small, Sandra and I try to combine as many functions we can. Instead of centered around a big television screen, our living room has a table on which we can work. All furniture is chosen to be easily movable, so we can convert the space to our needs. It doubles as a library, art studio, office, tailor shop, micro brewery, bakery, study, cinema and sometimes even a radio studio.

Bookshelves

Fitting over 60 running metres of bookshelf into a 40 square metre house…

Because it’s small, we have to be creative with the space we use. An architect like Rietveld has been a great source of inspiration. Looking at the space within, instead of the mass of the building.

Over the years people often asked why we don’t move to a bigger dwelling. The reason is simple: we don’t need a larger house. Sometimes an extra room would come in handy. But on the other hand this house gives us the opportunity to keep our carbon footprint small. It doesn’t require a lot of gas to heat the two rooms we have.

I like the tiny house movement, but the size of the trailer dwellings is just too small for all our projects and hobbies. Also going completely off-grid is virtually impossible here in the Netherlands.

Head and hands

Cicero once wrote that “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” And though I like gardens, I would like to change it a bit. “If  I have an atelier and a library, I have everything I need.” It’s what keeps me going. The balance between head and hands. My work is always a symbiosis between both sides. And I need both elements to keep  me going. One can’t go without the other. Without the desire for knowledge and intellectual exploration I get bored out of my skull. But without the practical side in the workshop the knowledge just remains theory.

In the past I tried to approach both ways individually, just like public opinion demands. To only work with my head, or only with my hands. But in both cases the other suffered, it drained my energy and ultimately destroyed the path I was on. The only conclusion we can draw is that going back to such a situation is not an option.

Don’t judge a house by its size or the looks/gadgets it holds. It’s far more important that you feel ‘at home’. And that you can be yourself and LIVE in your house. Sandra and I are busy bees, so we need a house that accommodates that. The houses in both movies are built for people to live in, not as conceptual architecture. Rietveld made the house for Truus Schröder, who lived there from 1925 until she died in 1985. In the few interviews she gave she always mentions how much she loves to live in her house. Even Rietveld himself lived there in the last years of his life.

To me these houses are a source of inspiration, showing that we can change the ways we work and live. Find alternative solutions and never stop being creative…

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The Element pt.2 – Zen Pencils

Zen Pencils

(Click to enlarge)

Love this comic by Zen Pencils. It’s inspired by Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED-Talk I posted earlier this week.

I think there is a lot of truth in it. Too often we’re pushed into a direction we never wanted to go. Led by social conventions and pressure, (reïn)forced by fear.

We’re putting a strain on everything around us. Mining the world and draining its resources, both human and natural. We need to put this to a halt, before it burns everything out.

Reïnventing ourselves, by changing the outdated principles of our educational system. The job market is already changing, but not in a very positive way. The corporate hunt for profit turned people into disposable means of production.

We need to bring back sense into the system. A sense of dignity and quality. Both of humans as the products they MAKE. Digitalizing has made everything faster, but also robbed us of our sense of reality. The world has become abstract, unsubstantial. We need to get a more practical approach. So bring back shop and art class to learn working with head ànd  hands. Turning from sleeping consumers into consious and responsible humans again…

 

 

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The Element

Shortly after my burn-out someone sent me a link to this TED Talk…

With over 40 million views it’s the most popular TED Talk ever. And with reason, because its message resonates within our society. These are the problems deeply rooted in our educational and employment systems. Large amounts of human potential are wasted, because we don’t recognize them as valuable. Disregard and ignorance are some of the biggest threats we face. Often fed by outdated ideas of how we should live our lives.

The ElementFinding your ElementI have written about this before, and mr. Robinson’s works have been a great inspiration. “The Element” and “Finding your Element” are two books I can recommend. Because we have got to find a way out of this. Before we are destroyed by it. Never before in history have we seen so many cases of burn- and bore-out. Nothing is more demoralizing and soul-crushing than just having to endure your life, day by day. Many people long for their pension, because then they can stop living for the expectations of others and do what they are really talented for and passionate about… But a lot of them don’t even get there…

 

 

 

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Learning from the master…

There are a couple of ways to learn. One manner is to learn by watching. Like this movie about the way Montreal based luthier Michael Greenfield makes his guitars.

It’s a nice insight in contemporary guitar making, using present-day methods and techniques. Seeing movies like this always gives me new ideas and lets me question my own methods. As an instrument maker you remain a student all your life, never done learning. Once you are open to it, education and inspiration canbe found anywhere.

Traditional education

We often see theoretical instruction (written or oral) as the traditional way to transfer information. To sit still in a classroom and consume what the teacher is saying. Preferable without comments from the audience. Or suck up the info from a school book like a sponge… That’s the way education management likes to see their students. Like silent sheep following their shepherd. A safe and risk-free way to learn…

 

UmbridgeDolores Umbridge: Your previous instruction in this subject has been disturbingly uneven. But you will be pleased to know from now on, you will be following a carefully structured, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic. Yes?
Hermione Granger: There’s nothing in here about using defensive spells.
Dolores Umbridge: Using spells? Ha ha! Well I can’t imagine why you would need to use spells in my classroom.
Ron Weasley: We’re not gonna use magic?
Dolores Umbridge: You will be learning about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way.
Harry Potter: Well, what use is that? If we’re gonna be attacked it won’t be risk-free.
Dolores Umbridge: Students will raise their hands when they speak in my class.
[pauses]
Dolores Umbridge: It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations, which after all, is what school is all about.
Harry Potter: And how is theory supposed to prepare us for what’s out there?
Dolores Umbridge: There is nothing out there, dear! Who do you imagine would want to attack children like yourself?
Harry Potter: I don’t know, maybe – Lord Voldemort!

– Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – 2007

 

Well, it might be safe and risk-free ms. Umbridge, but it is hardly efficient, nor traditional. The best way to learn is still by taking a hands-on approach. Before we got to the school benches, most people learned their craft at the workbench. The guild systems, learning by doing, a master showing how it’s done and the pupil trying to get the same results. That way you will pay attention, because the next moment you have got to do it yourself. Seeing someone work, getting a chance to ask questions and trying for yourself is more efficient than reading any instruction manual.

You learn the most by what you experience yourself.

Practice and tinkering beats learning by rote. The latter is quite efficient, but it’s creating Pavlov reactions. You can teach a parrot to say the pledge or Lord’s prayer. He learns the lines, but never gains insight or understanding. But it’s safe and quantifiable.

Applied knowledge is harder to gain. It calls for courage, both on behalf of the student and the teacher. To trust inexperienced people with tools and make them responsible for their own education; it has a potential for disaster. That’s why it has become more and more fenced in by regulations, or simply stopped…

But the results are far more valuable, gaining real knowledge instead of simply reproducing what others have written before. The first time I really encountered this way of teaching was at lutherie school (ILSA) in Belgium. Our teachers showed us how to work, but also granted us trust and space to find our own ways. Sometimes this lead to failure, and even huge differences of opinion between the student and teacher. But often it gave new insights and even new methods of working. They encouraged us to look further and find our own style.

Another extreme is the current competention based education. Pretending students learn by gathering experiences. But in reality it is just a guided blanks exercise. Only putting check marks. But completing an assignment doesn’t automatically mean you have insight in the matter at hand.

Working in practice

One of the things I often advise people is to get working in practice. It gives so much insight in the matter at hand. A manager needs work floor experience to know what he’s managing. Writing becomes a lot easier when you have some hours experience in the jobs of your personages.

We can’t overestimate the value of hands-on experience. It builds knowledge and confidence. True craftsmanship can’t be grasped only by our minds. By making or shaping something our hands you built a physical “muscle memory”. Your body knows how to do something, but you will have a hard time when you’ve got to explain it to others in another mode of communication, like written or spoken words. Believe me, I know, writing “Making Masonite Guitars” took almost two years. And I am currently wrapped up in an even larger project about my methods to make historical guitars. Many things you ‘just do’ are quite hard to explain in words.

A while ago I quoted this fragment from Dutch “Philosopher Laureate” René Gude’s book “Ik blijf nog even kletsen” (I’ll stay and talk for a short while):

“Since 500 B.C. “Sophia” is
the collective noun for all knowledge:
I name artisanal craftsmanship
but also the insight in day-to-day issues,
especially when they involve politics.

When you put ‘philo’ in front of that,
it shows that you value that knowledge.

Whether it involves a slight interest
or being entirely submerged in the subject.

Only people who really despise expertise, political insight or other intelligent skills are no philosophers.”

– René Gude –

I think it’s a lovely thing to end with. Working with your hands isn’t higher or lower or than other work, it’s just another mode of working. It is the love and attention that makes the difference.

It all begins in school. With teachers who help their students to gain knowledge, rather than just reeling off the text in their books. To work with their students and grant them trust in order to built confidence in their own work. And you know what? In return the students also learn the teacher something about his or her own work. Sudden strokes of insight, one of the biggest rewards of them all…

This week I will post some movies about the ways we educate and changes to be made…

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Coca Cola history

It’s probably one of the best known brands in the world. And its history is almost synonymous to the development of marketing and name branding, intertwined with popular culture. Quite an achievement when you realize it’s just carbonated sugar water…

The Coca Cola bottle and logo have become a design icons. Vintage ads, metal signs and other merchandise are in high demand. It’s found all over the world. One thing that always gets to me is that it’s easier to find a bottle of Coke than safe drinking water. Something is really wrong with the way we live…

The Coke Bottle headstock.

Danelectro headstockThere is even a guitar headstock that’s know as the “Coke Bottle”. Used by Danelectro between 1956 and 1966.

image

A 1:1 tracing of an original headstock is found in my book “Making Masonite Guitars“…

Making Masonite Guitars - Headstock

 

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Tight Nuts or A Rusty Tool?

One of my many quirks is that I like bad linguistical humor. Misspellings that give a sentence a whole different meaning, ambiguity, taking things literally that should be interpreted metaphorical and vise versa…

Sometimes you come across little jewels. Like this first advertisement for WD-40 universal oil. It’s hard to impove on this…

WD 40 first ad

In fact it’s just a hoax that has been going round the internet for some time now. But once in a while one needs to have a good laugh…

I’m not a very avid user of WD 40 and prefer Ballistol. Which according to this video even tastes better than RedBull…

Actually the Ballistol in this movie isn’t the universal oil, but an energydrink packed in the typical wrapper for promotion purposes. Although I would like to have a couple of them at the shop, just for joking practices…

Here is something about the history and applications of this almost miracle product…

I even know some guitar roadies who swear by it to use as fingerboard oil. But I’m more partial to lemon or linseed oil for that purpose.

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Instruments made of PVC… – A material meditation –

One of the mottos I live by is:

“There are no inferior materials, just bad applications” 

There is much said and done about the materials we use to make instruments. Guitar makers are always in search for the best woods. Precious, figured, quarter sawn with a straight grain. But also other parts, like lacquer, metals and plastics. Have you ever seen grown men completely bonkers over the alloy of 6 little magnets? No? Go to a gathering of guitar makers…

I could write a book about the sense and nonsense of materials used in guitars. Some akers ascribe supernatural powers to certain wood species, grades of carbon, or cellulose lacquer versus french polish…

But in the end it al comes down to the way these materials are used. First to the maker, who has to shape them and compile them into a playable instrument, but also to the player. An Ibanez style guitar with a low action tuned in D may be great for shredding metal, but might be not so suitable when you try to play rythm in an country band. A great musician will be able to pull something good out of any instrument, while a bad player will screw up even the best Strad.

Anyone who makes something has to get to know their materials. Learn their character; strength, weakness, appearance, behavior. And it’s up to the maker to find the right material for the job, to make the most of it. To bring the material and subject into agreement with each other. A chair will need a different design when it’s made of concrete, wood, metal or rubber. Or a different material when you don’t want to change the design. Both ways you can make a good chair, it’s all about the balance.

One example of this is found in this short movie by Nicolas Bras. A multi-instrumentalist and instrument maker, he uses PVC to make flutes. A great inspiration for anyone who makes instruments or music… Just look what you can do with simple materials and a great deal of imagination…

There are no inferior materials, just bad applications...

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