Design - Back to Basics
Rediscovering Artisanal Design with George Walker

Furniture Making Series Level: Open to All


Please note:
By Hand and By Eye by George Walker and Jim Tolpin has been published! Our 2014 Class Calender features two classes by George Walker: Foundations of Design, and, with Jim Tolpin, By Hand and By Eye. Check these class pages for more information.


We all have the ability to look and intuitively make judgments with our eye. For many of us this is that vague sense of something looking compelling or as is often the case lacking, yet it’s beyond us to put our finger on the reason. For the vast majority of woodworkers this is as far as they venture.

It’s an energizing leap to go from looking to seeing. This is a whole new world where the eye is awakened to the forms and proportions within a design and the ability to unpack a composition. This ability is dramatic, akin to the difference between watching someone kayak and actually climbing aboard to experience the waves. It forever changes the way we connect with the world around us.
We each have the ability to go beyond looking, beyond seeing and begin to clearly visualize with our designers eye. The nearest description I can give is that it’s like developing a sixth sense. One can go beyond unpacking a design and actually begin playing with it and manipulating it on the blackboard in your head. Exciting because it’s timeless and universal, giving you the ability to clearly find your inner vision or voice and allow your creative desires to bear fruit.
Yet design isn’t a learned skill like cutting dovetails. “Awakened” better describes this process of unlocking our creative potential. We all have the basic ingredients within us; it just takes a bit of encouragement and a willingness to see things through a different lens.
There are two basic aspects to design linked closely together. Foremost is the ability to visualize, imagining a form in our minds eye just as a composer hears music internally.
Second is a means to bring that vision to reality at the workbench. Waking up that internal eye has a lot to do with unlearning our modern numbers focused way of thinking.

Class Description

Forget about numbers, rules, and words for that matter, it’s about unveiling simple shapes, forms, and proportions. We’ll equip you with a visual language your mind can use to explore ideas spatially.
We’ll introduce you to some time honored methods for awakening your eye for design. You’ll learn why the ancients called dividers the “tool of the imagination”. This simple tool can help you see what is now just beyond your grasp, and help you to express those ideas with confidence at the workbench.
In this five day design seminar develop your eye and sense of proportion through a series of drawing exercises, analysis of classic works, and field studies of the architecture at Fort Worden and in Port Townsend.
We’ll do plenty of sketching, and please don’t worry about your artistic skills. This course is about waking your imagination. Chicken scratches are encouraged! Each day will include several simple drawing exercises designed to help train your eye and begin to feel comfortable working with proportions. Bring along a couple of ideas from your bucket list. We will help you bring your dream to fruition and you can depart with a clear build plan. A portion of each day will also be reserved for students to work on their furniture design projects.

Day One

  • Warm up drawing exercise – simple shapes to begin speaking a visual language.
  • Lesson topic – basics of proportion – symmetry, contrast, and punctuation.
  • Group exercise – pull out the major forms and proportional schemes behind a
  • variety of furniture masterworks.
  • Bucket list project – Lay in the rough form for your project, experiment with
  • several pre-studies to help you hone your ideas.
  • Introduction to critiquing your own work and standing back and seeing it with
  • new eyes.

Day Two

  • Field study – Visit local architectural sites to practice “seeing spatially” make simple field sketches to bring the ideas home.
  • Lesson topic – Curvature – simple approach to add life to a form. Enhancing a design with ornament or decoration. How the application of ornament (organic forms, geometric, or color) can add to the underlying design.
  • Bucket list project- introduce curvature.

Day Three

  • Application - design a small chest with only a straight edge and dividers, using proportions rather than measurements to flesh out the details.
  • Lesson Topic – Light, shadow, properties of color, character, composition, bringing it all together.
  • Group exercise – Critique, learning to express the visual language verbally to enhance your ability to “see”.

Day Four

  • Mock up full scale models to explore proportions in real space.
  • Workbench application, transferring ideas from sketches, story boards, and mock ups to the work itself.
  • Practical layout of a fair curve.

Day Five

  • Design obstacle course. Put your new skills and newly aquired design muscle through a series of challenges to stretch and build your confidence.
  • Bucket list project – refinements – closing in on the sweet spot your eye is searching for.


You'll need to bring:
  • Sketch pad, plain white spiral bound artists pad 9X12 or 12X18. Graph paper is fine also.
  • Two pair of dividers, it's handy if they are two different sizes (6" & 10")
  • A pair of compasses
  • 45 degree drafting triangle
  • Straight edge, 12" long is fine
  • Pencil / eraser / Sharpener
  • Folding ruler (optional but fun)

More about this class


Woodworker's at all levels will benefit from this class. You will build better furniture because it is better designed  - so we've made this class Open to All.  You don't need furniture making experience to attend this class but you would benefit from some design experience, not much though, even time spent sketching some prospective pieces counts.


Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.

Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.

Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 15
Cost: $750
Materials Charge: $15


This class will not be offered in 2014. Please check out  Foundations of Design  and By Hand and By Eye with George Walker and Jim Tolpin

 If you are interested in this class, please let us know and we will notify you when the class is to be scheduled.


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Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades Copyright © 2007-2014. All rights reserved.

200 Battery Way | Fort Worden | Port Townsend, WA 98368 | (360) 344-4455 | email

The Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit. Any donations made to the School are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.