Snow and Wood... Two Incredible Mediums for Making Curves - March 9, 2011
It's the middle of winter and snow is dumping in the mountains. A freshly tuned set of alpine skis and a day away from work is the perfect recipe for creating beautiful curves! The kind of curves I'm referring to, of course, are those made by carving turn after turn on the slopes of the local ski resort! For all you skiers, you know the feeling of carving turns in fresh snow... for everyone else, you'll have to use your imagination or connect this example with another form of movement familiar to you.
When I ski, one of my goals is to create the smoothest set of curved tracks I can. Turn after turn after turn...all day long! While this might sound boring to a "non-skier"...let me just say, IT'S HIGHLY ADDICTIVE! Aiming for the "perfect" set of turns; balanced from left to right, with smooth transitions, created with consistent rhythm. For me, it's not about looking back to see the tracks...it IS all about the feeling of creating them...the experience of flow while gliding down the terrain.
What does "skiing" and "woodturning" have in common? The experience of carving turns in fresh snow is one of the best exercises I've experienced in using the entire body to create flowing curves. While my wife and I were slicing up powder at our favorite ski resort last weekend, it dawned on me; everything I do to create flowing turns on snow translates to the experience of creating smooth curves in wood on the lathe!
Skiing and woodturning both require a smooth transfer of body weight over a solid stance.
The initiation of curves on the slopes and at the lathe begins in your feet and your overall transfer of weight through your stance. While skiing, if your body is out-of-position, you will lose control of the smooth arc created by the edge of your skis will become erratic and may result in a fall. In turning, transfer of weight can make or break your execution of a smooth curve; if your feet are too narrow you'll be off balance at the beginning and end of the cut. You may even have to break away from the cut to reposition your stance part way through, creating an unwelcome transition point on the surface of your piece.
Creating smooth curves is all about muscle memory.
This is truly what separates experts from the rest of the pack in any field; creating muscle memory through repeated practice and honing of skills. Creating smooth curves with a tool, whether that tool is a ski or a gouge, is all about control. Watching an expert in ANY skill makes it appear so simple, effortless, even automatic. What you don't see is the hours it took their body to develop the feel of doing that particular skill. Creating muscle memory through practice and repetition of a movement will develop confidence and finesse to do that movement with minimal thought and maximum control.
A curve is a curve is a curve, no matter how big or small.
ANY curve is a smooth arc, with NO flat spots. Curves are smooth, sensual, and organic. They surround us in our everyday lives. Have you ever taken time to notice the beauty of curves around you? Take a moment of still observation; how many curves can you see? How many can you feel? Devote 60 seconds...as an exercise...and just take it in!
Being critical/sensitive enough to perceive flat spots or transitions takes practice. The word "critical" does not mean to criticize, rather to develop an ability to perceive when a line is truly a "curve". In skiing, you feel with your entire body when a turn creates a smooth curve... in woodturning, you can feel the quality of curve in the moment of creation as well as after the cut is made. One of the best ways I know to visually discern the quality of a curved surface is to cast a shadow across it and observe the shadow line for smoothness. This also applies to skiing; if you look back on your tracks on a clear day when the sun is shining the shadow highlights your lines, if it's foggy then you won't see a thing.
Creating the perfectly pure curve is elusive.
Creating perfect set of tracks or the purest of wooden forms is a bit like searching for the Holy Grail! It really is all about the journey of striving for the goal. Learn to enjoy the journey.