What inspires: Frank Howarth

What inspires: Frank Howarth

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Frank Howarth lives in Portland, Oregon where he explores his creativity using wood and video. You would have to have been living under a rock to have missed his recent viral video, Lawn Chair 2, a stop-motion epic which has been viewed over 400,000 times since he posted it on YouTube two weeks ago. It is destined to become a woodworking classic, and no human appears in it. 

Visit Frank’s web site, Frank Makes. And be sure to check out his other videos and subscribe his YouTube channel.

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Birthday presents and happy accidents

What I find fascinating about making certain kinds of art is that there can be a satisfaction in the separation of the initial, mostly mental work and the resulting physical piece. One begins a project as a mental exercise that is a lot like a scientific experiment. A process is then run to get to the physical outcome that results in an abstraction of the work one did at the beginning. The end result is hypothesized, but unknown until the piece is finished. When painting you are seeing the final outcome as you produce it. Each brush stroke is in plain sight; each brush stroke can be modified, but it is modified in the same way it was originally created. There is no separation from the original thought and the physical existence. There is no surprise. However, if one were to create a paint by numbers picture from scratch, starting with the mental puzzle of drawing shapes and placing numbers in them, thus seeing the outcome in ones mind but unable to create it, this is what is inspiring. This is what draws me to woodworking, filmmaking, and photography. It’s making a birthday present for yourself, yet not knowing what it is.

I see this concept most in woodworking when gluing parts together that then get carved into a new shape. A specific example is segmented turning. Pieces are cut out and glued together in a way that alludes to the final piece. The final piece is only revealed when the process of turning is applied. This is why I like to be precise only with the seams between each piece, and allow the patterns and outer shape of the work to be rough. This roughness puts separation between the beginning and the end, and allows for more surprises. One has to think about the final product separated from the images of the final product.
This is what I like so much about Sam Maloof’s work, in that he would glue up a tight joint of several pieces coming together, then carve it into a beautiful single object. The thought process of the initial steps of putting the pieces together combined with the process of carving makes a new form, with the newly revealed patterns of the original joining of the wood.

 

This idea used to be more prevalent in film photography, especially when shooting action or long exposures. The act of snapping the shutter on the camera was a mental experiment, with an outcome not revealed until the prints were made several days later. Now with digital photography and the short amount of time between taking the picture and seeing what one gets, I will often put the camera down in some flowers or up over my

head and just snap pictures, trying to separate the image of the final outcome from the mental exercise at the moment. This same thing happens when making a stop motion animation. The mental experiment of planning and then moving the set pieces has no physical similarity to the final film. I have to see the final piece in my mind and translate that into moving set pieces over an expanded time interval. This is what makes the monotony of making a stop motion animation exciting. There is a setup with an uncertain outcome. I have to think through the making of a work of art without any feedback until the frames are strung together to make the final scene, which is almost always better than I had imaged.

This is the beginnings of understanding. When one runs this experiment over and over again, the experience guides the initial setup and the link between this setup and the outcome becomes deeply understood, allowing one to take the experiment further and discover ever more exciting aspects of ones art.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article Frank!
    I love the separation of the initial idea and the final result. The projects that you start with a basic idea and just ‘wing it’ are always more fun than over-thinking and over-designing everything in advance. When you start building and assembling you’re just following the step-by-step and there’s no room for creativity anymore. Although being a control freak it’s hard to just start a project without having a perfect idea of the final result in mind…
    Another disadvantage of over-thinking a project in advance is that you’re never positively surprised by the result. If it looks good it’s because it’s exactly how you imagined it. If you’re surprised it’s because there’s something that’s not like your initial design and that feels more like a failure than a surprise. Even so if the ‘mistake’ makes it look good or even better than you designed it…

  2. Well that was amazingly inspirational! I love stop motion videos and that was a joy to watch. I have since spent a few hours watching more of Franks videos and am completely envious of his shop and all his tools. It has inspired me to get my ass moving and do some better work!

  3. I love Frank’s hypothesis of making a birthday present for yourself and yet, not knowing what it is! His words remind me of an experience I had recently while making a bandsawn bowl; laminated out of several layers of scrap wood with the final shape and appearance still unknown until the very end. It’s not at all like building a table, for example.

    What inspires? FRANK inspires! 😉

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