Get your hands dirty

Gianfranco Chicco
Sep 2, 2020 · 6 min read

The Craftsman: Issue n.025 — September 2020

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Welcome to The Craftsman!

I’m Gianfranco Chicco (but please, call me gian) and, while I’m still in semi-lockdown, today I bring you two stories about designing and making, mostly with wood, from Paris (via Japan) and Cornwall.

Here’s the archive of past issues, and I’ll be sharing additonal photos on @TheCraftsmanNewsletter. I invite you to reply to this email or tweet me with your thoughts and feedback. If you would like to support the newsletter, you can do so by buying me a virtual coffee.

I hope you enjoy it,

Flavien Delbergue (Photo courtesy Flavien Delbergue).

Material Beauty Through Simple Transformations

Flavien Delbergue trained as a designer at the École Boulle in Paris, a school renown for craftsmanship and product design, especially carpentry. Although he had always been interested in how things were made, he decided early on that he was not good enough for doing things with his hands, but could study how to bring ideas to life through design instead.

Inspired by Charlotte Perriand, celebrated for awakening a strong connection between French design and Japanese craftsmanship, Delbergue went to Japan after graduation to take an apprenticeship with the masters at some of Kyoto’s finest workshops, like Kaikado and Asahiyaki. He later discovered the perfect balance between both worlds while working at OEO Studio in Copenhagen (read about OEO Studio in Issue 019). The Scandinavian understanding of how to bring together materials, style, nature and a long term view into the design process was not unlike what he had experienced in Kyoto.

“When we speak about timeless pieces, it’s not a way to go back to the past but to do better things, and it all starts with having a strong respect for the materials.”

Bringing out a material’s inherent beauty through simple interventions has become a defining aspect of Delbergue’s work, and he strives to collaborate with clients that share that same feeling. I try to have a modest approach to creating things with the least transformation possible. What’s crazy is that as designers, we are trained to create new things, and our world doesn’t need new things. We have to create less things.”

As a category, designers have the responsibility of showing the possibilities for a new world, which involves finding ways to create new things out of existing things. In that respect, Delbergue admires Pascale Mussard’s Petit h, which creates new objects within the universe of luxury goods manufacturer Hermès by using its waste materials and offcuts.

The Hako Collection is an award winning series of wooden boxes and trays designed by Delbergue to bring order and balance to any desk. Created for Atelier Takumi and manufactured by Toyooka Craft, a venerable Japanese woodworking company, it was with this project that he learned how to create something modern while respecting tradition. For swimwear brand Villebrequin, he designed a set of bespoke beach paddles reminiscent of the old but with an updated shape, size, and material.

Now almost 27 years old, Flavien Delbegue started his career designing small pieces that have a strong connection with other cultures. He’s currently planning furniture for a Chinese client, and he would like to get into interior design next. “It’s a step by step process. I’m open to projects of different scales, I see it as an adventure. And who doesn’t like to go on new adventures?

Flavien Delbergue Design Studio

What’s Preventing You From Making?

In Do Make, James Otter nudges you to slow down and get your hands dirty making something that matters to you. If you’re unsure about what to make, he suggests you “look at areas of your life that already bring you joy and opportunities for fond memories”. The book discusses the preparation, process, and power of James’ bread and butter, making surfboards, but the same principles are applicable to almost anything else, including life at large.

I’ve been buying pubblications by the Do Book Company for years (disclaimer: they sent me an advance copy of Do Make for free), because of their bias for action, urging you from reading to doing as quickly as possible. However, I had first become aware of James Otter’s work via another book, this one written by Dan Kieran and appropriately named The Surfboard. Dan participated in one of Otter Boards’ week-long workshops, and came out of it transformed by a sense of spielzug, that feeling when something that you encounter is perfect for reasons you can’t yet explain.

According to Otter, the first act of making is to become free from our own judgement and that of others. The second one is to connect with the materials at hand, to strive to understand them and uncover their innate beauty. In that way, the book is a celebration of the senses and how they can bring us into the present moment. For example, when working with wood the sense of hearing can help you find rhythm, and guide you through the path of least resistance. Learning to trust your sense of touch can provide an invaluable feedback loop.

“The idea of craftsmanship is a constant striving for excellence, not perfection.”

Making can function as therapy too. It allows you to reconnect with yourself, those around you, and nature. It also confronts you with learning to recognise when something is finished and it’s time to move on. To escape the grasp of perfectionism while being happy enough to put your name on it (all the participants to the workshop get to sign their own boards).

An important element in Otter’s work is that of sustainability and longevity. He urges the maker to become a steward of the land, ensuring that they pass it on, possibly in better conditions, to the generations that will follow.

“Making together […] reconnects people with people, creating a space for meaningful understanding and empathy towards one another.”

Do Make is both practical and philosophical. It is not for those who are already makers, nor is it intended as a manual, although it does break up the making process into its logical steps, and provides an appendix with detailed instructions on how to create a handplane, a sort of surfboard for your hands. It’s about reawakening our hands and mind via the act of making, finding a deeper sense of purpose, and reconnecting with the beauty of natural world.

Do Make: The power of your own two hands
By James Otter
The Do Book Company




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The Craftman Newsletter

A celebration of craftsmanship, paying homage to those who…

The Craftman Newsletter

A celebration of craftsmanship, paying homage to those who take the expression of our humanity to a higher level.

Gianfranco Chicco

Written by

Curator of The Craftsman Newsletter. Conference director for hire, digital-physical experiences, marketing & storytelling. Japanophile. ✌

The Craftman Newsletter

A celebration of craftsmanship, paying homage to those who take the expression of our humanity to a higher level.