Foundations of Design

George Walker



The class explains and explores traditional design techniques from the book: By Hand and Eye by George Walker and Jim Tolpin  George Walker will be the primary instructor for this class. Jim Tolpin steps in to lead you through design at the "Point of a Tool" - how to design at the workbench.

Most of us know instinctively when a design looks pleasing, but struggle to explain why. Or we sense that a piece of furniture falls short, but the mind goes blank beyond the vague feeling something’s amiss. There’s something powerful at work behind those instinctive likes and dislikes and best of all, we can learn to trust our eye to make solid confident design choices.

This workshop will forever change the way you build furniture, with a focus on simple exercises that wake up our natural ability to see. We’ll learn how to unpack a masterwork and see the inner structure and the simple drawing techniques that let you clearly grasp how proportions work together to create a visual harmony.

Each participant will create a series of drawings to make visual connections, and leave the class with a portfolio, and the knowledge to bring those designs to maturity.

Students will also explore our craft tradition from both the west (Europe) and the east (Asia). Students will explore how each approach tackles similar design problems with elegant and beautiful solutions. 

Class Description

Day 1 – Make music with proportions

Primer on basic proportions and how they can be used to create a harmony. Explore how designers from our Western and Eastern tradition used proportions in different ways to lead the eye. Students will unpack masterworks to understand how these concepts work, as well as work up a design for a sideboard to explore the concepts. Students will use this basic form to create an eastern and a western inspired version of a sideboard. 

Day 2 – The Wall

Introduction to the classic orders and the proportions inherent to the human form. Explore “furniture of the wall” (i.e. architectural built-ins); from both a Western and Eastern design perspective. Students will draw a classic order and learn how proportions from the order can be used to organize a design on a vertical plane to tell a story. Students will work up a design for a bookcase and use this basic form to create an eastern and western version. Students also return to previous days design and incorporate “proportions of the wall” into their sideboard. 

Day 3 – Curvature

Explore how curves bring life to a static design. Class will draw a Corinthian Capital and a scrolled bracket and explore how the complex is often made up of simple curves. Students will each design a writing desk (eastern and western) to explore integrating curves into a design. Students return to previous two days designs and incorporate curvature into sideboard and bookcase. 

Day 4 – Nature invades

Learn how to integrate ornament so it appears organic with a sense of delight and avoid the pitfall of kitsch. Unpack masterworks and look at inspiring examples of integrating nature into furniture forms. Students return to earlier designs and incorporate ornament into Writing desk, sideboard, and bookcase. Also will cover some drawing techniques for visualizing scale and seeing a design in context. Participants will draw an analytique using one of their furniture designs. 


Day 5 – From drawing board to workbench (with Jim Tolpin)

Explore methods to transfer this proportional knowledge to the actual work at the bench using story boards and scaling up proportions with a sector and dividers. Techniques for laying out large scale curves and creating templates will be covered. Students will create story boards and templates for one or more of their designs.


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 - we recommend the Robert Larson Folding Ruler - it works great as a sector.

More about this class


Woodworkers 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.

This class takes place in Building 306 at Fort Worden - not the School Building. Map

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

March 17 - 21, 2014

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.