Right Brain / Left Brain

Article for the Irish Woodturners’ Guild Journal, published June 2007, Issue 41

Preface: The following discussion was originally a demonstration given by Cindy Drozda, aka Left Brain and David Nittmann, aka Right Brain to stimulate/simulate the design process for woodturners. It was first presented at the May meeting of the Front Range Woodturners, Denver, Colorado and will be a feature demonstration at the Utah Woodturning Symposium June 2007.

Right Brain / Left Brain, Creating a signature work

by Cindy Drozda & David Nittmann

“It is through the mastery of strict methods that artistry is achieved”. -Radu Vero

Are you an “Artist”? What we make as woodturners, whether it’s a candle stick, a bowl, or some abstract object, is “Art”. It’s a means of self expression. How does this expression evolve? It comes as a delicate balance between the conflicts of the two hemispheres of the brain. The right side is artistic, the left is calculating. The right is innovative, the left technical; right-instinct, left-knowledge; right-talent, left-skill; what is essential for the design process is a balance between unworkable fantasy and endless “To Do’s”. So how do we get started on the path to signature work? The answer is to copy, modify, and iterate, the same method we used to develop our own written signature.

Use your right brain to find a piece that you like. The piece we chose for this presentation is a vase by Steve Sinner. His distinctive style has well defined features in the lip, neck and body. Smooth transitions between refined details exemplify his signature work. Steve’s surface treatment is exceptional artistry displayed on superb form.  Sources for your choice are friends, contemporaries, museums, galleries, books and magazines. (Most people, provided that you don’t sell the copy, have no objection to using their work for learning purposes.) Closely “observe” the piece that you have chosen. With the left brain measure all the major diameters and associated heights, and also examine the transitions between the major points. Now make a drawing or template of the piece. At the lathe layout and reproduce the object. Set the completed piece next to your choice and compare. Repeat this process until you have a reasonably exact copy of the piece.

Now put a blank on the lathe, engage the right brain and make your object from memory. Compare this effort to the original and observe similarities and differences. What aspects of the differences interest you? Be very left brain specific in your analysis. Explore these variations with more iteration. Quantity equates to Quality.

The next step is to put the same details on a completely different size blank. Let the left brain begin the process but you will soon find the right brain exerting its influence on the final shape to accommodate the different size, especially in the transition areas. Add or subtract details, color and/or texture to come up with some thing that pleases the right side while holding on to the original idea with the left side. Please have fun and play. There are NO failures, only new information. Begin with your dominate side and allow the recessive side to influence the finished piece. What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. Quantity is the goal to quality.


Art & Fear, Bayles & Orland, Capra Press ISBN 0-88496-379-9

Alphabet versus the Goddess, Shlain, Penguin Books, ISBN 0-670-87883-9

Designing  Furniture, Stem, Taunton Press, ISBN 0-942391-02-0

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