Six Essential Tools

Twelve Mile Portage, Shammis Island, Lake of the Woods, by Robert Genn:

Robert Genn (1936-2014) was a Canadian painter.  He identified with, and has been compared to the 1920s Canadian Group of Seven.   Sometime ago, I stumbled across something attributed to him.  According to the story, he offers advice to an aspiring artist about what he really needs in his tool kit.  The advice is easily translated to other arts (and/or crafts).

“I told him he needed six items in his kit: time, space, series, media, books and desire. This is how I laid it out for him: 

  • Time: Set aside a time every day. It should be at least an hour, preferably a lot more. Include weekends and statutory holidays
  • Space: Find a space that is always yours–where you can set up and work in continuity. It need not be large, but it ought to be yours
  • Series: Do a series of explorations toward tangible goals–say 100 pieces of work in one direction or another. Then start another series
  • Media: Choose a medium that intrigues you. Realize that the potential of all media is going to be greater than at first realized. Be prepared for frustration
  • Books: “How-to” and art-history books are better than ever. They are your best teachers and friends. With books, you can grow at your own speed and in your own direction.
  • Desire: Know that desire is more important than any other factor. Desire comes from process. Process reinforces desire and desire becomes love. You need love in your kit.”

Robert Genn

I’m not sure I agree entirely with Genn’s last essential tool – or at least the wording of it.

In my mind, as an evolving woodworker, my essential tools are:

  • Time – workshop time, but also thinking (and sketching) time.
  • Place – the shed.
  • Series – but not repetition.  Allow the designs to evolve, and develop technical skills.
  • Media – functional objects with clean lines and minimal ornamentation.
  • Books – read and learn – tools, techniques, design and especially history.
  • Desire – the desire to learn and make.

To these I would add:

  • Curiosity – without wondering and exploring, nothing will happen.
  • Standards – set high but realistic standards, and keep raising the bar.

Now I’m off to spend time in a place of gainful enjoyment…


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