While I have been learning about the art of woodturning several basic design principals seem to come to the forefront. Whether you are looking at a piece of art or architecture, you will find some things that are pleasing to the eye, that have a good balance and symmetry and some things that seem to be not quite right. Sometimes you can’t quite pin down what isn’t right about something but your brain knows that something is off. More often than not this discomfort is because the item does not follow the correct aspect ratio. (See the topic on aspect ratios on this site for more detail.)

The major principals of good design are:

Aspect Ratio…Follow the correct aspect ratio in your work. The Golden Mean, Golden Rectangle and the Golden Triangle .

Proportion: Proportion deals with the overall dimensions of an object, and with the relationship of elements within that object.

Balance: This is the sense of equilibrium in an object.

Rhythm: The repeating patterns or arrangement of elements within a design, create a sense of order or movement. Using odd numbers of decorative elements looks more balanced that even numbers. For example 3 beads looks better than 2.

Emphasis: Refers to the main focal point of an object. We can use emphasis to create visual interest.

Unity: A sense of unity is created when the elements within a design work in harmony with one another.

Drawing up your design and making sure you are happy with the size and shape is a good way to begin the design process. There are many tools available in the art store to assist you with drawing curves. Creating this drawing allow you to take into consideration all of the aspects of the design such as the need for a lip to hold the lid or a recess needed to hold the foot tenon. These things could be overlooked if you were to just start turning without a plan. It also allows you to make sure you have taken into consideration the aspect ratios in your proportions. Some turners say you should draw up your design and then find a piece of wood that will fit your design. When you think about the wood itself, it seems to me that the design you put on paper now becomes a suggestion of what you would like the outcome to be, but not always a blueprint for completing the actual piece, as you have no way of knowing what is inside of the wood until you begin to turn it. The wood has a great deal to do with the outcome so I am inclined to choose the wood I wish to turn first and then come up with a design that I think will complement the wood. In the end it is still the wood that will win in the design process as it is the features of the wood, grain orientation and color that will determine if the piece is just OK or outstanding. Sometimes the piece of wood that made an OK vase would have made an incredible bowl or the other way around.

I have found that it is important for me to take the chuck holding the piece off of the lathe and stand it upright so that I can get the correct prospective when I look at the piece I am working on. Things look a lot different laying on their side than they do standing upright. I caution you to always get in the habit of marking your number 1 jaw on the tenon when you start so that if it should come out of the chuck you have a chance of getting it back while keeping it in round. (more of the voice of experience talking here)

Look here for more on this topic as I learn and time permits.