My introduction to woodwork was about 12 years ago with a year long course in cabinetmaking at a private workshop in Devon. From day 1 we were encouraged to approach every piece of work with the aim of achieving “perfection”, whether it be fitting a joint, applying a finish or a host of other wood related endeavours.
This was undoubtedly the right way to go about training a novice to be the best craftsman that they could be and I have taught others in much the same way.
However, a decade on and I find myself striving for “imperfection”, this seems a bit of an odd thing to say, but what I'm referring to is a subtlety that describes an individual maker's distinct touch. It is something I was told about years ago but never really understood
I probably would have said this sounds like a load of old cobblers, why wouldn't you want to achieve perfection, but having lived and breathed this life for a while now, it makes a lot more sense to me. In much the same way my woodworking teacher, all those years ago tried to impart the idea of the rhythm of design; but having seen enough good and bad design, this too begins to make sense.
There is however a huge difference between an “imperfection” and a “cock-up”.
An imperfection can reflect the confidence of the craftsman in his knowledge and abilities to the extent that it adds soul and personality to a piece. Extrapolating this further, it is the confidence and flair of the craftsman to express him or herself in their work.
An analogy can be made with impressionist painters. The fact that they were classically trained artists of the highest order serves to add weight to their later work.
A “cock-up” is exactly that, a mistake, whether it be in the design or the execution of the work, and tends to be glaringly obvious to all concerned. Kind of like a “rubbish” painting where “it's just wrong”.
“Perfection” on the other hand is more easily achieved now that ever before by getting something produced in a factory, but this is infinitely bland and soul-less. Perfection is the mass produced photoshopped image of the furniture world. Why would you try to replicate with your own efforts and imperfect hands what a machine can do in a fraction of the time?
I had an enquiry a few years ago from someone who was ultimately concerned with having something handmade versus the shop bought “mass-produced perfection” as he rather gallingly called it. We would agree to disagree.
Buy something handmade and the user should feel a direct connection to the maker and the piece will tell a unique story, though the true narrative is known only to the person that crafted it.