A week with Michael Fortune


Michael Fortune Cropped

If you don’t know who Michael Fortune is, you can learn more here. Michael and I are not even on the same planet. He is a successful furniture designer/maker who has work in museums, embassies, and private collections of the rich and famous. I, on the other hand, am the maker of the hillbilly hat rack (which breaks all of his design parameters). Perhaps you can imagine my anxiety when I had to assist in his design class?

The class is taught from his perspective as an artist working with clients, but there were only a handful of students in the class who even hinted at a desire to be full-time furniture makers. The rest were there to learn something new that would elevate their skill as woodworkers. So what did they learn?

In a nutshell they learned to see. A large portion of the class was devoted to looking at other objects for inspiration. They used stacks of books, went on field trips to museums and antique stores, and combed the internet for things that caught their eye. Then they discussed how designs could be adapted for a different use.

Eric at work on his Asian inspired table

They also learned to draw. They started with a series of rough sketches that focused on the form of the object they were creating. Once they had something that interested them, they would create models and full-scale drawings including perspective drawings to scale. I have to be honest here; there were moments when I thought SketchUp would have been a better alternative. But as the week progressed I came to believe that the pencil and paper rule the day. It is much easier, and faster, to brainstorm design ideas on paper than it is to play with SketchUp. Don’t misunderstand, SketchUp has a place in an arsenal of design tools but the strengths of the program come later in the design process.

Perspective Chart
The Lawson Perspective chart is a great tool. Unfortunately, they are no longer made. But I bet you could make your own in a few minutes with the computer you’re using to read this blog. 

What’s the benefit of class like this for the typical woodworker?

I can think of a few. First, there wasn’t anything in this class that I haven’t done on my own. But looking over the shoulder of a guy with 44 years of woodworking and design experience is worth it’s weight in gold. In fact, Michael’s world is so different from my own that just learning his thought process was refreshing. But I’m not ever going to be a furniture maker/designer.

Which brings me to my second takeaway. Even if I’m not designing furniture for presidents, I’m still designing for my family and friends. There have been so many times that I’ve tried to explain something to my wife and it was like we were speaking different languages. This class let me see how easy it would be to make a model that would help us get closer to the same wave length. If it brings peace to the home, I’m all for it.

But the most important takeaway was just how prepared you become from the design process. Even if you’re building from a set of plans you found in a magazine or book, following the design process allows you to build the project before you build the project, which saves you time and money in the long run.

I’m still not on the same planet as Michael Fortune. But I’m glad that he made a visit to mine.

It’s amazing what a little bit of foam core and a hobby knife will allow you to see. 

One Comment Add yours

  1. jmac406 says:

    Thank you Eric! It’s almost always a wonderful thing to have your mind, awareness, and heart expanded by someone else–who is really, really good.


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