Sunday, 27 January 2013

Ebook Of Age

    Ebooks have been around for a few years and I've been keeping a watchful eye on progress with a view to publishing my own woodworking titles online.  With the recent launch of the Amazon Kindle Fire I think its true to say that ebooks have now come of age - well thats if you think the age of being capable of voting is sixteen! 
    The ebook age is also an age of uncertainty as there are no guarantees the ebooks you can view today will be viewable in five or ten years time. Many of the formats listed on Wikipedia are now obsolete and even when you think all the boxes have been ticked, its a bit like a radio station - it only needs to be slightly out of tune and you miss out completely on the message. Not only are there several different ebook formats out there but they require different readers and are exclusive to the major distributors/platforms such as Kobo, Kindle and iPad. The one that keeps on coming up is E-pub and when I enthusiastically contacted The British Library with a view to loan out my e-books was informed this is the only format accepted by their supplier. 
    It is a can of worms as I have spent the past month or two experimenting with some multi-media e-publications (including video embedding) that are the perfect platform for my intended market, except it use the old-fashioned 'Flash' protocol that has got many slick websites into trouble in recent years. Well I have been doing some research, reading forums, listening to what Adobe has to say about flash and HTML5 and they are not about to dump it. This heartening as you only need to look at the frantic launch of ever increasing social networking sites to throw the dice and reckon what will still be around in five years time. 
    Now, I'm fortunately in a market that is not primarily dictated to by fashion and the thrill of change. Lets face it some of my customers for videos (on average over 55 years old) are still using VCR's and although we have been told that DVD is obselete it will run on and so too is the consensus regarding Flash. Almost 99% of computers have flash installed and the FlippingBook software I am trying out currently is also HTML5 enabled so it loads on mobile devices. 
   I like this particular ebook format because it allows virtually instant access o sample books on my website, unlike most other formats I have tried that involve passwords and lengthy download waits. a particularly useful tool is the word search especially for lengthy technical books and the embedded video just brings it all together as great learning platform.  Well, see what you think:

a sample Ebook by Jeremy Broun

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Creativity spoiled by money

      I have just been watching the tail end of an interesting TV documentary about creativity and advertising and it focused on stand-up comedians (Gags to Riches) and how doing TV commercials is considered stooping amongst many of their peers. Some would also reasonably say that earning vast fortunes by doing an advert pays for the more creative work as even well known actors can fall on hard times and this is true across the creative spectrum in Britain. 
     Certainly as a furniture designer I have been too fuelled by a desire to innovate new ideas to fall into the trap of letting clients dominate my output but have relied on building wardrobes, fitted kitchens and even site carpentry for bread and butter survival (which I've also enjoyed doing). 
      In the programme John Cleese said about creativity 'Wherever you look now money spoiled it'Ironically one of his well known creative achievements was in his series of business training videos (late 70's I think) using humour as a potent learning tool - to improve a business which generally means to make more money! However, I find his statement does ring true in my own observation of the field of bespoke designer maker furniture that I have seen develop from its infancy.
    There has undoubtedly been a Golden Age of British Craftsmanship and design (that I have enjoyed documenting) but it may have passed its zenith, not because there is a recession to potentially stop it in its tracks and furniture really is a luxury, but because increasingly high prices and associated exclusivity have dominated the field which translated means the client has more of a say in what is created and that can lead to creative compromise. Well, thats my view and also my observation in my own field that a high degree of clever persuasion is involved in getting your own way and possibly the people at the top of their field have more swing to do just that!   
     Many would argue that designing, as a problem solving activity, includes the client brief and this does challenge definitions such as the old well worn question 'is it art, is it craft, is it design?' So in wearing my hat as fundamentally a furniture 'artist' the buzz for me in searching for exciting new ways to make things is essentially a selfish quest where the hope is someone will like it enough to buy it and put bread on the table. For most of my working life it has been more a case of the butter on the bread as I had the good fortune (and interest) to be able to teach also as a supplement to my income.
    The true creativity I believe connects with a curious breed of people called early adopters and in the world of mass-produced items they will pay a little over the odds (e.g. in the days of Hi-Fi) and I do believe some other mysterious forces are at work in bringing the creative individual in touch with the early adopter just before the former is about to go bankrupt! That is not to say early adopters are rich but that they recognise the uniqueness of an idea well before possibly it (or the creator) has become a brand. Not all early adopters are looking for an investment as I believe many are simply connecting on this other level with the creator!
   These are just rambled thoughts in response to the statement John Cleese made that stuck in my mind and the point I believe he (and others) was making was that if you want creativity, don't interfere with it and see what comes out of process as even the creator will not know. It cannot be prescribed.    


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Acoustic box

     It was whilst at school studying for A level woodwork I made my first acoustic guitar. It was made in a weekend - that is, I started on Friday afternoon and worked through Friday and Saturday night to complete the instrument by tea time sunday afternoon. Normally it takes about two weeks to build a guitar. The school workshop had run out of shellac so I used boot polish. It was probably at Abbotsholme (progressive) school that my desire to innovate and break with tradition began although at that time my training was to be in a strictly traditional groove. Howard Orme was my woodwork master and I followed in his footsteps and went on to train at Shoreditch College. He landed yup teaching at Eton where I met yup with him a few years later.


Woodwork master Howard Orme later meets up with
his first A level student Jeremy Broun.

       Howard was quite eccentric and a brilliant teacher. I was his star pupil and the first to gain an A level pass in just two terms instead of two years. Put that down to an inspirational teacher, no less. Once we were in the workshop firing crossbows we had made at a poster of Edward Barnsley at the end of the workshop and the headmaster walked in showing around some prospective parents. Imagine that happening today - well it wouldn't because there are hardly any school workshops for kids to make things in wood!

     My father had died in that year and I was somewhat lost regarding the dreaded word career other than the guidance of Howard who helped open the lock to my creativity. I recall thinking then, shall I become a guitar maker and realised I would become bored quickly as guitar making was steeped in tradition. So, almost fifty years and twenty guitars later I decided to spend more time making innovative acoustic guitars with the pledge to make one a year. Of course I never commanded big bucks for my guitars as I was an unknown and guitar making in Britain is probably far more exclusive than bespoke furniture making. I did sell an acoustic 'jumbo' guitar in 1970 for £200 that was a pretty good price.


Jumbo guitar (no 12) with braided strings. 1970

      More recently I have made a Selmer style guitar as played by gypsy jazz guitarists. There is a better market there for making custom built guitars but of course Chinese imports have seriously dominated the market and some very fine guitars too.

Selmer style guitar using local walnut with innovative
 sawkerf rib construction by Jeremy Broun

     Modern electronics adds another dimension to guitar making and I even have a busking guitar case amplifier with wireless sound transmission that I went to Paris with a few years ago.
 A current project still at the design sketching stage is a very small travelling electro acoustic guitar that delivers a formidable sound combining micro electronics and the best acoustic wood materials such as Balkan spruce for the top and mahogany for the neck. An acoustic guitar embraces many woodworking techniques exploiting the character of a range of timbers. 

An experimental travelling electro acoustic guitar using a Hofner Shorty        

 One of the joys of working an incredible material like wood is exploring its versatility. Often people are confused when you say you design modern furniture and also make guitars as it is easier and maybe perceived as more professional to say you focus on just one thing and this puts everything into a neat box. But this goes against creativity and the adventure with wood can take you along fascinating diverse paths. Perhaps they all link up somewhere.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

All a bit batty

     Anyone who is familiar with the picturesque Wiltshire town of Bradford On Avon and who was a local artist in the 80's will recall the Brewery in Wine Street. My late half-sister Barbara, an accomplished Trompe 'oeil painter, rented a studio there for £1 a week and went on to create fabulous works of Art for Pop superstars and even a Hollywood film producer. I recall she had painted the old beams and walls in her studio in this semi-derelict building. There were holes gaping in the roof and bits of corrugated iron placed below to channel the rain water. It was a beehive of creative activity, housing stained glass artists, potters,  woodworkers et al. 

Egyptian Porphyry chess board and pieces designed and made by Jeremy Broun
and painted by Barbara Broun 1981.

      Circa 1985 I rented a studio below Barbara's at £5 a week for a short period.  I used it primarily for storage as I had sold my house in Bath and was thinking of emigrating to Australia out of rust ration that modern furniture was not appreciated in Britain. What I do recall was that bats inhabited the Brewery and whilst property speculators closed in on all quarters there was a conservation order on the building to protect the bats and that basically kept the rents low for a artist craftsman to struggle to make a living.
     Today I was invited to a New Year breakfast at a friend's house near Bradford on Avon and one of the guests, an elderly man, resides in a flat at The Brewery. The developers eventually got their way, but interestingly when I mentioned the bats back in the early 80's he said ' oh they are still there and there is a hole in the roof for them'!
      One of the reasons I was able to focus my own furniture on innovation and go against the grain was because I kept my overheads low and this studio similar to the converted cattle shed I rented initially in Bath at £3 per week was vital to that creative survival. The artist craftsmen who resided in Bradford on Avon largely left as property developers moved in and were fragmented around the county or simply had to grin and bear increasing high rents. The conservation of a few bats may seem more important than the patronage of artist craftsmen and little wonder the field I was a pioneer in has become a very expensive playground - possibly now excluding the truly innovative?
     I welcome the New year in holding hope that change will occur. The news that Viscount Linley (who once asked me to make his furniture) is no longer trading in his furniture business has implications for this luxury craft and I guess we can go two ways, either become even more expensive or pitch it within the grasp of ordinary people, but then not enough ordinary people are excited enough to live with fabulously modern furniture that lasts so that it can be made on a rational basis (batch production) so the dye is set or at least for a while longer.
     In this New Year I'm not quite sure where to go and age isn't exactly on one's side but then I was never certain, just passionate about making new things in wood. All a bit batty really and perhaps one should hang upside down in the dark for inspiration!