Monday, 20 August 2018

Innovation is like a snowplough

Innovation is like a snow plough clearing a track with much resistance in a traditionally bound furniture market but once that track is cleared it is easier for others to follow.  

Exhibitions for designer makers have always been a rare and unique opportunity to innovate - to say something new about a chair or a cabinet.

Historically I would always sell from furniture exhibitions and was fortunate to have my work recognized by the Crafts Council from 1980 to my last major group show in 2002 (at the Charles Rennie Macintosh Centerary exhibition at The Hill House in Scotland. There some of my work was chosen for its subtelty or surprise - a cabinet that had no handles but relied on a degree of mystery.

Being under the wing of The Crafts Council, despite criticisms that it was elitist, was my only patronage - I was able to focus on what I do for over two and a half decades which is invent, create objects that are original and say something new.  As one of 26 furniture makers we were selected for redefining the boundaries of our craft amongst thousands of articulate craftspeople in the UK who at that time were more 'conservation craft' focused. 

But it wasn't an easy ride for me. During the 1970's there were no outlets; I was told by a local gallery to come back when I was famous and even hawked my rocking chair on the London Underground to turn up uninvited at the offices of Habitat in Neal Street. 'You don't have and appointment with the MD' the girl said but I replied 'he has to come out to the toilet some time today' and he did and he smiled as he saw me sitting on it and he gave me half an hours of his time. Much though he liked it he said my rocking chair was too upmarket for Habitat and I continued on my search for a sympathetic outlet, having put them in a local Persian carpet shop to show off their carpets in the window! 

Early examples of my High backed rocker were made from knotty pine, crudely dowelled. I just had an idea, a few hand tools, no machines, a tiny converted cattleshed workshop costing £3 per week in rent and I could not get a £50 loan from the bank. The chair went on to sell in its hundreds all over the world over several decades, well mostly in the UK from a tiny shopwindow on the busy London Road outside Bath that I called The Bath Carpenter. Deliberately anonymous because I felt good design should sell on its own merits and not on a name from an exclusive gallery. 

But from the 90's onwards people no longer bought on whim as they would spotting the chair from the traffic jams on the busy London road where my tiny shopwindow was. The climate changed radically. One local lady I chatted up in a tea shop brought her husband round to see a table I had made from timbers given to me by Kew Gardens from The Great Storm. He was mostly looking out of the window and she seemed cautious although she had always said she loved the table. So I offered to let them live with it for a week.

I had made two versions of the table and she was interested in the longer 5 foot long one. After a week she called me to say they would buy the table - for a few hundred pounds, well under a thousand, and she said what decided her was her next door neighbour liking it and then her father, a carpenter, liking it . It seemed the days of making spontaneous decisions were over revealing a lack of confidence and education then why should someone be knowledgeable to value  like something? 

But even the lack of education about common timbers by - say television experts who invited me to take my drinks cabinet onto the Four Rooms show and didn't know I had used maple or that it was not a particularly rare wood! 

Most large companies have an R & D department alongside marketing and branding. My finished pieces were virtually second prototypes such as my Caterpillar Rocking chair - the first prototype was made of chipboard painted red and black, the second prototype had to pay the rent that week and was the finished thing. Four were made.

 Recently I gave chair number four a facelift by finishing in it a stone lacquer.

The original chair appeared in Design magazine under the name of a 16 year old lad on a Work Experience scheme who passed it off as his design. He had made it from plans that had appeared in The Woodworker magazine in 1984.

To create a new chair today and market it successfully, finding a platform upon which to launch it would cost upwards of ten grand not to mention the cost of prototyping and then - who is going to buy it and importantly how do you price it?  You can go too cheap when you step outside the status quo market!

Caterpillar Rocker Mk 2 - Copyright Jeremy Broun 2018. Made of Brazilian Pine plywood with rubber lined feet. 

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Writers are a nuisance to publishers

The wise and famous author Fay Weldon once said 'writers are always a great nuisance to publishers'. 

I guess my name will enjoy a little re-vamped exposure this year as my book is released in September 2018 and sold via Amazon (I won't earn a penny). When I say 'my book' what I mean is 'my book' yet 'not my book'. It could have easily appeared with somebody else's name on the cover and if things had gone to the publisher's plan I would not have been consulted at all over the re-vamping of my original 1993 publication! 

Astonishing, unbelievable but quite normal today where  legality precedes ethics! 

As a Member of The Society of Authors here is my letter to the editor (to be published in the 'The Author' journal:

'Dear editor

In the last issue of The Author, 'Fair shares - a call to publishers' prompted me to write on the subject of moral rights. I was astonished to learn almost by chance a book I wrote in 1993 was being re-vamped this year by an art director, without the publisher consulting me. The book – an  encyclopedia  of woodworking techniques – is highly technical; just one change of a decimal point or a word can change the meaning of a sentence. An example is that wood veneer was re-typed as 6mm thick when it is paper thin (0.6mm)!

The initial contract was so poor my only legal right was to withdraw my name from any future edition that might damage my reputation. I did not want do this – who would want another author's name to go on their book and is that morally right? Negotiating from a zero-strength position by offering to put in several months work voluntarily, I managed to achieve not just a say but the final say in how the content and technical imagery is to be up-dated but this is an unsatisfactory situation. Not receiving a royalty or compensation for my recent work is one thing but it should be a fundamental right for authors to own copyright of title and content. Moral rights, as the intellectual property specialists say, should be inalienable.

Jeremy Broun'

A lot of people will naturally assume that an award-winning book* published in five languages and selling over 25 years would pay off the author's mortgage but I was unable to negotiate any sort of copyright ownership for at least the title or receipt of royalties for the original book, just a modest lump sum on publication in 1993.  a few crumbs from the loaf. 

With this re-vamped book the most I managed to negotiate was a pitious £100 fee for several weeks work chasing up image contributors in the Themes section to write captions. That was my 'foot in the door' by offering what the art editor couldn't do - write concisely about technicalities in a craft that probably has more techniques, tools and materials attached to it than any other craft. So through my opening 'chess game' move I got to see how the entire book in its 'spreads' form -  the draft page layouts and not only was I able over a period of months to slowly slowly catchy monkey make necessary detailed technical changes to the body content but the major prize for me was to re-shape the photographic gallery section of the book and ensure the very best examples of modern work were included. That meant replacing some of the already chosen images, a tricky task. 

It was a recipe for disaster for a highly technical book not to have its author engaged from the start.  One example is almost the very first image of a dustmask in the spreads looked like a laboratory assistant emerging out of Porton Down, and this was around the time of the Salisbury incident! Home or professional woodworkers do not in the main wear helmets akin to building site workers. Another example was in copying the text manually from the original book a decimal point was moved with reference to thickness of wood veneer resulting in veneer 6mm thick. A book that might have my name on the cover. 

However,  I have to say the art editor, despite her obvious lack of technical knowledge made an absolutely superb job of the design and presentation and we worked together on the phone sometimes late into the night making tons of adjustments. 

So the work I put in over several months I offered to do for free. That was a vital chess move in this game because I had originally been told there was no budget and actually it was a narrow window of opportunity that my book was to be re-vamped at all.  The publishing world today is like the bespoke furniture making world - a crowded marketplace. 

However like any girl I'm entitled to change my mind and after all the hard work I had put in and the senior editor acknowledging I had made a very significant difference to the book - I naturally asked for more than £100. It was reluctantly doubled and I persisted over the next few months and finally got £500.

Talking of girls there were hardly any examples of female furniture makers when I saw the spreads. Ironically the two key editors were females. There has been a revolution in furniture making in the UK since 1993 with several hugely talented females emerging.  

I believe the Themes, (Gallery) section is a tour-de-force, a unique showcase of
the very best work going on in the UK (with a few historical examples from Scandinavia and the USA). The publisher, the global leader in visual books had chosen the art editor well and from a personal point of view in this chess game I won the end game which was to have final say in the technical content and the choice of images in the gallery section. Job done!

My gratitude to two furniture makers who offered me moral support and some technical back up - my friend Andrew Lawton and Christine Meyer-Eaglestone. Not being a 'veneer man' myself I learned about engineered veneer and I was put in touch with people she felt should be included in the book as masters (or mistresses) of their technique. 

Receiving three complimentary copies recently, it was a bittersweet experience, considering the past few months I was anxious that my name might not be on 'my' book and that any of my changes would actually be accepted right up to the very end. The last message I had with the art editor was that she had submitted the spreads for approval by the bosses.      

*The original edition published in 1993 won the UK Booksellers 'Top 200 Titles' Award from 63,000 books published that year. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

An Innovative Guitar For 2018

This is the Jez Broun Ecoustic Guitar.

To some the word 'ecoustic' might imply an environmentally correct guitar but actually it is my abbreviation of the term electro-acoustic'.

This is guitar no 21 (since 1962) and is the most innovative so far. It has been designed and built for my own use and the essence of it is the sophisticated pickup system that links to a guitar synthesiser.

The Graphtech Ghost Midi Guitar Pickup System is an amazing piece of electronics hardware that allows a nylon strung guitar to link to a synthesiser such as the Rolan GR-55 to create a variety of guitar sounds as well as other instruments such as cello, electric piano, saxophone and flute. 

The guitar uses 400 year old black walnut for the detachable back . 

The top is made of first grade Balkan spruce with very close grain 
and the bridge made from 250 year old elm.

The main profile is constructed from Brazilian pine plywood stack laminated.

The fingerboard is ebony inlaid with acrylic markers

 The head is faced with Balkan spruce and the machine heads 
I bought in 1967 and have been saving for a special guitar. 
They include bone and mother of pearl.