Hands on …the old school way

Published:  August 8, 2012
Veronica Grow
Hands on …the old school way

I’m not talking about clicking a button or anything of a sexual nature, but when did those things at the end of your arms receive their last workout? Can you honestly remember the last time you picked up a pencil or a brush and ink?

Why am I absolutely fanatical about getting back to basics and using your hands to design? Because I believe that we all need to experience that buzz of autonomy that comes only from being sensory and being personally connected to the material world, rather than working in the abstract world that many of us seem to have sadly drifted. It’s the world of management. A world of meetings, data, putting sticky notes on whiteboards and theorising from behind glass screens. And furthermore, or am I just imagining it, it seems to be on the move.

When we get the chance to incorporate a hand drawn illustration or work with a piece of paper and a pair of scissors, we really enjoy it. Working with our hands is a uniquely engaging human experience that comes from being both creatively and physically active, when a powerful nexus emerges between hands, head and heart, leading to the building of tacit or embodied knowledge.  In his book Steal Like an Artist writer and designer Austin Kleon says that work that comes only from our heads is killing us and killing the planet. Correct Austin. I feel that to ignore completely the process of working with our hands is to be disconnected to our own feelings, to others, the environment and the planet.

Too many of us kid ourselves by saying, “I’m not mechanical” or “I can’t draw” and we buffer ourselves from actually experiencing failure. What distinguishes those who draw or make with their hands is that they’re brave, resilient people who are willing to undergo the experience of failure time and time again.

So, if we just farm out the making of everything to people in other countries, aren’t we losing something valuable when personally making something feels so good? Good for our spirit, our bodies, and when achieved collaboratively helps to build community and connection? 

Have you noticed how more than ever people want to use their hands? The popularity of TV shows such as MasterChef are just part of this current zeitgeist. People want to use their hands to grow and make their own food instead of being passive consumers who are easily manipulated by money making notions of massive corporations to stop making and just buy. Corporations that don’t want you to use your hands and be self-sufficient because that would rob them of their power to rob you of your knowledge and personal power. Feeling valued with a sense of worth, operating in a way that connects you to your community and is sustainable for your own well being and that of the planet is probably not in their best interests.

Kiuko Choi poster by The Grim Press

Close-up of Kiuko Choi poster by The Grim Press

A designer whose practice is hands on is Carli Hyland from Grim Press. I love the fact that her use of handcrafted techniques has taken her a long way and helped stamp her work with a great sense of individual style. There is also a personal satisfaction and pleasure that Carli feels from crafting her creations slowly and carefully with love. This slower process gives her design solutions a distinct human edge and markedly different aesthetic for which there is high demand in an unprecedentedly competitive era, when so much of our visual landscape though beautiful, leaves one feeling a bit cold and empty. There is high demand for such uniquely engaging work.

The New School for Design and Typography is happily part of this pivot toward helping others rediscover better ways of slowing down and creating design solutions properly with individual love and care via a fresh new two year program that revolves around learning how to make things that are better, made slowly and carefully.  Inspired by Stephen Sagmeister’s philosophy, our students ask “Can design touch your heart?” We navigate students to work on design solutions whose research focus ensures that their carefully honed outcomes touch audiences deeply. Many of our short courses are have thrown away notions of University accreditation and abstract competencies, re focusing on the power of making, such as ‘Hand Made Type’ and ‘Lettering, Drawing for Designers’, ‘Book Binding’, ‘DIY Design’. The Masters study and personal projects and collaborations of myself (Veronica Grow), an indie publisher, focus on the designer as an independent author, building community relationships and improving the world through design. A strong philosophy of the school is the idea of social design, which entails using design as an agent of change to help make the world a better place.

I am aware of the pressures that work and family life bring, making it challenging to get your hands working, but trust me, just starting in some small way, even half an hour per day will make all the difference. Then build on it slowly. The best way to start, is stop kidding yourself and just learn to draw. Love your ugly mistakes. You will be surprised how these little efforts take on their own energy and grow when you stop making excuses.

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