Learning from Fred Astaire


Seeing this ale bowl basking in the sun, my wife asked my daughter what she thought of the new dragon bowl.  Emma replied, “What dragon bowl?”  Wonderful.


What Emma noticed were the flowing lines and the form, and only after looking more closely did she discover the dragons in their midst.  I like that.  Details and dragons are secondary.  I find the same can be true with calligraphy; regardless of the meaning, or if we even know the language, we appreciate the beauty of the form, the sweep of the line.


Japanese calligraphy “Love”.  I’m still trying to find the name of the calligrapher.

The overall question of what we find beautiful is full of fascination and mystery, and my wonder surrounding it grows all the time.  But we’ll leave that larger question for another time.  One thing that seems clear is that our eyes are drawn to beautiful lines and contours.  We appreciate the graceful lines of everything from cars to dancers.  Fred and Ginger certainly understood that idea.


Now I’m entering dangerous territory.  Me writing about dancing is akin to a cat writing about canoeing.  Yet, I can still intuitively be awestruck by the beauty and flow of the lines, even if I can’t strike the pose.

Beatrix Stix-Brunell of The Royal Ballet Photo by Nathan Sayers ballet dance

Al Hirschfeld was known for dancing his pen across paper, speaking volumes and expressing beauty with the flow of line and subtle variations in its width.  Brilliant:

Image result for fred astaire lines dancing

Another Hirschfeld, just for Follansbee:

Related image

So I strive for the beauty of the line, the flow of the form.  Touch reveals flow and form as well.  Our fingertips can tell us as much as our eyes.  Although I sometimes understand the necessity, a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign is often a heavy blow.


You can not only touch this bowl, you can drink from it.  This is my second exploration of this design, again in black cherry, with a bit of the lighter sapwood running through the heads.  This design is challenging; maintaining the flow of the flutes through the grain along the heads is just one example.  Below is a slideshow with a few additional photos.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

13 1/4″ long, 6 1/4″ wide and 5″ high, and would hold 20 ounces.

This entry was posted in ale bowls, bowls, cherry, patterns, proportions, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Learning from Fred Astaire

  1. Kalia Kliban says:

    I love how you’ve sculpted the faces out of just a few simple planes and notches. So clean, so elegant.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Scott Kinsey says:

    “To me, the words are nice the way they sound
    I like to hear them best that way, it doesn’t much matter what they mean”
    James Taylor
    Perception of beauty is everywhere and is for everyone.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Bill Rickard says:

    I hope you don’t mind me using your forms for my attempts at bowls.
    You have a talent for form that inspires.


  4. Rudy Everts says:

    Hi David,
    Thanks again for another inspiring blog post. First of all, compliments on your beautiful dragon ale bowl, it looks stunning! You are completely right about the flowing lines and the form, you can see in an instant if a design ‘works’ or doesn’t. Intuition is ruthless in a way, the eye can spot the difference between a perfect circle and an imperfect one. But us woodworkers can play with that too, it is all an illusion anyway since it is craftsmanship and not machine made mass-produced goods.
    I coincidentally read about naval architecture yesterday, and apparently ships are designed in a similar way, judging more by whether the form works as a whole:

    ”Traditionally, naval architecture has been more craft than science. The suitability of a vessel’s shape was judged by looking at a half-model of a vessel or a prototype. Ungainly shapes or abrupt transitions were frowned on as being flawed. This included rigging, deck arrangements, and even fixtures. Subjective descriptors such as ungainly, full, and fine were used as a substitute for the more precise terms used today. A vessel was, and still is described as having a ‘fair’ shape. The term ‘fair’ is meant to denote not only a smooth transition from fore to aft but also a shape that was ‘right.’ Determining what is ‘right’ in a particular situation in the absence of definitive supporting analysis encompasses the art of naval architecture to this day.”

    I have always liked ships, no wonder.

    Thank you for having such an inspirational blog, keep up the good work! By the way I was interested to know what history you teach?
    Greetings from Munich Germany,


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks for the added insight, Rudy. I like how you pointed out that we’re not talking about achieving some type of perfection in definable terms like circles or certain angles. Those things can easily be programmed into CNC machines and the like, unlike the subtlety of the brushstrokes in the Japanese calligraphy — a job for the human hand. The lines are alive. The variations in the brush-strokes, or in a pattern, or in a carved surface usually enhance rather than detract from the overall lines and flow. I guess there is a balance.

      Wonderful reference to the ships! Talk about lines and form…. I love the reference to subjective descriptors in the excerpt. Verification that some of the most beautiful and important things are difficult to define.

      I’ve always taught world history, both ancient and modern.


  5. Amy says:

    Shreve said when I showed him (after a little surprised and pleased gasp when he spotted the dragon): “That’s so cool!” I also love and appreciate the comparison to the dancers. And don’t you just love the way there’s not just one sense by which to enjoy the beauty but FIVE? That God. What a brilliant overachiever. Beautiful work, Dave, as ever, and on all the fronts: in the wood and in the description and in the thoughtful way you’ve approached all of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hans says:

    Again a wonderful and amazing piece of craftmanship and art in wood! Fascinating to see the curves from dancing figures in those bowl.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Barry Gordon says:

    Great creative post Dave. Making those connections is brilliant! I’ve forwarded it to some folks who aren’t even woodworkers.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. dixislandboy says:

    Good Day Dave,
    Another GREAT post. I really, really enjoy the lines. (Yes boats are in my back ground, as is Pot Wap) I’ll never look at dancers the same way again. Many thanks for sharing your work.
    Warmest regards,
    Bill B.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. John Matheson says:

    I,ve just discovered this interesting form and do much admire your work. I’m on my third bowl and think it’s something I may take up for a while. I’ve been carving TIKI for years and use the hand power tools for that so it was natural for me to segue their use into this arena. Is this considered cheating? or an abomination to the treen art form? I used to build reproduction furniture using probably 70% hand tools; chopping mortices, hand cut dovetails, striking moldings with planes, etc. My clients outside museums really didn’t care about seeing the proper tool marks in a piece. Discouraging to say the least. I can’t shake the feeling that using the power carvers is somehow denigrating the art.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      I wouldn’t spend a lot of time categorizing “cheating” or “abominating”. Those are personal decisions and you’ll find plenty of opinions to go around. Make things in whatever way you enjoy and that you find fulfilling and satisfying. Also, there are folks with certain physical challenges or restrictions that direct their methods of work. That said, if one has the physical ability and is willing to develop the skill, I think there is a satisfaction and sensual experience in working with hand tools that is unique and special. And, power tools have much less of an impact in terms of time savings than in furniture making. The forms of good spoons and bowls are so organic and sculptural that sensitive hand tools are ideal. And there are many aspects, such as surface texture, that must be done with sharp hand tools to achieve certain results. There would simply be no other way to achieve what I’m after than with the hand tools I choose to work with.

      As long as you’re not misrepresenting yourself, you don’t have some certain standard to live up to. Your pieces are your pieces. Folks can feel free to take into account what tools you used however they wish. But recognize that, at a certain point, the pieces themselves could be different, your desired design compromised, because of those choices.


  10. Pingback: Bird Bowl from Straight Grain | David Fisher, Carving Explorations

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