Monday, August 23, 2010

Leviticus, 5.12d

Allow me to rhapsodize a bit:

Over the last ten years, I've accrued a massive catalogue of fond memories in the Santa Barbara foothills, and if nostalgia isn't a mix of sweat, blood, and manic enthusiasm, then I don't know what it is. No matter what the circumstance, the acrid stench of California Bay and the roasted-sweet wafts of Central Coast sandstone throttle my attention at a nostrils notice. Seven Falls canyon was one of my first hiking experiences in Santa Barbara, and while the well-worn passages of this popular frat-boy den conjure scoffing amongst longtime locals, I still gape at the beauty of Mission Canyon, threading its way below the rugged spine of Cathedral Peak.

On one of my early sojourns up Seven Falls (just months after I bought my first harness and pair of shoes), I noticed a steep crack adorned by bolts. I was callow enough to jump on the route—proud from a recent 5.10a redpoint at Gibraltar—and begin what soon became a spirited exercise in physical futility. I was young, ego-engorged, and routinely successful at most endeavors in my sheltered world of collegiate meanderings. Leviticus began the beat-down that would simultaneously wrench my perspective aright, and plant seeds of belief that maybe, just maybe I could climb something hard some day. Years passed, I climbed all over the Western United States, failed on some routes, succeeded on others, battled disappointment, wrestled with motivation, fell out of climbing, and, inexorably, fell back in to it. Somewhere along the way, past the endless drivel of grade-debates, climbing magazine fodder, and self-imposed limitations that overly esoteric subcultures sometimes engender, I realized that—for me—climbing is wonderfully pure, and can be distilled in to three truths:

1) Climbing is hard
2) Climbing is fun
3) Climbing is fun when hard

Forget silly numbers and letters. Leviticus, the route that shut me down years ago, taught me that I sucked and then inspired me to not suck, was still there and, well, waiting. What the hell? It's a rock. It has holds. Why shouldn't I climb the shit out of it ? With the scouting help of Bernd Zeugswetter, my partner in local route-exploring and a truly gifted climber (not to mention the nicest guy for 300 miles in all directions), I re-approached Leviticus. After one or two short sessions, I unlocked the bottom crux, and with a mere torque of my pinky, thrutch of my shoulder, and an obscene, gravelly yell, I had one clean top-rope under my belt. In my opinion, if you can top-rope a route once, you can lead it. Thus, I decided that no matter how desperate my top-rope attempt felt, I would lead Leviticus as soon as possible.

Redpoint day included Justin Willet, Mr. burl himself, and belayer extraordinaire; Jake Novotny, a spirited and friggin' strong climber from Tahoe who perfectly embodies the unhindered spirit of someone new to climbing; and Robb Klassen, a supremely talented photographer—and, incidentally, barista at my favorite coffee shop. On the approach, Sunday afternoon heat seared our stroll up Tunnel Trail. The light, soon to be waning, fought tooth and nails in arrogant oranges, yellows, and sallow-white. As we descended in to Mission Creek, I noted every stone with perfect recall, and couldn't help but indulge myself the moment. What could be better than climbing a stunning route at the best time of day with a crowd of supportive friends? As I write this, I'm tempted to even more dire levels of saccharine, but I will stop here.

As far as the blow-by-blow?

Not much to tell. Really. It was over before it began, even though it really began ten years ago.

Jake takes a burn on top-rope.

Walking out. Damn good day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New Coffee Table: A Little Deco, A Lot Awesome

It can be yours for $1500, plus tax.

I'm rolling out furniture ideas these days. This has less with to do with my ability as a purveyor of metal wares, and more to do with a slight lull between jobs. The personal craft-picnic is over this week. Dan and I must attend to a bevy of clients and their respective desires, which run the gamut from interesting to tedium-incarnate. Lo, it is always thus.

This coffee table I made for my apartment vaunts some pretty cool joinery. Connecting metal to metal through means other than welding requires a lexicon of skills and imagination that I didn't possess just a few years ago. I've since experimented with forge welding (only a little), mortise-and-tenon, traditional riveting, tap-and-die, and upsetting—to name just a fascinating few. Blacksmiths have employed these techniques for centuries. I, on the other hand, am sorting through them relatively recently. Allow me to step back and reflect on my process. Early on in my metal career, I was drawn to the pure anachronism of blacksmithing. I wouldn't be a red-blooded American boy if I wasn't (Those red-blooded American girls reading this can relate just as easily, I'm sure. I don't mean to exclude; some of the most talented and visionary artist-blacksmiths out there are women. Some, even, are not American, but still, I assume, of red-blood. See Shelley Thomas:

Aah, the popular conception of the FORGE, replete with heat, hammers, and the anvil pinging its shuddering bell-toll across the anachronistic night. Most people expect to see blacksmiths at Renaissance Fairs, not mixing it up with modern designers, contractors, and discerning homeowners. However, Metal, viewed as art and industry, has a recentt aesthetic heritage. In the last one hundred years, metalworkers pioneered processes too breathtaking for the scope of this blog (If you want to have your bowels voided from pure awe, observe the following clip of industrial blacksmiths forging a giant ring: The minute, craft-based techniques that demand a hammer, anvil, and stout elbow still have pertinence, but I'm interested in the intersection of old-world burl and modern sleekness. To this end, I employ traditional joinery insofar as it furthers my design goals. I don't shun welding just to do so. I like the dynamism of straight lines, intersecting angles, and, tempering the two, curved, organic shapes. I want my current design work to be a retrieval of metal traditions from the last century, a potpourri of styles drawn from things as pedestrian as old shipping crates, and idioms as calculated as 1930's skyscraper design—all with a little "hair under the armpits", so to speak. Next month I might get in to Viking Art or something. But in the meantime, no curvy plant shapes or Spanish scrollwork for me—that is, not for my house.

Most of the table is simple in design, but I wanted a visually complex focal point on the ends.

Elegant taper to feet.

This span runs the length of the table. The pieces of the span intersect via four punched-and-drifted holes. A 3/8 bar driven through the respective holes secures them together. I like this detail.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

With the help of a Frenchman...

If you practice a trade anywhere in Santa Barbara—or California, for that matter—you have to understand and/or speak a certain measure of Spanish. Ostensibly, this fair state considers itself an English-speaking territory, but those of us who have hammered nails, tightened pipe-fittings, whitewashed walls, and listened to our co-workers Mariachi music on the radio know better: Spanish is here—nay, has ALWAYS been here—and will be here tomorrow, after the Taquerias close their steam-frosted doors for the night.

It came as a surprise, then, when I had to speak French while installing this last chandelier.

It turned out that our electrician, Eric, was from France. I asked him (in broken Francais), how many French Electricians worked in Santa Barbara. He said twenty-one. And thus, I thought, my chances of meeting French-folk, retrieving verb conjugations from my subconscious, and subtly brandishing casual, relaxed, vocabulary in their jaded faces increased by a factor of twenty-one. After my initial linguistic foray with Eric, in which I covered the basics—hello, what's up, yada yada—he asked,

— Ete-vous de Canadien?

— Pourquoi?

— Puisque vous faites accentuer un canadien.

Great, I thought. I just got admonished for having a Canadian accent when I speak French. I truly had not anticipated the catalogue of emotions that would accompany such an accusation. Eric, with a smile that MIGHT have had some "merde" in it said (in English):

— Ah well, we can't all be perfect.

Eric spent the rest of the afternoon brandishing his unadulterated French-ness, making quips about the City Building Inspector requiring a wine racks for residences (if, of course, you are French) and once, visible to all, greeting the designer, Dawn, with two neat kisses on the cheek. We of North American origin crossed our arms over our chests.

But my chandelier took the g√Ęteau (cake). The installation went flawlessly, the bulbs flashed to life in a corona of clear-filament glory, and everyone—even Eric—ooohed and aahed. In a word: bitchin'. Higher res' photos will follow, once the remodel is completed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

New work, no good names, still happy.

I'm starting to land on a design theme for my forged-metal furniture. I haven't discovered a completely unified look, and my ideas are still quite callow and exploratory, but I've noticed that I consistently enjoy the marriage of wood and metal, particularly when they convey a sort of old-world industrial look. I'm trying to come up with a name: Industrial-Modern; Weathered-Industrial; Abject-Rickety-Industrial-With-Character. I don't know. The latest installment of this "look" includes relatively simple lines in its shape, but suggests movement and a sort of internal kinetic sensibility. I call it the Slider-Bookshelf. Or, pending approval from trusted advisors, the Slidering-Industrio-Shelf.

It sits above my couch on a large, white, and fairly imposing wall. The shelf, which is a little over 50" long, nicely breaks up the space.

It's pretty dang sturdy.

The book-end bracket was great fun to make. The upright of the bookend begins with a textured flange then tapers abruptly down to a 3/8ish tenon, which then plunges through a punch-and-drifted piece of thicker material which makes up the base.

It holds books tightly in case the BIG ONE threatens to shake our drywall asunder.

The whole assembly tightens from below with the aid of a visually attractive (but functionally overkilled) twist-tab.

My end-table, however, is not a blood-relative of the shelf. With bronze banding, tapers, arcs, and a slightly formal organic treatment, this piece evokes something out of my Anglo-Saxon heritage—not turn-of-the-century machinery. I still love it. I'm hoping to make another one (or two) and sell it on spec. If you're reading this and you want your very own Anglo-Saxon end table, I'll make it for the screaming deal of $2,000. Check your piggy bank.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pine Mountain still doesn't suck.

Unless, of course, some hippy has a birthday and decides to invite ALL of his friends to Pine Mountain, complete with generators, guitars, lights, and bongo drums. Yes, you're reading me right: there was a veritable Woodstock in my favorite "pristine" Ojai camping and climbing area. Mary, Dale, and I fled to Enlightenment Ridge with our tent and shared a site with some equally embittered Aussies named Anthony and Nadine.

This was Dale's first camping trip. He performed admirably, and took three dumps in the space of twenty minutes. I do that too when I'm excited.

I was feeling flat from an extremely difficult work week, both physically and mentally, but I did manage to climb a bunch of good problems, including some old favorites like Mystical Steps Towards Deathless Superconsciousness (V6), Dissing Euros (V6), Clawing at the Walls sit-start (V7/8), 911 (V8), and Campus Direct (V6). I initiated this year's token obsession by working the opening moves of Whiplash (V11), just to get the sequence in my head—and so I can perfectly replicate the line on my garage Woody, which is almost exactly the length and pitch of Whiplash.

Good times, and it all ended with an succulent Lamb burrito from Red Barn Liquor Store. Oh, and there were no flies whatsoever (at Pine Mountain, not Red Barn).