Enter Woollven Studios

About 2 weeks ago I put out a call; a plea; across the vast series of tubes asking if any kind soul had access to a wood or metal shop that I could use. You see, despite the things that I could be doing: Façadomized (on Twitter) or my own blog project at Blipm-art.com, I am still bored out of my effing mind! I need a job. A purpose, per se, to extricate myself from my air mattress earlier than noon and even change out of my fashionable sleeping attire. In reasoning my solicitation for a shop I figured that perhaps if I could set my mind to building some furniture I could stave off the droves of boredom that are prone to overtake me as I sit in my graciously borrowed room (that, some days, feels distinctly closer to Inuit territory than to downtown Austin).
Enter Woollven Studios. I got a call from a former classmate from good ol’ James E. Taylor HS and she said that she owned/ran a wood shop and that they needed help. I could even trade for shop time. BAM! After meeting the aforementioned Woollven the deal was struck. I show up and help out every morning and I can use the shop. Perfect.

The business end of Woollven Studios complete with Woollven

Here is a little run-down of what we have been doing in the past couple of weeks:

Well, when one signs on to basically be an apprentice; what does one get to do first? You do the basic stuff. Learn the tools and how to take care of them. First task: sharpen block plane blades (the block plane being one of the most oft used tools in woodworking)

Basically, this is the mailroom. The low rung. Sharpening blades for block planes.

Training wheels for newbies upon moving to the Japanese water stones.

Japanese water stones.

Ye Old Strop .After this you can literally shave with these blades.

My spread.


Next, I got to work on was building and setting up a little steam box to steam the Tiger Maple strips that we were going to laminate into the curved kick board for a hall table. Unfortunately, we could not get the best pressure out of the “repurposed” cooking pot that was sacrificed. Because of that…the strips did not really get as soaked as the thinner ones that we glued up the day before.

Steam box V1.0

Inside the Temperamental Beast. The before.

After 4 hours…not gonna cut it.

The finished product, the apron (i.e. the first set of steamed strips that were successfully bent and laminated) now has to be planed smooth and even on both sides to about 2.25″.

The apron, post lamination, against the form.

Woollven demonstarting to me how to plane like a seasoned pro. He is using the cabinet shaper to take more material off at the beginning.

My finished handiwork. Pleased to say it passed the Master's muster.

The two curved pieces are the top and the shelf bottom of the table.

Lastly, we are starting work on a 4″ thick solid maple headboard with a compass inlay made of Tiger Maple. I got to use some of my finely honed architecturing skills to create the compass.

Cut out a vertical- and a horizontal-grain compass so we could play with the look.

All of this work has been absolutely amazing. I have learned so much from Woollven about working with wood in the last two weeks that everything I thought I knew before seems paltry. He refuses to merely give me busy work and insists on teaching me the how & why we are doing the things we are doing. A fantastic teacher, indeed. Soon I will be making some furniture of my own with some generously donated (amazing) wood, shop time, and invaluable language. It may not be the best but I can guarantee that it will be built more with my hands than a machine. Very excited.

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Downto(w)n not Crappy

I have been a re-Texas resident now for 3 weeks and I can say that I believe my decision to leave San Diego and come here is still the right one. One can never expect any person or any place to remain unchanged over the course of a decade. All that aside; I still can not believe how much Austin has changed!

Greetings From Austin

Downtown has always been fairly vibrant. Normally a Texas town such as this would be a difficult sell on “downtown vibrancy” tip but Austin does have a few things up it’s sleeve that no other Texas cities have. For one, the seat of the Texas state government. You may not care for them (I think Texas “politicians” are mostly shit-eating boot-sporting fuck sticks with no marketable talents or skills. The obvious exception: The Texas Film Commission — they are all saints) but the fact of the matter is that the Capitol demands accommodations for government and wherever that demand is in play…you get a glut of public works and infrastructure. Just the state capitol complex alone grants the city a nice expanse of grounds (22 acres in all which includes numerous sculptures and monuments) to walk, run, and picnic on. In Texas, the fact of having an urban park is fairly foreign so the reality of its existence alone is a win for people; and no, it is still no Balboa Park.

7th largest building in the world!…at the time of construction…of course

The next boon to downtown; the central location of The University of Texas at Austin’s campus — the main campus in the UT system — is a mere four blocks North of the Capitol. Is there irony in having a major research university with the 5th largest single-campus enrollment sporting a fairly substantial liberal bias just 400m away from arguably the most strikingly conservative and mind-numbingly idiotic state government collectives assembled (hyperbole — there is always Mississippi) in the Union? Why yes. There is. An irony that, at times, is palpable and really entertaining. UT keeps pumping the young impressionable and brilliant minds onto campus despite the best efforts of the Texas government to dumb them down and indoctrinate them into stupidity in the grade school arena. Qualification: considering that the Texas legislature only meets EVERY OTHER FUCKING YEAR(!) they can do little to stop UT from there “liberal agenda”.

The third constant in the ATX downtown spirit awards is, and hopefully shall always be, the local music scene. It’s alive, it’s prolific, it’s fairly decent in quality, and San Diego has absolutely nothing like it whatsoever. One of the saddest days in my life was, upon moving to San Diego, realizing that it was pretty devoid of a music scene and what little could be claimed was so scattered and fragmented across the suburban landscape that you had to take a bus and a train to get to another venue. I am certainly thankful (at least until SXSW starts up in a month or so) that Austin has the centroid of venues that covers a square mile or so where one can see any type of music you choose. Stock the venues with co-eds from the 40 acres and you have enduring success.

Now, for the new:

You can live downtown now! Holy Christ on a stick! 10 years ago the only way you really got to live downtown was if you passed out in a side alley off 6th street. Now they have “urban” living. I say “urban” with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek because Austin’s fairly diminutive size, lack of a true public transit option, and the non-existence of a central grocery store make it still a bit more of a destination rather than a starting point*. Seriously, downtown Austin needs a viable option as far as acts of daily living are concerned. But; there are units. There are condos. I (assume) there are (a few) rental properties. There is downtown living and it seems to be growing.

You can eat downtown now! Not just BBQ and steakhouses! There are real interesting restaurants with real interesting menus! I have had the privilege of going to a few already and I must say the fare was delicious, the atmosphere engaging, and the experience fantastic. My advice: sit down for a meal and (more than) a few drinks at Peché and Parkside. The first Saturday I was here I had French 75s (a drink that I am betting not many places could make 10 years ago) at PechéSwan Dive (even with the love-child of Sammy Hagar and Ron Jeremy telling us that they “were not serving premium cocktails” that night…well, we did not “premium tip”), Haddingtons (a place whose vibe and menu started whispering to my ego that I would like to be a regular) and The Mohawk. The next Friday 75s were had at: MulberryBar CongressParkside, Ruth Chris’, and Vino Vino (love love love love this place). The second to last place was a necessity to see my good friend Sal. There are places on 2nd street that had only been abandoned building shells when I left. The best part? Downtown is accessible and relevant unlike San Diego’s downtown “entertainment” area, the Gaslamp District. There are, of course, stretches of 6th street that remind me of the entire expanse of Pacific Beach (whoreish, drunkenly depraved, and culturally benign) but at least they seem to have been segregated into a more manageable area for easier college student ambulation. Hell, I even took a little day-time drinking trip to South Congress and they have more stuff there than just The Continental Club now. Surprise surprise surprise. You can also add Jo’s downtownDoc’s, and the Hotel San Jose (amazing patio ambiance) as fantastic places to get food and fare in the downtown area.

My main goal upon moving to Austin as a degreed professional and an “adult”, aside from gainful architectural employment, was to forget everything I know or knew about Austin and attempt to experience it all over again the right way — or at least in a way that is more congruent with my ideology. So far I think I have been doing well. I even some fantastic live music last Saturday from BK & Mr. E, Zeale (Legit Austin Hip-Hop with legit skills), and Zeale’s Spinner — DJ Rockwell 9000!

BK & Mr. E

This company does not front

Next Up: The “urban” neighborhoods.


* No, I do not count Whole Fucking Foods as a grocery store (even if it is WF #1). Shopping at Whole Foods is the grocery store equivalent of buying a Mercedes: You insist on paying too much for something that is more of a status symbol and an empty ideology, but you wind up getting something that drives like a bricked piece of crap. I’m with Marc Maron on this one when he said that he tries to steal something from Whole Foods every time he goes in there just because he feels like it should be done. Fuck those guys.

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San Diego, I Think We Should See Other People…But We Can Still Have Sex, Right?

My Dearest San Diego,

The rumors you have heard from your friends are true; after more than a decade, San Diego, I’mbreaking up with you. We were thrown together through unforeseeable circumstance and despite the fact that we always had eyes for other people, we made it work. We had a life together that is for sure.

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Meta-sfaction Not Guaranteed

There is a commonality among most professional fields (well, let’s actually say most career opportunities) and tests of endurance. It comes in the guise of mastery or the process of fulfillment. First comes the excitement; the anticipation of the challenge that has yet to be surmounted. Whenever someone makes the conscience decision to move into a career field (or to continue the analogy, make that physical and mental leap at an endurance challenge), the inevitability of the hardship is welcomed, perhaps even embraced. You don’t know any better, therein lies the thrill, right? Soon, along that path one meets the adversity face to face; the pain, the grinding, the stubborn resolve to just…make…it…past. The mastery incline and plateau path is a wicked siren; alluring and demoralizing at the same time, with the intent always to dash you against the rocks before you reach landfall. In this phase, however, the mind is hardened; the resolve tested and usually never bested. Lastly, the pain becomes the pastel hued and tolerable backdrop upon which you can finally build. The task finally comes into stark focus when you enter the state of pseudo-nirvana where the opportunity cost of real success and happiness is merely the pain you have already conquered and relegated to the necessary and banally surmountable nuisance. The extended denouement is your reward. You have bested the mini-bosses and now have the privilege of truly refining your art/career/fortitude to a level that can propel you beyond your initial goals. Not resting on your laurels, per se, but lets say the remaining task is reaping the rewards of hard choices.

Architecture may be the the true exception to this path. Take the paragraph above and flip it on it’s head. The grueling task that is design school is the happiest experience I have had to date in my professional career. 5 years of late nights, little sleep, poor diet, and perpetual poverty could never discount the sheer thrill of Making. All of those aforementioned trials seemed to pale as the task at hand would come to fruition and in an orgy of creative and brain-meltingly copacetic output. The volume of critical thought generated betwixt a single studio classes constituents could overshadow and objectively topple all of the banal accomplishments of any given architecture practitioner. It is the engine of the architecture educational studio that drives this profession…not the actual professionals.

Then comes the pain…

I can honestly say that, for myself, the worst decision I ever made was to graduate from architecture school and start “developing” my professional skills. Do not be fooled. In architecture this is not the transition phase; this is the end game…in a game that actually never ends. For doctors, the thrill of learning is met by the challenge and eventuality of helping those in need. As a lawyer, your 3 years of education culminates in the privilege of rationally interpreting and executing the letter of the law. In architecture, your sacrifice is met and exceeded only by the petty and short-sighted nature of the profession you have now become a part of. To borrow a term I read at some point, the architect is now able to settle into their role as “the lap dog of the rich” and damn your ethical quandaries straight to hell.

Bitter? Yes I am. Bitter that I believed in architecture so much so that it changed my life for the better…and now it only makes me miserable and prompts me to think of alternate careers that I might be able to use my acquired skills for the betterment of my state of mind or the betterment of anything….anything else. To say that I despise my job(s) is an understatement, but I blame myself. I blame myself for taking a second chance at that one place and I blame myself for taking a first chance at the next. Countless times have I spoken to students warning them to be aware of the creeping myopathy that sets as the academic to professional transition approaches. Unfortunately, my diatribes on myopathy have only succeeded in garnering a complacency with it in my own career. I am a victim of my own warnings.

I can only surmise that I am slain both my own ideology as well as the carnivorous architectural economic climate. I grossly envy those that have the financial means to drop the CAD standards manual off at HR and walk out the corporate door, looking back only to make sure the door doesn’t hit them or to remember the address of the office that will eventually eat it’s own young. If I had unemployment to fall back on, you can guarantee I would just start making. Just making. But alas, pragmatism is a greedy whore with regard to architecture. I have to pay the bills…right?

What is the boiling point of a broken profession? What is the circumstance that would make you take the reigns of your own future rather than endure more brow beatings under the auspices of paying dues or “that’s just the way things are”-ism? How do the circumstances stack up in other professions like: acting, music, law, engineering, etc? Is it genuinely possible to adore your profession and loathe your professional colleagues? Across the board? Is it possible to dedicate your time, energy, and money to the betterment of your profession while concurrently hoping that all of the sheeple that practice with die a horrible and fitting death; perhaps crushed by the weight of their ego and a developers falling Maybach? Can the HDF be anymore of a DF?

I guess I may not be cut out for this shit after all. Poop.

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