Friday, September 28, 2012


I have an affinity for finely crafted things. I don't have many possessions, but a lot of the things that I own are beautifully crafted. That isn't to say ornate, I like simple, functional design. For the past thirty years - maybe more - we have been pushed into mass produced, inexpensively made, poorly designed products. But I am starting to see this trend reversed.

I also very much like finely crafted films - this goes back to a life in the 90's when I worked in film and photography in New York. I left photography because I didn't like the effect that the digital revolution had on it. Digital took a lot of the craft out taking a still photograph. You had to know whether you had the image on film, you had to trust your gut. When I did my first kayaking trip in Alaska in 2000 I brought 100 rolls of slide film with me. I didn't see that film processed until weeks after returning home. Today I can take a picture and see on the spot if I got the shot. If I didn't I can keep taking photos until I do. As much as I hate the effect that digital had on photography I love the effect that digital had on film. Twenty years ago you needed a studio backing you and a crew of 100 to make a film. Now you need a handful of people and a camera and a computer. It is truly an amazing time, I can go kayaking with an HD camera mounted on my boat or myself, go home and edit the footage, then upload it to vimeo and show it to the world. In 1986 I worked at a studio called Rebo on west 17th street (I think it was 17th) and got to see one of the first HD cameras in the United States. It was massive, as big as a kitchen table, and had to be hooked up to a truck to work. That is the kind of change I am in favor of.

So it is wonderful now that I can see crafted short films about crafted projects. Perhaps you need a knife? I like that he makes reference to the ten thousand hours.

Made by Hand / No 2 The Knife Maker from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

There are recurring themes today about people whose careers didn't work out. They then chose to do something they loved. Like making a knife, or a bicycle. This resonates with me, as I changed careers myself. I would love to say that I make a living from PaddlingOtaku - maybe someday - but the important thing is I am happy. I am not going to a job that I despise. I do have the benefit of a wife who would rather I be happy than working a job I hate, which is something I am thankful for everyday.

There are also companies that choose to make something in an old fashioned way, because that is the way they have always done it. Their are easier ways to do things today, but some choose the more difficult path. I was once given a hard time at the end of a NOLS course by a senior instructor. He made a disparaging remark about me drinking a 'cheap' whiskey. I don't think he meant it to be hurtful, but because I respected him it cut pretty deeply. I respect a company that makes its own barrels, and will continue to drink their fine whiskey, as I have for close to thirty years.

The Birth of a Barrel from Travis Robertson on Vimeo.

I would very much like to see Werner Paddles make a short film - I would gladly do it for them - about the making of their paddles. I find them beautifully crafted, and they have an elegant feel that I have never felt in any other paddle. I have said before that I would like to have a custom made fiberglass boat, but I have neither the finances or the skills to do it myself. I am not sure where my craftsman like skill is - probably as a teacher which is what I think I am best at, but I feel that isn't quite the same.

There is something about pounding steel on an anvil. Its simplicity, its power. Taking a block of steel and heating it and turning it into something useful is a truly wonderful enterprise. Though as useful as an axe is, I would rather a sword.

The Birth Of A Tool. Part I. Axe Making (by John Neeman) from John Neeman Tools on Vimeo.

This one I have posted before but it is so wonderful I have to post it again. We are seeing an explosion in the cycling industry, as gas prices rise, and we get ever fatter from lack of exercise food seemingly designed to kill us. There is something about getting on a simple bicycle and going for a ride. I think the only thing more simple than going for a ride, is going for a paddle.

The Inverted Bike Shop from Show Love on Vimeo.

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