Your body as a tool
I have been teaching small tool use (metalsmithing and miniature sculpture) for a long time. One of the most astonishing things tI've noticed is the body contortions into which most people put themselves in order to make a tool work. It seems as if the tool is using them much of the time. In order to get a chisel to work, they might throw their elbows up and twist 60 degrees to the side and cross their legs and lean over and turn their head to the side. It always sends me into a giggling fit.
CENTER, I know that many people do Yoga and other body and mind exercises these days. Let's consider this the Yoga of Tool Use.
When you intend to use a tool, set yourself comfortably, whether you are sitting or standing. Center yourself. Remember this first: all your moving parts constitute an arc, except your wrists, spine, and ankles; which allow for more range of motion.These parts will do compound arcs, but always arcs. If you intend to make a flat stroke, all this is working against you unless you have control of your movements. Our bodies do not easily express straight lines, although we are exquisitely designed to do so if necessary. So CENTER FIRST! RECENTER OFTEN!
RELAX. As you center, relax and get focus on your body. Your whole body is intimately connected to your visualization space. Gradually take your attention up from your fingertips and toesies through your body center to your visualization space. Be aware that you are in control.
I do this every time I sit down to work. And often during my work.
Bend your elbows to bring your fingertips together. Wasn't that easy? That is your work area. If you see very well, or if you are working on something that doesn't require micro-attention. You are set to work.
SET YOUR WORKSPACE. If you can't see what you're doing or if the object of your attention is small, then bring the workspace up to meet your eyes. This is very important. Most jeweler's benches are set at chin level, so that you don't need to bend your back and neck to see. This is the First Level of Contortion.
Also, because I work so much at the bench, I have had my eyeglass depth of field set to the best working distance for the rest of my body. Most optometrists set the depth of field at a nominal distance for reading, which is not necessarily correct for working close with your hands.Most people, especially if they have trouble seeing, work at standard table height and bend themselves to the work, sometimes with their chin almost on the table. You will often see young people doing this- it is a clue to take them to the optometrist because they are probably having trouble seeing. This can result in a lifetime's bad working posture if not corrected.
SET YOUR LIGHTING. Most work spaces that I observe are poorly lighted at best. There is a huge difference in your capability to do fine work between a well lighted and a poorly lighted space. I try to create workspaces with 3 different types of light: Area lighting, flood lighting, and adjustable lighting. Overhead flourescent lights are good area lights, particularly if they are fairly low (8') above each work space. I use flourescent floods in clamp-lamps just above and in front of me- at about 3'-7', both focused generally on the work space. The final lighting- preferably an adjustable desk lamp- needs to come from the side opposite your working hand. It is very distracting to work in the shadow of your own hands. An adjustable lamp allows you to focus in at any angle, close to your work. Ahhhhhh.
SEE. When you bring your workspace up to visual level, the light is right, and you are still not able to see what you're doing with corrected vision; correct your vision some more. Jewelers and others who work in detail often wear a loupe, or an optivisor, I like the optivisor best because it is for both eyes. I have optivisors in my shop with different levels of magnification from 2 to 7. The #2 is comfortable for working at 10" to 20"= the #7 has a focal length of about 2", and is great for examining what you have done with your work, but not so good for working, unless you can work 4" from your face. The central idea here is to see as much as you can. And- remember as much as you can.
VISUALIZE. We have set you up in a correct position and given you supersight. What more could we do? We have come full circle at a different level to what you cannot see. You are often unconsciously working on what you cannot see. You certainly don't see a knife halfway through a watermelon. Much of the time your work is obstructed, and you must depend on feel and visualization to achieve a good stroke.
This situation is a good opportunity to practice conscious visualization. I will use a flat paintbrush as an example. Suppose you are painting a sign and you have outlined the letters and want to fill them in. Try that from the First Level of Contortion. Believe me, if you are twisted, you will have twisted work.
Look at the end of your brush... do all the bristles lay flat next to each other? (this should be a soft, flat brush with long bristles) wet the brush with water or solvent, and smooth it into a flat. Remove the excess liquid. Your paint should be of a thickness that will not run, but will fill the edge of the line without skipping or gapping. Dip the brush and wipe off most of the excess. Never dip the brush all the way to the ferrule! You do need enough paint in the brush to run a line,though. Hold the brush up diagonally with the bristles down and see if a drop is formed at the corner.
This is your first visualization. The drop on the edge of the brush is the feed for your brush stroke. You must now visualize the extra paint inside the package of bristles, all draining down to that point. GRAVITY RULES! Remember that when you are painting- if you hold the brush up, the paint drains back into the ferrules. If you are painting on a vertical surface, this is extra important. Many people hold the brush like a pencil, with the bristles up, hoping that gravity is suspended. Ha! Think of the Japanese calligrapher. Their brush is held vertically.
Now that I have made you totally uptight, loop back to Center and Relax. The purpose of the above narrative was to provide you with an example of the visualization I use when I letter with a brush in the Western way. I will abandon this narrative and get back to the point, which is, be aware of everything that is happening in each stroke. If it is a brush, visualize the paint streaming and the tip of the brush; if it is a chisel, visualize the blade edge where it meets the material. Use the earth zoom and imagine what is happenibg microscopically when the tool meets the work. Visualize the position of your joints as you.make each stroke. You need a movie in your mind which describes what you are doing just as you are observing the moment. It is sometimes quite exhilirating!