Let the Chips Fall Where They May

It is always an exciting moment to finalize and release the new issue’s cover design. Though we never premeditate any theme, we always look for naturally occurring threads running throughout the articles. The cover often reflects some of the content in the issue, though it is not even close to regurgitated material. Unlike all the rest of our seat-of-the-pants, natural-light photography, we take great pains with the cover shots. We bounce around ideas and fuss over minutia to get it right.

Believe me, I know how dumb that sounds. But what we’ve learned over the years doing this is that hands and the work they do can communicate more than most people can put into words. Take the cover of Issue Ten for example. The concept was clear: Mike riving a piece of green wood with a froe. Sounds simple enough, right? But the question we wrestled with was how to convey each aspect of the operation in a single still photograph. And as you may remember from you family portrait sessions, the most natural looking pose in a photograph somehow always feels the least intuitive. (“Chin up. Up more. Turn your head and look over your shoulder. Now straighten your back and lean in a little.”)

I must have taken 75 shots of Mike’s hands, but we both knew instantly that there was only one candidate. The way the fingers curl, the location of the tool in the stock, the angle of the work to the body… all of it can easily look awkward and confusing. But somehow there’s a golden moment in which everything clicks and that single shot conveys the totality of the operation.

The same can be said for strewn shavings and chips – in my experience, it’s nearly impossible to fake this. Because I want this to be as genuine as possible, I do the actual work right on the white paper background and let the chips fall where they may. The Issue Eleven cover (shown above) features a set of dovetails in pine in order to foreshadow my article on batch production. I laid the boards on the paper, chopped a little, and set the chisel down to capture the moment. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, and I have to do it again. But it never works to fake it.

We work hard to make these covers as three-dimensional as possible. We always get a kick out of readers telling us that even though they know the dust is in those photos, they still find themselves trying to wipe them off. Talk about an interactive experience.

We couldn’t be more delighted with the way the Issue Eleven cover came out…it’s the first time dovetails have been featured!

This issue is heading out to the printer in a few weeks! So stoked!

– Joshua


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