To be involved in any artistic endeavour, there has to be a love of the creative process itself. For me this has to be present from the very outset of a project right through to its completion.
Once an instrument is made, its purpose is, in my eyes, that of a working tool for the musician; the creative element passes from the craftsman in wood to the skilled performer in music. Naturally, I have great satisfaction in seeing one of my violas used to its full potential, and a certain amount of pride in the quality of sound produced, but there also has to be satisfaction in the actual physical process of construction, how could any craftsman, in whatever field, not need this level of fulfilment to his work?
Personally, I find it difficult, even frustrating, not to have a full and complete grasp of what I am working with. This is why I was never satisfied with simply copying the shape of older instruments, however much I admire them. Having gained valuable experience whilst working on the restoration of both good, and also importantly not so good, historical instruments, it became clearly obvious to me that there was a core geometry at play in the violin instruments basic design. The few surviving examples of Andrea Amati from the 16th Century clearly show an already established and fully developed geometry in what are thought of as perhaps the earliest examples of the violin form.
The same design principals were not applied by every luthier, there is clearly healthy variation here, but significantly there was an apparent understanding of the application of a basic constructional geometry to their work which has served to guide their hand. Sadly, this originality has been eroded over the centuries as later generations of makers became content with simply copying earlier works, and inevitably the craft was lost. A similar story is told by the later decline of the Gothic architectural style in Europe. Today it is normal to hear from makers, 'I make this, or that model', perhaps hoping to gain some credibility of the original makers work that has inspired them?
For violas, the present day requirements are for instruments that are representative of the full size spectrum. In order to respond to the demand for different sized instruments, I have found it necessary to apply a working geometry in order to maintain similar playing and tonal characteristics from one sized instrument to the next. My early studies of instrument geometry were inspired by the need to produce a working workshop model that could be developed easily from the smallest viola to the largest. As a result I have developed a highly original design peculiar to my own working practices. I have not followed this course simply to be different, rather I see it as a practice that preserves the tradition of the craft. Without this involvement in fundamental constructional design, my skill as a craftsman, would I feel, be wanting, and not least the day to day process of building instruments that much more difficult.
Although there is naturally an historical context to the development of the design, I have not concerned myself with trying to interpret any particular instrument form, although certain similarities have suggested an earlier application of certain constructional devices. I have rather concentrated on the development of a simple geometrical constructional regime that may be used to build an instrument of a traditional form, and it is in this sense that I call my design both ‘traditional’ and 'original '.