Profile of an Artisan: Daniel Graham of Lines Chisels & Brayers

Joseph and I love what we do because we love history and rare books,  but mostly because we love the preservation of rare books - pieces of history - and this means a deep appreciation and understanding of how books were made back-in-the-day.  We're fascinated with the process, craftsmanship, and materials that were available back then.  With a lot of study and practice we apply those same applications to our work, with the added benefit of some modern conveniences of course.  We describe ourselves as craftspeople or artisans before ever throwing out the description "book collector" or even "bibliophile".  We specialize in rare book conservation, but we make so much more.  Because we're always in the mindset of a craftsperson we also love seeing what other craftspeople are creating!  Talking with fellow artisans is a real treat and we appreciate all who put a piece of themselves into their work.  

Last week Daniel Graham of Lines Chisels and Brayers reached out to us about a combined giveaway, and we were so excited to hear from someone whose work we've been stalking on Instagram.  Getting to know a little bit more about Daniel was fun because we found a kindred spirit in the world of art and printmaking.  Daniel received his BFA in printmaking and MFA in the same, and Joseph recieved his BA in Art and MFA in Printmaking!  Yet both found themselves in love with a different media, but a media that still allows them to apply their creative sides, and take advantage of the skills they learned and honed in their studies.  

We were fortunate to be able to ask Daniel some "interview" questions about his family, art, and business, and now I'm sharing his insights with you!

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EH - Give us a brief history of your background in general and as an artisan.

DG - I grew up in a military family. My mom was a craftsperson and my dad could fix just about anything. I have always loved making things and working with my hands. I thought at one point I was going to be an engineer but God had different plans in mind. I ended up taking an art class in college that changed my life. I received a BFA in Printmaking from The University of Florida and then a MFA from the University of Georgia with the same emphasis. But between the two I worked in a frame shop in Washington DC. They needed a woodcrafter and I had no experience but a great man gave me a chance. I ended up managing the shop and being its custom furniture maker. Currently I am Professor of Sculpture and Printmaking at Georgetown College in Georgetown Kentucky. I have an amazing wife (who does the best Bill Cosby impression you could imagine) two wonderful kids (Olive and Thatcher) that teach me more each day than I learned in college, and two little pups (Clover and Cricket) who never let things get to serious.

EH - What do your specialize in? (Furniture making, wood carving, wood turning, etc. . .)

DG - I do a bit of everything. I have the attention span of a squirrel so one week I am making tools, the next I am pulling prints or making machines. But I really enjoy when hand tool woodworking and old school printmaking come together around the campfire.

I make kitchen cutting boards, kids toys, earrings, wood working tools, and custom furniture.

EH - What is your artistic philosophy?

DG - I see myself as an artist and craftsman first and a whole host of things second (printmaker, sculptor or whatnot). So everything I do comes from a place of curiosity and making something the best I can and with the best reason I can.

EH - What or who are your artistic influences?

DG - I am influenced by my kids, my wife, and nature; I love art history and art now but nothing really compares to seeing my wife from across the room or my kids telling me about their day (sorry that’s a bit off point) but really looking at my wife is inspiring and makes me want to make things better, and my kids bring the illumination of imagination and wonder. Artistically some major influences have been Arthur Ganson, Monika Lidman, Robert Muller, George Ferrandi and my grandfathers clock shop.

EH - Describe your artistic style.

DG - It is something that intentionally wanders based off of the concept or project. I try not to worry about how things look in the end in terms of style. If I did, that would mean that I am more worried about how it relates to a brand or to myself more than concerning myself with how its made and how its making me. 

EH - What is your opinion of the importance of handmade goods in our modern society?

DG - Critical. It’s a connective tissue from one person to another. It relates the value of the maker and of our environment. And even beyond that, I think the importance lies in the act of making. A few years back I had to teach a college student how to use a shovel because they had never used one. I was asked to start a whittling club on campus because college students didn’t know how to use a pocket knife. We are in a time where technology has removed the hands from making. I used to break the ice in a new class with everyone sharing injury stories. I can no longer do this because the college kids rarely have been injured. Because they don’t do…they look, and interact, and repeat things but they rarely create or make or take risk. So in response to handmade goods, in a time not so long ago it was just the way things were. You made your plates, furniture etc or you knew who did. An automated item of mass production was something novel. The sad thing is that a lot of people now see the handmade as such. But I think we are leaving that section of the woods and coming out into a clearing where people are seeing value in the handmade and seeing that making and using handmade things makes us better people.

EH - When or how did your passion for woodworking begin?

DG - I don’t know that answer. I remember always making things. I remember making a boat out of construction scraps when I was a kid (it definitely sank). And I remember always loving trees. Seeing them as patience gentle creatures that document history for us (as we are a culture that so easily forgets). But I think a real passion for it came when I started making furniture and started making things for my own home. 

EH - Taking that first step in becoming an entrepreneur can be scary.  What motivated you to start your own business?

DG - That’s a funny story. Being an ADHD person, when you focus on something it can be intense. Someone asked me if I wanted to do an art/craft fair as part of a program their church did. I thought to myself, no one is going to buy big woodcuts and serious art stuff…So I will make some cutting boards and little things. Things just took off from there. 

EH - What has been the biggest challenge in this endeavor so far?

DG - Balancing my time. My time of what I need to do and what I really want to do…I’ve never been good at that.

EH - What is your proudest moment in this endeavor so far?

DG - I think it’s when someone I don’t know from a place I have never been contacts me to ask advice on a project or to identify a random woodworking tool. Every few days on instagram I get one of these and it always surprises me. Who am I, I’m just a guy that makes stuff and plays adult during the day?

EH - What do yuu see for the future of your business?

DG - I choose not to look forward. I’m not in it for a big growth or a big anything, I’m doing this because I like it and I think it helps me be a better father, husband, and person. As long as I still enjoy it I think it’s going in the right direction. 

EH - What is the best advice you were given while pursuing your artistic passion?

DG - Wow that is a tough one. They are all linked to long stories but one that sticks out was a comment a professor said when I was really frustrated with something that wasn’t working out. He said, “Are you having fun Daniel?" I said “NO” then proceeded to vent a bit about the situation. He just stood there and listened and when I was finished he said, “So are you having fun?” “No” I said. And then he said to me with the most direct eye contact “That’s why your work is bad” and he left the room. After I cooled down I realized he was right. It has to be fun even when it’s hard.

EH - What advice would you give to a fellow artisan who may be afraid to share their work?

DG - Make make make, and play as much as you can. I think the only people that advance a field are those that don’t have a clue what they are doing.

Instagram/J.Daniel Graham Art/Lines Chisels & Brayers/Shop/Facebook

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If you haven't already entered our combined giveaway, make sure to share this Photo on Instagram; follow Lines Chisels & Brayers and Eidolon House and tag #booklovergiveaway!  A winner will be chosen tomorrow (1/28).

The giveaway includes a hand-bound half leather journal that we made, and a book bridge that Lines Chisels & Brayers makes.  The book bridge helps you hold open your book while you're reading!  Good luck!