A few months ago, we discovered Chris Salomone’s YouTube Channel, Foureyes Woodworking & Design, and decided that Chris needed to be our new best friend. More to the point, we love the way that Chris thinks about design, woodworking, and 3D modeling. We thought you would too, so…
Hey Chris, tell us a bit about yourself...
Hi, thanks for having me. My name is Chris Salomone and I run a YouTube channel called Foureyes Woodworking & Design. My videos are part tutorial, part story, part philosophical -- in varying percentages, based on the content, my mood, the wind… or what I had for breakfast. But basically, the typical video consists of a piece of furniture, how and why I made the design decisions that went into it, the build process, and my reflections on the piece.
Prior to starting my YouTube channel in 2016, I made and sold custom pieces for about five years. Before that I had all sorts of different hobbies: Drawing, music, video. In a way all of those hobbies (at least up to this point) seem to be culminating in the whole content creation/YouTube thing.
Speaking of your YouTube Channel, it seems your video and design style have really struck a chord and been very successful.
Yeah, it's been a pretty crazy year. I feel really lucky to have gained the following that I have so quickly. When I put up my first video, I really did not expect things to move this fast. I imagined that I would spend the first several months making videos that only two-hundred people would see.
When I put up my first video, I really thought a lot of things were out of my control, and I guess to some degree that was true. But my philosophy, or mentality was always on controlling what I could control, and that was just making the best videos that I was capable of making. Luckily, I found my tone/style pretty quickly, and for the most part people seemed to like it. I was lucky enough to gain the attention of a few notable podcasters who helped by featuring my work and giving me some encouraging words - and that really gave me that initial boost that I needed.
It seems a lot of woodworkers out there had a childhood of swinging hammers or building something, but that’s not you. How did you come into woodworking?
Yeah. Obviously everybody has a different background, but it does seem like the most common story involves Dad, Grandpa, or an uncle having a workshop. I grew up totally un-surrounded by that kind of stuff, and it really wasn't something that I was yearning for. In fact, I took a woodworking class as an elective in middle school and the only thing that surpassed my inability was my lack of interest for/in the subject.
I really didn't become interested in woodworking until I was in my late twenties. My wife and I bought our first house, we were looking at furniture and didn't really like anything that we could afford and couldn't really afford anything that we liked. I've always had a sort of "can do" attitude, and was usually pretty good at creative things, so I figured I'd try building stuff myself.
For a good year or two before I ever even cut a single piece of wood, I would draw up designs on SketchUp, at first by mimicking things I saw, and then trying to put my own twists on them. Eventually I wanted and was ready to try my hand at building something, so I found a local community college that had evening woodworking classes. I spent two semesters doing that for three hours an evening on Mondays and Wednesdays. In the second semester we got to try building one of our own original designs. I made a coffee table… and it came out just good enough for me to gain the confidence to declare that woodworking was for me. Then started the slow process of converting my garage into a workshop.
So the start of your journey was practical, building furniture for your new home, but if the day comes that you have a house overflowing with fine Foureyes furniture, will you still create and build new pieces? What about the craft do you really love?
Yeah, definitely! Especially now that my focus is on my YouTube channel, I'm already building things that I can't even use. I have more coffee tables than I have couches already... and I don't even drink coffee! But anyway... Now I tend to pick projects based off of what I think will make for an interesting video. There are plenty of things I need to build, but maybe they are more boring, so I put them off. I think the challenge will be finding a way to make a potentially boring build interesting.
As for what I really love about the craft, I'm kind of weird in that I look at woodworking as a "necessary evil." What I'm mostly interested in and enjoy is the process of designing things, and the end results. The building part is where I try my hardest to translate that idea into a finished piece without ruining things. I think it's also different in that the bulk of my building has either been for clients, or for videos. I could see where it would be a lot more relaxing if you were just building something for yourself with no time constraints and nobody to judge you.
Maybe someday I'll retire and experience that pleasure :)
One of the unique aspects of your work is a really strong design style. Can you talk a bit about what inspires you?
I can try. I always feel as if I don't have a good answer for this. I suppose in a way nothing and everything. Early on, before I had ever built anything, I would try to model existing pieces. I found that it helped me to better understand construction, proportions, and why things were the way they were. That sort of naturally lead into modifying. So I guess my first inspiration was copying and altering the pieces of furniture that I saw and liked. After doing that for some time, and designing a handful of things, I think I built a sort of mental Rolodex of things that I like. Now, when I design, it's mostly a matter of sitting down and combining those different elements until I have something I like.
A lot of my inspiration comes as a result of simply forcing myself to sit there and draw designs... even when I don't feel like doing it. 80% of the time that starts from an unmotivated point of view. I'll sit down to design something, there will be restrictions, and I'll just draw out five-to-ten ideas. Eventually one of them will click. That's when the excitement and inspiration starts. Where you feel like you're at the beginning of something that could be a good idea. From there it's just about refining over and over until you have something that you're really happy with and are excited about creating.
Of course, we here at SketchUp headquarters love to see how you often integrate models or SketchUp views into your videos. How has SketchUp helped to shape the work you do?
I can't say that I wouldn't have gotten interested in furniture design if it weren't for SketchUp, but I can safely say that SketchUp is what ended up getting me interested in furniture design. So on a macro level, SketchUp has everything to do with shaping my work. On a more micro level, I really like how quickly I can explore my ideas in SketchUp. If you think about a design at the beginning stages, most people think that you have to start with a pencil and paper. Sometimes that is the best option, at least for general shapes and ideas. But for me, nine times out of ten, I actually start in SketchUp. I feel like it gets me closer to an actual idea more quickly than drawing does.
It also helps you to explore ideas and approach things differently. For example, if there are size restrictions to a project, I'll often start with a box the maximum size I can build, and then kind of model within those constraints. It makes me way faster because I'm concerning myself more with proportions and layout much earlier in the process than I would otherwise. When I approach it the more traditional way, I feel like I'm trying to shoehorn an idea into a constraint. When I do it this way the idea is born with the constraints in mind, so it makes for a quicker/better result. I hope that makes sense.
As for helping with the build process, I model everything I go on to build down to each little detail. This helps with the obvious things like determine material needs and the most efficient way to batch things. It also lets me problem solve earlier in the process. What I mean is, I don't find myself out in the shop (as often) needing to make the next cut, and not knowing how I'm going to do it. I've usually already come up with a solution or an alternate approach to avoid the problem altogether, thanks to the fact that I've already "virtually" built the piece.
I love hearing how you explore design. Do you have any tips for the community on how you like to structure your iterations or how you manage your models?
I guess I already covered one with the "defining constraints" to start the design process example. I feel kind of weird giving advice because I feel like most people reading this will actually be better, more efficient users than I am. I'm sure I still do lots of things wrong, I don't always use the best shortcuts, etc...
For managing things, I think the biggest thing that I do (and where I see bad practices when people send me their models) is using components. A lot of people send me drawings where the entire model is just one component. That of course makes it a nightmare to alter things, but it also makes it difficult to make things. That's usually my beginner advice for those people. Use components. I think that clears up 80% of the struggle right there.
When I'm designing, I utilize the "make component unique" feature quite a bit. I like to design 10+ iterations of a project with minor alterations here and there to really hone in on the final design. Using unique components helps me do that really quickly.
So, you also have a series of videos entitled "Let's Talk About Design". Is it too mind-bending if we ask you to talk about talking about design?
At the risk of the world imploding, I think I can say a few words. The idea for "Let's Talk About Design" came from a few different places. First, it seems like the most successful YouTube channels upload with more frequency than I am able to realistically achieve. I'm limited to about a video a month, so I thought this could be a way to produce something that wasn't quite as involved. Second, I think that design is probably the area where I'm able to distinguish myself from a lot of other people in the space. There are plenty of woodworkers out there (on YouTube or otherwise) that are much more skilled than I am in a technical sense, so I wanted to try to do something that played to my strengths and could be of unique benefit to viewers.
So far the reception has been really positive. It's the type of thing that isn't going to light the Internet on fire - what I mean is, a really unique build video can get well into the hundreds of thousands, or even millions in terms of views, where as a video like this is probably going to cap at around fifty thousand or so. But, the people who enjoy it are really into it, and get more value from it. I think it's really good for community building - and more importantly, I enjoy it. Modeling/designing is probably my favorite part of a project. It's the part that moves most quickly and where I experience most of the "ups" and excitement. Once the modeling and design phase is over, the rest is just seeing how well you can translate that object from idea to reality (hopefully) without butchering it too much.
Thanks so much Chris for sharing part of your story. Any final hints on where you hope to go next or what we might see from you in the future?
For now I'm pretty happy with doing the YouTube thing. It's been really fun and rewarding so far. My plan is to keep at it, and let it continue to evolve and see what opportunities come my way. The best place to see what I'm working on is my YouTube channel, and the best social media place to follow me is on Instagram.