Just like any other product design student, I've marveled at Charles and Ray Eames’ designs. Their trademark of bent wood, in particular, has transfixed me every time I lay eyes on it. Until a few weeks ago when one of my professors introduced us to a new project. We were to build wood trays that bent in such a way that required the use of vacuum bag technology. I viewed this project as my most ambitious. And also, quite possibly, the death of me.

It took only a few short weeks for me to look at an Eames lounge chair with a certain pervading frustration. I was in the middle of the tray project when everything seemed to fall apart. I mean this literally.

Wood that was meant to be seamlessly curved ended up jagged and either too short or too long. Crucial parts of my mold would shatter when I shot staples into it. On one particular occasion at the wood shop, I spent a solid three hours trying to figure out how to set up and use a vacuum bag without air leaking out of it. I had seen the demonstration, yet couldn’t seem to do it myself.

However, the biggest detriment to this project was the moment I asked myself: Am I really cut out for this, or did I force myself into a discipline I do not belong in? 

This question would ruminate in my head in the days to follow and with every passing day, I would feel stronger and stronger the answer was NO. Though I always knew that the question of self-doubt would remain present in any sort of creative practice, this time felt different. The underlying pressure I've maintained of having to be everything to everyone was emphasized when I asked a follow-up question: Does this mean I should drop out?

And then one day, I reached a turning point. I was able to vacuum my wood onto my mold. Once I had done so, I left it alone for 45 minutes like I was instructed and then I unsealed the vacuum bag and all the air was let out with a loud swoosh.

Still, I was apprehensive that the wood hadn’t bent. Perhaps it was trauma after all those days that I had left the woodshop in defeat. However, once I shimmied the piece out of the bag, I saw that the wood had, indeed, bent.

It was strange and startling to me that, at one moment, things could be impossible––no matter how much I willed it not to be––and then at the next moment, witness it happen before my eyes. It was then that I realized that the act of making is, and would continue to be, hauntingly precarious and wholly gratifying––almost like a ballerina performing a pirouette on stage for the first time. This was a thought that I would have to get myself acquainted with for the next few years and perhaps, the rest of my life as both a human and designer (but more so the latter).

There are no guarantees in design. It is uncertain whether people will love your work, that you’ll make a perfectly precise cut, that you won’t lose a finger while using the bandsaw, and that you’ll be able to bend wood that is intrinsically rigid. There is only a heap of helplessly hoping and most of the time, failing in succession. Persistence is necessary in order to fulfill this routine. And this, I would have to come to terms with.

Illustration by Aaron Dickey of Unknown Studio