One of the first things you’ll notice when you look at Ray Bock’s work is the sort of fluid motion of his furniture and boxes. It wasn’t always that way. His first piece of furniture was a very straight, Mission style end table. But Ray, who runs his woodworking business in the southwest Wisconsin town of Viroqua, wanted to do more.
Tired of Straight Lines
“I’m kind of living in Frank Lloyd Wright country here,” he says, “and I was getting tired of straight lines. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time knocking out Mission style stuff.” So Ray started sketching out some designs that had a little more motion to them and scanned them into his computer. He discovered that the computer would allow him to smooth out the curves on his sketches, and that helped him design furniture that closely resembled his vision for each piece. “I can create designs for legs and curved parts on the computer and change a curve ever so slightly. I can really control how it looks just using the drawing tools (Adobe Illustrator) on the computer. Once I get it where I want it, I can print out a full-size template,” says Ray.
Making a Living
Ray came out of college with a degree in design. He planned on living off his professional photography while doing a little woodworking on the side. But his fine art photography wasn’t really taking off, and that was complicated by the advent of new computer photography processes that reduced his business even more. “Some talk about woodworking as being a real zero as far as making money; well, photography is even worse,” says Ray. So he started doing woodworking full time in 1992.
Some of the design elements in his furniture, however, come directly from his work in photography. One photography teacher from college particularly influenced his work. Ray remembers the professor and says, “he was real big on building S curves in the the way a photo was composed and that stuck in the back of my head.” That kind of design flow is clear in his work. Nevertheless, Ray doesn’t want to emulate the California style where the furniture is all curves. He hopes to create a balance between the straight lines and the curves in his pieces.
Building a Flexible Business
“I still don’t know anything about running a business,” laughs Ray. “I mean, if you asked me what a business plan looks like, I couldn’t tell you. My business plan is to be incredibly flexible and to be able to turn on a dime.” He does this by carefully designing projects around the tools he already owns and keeping his tool collection basic.
Originally, he thought to split his woodworking projects between furniture and wooden boxes. But lately, he’s getting a lot more requests for furniture. He’s ready to move toward the lower-priced boxes, however, if the market turns south. “Furniture is going really well now and I think it has to with the economy being just nutso. But I foresee the day when I’ll have to go out and do a show and have a lot of boxes because people won’t be spending money like they are now,” says Ray.