The first in a series of explanatory cartoons, Geoffrey Finnimore looks at ways of depicting technical know-how in a fun and light-hearted cartoon. Geoffrey is a woodworking architectural designer and natural builder based in the South West of England and Wales:

I picked up my sketchbook and started drawing characters. Their faces began appearing out of the page. Nina looked over my shoulder and told me that they looked scary and I remember thinking, 'No they're not, just wait till you get to know them'. She helped me to identify who they were and what they were all about. The Flint Rufflers came to me as a name. I didn't even know what the words meant, I just knew it was who they were. After looking in the dictionary, I discovered that it was rather apt and now it is what it is. The title page is a rough edit of that moment and can be carefully read to describe what they are all about.

Prior to this, I had been pondering the creation of a visually articulate, hand drawn explanation of roundwood timber framing. In 2017, I worked with my friend Adam, helping him to achieve a small back garden roundwood construction project. Inspired by both his refined methodology and passion, and by previous lessons that I had gained whilst volunteering and skill sharing on Simon Dales’ wildly imaginative Earthlea project, I started roughly sketching out diagrams in a logical order to help me retain those experiences so that I could share them with others. I continued to work on them during a 24-hour bus journey to Prague, where I was to attend a natural building conference. When I got there, I overheard one individual asking around everywhere for an explanation of how to squarely cut a round log so that it would stand as upright as possible. I showed him my sketches. This was confirmation that I had knowledge to share that others were keen to learn about. This interaction also helped to define what the first episode would be about.

I took these two happenings and mashed them together. The Flint Rufflers would take up the challenge of teaching others what I had learned. I began outlining a context and developing a style based on perspective technical drawing, working towards achieving a rich and vivid anime/manga cartoon style that had captured my imagination and respect for so long. Once I had the black line art, I scanned these images on to the computer and began separating each part of the drawing in to colour layers. The computer helped to create a bold and vivid colour set, and by exploiting these layers, I could begin dropping in shadows to help bring the images to life.

After that, I focused on the literal information and the story telling. You may notice that the characters find it difficult to relate to each other, yet they are working together to achieve a common goal. They are based on aspects of my own personality that I can identify with, but they also represent architypes that are commonly found within our collective personality. In this case, we see stubborn and self-righteous know-it-all’s who also have an eagerness to prove themselves. The willingness to learn only overrides this when we work outside of our comfort zones or choose to recognise our failures.

In learning roundwood timber framing amongst other building practices, I have also learnt about working together with others. Personally I have found this to be a most valuable and challenging lesson as it has required me to question my own behaviours in relation to others. If we could overcome these individual and collective challenges on a wider scale, then together we could begin to solve some of the most crucial and imminent global challenges, and we could build an architecture of true humanity and humility.

I hope to continue this series so that these practical skills can be disseminated through the public domain. I believe in roundwood timber framing as it connects us with the forests. We can take timber straight from the woods and begin creating habitats with it. We can see the woods and the divinity of each tree inside of our own homes, and we can use our classical orthogonal intelligence to make sense of it all in our own language. It is a practice which allows for cuttings from thinning and coppicing to be utilised in construction, providing an incentive for better forest management practices and less intrusive or destructive timber extraction methods. This is in contrast to the all-too-common paradigm of clear felling poorly maintained mature woodland and then tearing the trees up and reorganising them with heavy machinery to get the 'good' bits out.

I believe roundwood timber framing is an approachable and empowering skill. If we can share these skills and bridge the connections to where our resources come from, then we can begin to respect and care for our forests and environments. We can begin to see them as both places of resource from which our needs can be fulfilled, and as living breathing places of real character and life that (like ourselves) also deserve the opportunity to grow and flourish.

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