I’ve always called them “French curves.” But they are probably more correctly referred to as “ship’s curves,” as they were most often used to achieve the lines needed to build boats. Although I don’t remember how I came to have them, they may have belonged to my grandfather. When I began working as a designer I used them to draw non-radial curves, like a door handle I designed for FSB in 1989. The arrow marks and zeros visible on some of them were made by me while drawing segments of longer curves. Nowadays computer drawing programs are equipped with everything you need to achieve a smooth and precise curve, but the process feels detached and inhuman compared to the physical sensation of running your pen along a well-curved plane of wood. It’s no exaggeration to say that these shapes helped develop my sense of line and appreciation of form itself. Someone else made them, but in doing so they passed on something far more important than a tool for drawing curves.
Jasper Morrison is an industrial designer based in London and Paris.
Morrison’s French curves are part of the exhibition Source Material. A project by Morrison, Jonathan Olivares, and Marco Velardi, Source Material explores the references, keepsakes, objects and books that have informed, provoked and stimulated a selection of people working in several creative disciplines today. The exhibition is on view during Salone del Mobile, April 8–12, at Kaleidoscope Project Space in Milan.