A former Australian Army officer, Des King first came into contact with the Japanese culture when he was selected to attend a 12-month intensive Japanese language course at the RAAF School of Languages at Point Cook (now the Australian Defence Force School of Languages, Laverton) in 1974. In 1978 he was sent to Japan by the Australian Army for advanced Japanese language studies, consisting of one year at the United States Department of State Foreign Service Institute in Yokohama, and one year in the Office of the Military Attaché at the Australian Embassy, Tokyo.
He left the Army at the end of 1986, eventually moving to Tokyo to live, and work with his wife, Mariko, as a free-lance Japanese-English translator.
After 20 years of translation work, a change was needed, and in April 2008 Des King began a 12-month postgraduate course in construction and architecture at the International College of Craft and Art (Shokugei Gakuin) in Toyama, Japan. The course was entirely in Japanese, and comprised mostly practical work.
He concentrated on the traditional Japanese trade of tategu, which is essentially the production and fitting of doors and windows, especially shoji. After building the foundation in making and fitting glass doors and windows and shoji, he turned his focus to the elaborate patterns that can be made by kumiko within shoji. This has now become the central theme of his work.
He completed the course in March 2009, and after extensive discussion, he and Mariko decided to return to Australia and set up a workshop in the Gold Coast, Queensland.
The world of kumiko craftsmen (and craftswomen) is one of secrecy, with new methods and techniques jealously guarded and handed down only within the family or business. Very little is written about how to make the various kumiko patterns. Much of this highly detailed work requires specialist tools not readily available to woodworkers outside of Japan.
While Des King has many of these tools, he has made it his mission to devise methods and design jigs that would enable all woodworkers to make these intricate kumiko patterns using a normal set of hand tools found in any home workshop.
Shoji and Kumiko Design: Book 1 The Basics is the first step to realising this.