Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Embrace Creativity

Creativity is like riding a bike. You might be a little rusty at first, you may even fear falling off, but then you feel the wind through your hair, you find your balance and wonder why you haven’t ridden in years! More and more people are embracing creativity in some way because they feel the need for connection, expression and the acknowledgement of who we are.

The act of being creative requires us to take risks. Most of us learn by the time we are in middle school that we had better stay comfortable and safe and not take any more creative risks. Somehow, transitioning from stick figures to realism is a daunting task. Go figure! We Americans want successful results right away. Do you know some people spend their lives drawing the figure? Somehow, as our brains develop, we never make it back to the drawing table and we continue playing it safe.
Making furniture is already a bunch of hard work, why make it even more difficult by changing the design? I could be making furniture that copies the Queen Anne, Early American, French Provincial, Colonial, Pennsylvania Dutch, Shaker, Victorian or even Art Nouveau styles. There are many, many more if I don’t like any of those. That would be playing it very safe. Many woodworkers stay working in the style that they were taught. There are many very fine woodworkers out there doing just that and there is nothing wrong about it. 
I need to exist in a creative space weather cooking, woodworking, driving home or playing music. Being creative is the breath of fresh air, the life force, the one thing that keeps me challenged and intrigued.

I grew up surrounded by Chippendale, Colonial and Queen Anne furniture. I discovered Shaker when I was a teen. Shaker was so refreshing to me because it focused attention on the wood itself and simplified the design so the two could co-exist.

Today, like the artist studying the human form, I am still playing with proportions, edges, curves and lines. I draw things out as best I can but when it comes right down to it I have to consider the wood as well as the finish in my design.

It is a risky business being creative. Living in uncertainty can be unsettling and not everything we do is successful. Hopefully we learn a little something along the way and get as close to 'just right' as we can. Each success builds upon another and before you know it you're working out your algebraic equations with your ABC's! And you must admit, taking the leap to create is downright exciting! 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Calling Our Creative Genius

It's like take out, you have to make the call and place your order if you are going to get your dinner!
Jo Bradney still life

My last post really got me thinking about the process of creativity. I was explaining that I am waiting for the right design to ‘come to me’ for a box hinge and legs that I have been dinking around with for the past 6 years. I realized that I didn’t say that I actually have to place an order for the design. I set an intention and put the box off to the side while I am working on actual jobs. I don’t know what I will make for it. I try to clear my mind and let the creative department take over. Being a woodworker, I do my best to balance creativity with skilled manufacturing.

I did start out designing with a drawing. However, in this case, a drawing just won’t suffice. The particular board that the main box is made from has so much personality that a drawing just isn’t going to cut it. It isn’t simply a question of the size of the box and shape of the lid. It has more to do with how the other aspects of the box will co-exist with that crazy grain pattern in the box! The hinge and the legs have to be powerful, delicate, practical and graceful.

I have been paying attention to my creative process for a very long time because in Art School just about every artist gets paranoid about it.  We hear rumors about writers block or artists never being able to top their last success. We become pretty obsessed about finding that magic thing that keeps us making art and running like hell from the things that get us all clogged up and unproductive. The truth is we are all of it. We are human, it’s normal to be in a stuck place, to struggle, and to get through those times and produce. Some people find a formula and stick with it, others meditate, and some find what seems like a deep well of inspiration.

A friend shared a story she heard from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert was interviewing the American Poet, Ruth Stone (who was in her 90’s and still writing!) . . . I’m paraphrasing Gilbert as she explained what Ruth said:

“She would be out in the field working on the farm and feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape like a “Thunderous train of air”. It would come barreling down at her shaking the earth beneath her feet. She knew there was only one thing she could do which was to run like hell to the house, (being chased by a poem), and get to a piece of paper and pencil fast enough so that by the time it reached her she could collect it.

If missed the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and it would continue across the landscape looking for another poet.

At times, she would almost miss it, and she’d be looking and looking for a piece of paper or pencil and the poem would start to pass through her and she’d reach out with her other hand and she would catch the poem by the tail and she would pull backwards into her body and she would have it. In these instances the poem would come out perfect and in tact but backwards from the last word to the first.”

Spoken like a true poet! Gilbert also spoke of creativity and whether or not it is us or if it is something outside of us that some people are able to notice or tap into. Perhaps she is referring to my “Creative Department?”

My favorite author right now, Haruki Murakami, writes:

“I don’t necessarily write down what I am thinking; it’s just that as I write I think about things. As I write, I arrange my thoughts. And rewriting and revising takes my thinking down even deeper paths. No matter how much I write, though, I never reach a conclusion. And no matter how much I re-write, I never reach a destination. Even after decades of writing, the same still holds true. All I do is present a few hypotheses or paraphrase the issue. Or find an analogy between the structure of the problem and something else.”

a drawing by Jacquelyn Smith, And The Shadow's Laid Across The Land

Our processes are all so different but one thing remains the same . . . We have to stay open to the creative process, our muse, or whatever it is, to include it in our work and our lives. This is fascinating stuff! We show up, put in our order, do our best work and wait for the “thunderous train of air” to gallop across the landscape so that we can catch it! Are you ready?

click here to buy Haruki Murakami’s memoir: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
click here to see Gilberts bookEat, Pray, Love

Friday, February 1, 2013



They have finally figured out the wireless sync, so why not? I’m sure someone is working on this right now. I know it may require some intense filtering but sometimes I wish I had this feature. My screen may look like this at times:
                                          by Thorsten Nass  Beautiful isn’t it? See more of his work here:


One is a jewelry box, or at least that’s what I think it is going to be. I have decided that I will make my own hinges for this and I want them to be sculptural accents made out of the hardest wood in the shop, Vera Wood.  Its green and blue and amber which will accent the fir box nicely.


The way I go about this is I engineer the working parts and structure and then I wait for a vision to come to me. I see things in three dimensions in my mind. I can turn them around up there and consider what this might be like in reality. While waiting for ‘inspiration’, I might draw or go work on something else for a while.  This part can literally take years. 

NOTHING, IS A DIFFICULT STATE, and if I am uptight about visualizing the perfect answer, pacing back and forth in my head like a ping-pong ball, then nothing is what I will have. Creativity can’t be forced for economy of time. I need to take the “I” out of it, relax into the nothingness, and discover what emerges.


Graceful lines, functionality, sexy, and I had no idea HOW I was going to make it, but I saw it! I held a beautiful answer to the puzzle and no visual question went unanswered!

I WAS EXTREMELY BUSY at that moment in time and couldn’t or wouldn’t put down what I was doing and draw it. I was gluing, clamping, or cutting a whole bunch of wood. “Yes, finally, that’s it, nice, I like it! I’ll write that down in just a minute. “  I do think I even thought I’d wait a few to see if I could tweak it a little so that it would be easier to make. For some perspective, I’ve been pondering this box for about 6 years.  Some simply require more time for that exquisite design to bud.


Crap! I thought it would come right back. I usually don’t forget images (it’s a blessing and a curse, believe me) What if I never see it again. I do remember a beautiful rounded fin that reaches back away from the box hinge and looks like it is fluttering mid-air. The arm that crosses the top of the box tapers and resolves to a soft point like a ridge.

                               Here you see walnut legs I carved for another jewelry box

If only I could sync my mind with my iPhone I’d have several images of my vision to share with you (and me for that matter) and I could be off figuring out the ‘how to’.

Note to self:
STOP WHATEVER I AM DOING AND DRAW OUT THE DESIGN, no excuses, no waiting. The good thing is I probably do remember enough and there are so many solutions for crafting furniture and woodworking projects. It does help to slow down a bit, let the chatter fade away and be. And when the inspiration hits catch up and run with it baby!

Have you noticed what your creative process is?

Little Flame

Little Flame
Prize winner in the NWFW 30th Annual Box Show! SOLD