Inspiration

I am forever being asked what inspires me.  I hate this question.  I know what they expect me to say.  Something deep and poetic.  Maybe, “I’m inspired by the fine netting of veins in a leaf; by the delicate crystalline lattice of a snowflake”, at a minimum I’m supposed to say I’m inspired by nature.  The problem is, it doesn’t work that way.  At least not for me.  The whole idea is wrong.  The idea that some external ...thing...will cause a flash of inspiration and make me creative is wrong.  Inspiration isn’t external...it’s part of me.  I think it’s part of all of us.  I think it’s part of being human.  I’ve given this a lot of thought...mostly to avoid writing an “artist’s statement”.  

I am most often asked about “my inspiration” by people at art shows that self identify as “NOT creative”.  Often it feels like they want to know the secret formula to become a creative person.  Well, I can tell you the secret in 5 stupidly simple steps...  

1 - Pick a medium.  

2 - Get your hands on the tools of your medium and learn how to use them.  

3 - Get familiar with the materials.  

4 - Play with the tools and the materials.  

5 - Just kidding, there's no number 5.  That's all there is to it. 

A lot of people don’t remember how to play.  I’ll spell it out.  Set yourself up with the tools and the materials in a place where it’s ok to make a mess.  Give yourself permission to fail.  Start with the idea that it’s okay if at the end of playtime everything you’ve made is so bad that it needs to be thrown away.  Turn off that voice that cycles through your to-do list, and just experiment...tinker...putter..play.

As you play you will have to make choices about what you are making...subject, size, proportions, colors, textures, composition, scale, and a bazillion other things that are specific to your medium.  You don’t really have to think about it.  As a matter of fact, at first you probably shouldn’t think about it.  Just play.  But even if you aren't putting a lot of thought into it, you ARE making choices.  Green instead of blue.  Round instead of square.  Walnut instead of cherry.  For every one of those choices you could have made a different choice.  At some point, you should feel overwhelmed by the number of choices you DIDN’T try; by the near infinity of combinations still untried.  And that is where inspiration hides.  That is where creativity comes from.  Make one thing, and you will think of 10 other ways you want to try.  Try them all.  Before long, you’ll have a list in your head a mile long of things you want to try.  Before long you’ll make something you like.  Before long you’ll think, “that piece is good, but it would have been better if…”  And that is pretty much the secret.  At least for me.  You play until you make something you like.  Then you play with it to make it better.  Then you play with variations on the idea until you get bored and want to try one of the two million other ideas you thought of along the way.  At least that’s the way I’m put together.  Maybe you're inspired by snowflakes.  
 

Mantle

Just about a year ago I was installing the mantle I made in this video.  The plank I cut was a little over 8' long, 4" thick, 20" wide, and by my math, tipped the scales at over 300 pounds. Watching the video, I have a cascade of visceral memories.  Two hours of doing a slow kneeling crawl around the log sucking in 2 stroke exhaust until my throat was raw, my eyes burned, and every facet of my knees was sore.  I remember the burning thighs and kinked back from rowing it out of the woods.  What looks like easy draw knife and scorp work had my triceps burning in the first minutes and reduced them to pudding by the time I was done.  I remember the spine compressing weight of moving the piece into the shop the hard way.  The stiff back from hours of stooped sanding.  And in case it's not obvious, the seconds-long snippets I've stitched together here were hours in the real world.  For all of that, I still love the thing.  So, what do you think?