• Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

These thoughts started to gel as I was browsing a craft exhibit of many wonderful pieces. There were also a few that didn’t quite measure up, at least in one man’s opinion. I wondered what, apart from preferences in style, had formed my view of an object as a creative success or as falling short.

Further, I supposed these considerations could help me with my work. “I work wood, therefore I am??”

At the core of creativity is the development of a powerful, compelling, rich idea. By “idea,” I mean more than a whim or an attractive notion. I mean a driving, guiding force with enough energy to result in a creation. I like the word “concept” for this. Without it, a creative effort really doesn’t stand a chance.

When designing a new piece, I wonder why would anyone, including me or a client, really care about this. One way out is to make ostentatious nonsense or to be different for its own sake. No, I want to make refined work that elicits the “quiet joy” of which Krenov wrote.

Moving ahead, a clear concept produces economy of intent and execution. The artist/craftsman grasps the essence of what he desires to create, and thus driven, marshals the skills and focus to make it be. To get the job done, the intent must coordinate with workmanship and this must be conscientiously sustained throughout the construction process. In other words, consistency of intent should engender consistency in workmanship so that one reflects the other.

OK, nice lines on paper that I’ve got here but I better be able to pull this off. I must have the skill and mental focus to carry this through because no one puts up scale drawings in the living room.

The result of all of this, we hope, is harmony of all the aspects of the piece – form, wood, color, details, and so forth. This is pleasingly evident when viewing the piece. It is so readily evident that it will likely make the viewer blissfully unaware of the sweat it took to get to the final product.

By contrast, inconsistency and disharmony are readily evident. Think brown shoes with a tuxedo (inconsistent intent) or a suit that would look great except for an awkward fit that can’t be ignored (inconsistent workmanship).

I better be clear about where I’m going with this because I’m going to invest a lot of work in it. More than hope that it will “come out good,” I’ve got to think and believe that it will.

More than merely theoretical meanderings, this is the stuff that makes a piece produce that good “Ahhh” feeling. It is a formidable job to have a good idea, recognize and develop it, then sustain it as you execute it with consistent workmanship. I am grateful to be able to make things in wood, it is fun, and at times exhilarating, but I do think it is truly difficult to do well.

Stay with it, you can do it. “Unity and variety,” as Maestro Heath used to say.

Category: Ideas
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6 Responses

  1. 1

    Kind of interesting to think about where ideas come from and how they are born… Great post.

  2. 2


    Thanks. I spend a bit of time pondering these matters because they are interesting, but especially because I believe it can help me improve what I do.

    Thanks for reading.


  3. 3
    Rob Bois 

    I’ve read a lot of conflicting ideas about design recently, so I found this post particularly interesting. I’ve seen and heard from several people that truly believe good design is purely subject to the tastes and opinions of the beholder. I am much more in your camp on this. I thought your comment about harmony is dead on. Unfortunately, I think you’re also right that good design does make the viewer blissfully unaware of the work behind it, which is why we sometimes can’t command the prices we’d like. And also why you see so many amateur woodworkers produce such garish pieces in an attempt to “show off” how hard it was to build. Great post as usual.

  4. 4

    Thanks for the comment, Rob.
    Consistent with your points, I would add that it would be nice if our work could speak for itself, but realistically part of our job is to show the public why our products are special and have value.

  5. 5

    I’ve always found joy in creating. Meeting the challenge to conceive and execute my own vision. The satisfaction of experiencing something new I’ve brought into existence. It delights me like a puzzle or a game, and it sustains me like a good meal or good night’s sleep.

    Like most makers, I’d suppose, the act of creating leads me to ponder creation generally and look for insights as to what leads to the best results. My ideas in this regard are ever evolving, but some realizations seem to have held true for long enough that I’ve begun to trust them. Here a couple:

    First, sincerity is essential. By sincerity, I mean being yourself and following your own instincts – your own bliss. If I try to emmulate someone else or satisfy some imagined audience, I lose my way. By definition when I move away from myself, the work becomes contrived. Sincerity is my compass through the creative process; my own honest reactions inform me throughout. If I were playing at being some external audience, I would be driving through the dark in the rain without my wipers on – that is, much more likely to go off the road.

    Second, welcome fortuity. All works require bending the medium to one’s will, but chance and luck can be invited to the table, and oftentimes, will take a seat whether invited or not. We cannot control the placement of every atom, and therefore, it’s merely a matter of degree. Fortuity leaves a place for the subconscious. Fortuity allows one to go beyond the preconceived and find new, and often better, paths than the ones I had imagined.

  6. 6

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Sean. I agree with both points.

    Regarding the first, imitating someone rarely works because I am not that person. Regarding the second, as Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”