I don’t always find spaces conducive to my creativity. Mostly, I find I don’t so much create them but more end up in them. In my own home, a single noise can distract me from writing and a simple question can often become quite invasive. I have heard and met people who installed a down-the-bottom-of-the-garden shed with excited anticipation that something was about to change their productivity; that they would indeed become more highly inspired writers or woodworkers only to find that there was something missing and ultimately stressing because what was built was not being used for what they intended. I find myself inspired to write in an ultra-busy cafe. There I seem able to write undisturbed for long periods if I am disturbed I can get back into it by reading the last lines I wrote. In cafes alone, I can allow my thoughts to drift into new realms for a minute here and there and there I find the very sentence and structure to work with and build on. I can’t explain it, and perhaps this makes the worst stuff for you to read and I only think it’s my best, who knows? What I do know is that silence is rarely conducive to creativity in the same way that I seem to produce my best projects when I am under pressure to design a piece I need quite quickly.

Growing creativity is different than growing creatively. I always thought that these two grew alongside one another. I now know that my neatest projects came after I had mastered skills of different kinds and then, from those skills, I could launch into new ideas with answers to the unknown. I made a plane out of pine and used it for a while for one purpose and that was to hollow out the belly and back of a cello. I certainly saw the size of the cello that needed the scallop I could make with a large gouge and that is what I did straight off, but then I knew the scallops I had made needed more refining if the sound was to swirl freely within the chamber to exit the ‘f’ holes as sounds. The plane I made was made from a spruce two-by-four stud and it worked so well that we continued to use it on other bowed instruments too. It’s still going. When I made the hanging wall tool cabinet I used the same tool to make the coving to the top and we made a video on how to make the plane. Inventive creativity just grows. I had never seen or used a two-directional coving plane for such a task but boy did it work well.

The purfling tool most makers used seemed not to work too well although it did work. I designed my own and that did the trick. To then carve the internal lining that follows the awkward shape of the cello bouts with a knife took great skill to get the bevel exactly right and so here again I designed a new, as-yet-unseen-beyond-this-entry, knife. What triggers creativity more than anything else is of course necessity. Necessity prefaces new and creative design of every kind and no more is that more so than in the development of hand tools or machines. And it is not just tools. I often find myself developing a method of work or a technique to create something. The reason I developed sp many new ideas in instrument making was because for me the tools sometimes seemed unequal to the task.

In my creative workspace at work, it might not seem ideal but it really is and that’s because I can move fluidly between the areas that have gradually unfolded. This alone means that my creative space has evolved in the working of it and the working in it. I can’t always explain why I use one workbench over another or then too a bandsaw in one space and not the other. Usually, I keep both bandsaws with the same blades installed and usually, I change the blades out at the same time, and I always date the installation and use both bandsaws interchangeably so that the blades dull at roughly the same speed and point in time. I use the bench I built in 2009 in one workshop and then the one I built in 2019 in my garage workshop. Both work equally well–flawlessly in fact. I settled on my design in 1980 and have replicated it ever since. Little has changed really. It’s time tested and there’s been no need to.

Need a 1/8″ dowel, in rosewood. You can’t buy it so it must be made. Drill a 1/8″ hole in steel and drive a 1/8″ square section through it and you have your special dowel.

I still draw most days. Big things and small things. Drawing helps me to see the as yet unseen things and my lining tool began with a sketch to show Joseph. Drawing is a skill that need not be neglected. I find even the simplest of sketches works as my most essential memory aid and even more so than a photograph. Mostly this is because the things I might want to make don’t actually exist. The sketches capture shape, orientation, proportion, things like that. See in the above how my drawing depicts a tool in use, the shavings falling and such.

My hope with this blog is that you will see how creativity emerges as you develop your own type and style of creativity or indeed you adopt one because it works. I had an art p[rofessor in my class 25 years ago who sketched details into her drawing pad and used it is a journal. There were no lines to write on and no dates to her drawing. She drew on any page the book opened to and if the page was already occupied a new, unrelated drawing went on there somewhere. This was way too random for me but suited her just fine. It was a few years later that I started to keep a drawing journal and some pages get dated and some not, but the drawings, writings, etc are all paged chronologically.


  1. Praki on 15 March 2020 at 9:11 pm

    I have always found your illustrations impressive and the ones in this post are no exception. Is that something you can give people some tips on how to learn to sketch and shade or would that be a big distraction?

    Thank You!

  2. Anthony on 16 March 2020 at 3:05 am

    Tonight after dinner, I worked in my shop for about 2 hours. For some reason, I feel the need to be creative without plans and specified measurements. I finished to repair and mill 2×4’s for a future project and then got inspired to experiment in making legs with a different shape. I enjoy joinery in the morning and afternoon plus any type of dimensioning I need to do but at night if I’m in the shop, creative and plan, free woodworking works best for me.

  3. Steve P on 16 March 2020 at 4:24 am

    Its hard for me to put a finger on what places “work” for whatever it is I am trying to do. For example, a busy coffee shop is a place I can be creative with writing, but I can’t read a book there. And the opposite is true, a quiet secluded place is good for me to read, but I get writers block nonstop. Yesterday I went to a coffee shop right on the beach, beautiful ocean views, sounds of the waves, I started reading for a bit, the. Bot sure why but they changed the radio station and turned up the volume and I had to leave.

  4. Steven Newman/Bandit571 on 16 March 2020 at 6:11 am

    I rarely ever have a printed out, precise paper plan. Have relied mainly on something called “The Single Brain Cell Sketch Up” in that everything from the start of a Project to the “Finish Line” is done in my head…..I can picture exactly what I want to do..use…make….what joints to use….About the only time I need a sheet of paper….is to keep track of measurements, and where they are from.

    Present me with a stack of boards…random width and lengths….by the end of the week…I’ll be cutting and fitting…as I can actually “see” what is inside that stack…

    I let the wood tell me what to do…I look at the grain patterns, the various sizes of the boards, and work out where to make the cuts….and then just get to work.
    Working on details for a cabinet for my collection of hand tools…will sort through the stacks of tools until I have the “kit” needed, then design a cabinet to hold then all…..space allowed for the cabinet? 4′ high, 3′ wide, and about 12-16″ deep. All to be done in that one Brain cell…..maybe I should pay it more?

    • Paul Sellers on 16 March 2020 at 7:19 am

      I used to be like that but found I was much less productive, less accurate, far less creative, more wasteful and I made far more mistakes. Also, there was only a ‘me‘ involved so it’s easy to just take care of one person especially if it’s just yourself. It was much more of a lone occupation but when staff came on board we all needed to communicate with one another. ~We couldn’t leave a machine without guards back on, misset or dirty and uncared for. Drawings were the key frame of reference for us all. so too written text and so on. this meant we were all involved in the creative process. I never let the wood tell me what to do and wood inside the stack needs further revealing by exposure because like everyone we forget what is inside the stack.

      • Nathan on 18 March 2020 at 11:08 am

        It’s true having a method that is your own method which you have arrived at, is less wasteful, more accurate and creative and generally you can’t help but be more productive as you have a system.
        Joining a band is great too, to play music with people you enjoy being with but without the musical knowledge your just generally winging it, which one can do but I know from experience someone will take your talent and show you your weaknesses. Besides It’s much more interesting when you can express your ideas to others so I’d have to say having a system that involves the basics of designing(drawing, sketches, sizing, materials) right through to completion of a project is hands down the best approach and what’s great is, it’s anybody’s. Design away!
        Great blog Paul.

  5. Jeff D on 16 March 2020 at 12:46 pm

    Once upon a time a famous Latina & eventual politician went running in a charity marathon with Sophia Loren. Said the woman, Sophia looked like she had perfect makeup, beautifully coiffed hair, and an immaculate & trendy running suit on. Not a drop of sweat glistened her brow. Sophia appeared to glide gracefully in motion while the politician huffed and puffed, sweat like a fat bellied sow, and waddled herself breathless taking frequent walking breaks in her sweat pants and frayed and battered hoodie. They both crossed the finish line and the charity was rewarded by both of their efforts. Now I’m not calling you a beautiful woman, Paul, but damn you do design with grace and style.

  6. Sue Durrant on 16 March 2020 at 2:26 pm

    Your workbook is a joy to behold. Thank you for giving us some insights into how you work on new ideas. I think sometimes it is essential to get out of your own home – too much distraction there and jobs that need doing! So, agree with you that a coffee shop is not too bad a place to start (but without canned music, please.)

    I use spokeshaves and leather paring knives (very shallow angles) in my bookbinding and always find your ideas on tool sharpening so useful.

    Thanks Paul for your inspirational posts. Sue

  7. Corey on 16 March 2020 at 7:49 pm

    I have to draw many pictures/revisions of what I hope to build. Often, I don’t know what I really want. As a true beginner, by the time I start, because of all the drawings, it’s almost as if I’ve touched every part of the project.

  8. Rick on 16 March 2020 at 11:28 pm

    I get as much pleasure from the design and drawing of my plans as I do from the building of a project. I have had family and friends who have seen the drawings ask for them to go along with their piece so I now place them in an envelope and and attach them in back of a cabinet behind a drawer in the hopes that years from now someone will find the hand drawn plans for piece that they own.

  9. Tom Willing on 17 March 2020 at 12:52 am

    Paul and community,
    I am a newcomer here, but the experience is likely to make me a regular for whom much of what I find here resonates. I find my most important tool is my sketchbook. It sharpens my eye and allows me to synchronize my design sense to material and tools, as well as to those machines I use when they make sense, which sometimes they do. It is an indispensable adjunct to any conversation about the form and function and character of the commissions that come my way.

  10. Tim Coerver on 17 March 2020 at 1:21 am

    Good evening.
    You mentioned a video of making the “cello” plane. As a retirement hobby I play at repairing string instruments and could use one like it. Looked on you YouTube, and could not find it. Hopefully it is available!

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