Creative sphere

Creativity for me is a kind of protective sphere that I spend most of my time inside and a space in which I have all of the tools I use at my fingertips. The tools, the ones I use constantly, are pens and pencils stood in jars on my workbench, on my desk and on my dining table. They live there in different containers. I have support implements I sketch, draw and write with as enhancing leads, inks and pastels, backups for colour, texture and special line making. Art comes to us in different ways and when someone says they can’t draw a straight line I’m reminded of those who say they can’t saw straight or plane wood square. Truth is, almost nothing is straight in nature until man takes the raw and reworks it into straightness; the edges of tables, legs and shelves are made straight because we work and live life in squares and straight lines. Boxes are convenient and square ones are amazingly safe.

In my world, we are all born as creative sentients. We connect with our square world as well as we do with the randomness of the nature in which our squared-off lives sit. I love that I cut straight with my planes and chisels and that every shaving and chip I part off develops into curves that twist and spin in swirls, arches and curves as they spill, dive and arc in their separation from the host wood I am making straight to fit my design.

In my world of creating and making life work in wood there is no boundary between my workbench and my drawing board, my desk and my bookcases. I reach from one to the other and transfer myself and my work in an economic sweep of seamlessness. No one sees this when I work. I flit from wood vise to metalworking version and cut steel and file it with the same file I use on wood in either vise accord to economy and preference. Why? There are many times when a woodworking vise with wooden jaws holds steel more steadily and absorbingly than an all-metal one, even if it has plastic jaw liners.

When I needed steel for a plane blade or a chisel, I might take a worn-out, worn down file, heat it to a bright orange glow, let it cool naturally in the air, cut it, file it and rework it to a new shape and soon I have made what I need. Beyond that, I harden it and temper it again and 20 minutes later I have that unusual chisel for a fine detail I can’t get with any other I own. My drawings are often a hybrid of digital with coloured pencils, watercolour and pastel. Creativity is a mix of thoughts, a mix of mediums and a mix of crafts. Leather, steel, brass, wood and even plastic too. For my last plane and a new dovetail template ~i made the prototypes from wood with wooden blades to see exactly what the travel was on inclines of 45-, 50- and 55-degrees. How did that translate into depths of cut with a full rotation of the adjuster? Could one rotation make a millimeter or a half mil? I made the first iteration on paper and confirmed it in a made tool and found the two to be exactly the same. Confirmation of ideas and thoughts comes to life in a prototype and a tool or piece made into 3D has a feel about it you can never get from a bought thing.

Without this decision for engineering my life, I would not be creative. Creativity demands at different times within the sphere I have created and I would not be creative without my insistence for the sphere I live within. When an idea comes in a thought, there is always an immediacy to it and I must make some detail for me to work to, be that a drawing or a note or the use of a piece of wood or something I must make there and then, otherwise what I have will be lost.

People often say that I am lucky, but I don’t believe that that is the case at all. ‘Lucky‘ somehow supposes some kind of happenstance thing that shapes your future. And whereas I know that that can indeed happen, it was not luck that shaped my ambitions, aspirations or my future, now my past. Mostly it was decisions I made along the way and then taking responsibility whether they were good or bad. Where I am now is in the middle of a lived life and one that I love. My mind is actively creative all the time and never stops except when I desire the peacefulness of contemplation. My birdwatching demands stillness and quiet. I can duck out the back door and be at the lake in under five minutes walking. My woodworking allows such things others might call luxuries, but anyone can do what I do if they plan for it and engineer it. You must just choose what it is you really want and work towards the goal, that’s all!

19 thoughts on “Creative sphere”

  1. Thanks a lot for your thoughts about creativity. You say that some people call you ‘lucky’ to possess your amount of creativity. And I do agree that it’s not just a question of pure luck. But on the other hand I do think that many people already as children are discouraged from expressing their natural artistic and creative abilities. Because it’s so important to draw and to follow perfect and straight lines and square angles. And that’s certainly not supporting further development of those creative abilites or the courage to use them later on in life.
    That’s my description of the topic – perhaps it’s more obvious what I mean to those who read – or even sing – Harry Chapin’s song text “Flowers are red”…

  2. Hi Paul, I know the drawings you make are an important aspect to you making things and that makes total sence. But what if the idea is in your mind and the piece evolves from that image so clearly mapped out in your mind without putting it down on paper, that’s the way I seem to work when making some thing. Is this a bad thing, or do I have to change my method. It usually works for me this way but I do realise that you are not documenting your work and methods. Is this something you’ve come across before or am I just odd ball? Many regards. Paul

    1. No, it’s not a bad thing at all. But my work has always been replicated by those that worked for me when I was full-time making and now with reaching a whole wide world of people learning from me. I also like to have drawing to work to as it helps me to think and record things . . .that leads to fewer mistakes. The other thing is this. When you are an individual making one piece and selling it, with no staff, it works fine. But then too, most often, my customers wanted a drawing to see what they were getting.

      1. Thanks for your comments and advice Paul, but will try harder to make drawings in the future for reference at least. Regards, Paul.

  3. Andrew Churchley

    Your use for old files is inspiring and many will appreciate that they can be annealed, re-shaped, ground, hardened, tempered and honed to a fine edge. I’m left wondering about the file teeth which remain. These could be ground-off, but I can see that, if left, these will form a good “high-friction” surface for gripping, perhaps in a handle or between jaws. If clean, the teeth will also form an excellent surface for a gap-filling adhesive. This raises the possibility of laminating wood to them. All sorts of wonderful tools and machines could arise in the hands of the inventive woodworker. Have you had any thoughts along these lines?

    1. Yes. I was introduced to using old files in my youth when we made moulding planes and used the steel from files to make channels in wooden countertops and such as part of our routine work. We made tools for making musical instruments like cellos and then too to make chequering tools for handle grips, duck calls and gun handles too.

  4. You aren’t really a woodworker. You are a crafter. I’ve seen blacksmiths who would drool over your command of metal. And leather and upholstery…not trying to polish your buttons just stating fact. Those rocker bottomed planes look devilish. I want to see them in your vids for the PS house. Another plug for the handmade tools (aka Po’ Boy Toolz).

  5. This post is very thought provoking, as are many of your others. I especially like your response to your description of being lucky. I too believe almost anyone can direct their efforts through good decisions to achieve their personal goals. I say almost because there are some that live in such dire circumstances that just surviving is all consuming and rarely a given. I came from a middle class beginning but based on good life decisions became moderately successful. I believe those from wealthy families have opportunities that I could never even hope for, but I feel fortunate that I made the best of the opportunities available to me. Thanks for your insights Paul.

  6. Bellairs Robert

    As a former drafting teacher, I used to tell my students that there’s nothing as exciting as drawing tools and a blank sheet of drawing paper. The possibilities are endless, when coupled with a creative mind.

  7. I’ve worked full time as a visual artist for about 25 years, making paintings and teaching. Working with wood is a hobby, but my experience drawing and painting has made me realize that both activities are uniquely connected. I’ve never had a woodworker as an art student but I’m pretty sure that he or she would be a very fast learner. The mind, eye, hand connection is virtually the same. The need for measurement, precision and repeatability is a big difference though. Being a bit slapdash or free spirited is good in painting but it doesn’t work well when you’re cutting joints in wood🪚.
    When I teach, I love showing my students working drawings made by craftsmen in other fields, woodworkers, architects, product designers etc. The purpose driven nature of their work brings a vitality to their drawings. Save your drawings Paul. I’m sure they have a beauty that makes them interesting all by themselves.

  8. Straight things are boring and uncomfortable (i have in mind some church chairs with a flat vertical back in a church where I go for organ concert.)
    Where I live there is an advertising on TV which promotes (mostly white) flat built-ins everywhere. To have everything hided is sold as being zen. Every one of us with kids knows we have to put limits on clutter. But transforming our living space into an hospital or a laboratory is just wrong in my view.
    I have just spent an inordinate time looking at videos of somebody rebuilding an old sail ship (those interested can search for Sampson boat co). Nothing is straight (except the bulkheads).
    The top of your TV stand is not straight, the rocking chair is not straight, music instruments are not straight…

  9. Mr. Paul, As always you’re an inspiration to me. I believe I need to relearn to draw again….thank you so much!

    All the best,

  10. Hi Paul
    Yet another disciple here.
    Just to add a bit to the subject of drawing, my experience as a life-long Structural Engineer is that drawing is an essential part of the communication process. Better than that, the preparation of drawings and sketches is an opportunity to think things through, to simplify and improve. When sketching things that already exist, it is an exercise in observation, leading to understanding.

    1. Thanks, Allan. Totally. For me it’s a simple enough exercise to get clay on the wheel and then to give it shape and proportion. In my sketching, drawing the world around me, nature, my projects, etc, I work on my maxim, “If you haven’t seen it, you can’t draw it.”

  11. How do you balance the demands of your work with family obligations? Having time to contemplate, nip out the door for a walk or a birdwatch, time to record ideas as they occur, working 6 days per week…it sounds heavenly, if one has a nanny and a housekeeper.

    1. My children are all grown and flew the nest some years ago. My work is all a full day of whatever is needed to be done. Bird watching and listening to owls, meeting friends and walking down footpaths well-trod and not so all come and go as the hours and minutes pass.

      1. I appreciate your reply– even with children gone, there is still shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, paying bills & managing finances, home maintenance, vehicle care, appliance care, keeping track of birthdays and holidays, caring for pets, caring for family members and friends who need help, and so on. If woodworking/creating/making was my full-time job (which is my goal) someone would still need to do these tasks. Perhaps I need a wife.

  12. Creativity is an ephemeral “Something”. There are probably as many different explanations of how the creative process works as there are creative people trying to explain how their creativity works – for them. (Then there are the class of people who make a living out of explaining how other people’s minds work. “That”, as my mother would say, “is another kettle of fish”.) Finding the ways and means that work for you are, for some, instinctual, some have to find a method or other means to develop their own innate creativity. The joy is both in the journey and the successful completion of it.

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