Finding inspiration

In the second in a series of articles on modern woodworking, Anselm Fraser, principal of the Chippendale school looks at how to find inspiration.

Inspiration is a fickle thing, in woodworking as in anything.  Some days we search for it; other days it comes to us.

For me, inspiration takes me back to my childhood when I would watch joiners and carpenters working on a house my father had bought.

That started me on woodworking as a hobby and I can still remember making a balsa model of a tall ship.

I suppose that, as a child, you are sensitive to the adult world around you, and influenced by what you see and hear.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that both my sons, Jamie and Tom, are now woodworkers.  Tom, indeed, works at our school and will take over from me when I retire.

Mundane to special

However inspiration finds you, it’s a very important part of the woodworker’s craft – that little piece of magic that turns a mundane piece of furniture into something special.

For a lucky few, inspiration seems to breathe into them all the time but, for most of us, inspiration is something that we have to find.  It can be found in nature, walking through quiet woodland and looking at the trees around us.

Or it can be found in the ingenuity of woodworkers from long ago.   If you can, visit the Cutty Sark or HMS Victory.  In an age before steel, these mighty wooden ships ruled the waves.

Or to appreciate how the design of fine furniture has evolved, visit London’s Wallace Collection or the Chippendale Collection at Dumfries House in southern Scotland.

The key, I believe, is to boldly go and seek out new ideas.  Visit galleries or museums and  make use of your local library to read design books you’ve never read before. When on holiday abroad, take your business cards and visit local woodworking businesses to see how they make a living.

Of course, inspiration can also be found on the internet – and the digital world is somewhere you should also scour because, the more you search for ideas, the more ideas will come to you.

And when you do have an idea, write it down.  Simply, an idea forgotten is an idea lost.

Learning with pleasure

But it’s a process of inquisitive search that should also be fun.  As we constantly say to our students, anything learned with pleasure is likely to last a lifetime.

But inspiration is also about making use of the other talents that you have.  For example, we regularly have students with architectural qualifications.

They are able to use their professional training to make furniture that employs both architectural and woodworking skills – wonderfully complex pieces that benefit from their previous experience.

So what else are you good at?  It needn’t be something acquired at college or university, just skills that you naturally have.

For example, an aptitude for woodturning or other interests entirely.  For example, one of our students last year also had a passion for watches and watch-making.

One of the pieces he made was a “time-table” – a simple coffee table with pieces of old watches embedded in resin on the top.  A quirky and inspired idea that turned a mundane piece of furniture into a talking point.

The fact is that inspiration can come in all shapes and sizes and often the best ideas are the simplest.

One of our students this year made a coffee table and, being Singaporean, was worried about transporting it back home after graduation.

His solution was to construct his table using glue-less wooden joints – a simple way to ensure ease of disassembly and transportation.  Again, simple but utterly practical – and a good business idea.

However you find inspiration, the lesson is straightforward: keep looking for it, and keep looking in both usual and unusual places.  The more you look, the easier it is to find.

But inspiration alone doesn’t translate into great and original pieces of furniture.  In many ways, inspiration is the easy part.

What comes next is perspiration, and lots of it…and that’s what I’ll be discussing in my next article next week.


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