From Sculpture in Wood by John Rood:
At times ideas come from everywhere and anywhere - the shape of a tree, a glance from a fellow bus passenger, the slouch of a figure, a musical phrase, a picture in a newspaper, a character in a book: these are the sparks that often light the tinder.
. . . or the sight of one too many bears carved with a chainsaw.
I do recall once that a piece of music inspired an idea for a wood carving, but it should have been sketched out quickly or scrawled somewhere, for it doesn't come back to mind now. Maybe when that music comes on the radio again... at just the right time... someday.
Times like those is why you always have that notebook/sketch book handy, as Peter Ortel advised our club a couple years ago. When possible, it's great to literally file the idea away. There is an old, cheap file cabinet in my shop with a drawer devoted to patterns and ideas. It represents one of my few forays into the realm of the organized. Among the hanging folders: a folder for mammals, a folder for birds, one for Santas (Victorian Homes has a great yearly special), and of course a folder each for dragons, gnomes, and fairies. When the inspiration is found in a single article or advertisement in a magazine that is destined for the recycled bin, just clip it out and file it. If the source is not yours to mutilate, then a Xeroxed or computer scanned copy is the way to go. Then there's collecting pictures off the web, which is a whole separate article, but it's an incredible source as well.
This question of where do you get your ideas seems to be more prevalent in writing circles. I've read some amusing responses like "I get them from the 'idea fairy', or "I subscribe to a weekly service... sort of like ChemLawn". There is a scary vision - a large tanker truck pulling up to your house and spraying your head to fertilize you for ideas. (Hey, that's an idea for a caricature carving, huh?)
The Personalities of Ideas
It seems the better carving 'ideas' take on personalities of their own. Sometimes they seem like friendly ghosts. They come back and haunt you from time to time, triggered by some situation or activity similar to the one that gave birth to them. (Deja vu all over again!) Unlike most phantasms, they become less ethereal and better formed with each visit. This trend continues until, one day, you see a certain piece of wood and that ghost taps you on the shoulder and says, "It's time". Another happy, un-ghostlike characteristic is that, when the carving is finished, the spirit isn't given 'peace' and dispelled. Instead, it is made real in the form of the carving, and maybe you are given some peace... until the next haunting resumes.
Next there are the old friend 'ideas'.
They were around constantly for a period of time, and they were
very good friends. They always showed up for those times when
you couldn't actually carve, but you had time to create. Then
you moved on, or they moved off, or another friend came along.
The idea revisits you from time to time, but they needed much
more frequent interaction to keep them alive. Someday later a
picture, or a situation, or someone else's work reminds you of
them. You try to find their phone number or the address on the
last Christmas card. You may or may not make contact again. If
you do, the phone call is awkward or the letter isn't answered,
and regardless it's not the same. It is usually bittersweet, but
not a total waste because there are pieces of these ideas that
made it into other projects, or will make it into future projects.
Those friends live on in other subtle ways.
Then there are the Type-A 'ideas'. They are hyperactive, they are rude, they are bossy, and they have more energy than anything has a right to. These ideas are sometimes a real pain-in-the-arse. You suspect they have an intravenous feed for caffeine, and you just want to find it so you can rip it out. These 'ideas' should come with an 'off' switch. They shove aside the other projects and commissions on which you should be working. They don't care, because they need to be done RIGHT NOW!! These are the ideas that keep you up late when you really need your sleep. They grab you by the scruff of the neck, make you grope for your glasses, and shuffle you out to the kitchen table or computer desk to make "just one more drawing" of the damn thing. As annoying as they are, there is an up side to them... they are magical. Typically, the period from concept to completion is lightning fast... only a fraction of what the project should have taken. For the entire life of the process you are in a 'carving zone'. There are no doubts about where you're going with it, no delays while you agonize about the next step, and, when it is complete, no regrets that you did not do some element just a little differently. Absolute magic.
Finally, we have the "ships that pass in the night" ideas. Maybe the 'other sense' was on the most sensitive setting that day. This is the 'other' sense, not the 'sixth sense'. Likely that other sense is your five senses all coming in with no static or discord, and being connected 'just so' with your imagination. It's that other 'seeing' that everyone can do, but seems to get exercised most by those who enjoy creating. Many folks exercise this sense whether they admit to being artists or not. Regardless, the receiver was 'on', and you were in a certain place, at the right time, and you saw 'it', and it became a carving in your mind.
A Quick and Fleeting Vision
Unfortunately, that idea is often a quick and fleeting vision. It went by like a diving hawk, or like that vision of loveliness that stepped off the bus long before your stop and just after you noticed her. Maybe it came just as the traffic light changed and the cretin behind you redefined "a New York minute" to be a few milliseconds shorter still.
Perhaps the genesis of the vision was that person in the waiting room that for some reason you knew you should talk to. Something about them told you they were special, they were living a very good life independent of what wealth or health they may or may not have. That other sense whispered in your ear that this person had found special wealth, they had walked a very unique life-path, and you could and should learn from them. Then, before you could make that excuse for conversation, they were called from the room.
It is then you wish for a camera, you wish for a piece of paper and a dull pencil, anything, just so you can scrawl down that elusive vision and stuff in your shirt pocket or wallet. Some way to tuck it away so you could expand on it later, turn it around in your mind, nourish it.
I believe we will never live long enough to carve all our ideas. Probably we should enjoy collecting as many as we are able and not consider it wasteful when we fail to transform them all into wood. Consider it just a healthy activity, which enriches the ideas we do manage to make real in wood. Gather those ideas up until you have both arms full, and then gather some more, and enjoy it because it's just good exercise for the soul. I believe you cannot and should not capture all those ideas completely into wood, but someday I hope I hear that musical phrase at just the right time again... and my notebook is nearby.
Hey Folks, that's my two cents worth this month.
Keep the chips piled high, the edges keen, and keep on exercising
that other sense as much as possible.
Full-of-it, as usual,
Mike Bloomquist is a carver and teacher, and edits the on-line newsletter for the Mohawk Valley Art & Woodcarving Association . You may visit Mike's web site, Wooden Dreams Woodcarving at http://www.borg.com/~bloomqum/index.htm or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Bloomquist and a Wood Spirit (That's Mike on the right!)