Monday, 26 April 2010

Beginner's mind

A few weekends ago I was privileged to be one of the tutors for a two day " Youth training and development program" that the Association of Woodturners of Great Britain hold several times a year to help promote, introduce and teach woodturning to youths up to the age of eighteen.

This course is the second that I have been invited to teach at. For me it is a rewarding and very enjoyable two days and I know that all the youths that attended also enjoyed the course.

One of my observations on both the courses was the open and responsive mind that, dare I say, the younger generation seem to have. Um, I am not sure I want to put myself into the older generation bracket but I guess compared to the 14-18 years old youths I am.

During the two days it was very apparent to me that younger people seem to naturally follow instruction and practice without any preconceived ideas about how it should be done or if they get it wrong. They just enjoyed the moment and the process that they were involved in.

This I have tried to follow for many years within my other studies/forms that I have undertaken.

As I try to progress my work more and more creatively I have found the need to return again and again to what I saw in the youths that I taught, and that is "Beginner's mind".

Over the years my skills with the tools have I hope developed to the position where I can make what ever I want without worrying if I have the necessary tool skills to complete the project. I do not believe I am the most proficient, but can now use them as an extension of my body without thinking about what I am doing with them. Similar to when I drink a cup of tea, I do not need to think about where my mouth is in relation to the cup. I can sip and watch television or read a book. However from time to time I spill my tea and also have spillages with my work.

This I started thinking about and realised that I had lost "beginner's mind" which the students I teach have in abundance.

The thought process I had adopted was always thinking of the the next step, more connected with I was "to" do as opposed to the "moment". The connection with the tool had been lost. While I consider myself as said to be fairly efficient at what I do, there is no doubt that I can refine and become better within my work, to think anything,be it tool skills, creativity, finishing or selecting of the wood, or just connecting with what I am doing in more depth.

After all how can I be truly connected with my work through a creative thought process if I am not concentrating with the moment with an open, clear mind.

Realising this I decided to concentrate on my "beginner's mind", with working in the moment. By taking every step I do right back to the beginning and looking afresh with an open mind helps me to refine the process, or at least I hope. After all I have asked myself, how I can expect to refine what I am doing if I consider that what I am doing is the only way in which to proceed.

This thought process I have worked on for many years, but have also found that when I become proficient in a particular form, I then in turn spend less time keeping an open/beginner's mind.

This I have been discussing with my Zen teacher and looking at ways to incorporate it within my work. After all my turning is in the moment and has to be practised, just the same as with my creative work, both go hand in hand.

I realised that I can not continue to progress, to become more connected with what I am doing, and therefore to express myself fully through my work, unless I look to a higher form other than just being proficient with tools. To believe this to be the case I feel would only blinker me to the wonderful rich creative process that exists if only we can open our minds. The tools that I use are only after all an extension of my arms, that in turn are moved by my mind.

Realising this, which in itself is obvious but forgotten I decided to look at going back to producing bowls along side my other work.

The bowl is a wonderful vessel that can be more than just a utilitarian item. The practice of making a bowl as I have been taught is not about the bowl itself, but the empty space within it, the material that is removed and not what is left behind.

Each piece of material removed is a chance to refine and practice. Not being mindful of this meant that I had merely become a mechanical machine producing items. The negative of this I have seen in a days work when I have not been totally connected with my thought process. The work in turn seems to loose something, to have no depth. Where as on the days I am for want of a better turn "On form" the work made if I am fully connected seems to be set apart, to be special.

My practice involves connecting fully with what I am doing and trying to complete a cut on the outside or inside of the bowl in one out breath. This may sound strange to some, but within all the forms that I have studied where movement or exertion is applied, it always occurs on the out breath.

The lifting of a heavy weight or any other form of exertion is on the out breath. This being the natural law of the human physiology for all movement requiring a degree of exertion. So why, I thought to my self, have I forgotten to concentrate on this within my work. Probably because it now becomes so natural that I have forgotten about its relevance.

Buy concentrating and thinking of each moment as I connect with the tool I can look deeper into what I am doing and in turn look afresh and the whole process of my work with an open mind.

This at the moment is where I am. Looking at the whole process, with an open mind, taking on "beginners mind", while concentrating on the moment.

It is not easy but then I guess if it was it would not be worth doing.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


Finding new ideas for work is a constant endeavour. Always trying to include something slightly different within work for me holds the interest and focuses my mind on adding a bit more to what I make.

I have to say I have a sketch book full of new ideas, some of which have been waiting to be realised for over a year, ( so I guess they are no longer new).

Finding inspiration as it is sometimes called for new ideas can be perceived as difficult. I say perceived as I now realise that inspiration is not at times as hard to achieve as I would once have thought. It does not come as a lightening bolt but is held within my mind from what I see around me and eventually something is triggered, and an idea pops to mind.
When the penny dropped for me it was a wonderful feeling. The feeling that actually I did not need to have a special mind set, that all I had to do was truly observe items around me was such a basic reality, that I did not see why I had not seen it before.
For me being able to observe comes back a certain degree to my last post about being honest. If I come up with an idea from seeing something I no longer worry if others may find it wacky or weird, I do not allow what I see to become tainted by what I think others may think about it.
We really do not need to look that far or deeply to find new ideas. They are in fact as I have found all around. When I walk to the shops, talk to my children, walk my dogs or go on holiday, new ideas are everywhere. I just have to see them.!!

Recently I went on holiday to North Devon. Always having my camera near for a visual reference I decided to try an exercise to find new ideas. It became apparent to me that while I would look for ideas, I would not truly observe with an open mind.How many times do we look but not not see the object in front of us. Mostly perhaps we are thinking of something else without the mind being fully connected with what we should be doing, looking for new ideas. Or we just see a shape and the surface of the object leaving the depth behind as we look away.

The exercise was to pick out a small area within a rock pool to see exactly what I could find that I could use in my work. By really looking/seeing it is amazing how much there is available as a resource within such a small space.
The area I picked was around two meters square. There were sea shells or varying shapes and sizes, but by looking further I could see within these shells, textures, colours, shapes within shapes.
Rock formations held shapes and colours of interest. After I had spent some time within this small area I decided to go for a walk along the beach, near to the rock pools.

I found drift wood with amazing shapes and textures including corroded nails that held a myriad of colours was found lying in some sea weed.Even the under belly of a baby crab held shapes and colours within its small anatomy.

Coming away from holiday I had a camera full of new objects from which to take reference. My mind started running over new ideas.
I have included some of the pictures below and will look at some of these individually to be included within new work and will post how I take these objects and add them to a piece of my work.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Shedding the ego and being honest.

Well I am back from a wonderful holiday with my family in North Devon where I collected various pictures and items that I found inspiring and that I will show and discuss later in another entry.

As a person who has always been creative in one way or another I have generally been dissatisfied with the paintings, sculptures or turnings that I have made to some degree. But why has this been the case?.

Making items that are purely aesthetic gives me an unrestricted scope within my work, and yet it can at times be all too restrictive unless I am honest with myself and the work that I am trying to make.

More often than not in western society we are mindful of how others perceive who and what we are. How we dress, the car we drive and the amount of money we earn at times can give us a false sense of security about our identity and the place we want to be/ In turn showing a false persona to others that we may or may not be trying to impress and therefore perhaps hiding our own insecurities.

I know that this has been true of myself in the past and probably to some extent still today. So if I am not mindful of the reasons behind where I am going with my work or if they are being made for honest reasons, how can I expect to be truly creative and expect others to receive my work as genuine.?

For me to be creative means more than just throwing together various materials into a strange shape, giving it a name and calling it art ( or what ever the label should be). It has to be more than this, it has to come from a genuine place, with no connection to any outside influences other than those that come from within me, from an honest place. By this I mean that if I am making, it should be based on "my" ideas and feelings and not altered to impress or show myself to be better than others, or altered to fit in, for the sake of satisfying my own ego.

To try to clarify a bit further my thought process, I will explain it as this.

When I started my journey in sculpting and then woodturning I was always looking for where the next hand full of money would come from. If the piece sold it must be good!! or was it.?

Did the fact that the piece sold mean that it was good or that I had been controlled by outside influences, in turn causing me to create the piece in a way thereby fitting into the likes and negating the dislikes of the buying public to achieve the goal of selling the work. ??

I began to think that if this is the case then what was the point of me bothering to make such work, as you can buy plenty of pretentious glitter items void of any depth in just about every high street shop that sells anything to do with the home.

There is a place for such items but this is not what I am about within my work and this was what I was starting to struggle with. I felt that I was just making for the sake of selling and not making something that was more honest and it then selling. For me there is a difference.

This did not sit comfortably with me so I started to look deeply into my own thought processes and the reason for the making of my work.

Many years ago I studied karate and then moved onto Aikido, shodo as well as Zen classes and other routes of contemplation through meditation etc. I still study some of these today as a way of continually challenging who I am as a person and the reason for doing what I do. One of the lessons that I recall is the "cutting of the self".

No this does not mean falling onto a sword and rendering yourself incapacitated. But the way I see it, is the cutting through the self/ego and revealing the true self. How after all can I come from a honest place as a maker of creative items if they are clouded by the ego or by outside influences that allow me to feel comfortable, by fitting in for the sake of it.

When I started making/turning I could not wait to turn a hollow form like all the others who had established themselves in the world of turning. Why was this the case?, was it to show I was as good, or to impress others, if so were my intentions coming from a good place??.

Do I need to impress, if so what makes me feel that I do/did ?.

Do I as a maker need others to validate what I do ?. If so am I allowing my ego to again cloud my reason for the creating of the item?. If this is the case is the work honest and as perfect as it could be?. Or is it in fact as perfect as I can get, just to conform with the others who tell me through their own ideas, that it is perfect/the way it should be?. If so am I genuinely creating at all,? or just churning out items to feel good and to feel that I fit in and have a safe identity.?

Before I can even try to make anything that is honest, I believe that as an individual these questions have to be answered before I can put any energy into what I do. To strip away the ego and shed it from who I am to understand the process of the creative path is as important to me as the end result. Or I believe I am doing nothing more than conforming to a pre set group of rules, set out by others who also have ego's and agenda's, so that I merely fit in and satisfy my ego and insecurities.

If as a maker of works that should come from within, do I really need to conform or impress others or to fit into a pre set box. ? I do not think so.!! Do I do this?, I hope not, but it all comes down to the here and now and being honest and mindful of what I am doing, where I want to be and how I go about achieving this.

Much for me to think about and churn over. Or does it matter at all. ?

The picture at the top is of an opportunist sculpture made while walking along the beech from drift wood.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog. It is my intention to post my thoughts, feelings and pictures in the following entries so that I can share with you the journey I tread everyday within my work, but more importantly why.

I am very thankful to many people for supporting me in my work, my wife Lizzie, my mother Elaine and in particular my friend Philip Streeting who showed me the way to start to open my mind and develop the creative thought process. I continue to build on this on a daily basis, meeting Philip was a breath of fresh air. struggling for many years to be able to develop my work outside of a pure craft based foundation and to move into mixed media to express my thoughts has enabled me to be totally free to explore something which has mostly been left unexplored, my mind, thoughts and feelings. Putting these ideas into my work is exhilarating to say the least.

Some of you may know of me from the various wood working forums. These are a great place to share and belong to a community that can help develop your technical skills in the craft of woodturning. Unfortunately I have found that they can also stifle my ability to create works that are outside of the round and brown.

Working outside of this restrictive thought process is the place I feel most comfortable to be in as it challenges the way I perceive myself, the works I produce, the methods I use to produce them and the philosophy behind them.

It should be pointed out by myself very early on in my blog that I am passionate about wood. It's smell, workability, spectrum of colours and grain patterns. It is a beautiful medium to work with in its natural state. I continue to work within this sphere and will continue to do so. However to limit myself to only being allowed to work with wood in it's natural state, without, colour, texture or the inclusion of other media thus allowing me to express my thoughts and ideas does nothing for me or my ability to advance and develop my work. It only takes away from me the small amount of precious time I have on this earth to express myself.

It will be a while before I post again as I am off on holiday to spend quality time with my family. I will be taking my camera and sketch book as the North Cornish coast is a beautiful place and is full of inspiration, or not, I guess it depends if I can see it!!