Where’s your inspiration?


What inspires you? People? Art? Writing? Crafts? Pretzel bread pudding?? The staff discusses…



A friend on Instagram asked this a while ago and it got me thinking. I also feel like this is an interesting group to pose the question to. There’s lots of artists here, but I don’t think inspiration is only in “art.”

The conclusion for me was details. I thought about how I view and photograph my gardens, where my greatest enjoyment comes from up close and the tiny things made large. In wood I tend toward simple designs that accentuate joinery details or the details of the timber itself … and on that I even shy away from wild grain and heavily figured wood. I prefer to be drawn into subtle color variations in straight grain. And while I don’t play music anymore, I listen a lot and have dabbled at the low end of hi-fi. I realized that what I want to hear is clarity that accentuates separation and “transients” (the sound of cymbal decay or the crispness of initial “attack” of the drum stick on head or cymbal), so again it’s the details that draw me in.

Ars Skeptica

For the last fair while, a year or three, maybe, I’ve been finding inspiration in newness. Have I tried that yet? No? Let me take a whack at it! I don’t end up enjoying everything I try, but a few things have stuck with me. Where once I thought I’d spend more time doodling and improving on that until I’m an acceptable doodler, I find myself sculpting more, mostly in extruded polystyrene (insulation board). As of yet I don’t have anything big and fancy to show for it because I like to get bogged down in details and focus on design problems. I probably spent half the last year working out, over and over again, how to apply various floor tile textures to little blocks of that foam. Now that I’ve arrived at a solution I like, I’m already moving that forward into 3D printing, which has me learning Blender in preparation for the printer’s arrival. Some of that inspiration comes from a desire for survival and a retirement that doesn’t end me sooner than later. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a crafting niche that’ll keep the bills paid. That quest has also led me toward pyrography, which has been great fun. In that craft I can really appreciate your appreciation for details. I’ve tried a handful of pieces so far, and my favorite was an attempt at Durer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The devil was in all the minute folds and whorls and the cross-hatching. I can’t recall the last time I picked up a craft and just lost six hours at a go without really noticing. Which leads to another inspirational aspect…the meditative quality of the work itself. Woodburning doesn’t exactly lend itself to leaping off into wild flights of fancy, but the meditative state I found myself in is like that when I’ve done large doodles. And all of the above I see kind of wrapped in a tidy bundle of being inspired by tangents and permutations, the latter especially. I love combining things that aren’t often combined and then asking myself, “what else must be true for this to work?” That creative prompt alone can send me off to points unknown.

I also find inspiration in seeing what others have accomplished, whether artistically or craftily, and how they did it. Sometimes it’s the aesthetics of what they do. Other times it’s the execution. Other times it’s the novelty.

Michael Smith

Frank’s comment about “newness” is a good one. We’re creatures of our time. It’s important to immerse ourselves in the moment. Sometimes, newness is as direct as looking/watching/reading/listening/internalizing other people’s art. Sometimes it’s as solitary and regimented as keeping a list of oblique strategies. I’m not a fan of Brian Eno, but I think he was right in that you should keep a list of simple ideas on hand, things you can use to approach your art from a different perspective. Here are a few examples of ones I’ve got on my plate for songwriting: write a song about your anthemic street (i.e. the Cure’s “Fascination Street”, the Doors’ “Love Street”, the Creatures’ “Pluto Drive”) … write an intentionally dynamic song … write a song where the accompaniment is nothing but a drum loop – a song that puts the onus entirely on the vocal. I have about 20 or 30 of these at any given time. I’m always adding to the list and crossing them off. I don’t hit them in order. I take a stab at whatever piques my interest that day. Obviously, these examples probably won’t be useful to someone else’s art process, but if you start making your own list, they take on a life of their own. They’re ideas born in the moment and some have an expiration date. Be your own zeitgeist.

I like your comment about details with regard to music. Details can be a double-edged sword though, can’t they? Sometimes details are great because they give you something small to focus on and distract you from something difficult that you’re having trouble getting to the marrow of. Other times, details can be an inspiration killer. If you focus too much on a detail early on, you get pulled away from sketching out the whole thing in broad strokes. The muse gets bored and wanders off and then you’re wondering what it was that had you so fired up.

I’ve been in a good spot lately, creatively. I guess the things I’ve been using to keep the fire going are:

  1. make something every week – set aside time to regularly work at your craft
  2. take a moment to stop and ask yourself how/what you’re feeling – inspiration comes from being in touch with what’s going on in your head
  3. if you get stuck, consult the list of oblique strategies
  4. if you’re starting to feel burnt out, don’t work on your craft that day – go for a walk someplace new. Don’t let it become work.

Ars Skeptica

I’m going to have to steal that list idea. I’m one of those suckers that thinks, “I’ll remember that,” when I know full well I won’t.

Kristin Kerns Wheeler

Echoing the sentiment of getting inspiration from others work.

I work primarily in fabric, paper, and desserts. Much of my inspiration for fabric creations comes from the other members of my quilting guild – these women have taken a utilitarian item and made it art (not many of them view themselves as artists). I have an Etsy shop doing liturgical vestments – my primary focus was Pride stoles (I am active in an open and affirming church that had the first openly LGBT pastors), but have branched into custom stoles – unless someone wants very specific elements, I draw inspiration from stained glass windows.

When it comes to paper crafts (mostly making Christmas cards, etc) along with looking at others works, I also draw inspiration from the colors that I have and any designs that may be in the paper I have at the time.

I worked for a couple years as dessert chef for a catering company (currently not working because of some health issues). While working in catering can actually be routine/mundane, especially when you are the sole person in your section. I found, or tried to find, inspiration almost everywhere – the month/season, region, flavors. Sometimes came to me just by looking out the window at a different angle. Weird as it is, I’ve had ideas hit while I was in the shower – it might have been the scent of in the soap hitting while I was thinking about what events were going on – but a flavor combination to elevate strawberry shortcake came to me.

Inspiration doesn’t come from any one place and where we find it is unique to the person inspired.


I wish there was a bit more from Kristen about baking. Baking is a bit unique in that it’s very time-dependent. A lot of art forms allow us to mull things over and maybe there’s an aspect of that in baking, but I always feel a little overwhelmed with some recipes. Baking is also an odd art form where the art is often intentionally consumed/destroyed.

Ars Skeptica

Ditto. Baking is my nemesis. I’ll cook all day for a massive Cajun dinner. Baking? It escapes me. The tiny tweaks one way or another with any one ingredient, the difference of a large or jumbo egg, even not having mastered the hot/less hot spots in my hardly high-quality oven. Give me a tube of pre-made tollhouse cookies or a box of pizza rolls and I’m good to go.


Me too on more baking stories. I learned bread to some degree once. And even that can go sideways if you look at it wrong. Good baking amazes me.


I’ve been reading and thinking and trying to figure out how to answer. Not sure this is a good answer, but it’s what I have.

In my writing program at Iowa State my advisor was a fairly typical contemporary poet. Talented, but conventional in a way so many literary writers are. And I had this one tendency that I think drove him around the bend.

The way he wrote – the way EVERYBODY writes anymore – you have this tight little construct that ties up neatly at the end. It’s very self-contained and you know when it’s over. Me, though, the last thing I ever wanted was for a poem to end. So my final words were often about trying to blow the hatch and leave the reader staring at infinity.

In other words, my inspiration was in kicking open doors to the unknown. And maybe the unknowable. And the darkness, because for me that’s where the inspiration comes from.

I think my photography is the same, although it took me four or five years to figure out how. Many times when I begin work on a shot I have only a vague idea of where I’m going, and often the final result surprises me. I use the tools I have and I approach the subject with an open mind and try to explore my way to something that speaks to me.

So a light bulb – that’s self-discovery. I’m trying to kick down a door into my own psyche, I guess.

That inspires me. Although life would probably be easier if I were as inspired by making enough money to live comfortably…


Good point. We’re always looking for closure, even where it doesn’t belong. I already have a regret about a song on my last album that ended with a pleasing chord when it shouldn’t have. Good, compelling art is usually some combination of exceeding expectations and violating them.

Ars Skeptica

Ohhhhhhhhh, that’s what I keep getting wrong. I just keep violating them, but never exceeding them 😉



Tamara Enz

This is an impossible loop for me – sometimes what inspires me is a final piece that clinks into place in my head, through an event or an interaction, sometimes from a random thought or a photo that I took with no obvious connection to anything else. Often I have the first few bits but don’t know where they want to go. They roll around in my head for a few days, or months, and then something happens that allows the tumblers to fall into place and the door unlocks. Done.

More consistently, colors and textures lure me – tiny glints of intense color in otherwise relatively monochrome scenes, or scenes that I see in color but appear black and white (and vice versa), the infinite possibility of water’s surface, the repetition of landscape shapes and overarching clouds, intimate details of the natural world.

Contradictions of thought, intent, and practice; hypocrisy; poor implementation; irreverence.

People being unapologetically themselves – good or bad.

Other people’s art rarely inspires me. I can see it (or hear it), appreciate and enjoy it, but I almost never think, I want to do that/be like that, or compare my work to theirs. Not because I think I am in any way superior, but rather because I believe every perspective is unique and I feel no compunction to change whatever twisted, bland, heretical, naive, fill-in-the-adjective-here perspective I hold. It is mine; I expect no quarter.

Thank you for this question – I haven’t written this much in a ridiculous-long time. Good to get out of my head once in a while.


I’ve greatly enjoyed the answers from all of you who tend towards much more conceptual art than me. I don’t say that as any sort of put down to myself, but I recognize that what I do tends more towards craft insomuch as there are physical limitations to concept.

Tamara’s answer about not being inspired by other people’s work strikes a chord with me. In the world of wood, plans are a huge thing (as are trends at the moment). I can think of a handful of furniture makers who do inspire me, but not to be like them or replicate their work. I’ve only made one piece from a plan and have no desire to do so ever again. I’ve also been curious about why I’m like that. I have a better understanding of that now.

Does anyone else find inspiration in the “mistakes” of something they’ve completed? Maybe that’s the wrong word, inspiration … but the wife tells me I’m too critical of my own work. I see it differently in that criticism is a sort of inspirational drive.

Lisa Wright

Lex, to your question about whether your fuckups/mistakes inspire you, I would say absolutely. There have been many times that I have been making something with some kind of intent, only to totally screw it up either chemically or by being somewhat asleep at the wheel, and realized that I was in the wrong space from the get-go.

I don’t work very much now, but when I did, my brain would see things and make random leaps to what I was seeing was meant to be. It was how I once ended up impulsively buying an enormous grapevine wreath at Michaels, and then armloads of grapevine that I soaked in the tub for a few days so that I could construct a nest and false walls in my scary dirt basement as a photo set room that I used for months before breaking it into more things that it was later meant to be. I get excited and energized by the work of others, but I don’t have interest in emulating or copying them. It’s more about raising the energy to let it flow into what is meant to be next.

Ars Skeptica

Mistakes are where I get tons of my inspiration. My little tabletop game prop hobby had me working on what seemed like the simplest thing…for about 4 months. I’d get >< close to a solution and…back to the drawing board. Every time I went back, I learned new techniques, discovered new tools and methods, and often had some tangential idea spring from the results that never would have occurred otherwise.


I do find inspiration in “mistakes,” especially in pasty. Baking has so many variables that a tiny mistake can change taste, texture, and visual appeal, but that mistake can be tasty or nasty. Both can lead you down a path toward tweaking flavor combinations, using a different technique than is traditionally used.


I like Tamara’s comment about bits needing time before they unlock. One of the things that drew me to music and made me quit painting is that I can usually feel out subconscious things through writing music well before I’m consciously aware of them or can verbalize them. If it’s something traumatic or profound, it can take years before it comes together, but even simple things often take some time to resolve.

Lex, regarding mistakes and being too critical, how do you balance that? I make mistakes when writing music but am usually too critical to give them time to hear if they’re better than what I originally had in mind. Strangely enough, I’ve been working on a song about that. When you’re just starting out, being overly critical of your work is what makes you improve. But over time, remaining overly critical of your work is what prevents you from growing.


Wood is a medium where shit happens and fixing mistakes is part of the craft. That helps. I made a lot of things before any left the house and I’ve only recently felt confident enough to sell anything or take commissions. (Maybe I’ve gotten good enough at fixing mistakes?)

A bit of wabi-sabi attitude helps, and specifically looking at antique furniture. The standard in furniture today is hand cut joinery that’s as good as a machine. But if you look at really old work, even very fine work, dovetails have gaps or sawing over lines. Non-show surfaces often show heavy handplaning marks. It all still works.

I’ve also learned (slowly) that you probably can’t see my mistakes so maybe they don’t matter except as that inspiration to get better or modify what I do/how I do it.

Denny Wilkins

I wish I could find something intelligible and intelligent to add to what you’ve all expressed, especially Tamara.

I have written novels and taken photographs. I don’t subscribe to any particular inspiration, I think, other than an increasing need to find order in my increasingly disorderly life.

In the case of writing novels, inspiration plays such a very small role for me. Characters and plots drift in and out of my mind for a period time (decades, in the case of both novels I’ve written and and the third “in progress”).

Then it’s just fucking work. Most of you have heard me say that writing a novel (hell, writing almost anything) is management of material, if not mastery of material. It’s just work — it’s physically, intellectually, and emotionally draining. It requires, as a colleague of mine has counseled, plenty of “butt glue.” Both novels took years to congeal into wholes.

So writing a novel has been far less about inspiration than fulfilling over time the need to form and create a world different than the one in which I exist.

Taking a photograph, however, is the capture of a moment. Some approaches, such as Sam’s light bulb filament images and the use of his new toy, softbox lighting, requires imagination and inspiration and the articulation of light.

I’ve rarely worked that way. For nearly half a century, almost all of my images have been of patterns and textures.

I don’t find inspiration in seeking the patterns and textures of nature; rather, I seek in those patterns and textures … well, almost a spiritual healing. I find comfort and peace in the endless variety and seeming repetition of patterns and textures of nature. Most of you have seen many of the leaf images I’ve taken over the years. Ditto my photographs of the Southwest and its desert terrain.

I was trained as a geologist as an undergrad. I was taught to look for patterns, because patterns tell stories; they convey natural history.

So I don’t think of inspiration these days. I think of the needs in me that need to be satisfied.


“Both novels took years to congeal into wholes.”

That one line alone is inspiration. I have a noggin full of inchoate, uncongealed concept with something vaguely approaching an overarching plot that overreaches my current ability by far. I follow some writing pages, get spammed with workshop emails, and see writers like Stephen King who seem to have some magical novel fairy that plunks entire series in their heads fully formed with an extra story just in case he’s out of trunk novels. Meanwhile, I’m digging in the weeds of worldbuilding and coming up with a system for developing a thousand year history just to find out where and how everything starts. But I’ve only been at it for about two years.

So you’ve reminded me, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.” Thanks 🙂


Aren’t the needs in each of us that need to be satisfied the very soul of inspiration stripped of jargon or description of particulars?


Probably. I boil it down to take picture and write stuff … for me.

Writers like King don’t have full-time day jobs … other than writing.


I dig it. Every artistic thing I do is for me. I assume that someone who makes a living at art must do some things not for them but that they’re artists for them.

The vagaries and precision of serious baking amaze me.

Dan Ryan


People inspire me. Not the artificial swagger nor obvious beauty they want me to see, but their foibles, their slovenly tendencies, the beauty, grace, and determination with which they unknowingly carry themselves. I want everyone to see we’re more amazing than we think.

And their ugliness, the needles I’ve seen them stick in their arms, the flammable booze vapors I’ve seen and smelled while talking to homeless drunks on the street who were once someone’s little boy or girl. I want everyone to see we are our own worst nemesis, but we can fix ourselves if we’re forced to see people instead of social problems.

I hate it that we ignore the gods and devils we all carry around. We’d value each other more and hurt each other less if we didn’t.

So, that’s where I’m coming from. I think if you look at my work you’ll find it makes sense even if I fail sometimes to make it obvious.


I’m not the best judge of photography by any stretch, but if you’ve ever failed to make that inner humanity obvious, you’ve hidden it well.


I am very honored by that. Thank you.

As we all know, people often suck really, really bad and some days I absolutely despise them. It would be artistically and morally dishonest to lie about how I feel in this regard.

The nice thing about what I do is in the moment someone catches my eye and lets me photograph them all the bullshit I might be holding against our species goes out the window and what’s left is a human being who gets from me genuine flattery and attention they may not think they deserve and who gives to me a moment of jubilation I don’t often naturally feel on my own.

Ars Skeptica

What you describe there is what I consistently get from every last one of your shots I’ve seen. You stop time. That lady in the aisle is suddenly a daughter/mother/sister/spouse/widow/spinster/human with a full-blown story. Up until that photo, she may as well be in my damned way, “why are you blocking MY aisle?!”

These days we need all the reminders of humanity we can get.


And full time writers or painters or sculptures or photographers don’t lead charmed existences. They toil at a craft until they can make the things we strive for look easy, but they still strive… and they have to feed themselves with art.

Cat White

I am inspired by many things. One of them is the unexpected. Seeing a piece of art or reading a passage that presents something completely outside of my experience or normal patterns of thinking. If something makes me say, “I never thought of that before” or “Wow! How did they do that?”, my brain goes into “figure it out” mode.

I have to admit that I temper my creative impulses on many of occasions. A great piece of writing or art can be intimidating. I feel an aspirational inspiration, but not always an achievable inspiration. Then again, I worry about my work being inauthentic if I am too inspired by another’s words or design or methods.

A double-edged sword for me is the internet. I can learn anything. But I don’t want my work to be too much like other people’s. So I can spend a lot of time adapting a design to be something original. Or original-ish.

That’s probably my other main source of inspiration: the learning and adapting skills to make something new. Where the line is between derivative and unique is always blurred and a bit like quicksand.


Fairly recently I started sketching and that led to a coffee table design but I did it “right” in that I made a full scale prototype. There were some craft mistakes in it, but the bigger problem was in design “mistakes.” Not sure I could have seen them without the prototype. I made another one that’s now in our living room that I quite like even though I can see the craft mistakes.

The prototype sits at my office and people seem to like a thing I only put there because it was easier than breaking it down and burning it. (I think many are mystified by woodwork more than it being a striking piece of furniture.) Prototyping is common in furniture making due to raw material costs. As is a process called “compositional design” where something starts as a sketch or idea and gets developed during the build rather than planning a design and following it.

I’m more comfortable with that approach as it allows both the mistakes and the goodness to float to the surface while you’re doing something with a chance to chase the good and amend the bad. Sort of like rough drafts I guess… but I almost always finish wood pieces unlike my written words.


You can see the crafting mistakes, but can people that don’t do woodworking see them? I completely understand, though. I’m the same way about quilting when something isn’t lined up exactly right, but I’m the only one that sees it. Everyone else sees just the pattern.

I would love to see a picture of the table. I love modern furniture, but also unique pieces. I would love to have a live edge cantilever table someday, but would need a house bigger than I can afford in the DC area.

I can definitely add more. I sometimes feel like the odd man out in threads like this as my art is sort of unique/different. I honestly didn’t want to bore anyone with stories, but since you asked …

The catering company I worked for was unique. They are the company that has made breakfast and lunch for the Washington Capitals, Wizards, and Nationals for several years. When they got the contract with the Caps they took over the snack bar at the practice facility (which also has a public rink). At the time I started with them, which was during the second year that they had the contract, they were operating in roughly 500sq ft of space not counting the front counter area. We had two convection ovens, two freezers, on large fridge, one reach in, a warming box, and two induction burners – space was tight and things I needed were not high priority – I got really good at subbing things. Initially they only wanted me to do cookies for the snack bar and the occasional small event. That lasted about two months, which was good and bad. The tastiest mistake, and one that everyone loved, was my chocolate tart filling. I was working off of Ina Garten’s chocolate pudding recipe (Ina is great for inspiration) and didn’t have chocolate chips, but did have cocoa powder. It’s sort of a weird formula to swap them and being in a bit of a hurry I did the math wrong. I got a little extra fat in it, and a lot of extra cocoa powder. Given that it’s a cooked pudding, having it off isn’t as big a deal because you are using eggs and corn starch to thicken it as it cooks, so it might cook just a bit faster. I also threw in a couple of shots espresso just add some depth to it – I’m a firm believer that every chocolate cake every baked should be made with coffee. The result was good, but got me to thinking about what other liquors or extracts I could add and which fruits I could pair them with besides the obvious strawberries, raspberries, and cherries. Lychee and chocolate was a surprisingly good combo.

Working in a kitchen with only a convection oven was a challenge because you can’t turn the fans off. I had to play with lowered temps and longer bake times. Also cakes in a convection oven require a lot of turning or you end up with a cake with a 20 degree slope. That was fun one to take out. The dishwasher guy was happy though, he got all of the scraps from when I had to level them. He would happily taste everything I made, only issue was his English was as good as my Spanish, so there was a lot of smiling and nodding.

The worst mistake was trying to use pretzels to make bread pudding. The snack bar had soft pretzels (which I didn’t have to make, but can, as they are very labor intensive) that came frozen. We ended up with at least a few broken pretzels in each carton. Over time sizable amount of pieces were shoved in the back of the freezer and the sous chef told me to come up with something I could use them for. I’m not sure exactly what inspired me to equate stale pretzels with stale French bread, but I thought bread pudding would be just the thing. Pretzels have a very dense crust that doesn’t absorb moisture like French bread. Also the interior is very dense. After tearing several pounds of pretzels apart and soaking them overnight in a mixture of egg and milk, there was still a lot of liquid in the bowl, and the pretzel bits, still looked like pretzel bits. I literally massaged those bits for 20 minutes and got more of the liquid absorbed and tossed it in the oven on a lowish temp. It smelled phenomenal – several people wanted to know what I was baking and when it would be ready. The middle never did get cooked. The edges were starting to burn even on a low heat. I finally just took it out. The edge was edible, but just barely. The flavor was good – it was near Christmas so I used cinnamon and ginger for spices – bu the texture was bad. The pretzels just ended up being even more chewy. Big failure. We dumped it all and chalked it up to lesson learned.

My biggest seller at the cafe was Rice Krispie Treats. The original recipe sucks. The bars get hard way too fast. Solution, play with the amount of butter – do not use margarine, it tastes funny, actually just don’t use it for anything stick with unsalted butter – and use unsalted butter. I eventually found a ratio that would stay soft for days and the right amount cereal – again not what the box says. We had been to Italy over that summer and had come home with little Nutella juice glasses that had what looked like kids drawings of Italian city skylines – we went through a lot of small jars of Nutella in three weeks. One day while I was drinking out one of the glass and it struck me that adding Nutella to the mix would be amazing, but not just in the mix, drizzle melted Nutella over the top and then add chocolate covered pretzels pieces and some plain chunks of the skinny little pretzel sticks. They are damned amazing. My husband looked at me like I was crazy, my daughter, who shares me love of desserts, thought they sounded amazing. They turned out to be one of our best gourmet flavors. The other was ones that I put espresso ground coffee in the marshmallow mix and cover them with melted chocolate. The smell of the grounds hitting the molten marshmallow is heaven. The biggest failure in treats was my boss wanting me to make boozy treats for an event at a concert venue. Treats with alcohol get stale very quickly because of the added water in the alcohol. Adding whiskey and sambuca to hot marshmallow smells is nasty especially if making an amount that fills a fifty quart stock pot.

I love that my art gets consumed, and for the most part brings people joy. My only real issue with consumable art is brides and grooms smashing wedding cake in each others faces. Traditional wedding cakes take days to create and it is labor intensive – piping work is extremely difficult and extremely precise. Why spend triple digits for a cake for a food fight? Getting your friend to make a cake from a box and use canned icing for the cutting of the cake and let the guests have the good cake.

A few tips, if you all want them. Only use large eggs that you bring to room temperature – putting them in a bowl of hot tap water for 10 minutes or so will speed the process. Warm eggs will incorporate better and add them one at a time – counterintuitive, but most cakes and cookies start with butter and sugar, adding the eggs makes a permanent emollient. Use room temperature unsalted butter – butter can sit out for a day and still be okay and unsalted because salt amounts can vary across brands. Get a kitchen scale and weigh everything – I have measuring spoons that I use only for liquids and spices and cups that I use as scoops. Sift your baking soda and baking powder – they both clump easily and biting into even a small clump of either is nasty. Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt in a bowl with a whisk or fork before adding it – it will mix in better.

Don’t be afraid to try and to fail. It’s the best way to learn.


Damn. Between Kristen’s post, Denny’s posts, and Sam’s post, there’s another converse here. Inspiration is important at the beginning but there’s a different inspiration at the end of a project. I could make demos all week and give you 100 half-finished songs at the end of the year, but I’d be no closer to an album.

There’s another force that says “it’s time” and causes you to go into a manic editor mode and pull it all together. But it’s not just editing. There are fresh ideas that come at the end, too. Ideas that come up because you’re missing an ingredient and have to improvise. Ideas that come up because you need an event in your story but none of the characters’ motivations lend themselves to be natural catalysts of that event. Ideas that come up because you have 10 or 11 songs that play well together, but halfway through the record there’s a transition that’s missing. Ideas that come up because you have everything you need but there’s a little time left on the clock, so why not do something crazy? If you hate it, you can always set it aside. Necessity is the mother of invention and those late, time-dependent inventions are often something special. Procrastination + deadline = magic. That’s the real “newness”. Sometimes.

Failure, not being afraid to fail, and the occasional magic are why you keep doing it. Frequent iteration helps you get good at closing … and knowing when not to give it closure.


Michael’s right on point here. I’ll add this about teaching students how to write longer, more involved stories.

A good story will have a lede, a background graf, body parts and transitions, and a closer.

They assume they should begin writing the lede, then the background/nut graf, then one body part, then a transition, then another body part …. and write the closer last.

As a novelist (and I use that term laughingly), I can’t imagine writing a novel from beginning to end.

When a student has trouble figuring out how to write her story, I tell her this: Write the parts you know you have to write. As this collection of parts grows, you’ll have a greater sense of the whole. Eventually, the lede and the closer will emerge.

I have never written a news story from beginning to end (and I’ve written 20,000 of them).

Music and wordsmithing share the same trait — finished pieces involve parts. We create the parts we know we can and collect them. Eventually, in “manic editor mode” driven by deadlines, perhaps, we find the waysto seam them together into a coherent whole.


Lex's table

The effect of legs that are 90° to the floor and top but look like they aren’t was what started this. That doesn’t photograph very well with a phone. The top is done in the traditional Chinese fashion of a frame and panel but not floating frame and panel like cabinet doors. The panel is quite thin <3/8” and is locked into the frame by tapered, sliding dovetail battens which are then mortised into the frame. It’s an astoundingly elegant way to account for wood movement that’s lightweight and simply will not rack like frame and panel doors always do.

It also lends itself well to floating top construction which is quite modern and a look a love. Lot’s of through mortise and tenon joints in this, including locking the base by the short stretcher tenons going through the long stretcher tenons.

Black walnut and the top is Honduran mahogany that I took from my late grandfather’s lumber rack and French polished after resawing and gluing it up as a panel.


Wow … Amazing joints. A terrific piece.

Ars Skeptica

“I’m a firm believer that every chocolate cake every baked should be made with coffee.”

You just made a friend for life.

Baking snafu #1: I tried making an egg bread for homemade cinnamon rolls. Whatever I did wrong, I’m pretty sure I discovered the secret to Melba toast.

Baking snafu #2 actually worked, but isn’t worth replicating. I tried making homemade potatoes au gratin before I knew that the potatoes still had to be boiled first. They spent the time in the oven…uncooked. More time! Uncooked. MORE time! Uncooked. What about more time and heat both? Scorched the layer of cheese on top to a blackened mess that now felt like a permanent part of the baking pan. I had to cut through the cheese around the edge with a knife and lots of force. Finally peeled it away like opening a can of sardines. Jaws of life might have been handy. But I had to know, so I tasted the potatoes. Done! And I have this weird thing about loving the taste of very browned/slightly burned cheese. That flavor had infused every last bite of the potatoes, which turned out to be not only salvageable, but wolfed down with gusto by the group I was trying to feed that night. Then again, we were hungry college kids, and ramen would have gotten raves, so who knows what that signifies?

As to feeling like odd man out, here’s some photos to help you feel far more mainstream 🙂 Between my niche for inspiration, possibly damaged brain pan, and the kind of heavy hand with filters that would make a real photographer weep, I’ll see your odd man out and go all in, lol There’s an experiments in carving/assembling/painting blue foam insulation board, a texture stamp made by melting solder into a plaster mold, a diorama shot, a heavily processed flower, a composition in many layers made of facial features and articles of clothing from several different photos of different people, a doodle, and an abstract shot of the slip clutch on the back end of an old tractor.











“I’m a firm believer that every chocolate cake every baked should be made with coffee.”