My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond #498: Unexpected Inspirations

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 10-21-2011 12:16 PM 1172 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 497: Chasing My Tail Part 498 of My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond series Part 499: The Power of Labels »

As a designer, part of the daily job is depending on inspiration from outside sources to fuel our creativity and increase the flow of new and exciting projects. Without this stimulation, we can quickly become stagnant and unproductive, and our work can suffer greatly. For many, finding constant sources of inspiration can be a challenge. But sometimes, we stumble upon it in the most unlikely places.

Yesterday began as a quite uninspiring day. Although I tried to be upbeat and optimistic, there were things that were weighing heavily on my mind. One of the major things that was preoccupying me was my son’s surgery. Yes, it was minor, but being so far away from him left me with feelings of anxiety and I was quite unable to concentrate on any one task. (As a side note, I want to say that the surgery went well and he is fine!)

I did my usual work yesterday morning and kept the pile moving. While I wasn’t in the mood for doing anything creative, there was the usual share of utilitarian chores that needed to be done. I fondly call this ‘dumb guy work’ because it is the type of work that pushes the pile without requiring much deep level thinking.

As I was accomplishing some of these tasks, some things came up that needed my attention. I thought that this was a fine distraction and one thing led to another and it brought me to remembering a print that I used to have hanging in my living room. I had not seen it since I moved a couple of years ago, but seeing it again – even here on the computer – brought back many of the feelings and emotions that I experienced when it hung on my wall.

It is a photograph of an Mohawk girl entitled Cowenah, and from the first time I saw it, I felt it was special. It is a simple black and white photograph taken by Toronto photographer Myron Zabol. This particular print was number 2 in a series of 100 and is signed by Mr. Zabol.

In looking at something such as this, I believe its value goes far beyond financial worth. I suppose that is what makes some pieces of art more costly than others.

To me, this picture always was a great source of inspiration. There were days when things in my life were not going very well and I remember countless times when I would just sit and gaze at this picture and lose myself in thought. I would think about the girl, and wonder what she was thinking. I would admire the beauty and craftsmanship of the simple yet carefully crafted costume and I would wonder about her life and what she may encounter on an average day of living. How did she meet the photographer? What was she thinking about when her photograph was being taken? What was she doing now? Even the small bit of information written by the artists evoked thought:

The girl’s name was there. She was from the Turtle Clan. What would that be like? Did she live traditionally, or was her world greatly modernized?

I hadn’t really known the history or the story behind the photograph until yesterday when I began looking. Since the picture was signed, I was able to track down the photographer directly and access his website (Myron Zabol Photography) and read the story behind this beautiful photograph and see others like it. It is from his series 'People of the Dancing Sky' and I learned that he has a book by the same title which documents the Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy. It was a wonderful distraction but more importantly an incredible inspiration to me as a designer.

When we leave this world, not only will we leave behind memories of our personality and how we lived our lives, but as artists and creators, we will also leave a legacy of tangible things we have created. Throughout time, art has been the highest valued commodity on Earth. I believe that is because art is created with emotion and feelings and has an intrinsic value that can only be added from a human soul.

What does this all have to do with woodworking and painting?

I think a lot.

I see each of us a an artist. Even if we are just beginning to learn our craft. For each piece we make is not only manufactured from the wood and paint and varnish and other materials that we use to construct it, but is created with emotion and passion and the intensity we have poured into it. In that is where we see the real value of our work. When others see it too, we know we have succeeded.

Many times when I sell my work, I am asked to sign it and date it. Although I knew that this was important for ‘known’ artists to do, I never really considered myself among them and one of such importance as to deem it necessary. After having this print and being able to learn so much about it from a mere signature, I do see how important signing our work can be. We never know in the years ahead where we will be and one day someone may be holding one of our boxes or ornaments or paintings and want to learn of its history and perhaps of the inspiration behind it.

Inspirations come from unexpected places sometimes. I truly believe that they are always there for us to find, but we need to be receptive to them and look for them in every day things. From that point on, it is up to us. Our own creativity has no limits.

Have a wonderful Friday. I hope you try to do something beautifully creative today!

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

4 comments so far

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2893 days

#1 posted 10-21-2011 01:50 PM

The first time anyone asked me to sign one of my projects, I couldn’t figure out what could possibly be their motive. Luckily, this request was made at the beginning of the project, not the end. I spoke with this person several times throughout the building of that project. I learned through these talks that she considerd my projects art work and wanted my signature and date on it. I explained to her that I did not consider myself an artist, however, I would be flattered to sign something she would have in her home, under one condition. My signature is illegible anyway, but I wanted to clearly print below the signature the designer of the plans I used during the build of the project. Even though I veered way away from the original design on that one, it still would have been impossible without the original plans.
This has become my method of “signing” objects now when I’m asked. I don’t even ask anymore, I just do it if someone requests a piece be signed.
I have a reason for this, besides the fact that I do everything differently than most people would expect.
I find myself often cutting designs that are reproducd from designs from hundreds of years ago. In some cases, like the Italiante Chandelier, they are exact copies of centuries old patterns. The Italiante Chandelier was a seventeenth design that is reproduced using modern equipment. When you look at the plans, the writing is in Italian and you can still read the original designer’s name on it. Other designs I use are from living designers that are from this era. The point it that all these designs are the hard work of someone else, but they make what I do possible, even in those circumstances when my finished work is unrecognizable from the original design. If I am to be remembered for making a piece, I also want to make it possible two hundred years from now for someone looking at it to be able to go back and possibly do some research to find the original designer or plans.
This is not just about giving the designer recognition either. This is about possibly keeping scrolling alive. It fascinates me the history behind scrolling. If you are wondering how I can cut a chandelier that was designed in the seventeenth century, it’s because not that much has changed in the craft of scrolling in all these years. Modern technology and machinery has made it much easier, but scrolling is basically done the same way as it was three hundred years ago when the “scroll saw” more resembled what we call today a coping saw that was clamped to a table while the blade was threaded through the work piece that was moved up and down to remove inside cutouts. If you think about it, the only things that has changed is the fact that we now have a amachine that moved the blade up and down, keeping the work piece more stable, at a rapid rate of speed. This makes it much easier.
So if I cut a Sheila Landry design, that is great if I sign it. Who knows? Someday someone may actually know me enough to be able to tell from my chicken scratch signature who cut it. What if someone hundreds of years from now wants to cut it too though? They need to know who designed it. When I put, in much more legible print than my signature, “pattern designed by: name”, it will be much easier hopefully for future scrollers to find out where to get that pattern.


View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9231 posts in 2971 days

#2 posted 10-22-2011 02:46 AM

Hi, William. I am sure that your scroll work will be around for many generations. It is pretty neat when you think about it. One day others will look upon what we make as ‘antiques.’ Keep up the good work!

Sheila :)

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10147 posts in 4103 days

#3 posted 10-22-2011 05:56 AM

That is a very intriguing picture…

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9231 posts in 2971 days

#4 posted 10-22-2011 11:53 AM

Thanks, Joe! :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

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