Courting Inspiration

September 22, 2017

Book for Angie

Book for my daughter, finished the day after the class was over, in the big clean empty studio, all by myself.

How long have I been back from Penland? Nearly three weeks, and haven’t gotten around to writing a post. Odd, since I know exactly what I want to post about. Funny how being away for just 10 days creates such a backlog. Just now catching up, just now able to sit down and write.

Sitting in the Ashville North Carolina airport, waiting for our flights, a group of us who had been at Penland for a week were chatting.  A woman, Linda, talked about how full the week had been, and asked, how to keep this momentum going.

I had just one suggestion for her, but as I’ve been thinking about it, I wish I had said more. Instead, I am saying it now, here.

Seems to me that inspiration is a collaborative event, like two hands clapping. You and inspiration, making something together.

There are three suggestions I have to court inspiration.

One: make space for inspiration to land. This means clear your work area, your desk, your schedule. Creating space invites inspiration. Think of it as you would think of a cooking a meal. How do you feel about cooking when you enter a messy, crowded kitchen? Just doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t mean that your work area has to stay open and clear while you are working, after all, cooking messes up a kitchen, it can’t be helped. My suggestion to Linda was that she clear her work area the night before, so that the invitation to be inspired is open when the new day starts.

Two: show up. Don’t expect inspiration to stick around if you don’t show up. Making yourself available to work means not taking phone calls, not checking the news, not texting, not paying bills, not running errands, not preparing meals, and not going on-line. Author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this quite eloquently in her book Big Magic. She sits at her desk, trying to write, and if the writing doesn’t come, she calls out something like, hey, I’m here, I’m doing MY part!! Yes, show up where you work. Begin. Without expectation, judgement or demands, begin. Whatever it takes, begin.

Showing up also means giving inspiration time. Writer, actor, and tall person John Cleese has spoken about this. He has said that he doesn’t settle on the first thing that appeals to him. He gives his ideas more time. Even though what comes first may seem fine, staying with the work longer reveals work that is even better. Cleese has talked about how the quality of his work comes more from the time he gives it, rather than the talent he has. Mind you, he’s not talking about having to give his ideas days and weeks to gel: he has worked with people who have come up with good work in an hour, but he gives it maybe 45 minutes more, and that makes all the difference.

Inspiration likes to be played with, listened to, poked, questioned, examined, flirted with, teased,indulged, responded to, paid attention to, smiled at, experimented with, released, written about, danced with, put on display, thought about, talked to, shared, enjoyed and played with some more. Seems to me that inspiration also likes to take walks. It likes when you have learned and developed skills. Inspiration does not like to be controlled.

Three:When it’s time to stop working, be thankful. Unconditionally, be thankful.

Thank you.




Show & Tell Days at Penland

September 2, 2017




Helga’s Jacob’s Ladder Box

Yesterday was the last full day of instruction for our Books and Boxes class. Towards the end of the day we looked at what each other had done.


Although Susan Share demonstrated a huge number of projects  (with some assistance from me) the signature piece for this class was what Susan refers to as the Jacob’s Ladder Box, which opens in two directions, revealing different surfaces.


Ben’s Jacob’s Ladder Box, reveal 1

Not only are these book kinda magical, but they also provide the opportunity to practice many skills, such as box building & covering,  hinging, adding shelves, as well creative decision making.


Ben’s box, reveal 2


Barbara’s books

The number of sewn books that were made in class this week surprised both me and Susan. Everyone seemed to love sewing books. We sewed books on tape…


Louis’s tiny coptic sewn book, with origami slip case

… coptic bound books, button-hole stitched books, link stitch books on pleats, and long stitch.

Mixed in with the larger, more technical projects were ones that could be started and finished more quickly.


Phyllis’s books

There were accordions with numerous kinds of hinges, laid out in a variety of ways.


Dawn’s accordion cube in the foreground, Susan M’s green and orange accordion pop-up in the background


We also made a book and box structure that was invented by Hedi Kyle, an enclosure based on the iron cross fold, twist boxes, template boxes, and probably a few more things that I can’t remember at the moment.


Kate’s books

That was yesterday.

Today, Saturday, at  11:00 am the entire Penland community converged in what is called the Flex room.


All the studios set up a display of work that’s been done this week.


Iron Studio



Glass Studio


Textile studio


Tim’s work from Drawing Studio


Book made in drawing studio (I stopped in and helped a bit with the sewing of these books  in this class)


Screen Printing studio


Oh, here I am back at the Book Arts,: Rivers’ Jacob’s Ladder Book



Clay Studio



Alchemy  Glazing workshop, Clay Studio



And I’ve left out a number of other studios, but this is all I can do tonight.

Classes are over for this session at Penland. The campus is mostly empty.  My flight doesn’t leave tomorrow until 8 pm, so, yay! Susan and I get to have the book arts studio all to ourselves for a few hours tomorrow.



I had no idea of what to expect when I got here, so everything about my first time here at Penland has been a surprise,. I certainly didn’t expect people to be working in the studios everyday from early in the morning until late at night. The photo above is the of the screen printing studio at about 11:30 pm.


After the first day of instruction, which felt cocoon-like, things started to expand.

Rather than all of the instruction coming from Susan, the evening seem to be about people working on their own projects as well as teaching new skills to anyone who showed interest. We’re each helping each other not only with skills, but also ( when asked) with opinions. It gets very exciting.


Then there’s been visitors, both from other studios on campus, and even from artists who live in North Carolina. In the photo above, that’s book artist Carol Norby on the left talking with Susan Share. Carol actually came by to meet Henrik Drescher who is the instructor in the studio above us, and he brought her down here to meet us.


Book by Carol Norby

Book by Carol Norby

Carol brought by a number or her books and we wouldn’t give her any choice but to show us everything she brought.

Henrik's studio space and students

The photo above is the drawing/painting studio. There’s been a comfortable amount of back and forth between our two studios. It’s probably indiscreet for me to go in and take photos of people’s work here, since it is not my class, so…


…Tim, if you ask me to remove this picture from my blog, I will comply. While talking to the artist at this desk I realized that he is someone whose work I had come across a few years ago and had been thoroughly enchanted by. I was over the moon to actually meet him. Something about his work completely resonates with me.


Meanwhile, back in the book arts studio Helga had an enlarged copy of the template Ed Hutchins had included in an extraordinary box/accordion/pop-up with flaps catalogue that he designed in 1996. Helga has been looking at this template for a year, trying to recreate Ed’s book. Since Ed is a friend of mine, I sent him photos of what Helga is working on and he sent back an appreciative response to her efforts, as well as thoughts of how to proceed.

Last night’s slide show feature Susan’s work. For the first time I saw this video documention of a solo show of her work.


Everyone was completely wowed by this video.

Here’s another video, meant to be a reminder for the class here, referencing how to make an origami slip case. I may be redoing this video, or rotating it when I get back home., but wanted just want to get it posted for now.


Tomorrow is the last full day of working here in the Penland studios.


Susan M’s book/box

Work is continuing to be made. Tomorrow I’ll be taking lots of photos of pieces made by the awesome/inspired/talented/determined/creative/enthusiastic/generous/spirited/ dedicated people who have been working in this room this week. What a week!


Yesterday started out as a typical instructional day. then completely took off. I’m getting the impression that this is how it goes at here at Penland. The classes are filled with people who are ready to get to work and keep working.


As Susan Share does the instruction, I’m scrambling to pick up what’s new to me so that I can assist. Oh, it’s fun.


Susan M’s pop-up accordion

We have a couple of people who here who took a pop-up during the last session here, and one thing that’s going on is that they are using what they learned earlier this month in the structures that are being introduced this week.


People have brought materials along with them, so we get to see unexpected results in familiar structures.


After a full day of working, we are treated to a slide show of instructor work at 8:30 in the evening. That’s a great vase in that slide….


Then AFTER the slide show many people just get back to work. I left the studio at 10:20 pm. At that time our book arts studio, as well as many of the other studios on this campus, was still buzzing with activity.


Many late night workers means fewer people at breakfast this morning. Looking forward to another day.

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