Anselm Fraser, principal. writing in The Woodworker magazine

Inspiration can be defined as finding a new or better way of answering a question, solving a problem or, for us woodworkers, coming up with a better design for a piece of furniture.

But finding inspiration can be a hard task.  So how do you find it?

Well, the first thing is not to think negatively.  There’s no point in thinking “I don’t know how to do this….” Or “I am entirely out of ideas.”

Thinking like that only creates more negativity and a mindset in which failure becomes self-fulfilling.

Change your mindset to think “I will find the inspiration to solve this.”

Some wise words from the Anglo-Indian actor Roy Deep: “Inspiration comes from within yourself. One has to be positive. When you’re positive, good things happen.

Even better, take some exercise.  Physical activity helps to stimulate good brain chemicals which can influence positive thought patterns. So, if you can, go for a long walk in the countryside.

Wynn Bullock, the famous photographer, said: “Whenever I have found myself stuck…I return to nature. It is my principal teacher, and I try to open my whole being to what it has to say.” 

Or talk to those whose opinions matter to you.  Sometimes talking about your creative problem can be the most important part of solving it.

Another good idea is to read about what you want to achieve.  If The Woodworker can’t throw up any ideas, search around the internet.  See how others have come up with the kind of creative designs you’re looking to achieve.

Elusive ideas

Most of all, don’t be hard on yourself if those elusive ideas just don’t come.  We all have bad creative days – so just accept it!

Or do what novelists do.  They break down their proposed book into bite-sized chunks and then come up with bite-sized bits of inspiration.

It would be impossible to dream up the entirety of a complex book in one burst of inspiration.  Rather, come up with a first idea, which will lead onto another idea….

For me, inspiration takes me back to my childhood when I would watch joiners and carpenters working on a house my father had bought.

That started me on woodworking as a hobby and I can still remember making a balsa model of a tall ship.

However inspiration finds you, it’s a very important part of the woodworker’s craft – that little piece of magic that turns a mundane piece of furniture into something special.

And when you do have an idea, write it down.  Simply, an idea forgotten is an idea lost.

But it’s a process of inquisitive search that should also be fun.  As we constantly say to our students, anything learned with pleasure is likely to last a lifetime.

But inspiration is also about making use of the other talents that you have.  For example, we regularly have students with architectural qualifications.

They are able to use their professional training to make furniture that employs both architectural and woodworking skills – wonderfully complex pieces that benefit from their previous experience.

So what else are you good at?  It needn’t be something acquired at college or university, just skills or interest that you naturally have.

For example, one of our students last year also had a passion for watches and watch-making.

One of the pieces he made was a “time-table” – a simple coffee table with pieces of old watches embedded in resin on the top.  A quirky and inspired idea that turned a mundane piece of furniture into a talking point.

The lesson to finding inspiration is also straightforward: keep looking for it, and keep looking in both usual and unusual places.  The more you look, the easier it is to find.

Or, as Bob Dylan puts it: “Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it.”