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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Squishy Brain Fun

Pyramid of pipes! I was trying to figure out some cute way of taking a group photo of some pipes in production, and thought I would try stacking them on my sketchboard. All of these pipes are destined for Pipe & Pint (or perhaps I should say, "Whichever of these actually are finished", since I usually end up tossing one out of every four or five stummels by the end of work).

Lots of comments on that last blog article! There is some interesting further reading down in the Comments section, for anyone who missed it, and it sparked a very good discussion thread in a private forum I frequent. I was pleased to see it didn't generate the sort of flames it might have produced, and once again I'm pleasantly surprised with the insight and civility of my readership. If you're reading this, truly, count yourself as an elite of the pipe universe ;) Of course, the more cynical possibility may just be that I write too damned long articles, and all the hotheads who would normally go berserk don't have the patience to read long enough to get offended...

This is the inside of a pipemaker's head:


At risk of sounding like a precious "artiste", pipemaking does often present creative challenges and problems that resonate on all sorts of personal levels. Many times I've found myself disliking a shape for no explicable reason, or expressing an unforeseen good or bad attitude towards a particular project. A useful technique I've been experimenting with lately is called Mind Mapping. I'd never even heard of the process before, until it was introduced on one of Kelly Howell's "Theater of the Mind" podcasts (I enjoy these on occasion, having been introduced to them through the audio CDs that Ms. Howell produces. The "Brain Sync" audio seems to help a good bit in getting my mind into different brainwave states. Yes, I really am quite odd. If curious, there's a bit more about our brainwave ranges here and here).

In a nutshell, the practice of mind mapping works on the basis of the brain being a nonlinear thinker - That is, we come to problems bringing a whole sack of issues, many often totally unrelated to the case at hand, and they can play havoc with our ability to focus clearly and think creatively (I was particularly amused that one of my side-tangents in the design map above went all the way off to a persistent memory from my early 20's, when I wanted to become a full-time artist and a family member told me to be sure and take the course called, "How to Survive on $1,000 a Year". The things that stick in our heads...).

For the problem above, I had rough-shaped a stummel to a semi-horn shape. The grain was stunning, it looked like it could become a really striking pipe, and I was really floundering with the design - I really, really did not want to make it a horn, or anything particularly Danish-ey, for that matter. So, the thing lay around for a while and I kept staring at it, waiting for inspiration to hit, until I decided to try mind-mapping the design ideas and seeing if this produced any insight.

Mind mapping helps creativity because it forces your brain to fire on all levels. The idea is to start your problem in the center of a really big paper, and go in every direction. Use a lot of colored pencils and change colors often, letting colors represent different themes. Make the map a mixture of text, random comments, unfiltered thoughts and reactions, and drawings - especially drawings, because they force more right/left brain activity rather than simply slipping totally into rational, decision-making mode. Which is often very limited. I can attest that sometimes very unexpected results will be arrived at! The pipe in question, which could have become a very conventional horn shape, instead became this.