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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.

5 comments:

  1. Very interesting post Trever. I was introduced to something like thisjust over a decade ago while still enrolled in university and working on a minor in architecture. The exercise was meant to make you think outside your normal bounds of what is "right" or "wrong" in design and get you experimenting with a whole slew of possibilities and pitfalls associated with them. I had no idea there was a terminology associated with it - I just figured it was another wacko idea spawned from the fiery pits of hell that were my instructors minds. Seeing it now, using eyes wizened by age (such as they are), it take on a whole new meaning.

    Thanks!

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  2. Check out the links on the Wiki entry for further reading, if you're interested. I tend to be very leery of stuff like this that flirts along the edges of New Age market hype, but mind mapping goes back a good ways and there are some interesting benefits to it. I've certainly found it to be a handy way of looking at problems. I'd try mind-mapping my difficulties learning French, but I don't have any paper that big...

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  3. "every damn wannabe pipe maker is making stuff that looks like this today"
    How hilarious.

    I've been very intrigued by the mind mapping thing, and the Brain Sync products. I'll be looking int o buying som eof that stuff in a few months. There appeared to be a lot of stuff to listen to during creative sessions, and I'll be doing a lot of design work. I always enjoyed listening to music while creating cad models and this stuff looks perfect. Unlike writing where I have to actually formulate words in my mind. I can't listen to music and write. It's weird how I can sing along to Junior Brown tunes and happily do cad work. A very good example of L/R brain activity.

    Paul tatum

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  4. Heh! Yeah, well, when you're doing mind-mapping, you can't filter, so thoughts and ideas that float through can be fairly blunt ;)

    I've also listened to iMusic and I really prefer Kelly's stuff.. in fact, I couldn't even stand to listen to the iMusic for very long because it was so different. Kelly's CDs are incredibly re-listenable because they are mostly ambient music and waves, without distinct tunes or riffs or any of the things that I'd end up learning by heart and getting sick of. iMusic, by contrast, masks their wave patterns underneath classical surface music tracks, and the effect was really disturbing. Basically, it was like listening to chamber music on the other side of a fishtank - recognizable inoffensive classical, yet underlaid with a pulsing burble that was really distracting and made the music sound like my speakers were going weird. Kelly's music is terrific background sound and I can listen to the same CDs day after day without getting tired or sick of them. Hard to describe, though. If you get adventurous, I'd recommend the Positive Thinking disc and the Deep Sleep disc, and also High Focus for really good background working concentration.

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  5. Hey Trever,
    Great Mapping and post! Ever since I did that podcast with Michael Gelb and I read the book on Mind Mapping (radiant thinking) by Tony Buzan I'm a devout Mapper now. For many years, I used my own form of mapping, but discovered that when I follow Tony Buzan’s "basic rules" I get far richer maps and ideas. By nature, I'm an incorrigible rule breaker, but in this case I am profoundly amazed at what comes through when I follow the rules, so here are the ones I'm abiding by from Tony’s book:
    1. Use Central Image

    2. Basic Ordering Ideas BOI’s (usually only a few). These end up like main branches from which everything else flows.

    3.Draw Images wherever possible, instead of words.

    My addition to these rules is to listen to music while mapping to unleash the creative spirit.

    Thanks for the mention. And I’m glad the podcast was an inspiration.
    Kelly

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