Little things can alter the path we travel as craftspeople, and opening ourselves to new influences is vital to keep our work fresh and exciting. And by exciting, I mean to ourselves – an artisan bored with what they do soon ceases to be one.
Looking for new influences was how Antonio Jacobsen (19th and early 20th century Danish American Marine painter) changed my craft.
In November 1989, I was buying Christmas presents in a museum shop. I came away with a goody for myself too, a large-format postcard of a ship under sail painted by Antonio Jacobsen. The postcard wound up pinned to a bulletin board alongside my desk.
I was beginning to create portraits of ships and boats carved in wood and became fascinated by the late 19th-century “transition era” vessels. At that time, wooden hulls gave way to iron and steel, and sail became superseded by steam. It was an exciting time, and many of the designs were ingenious and beautiful. I eventually decided to carve that vessel, the Belganland.
I am not sure how many carvings like the Beglanland I’d want to do. It was laborious and time-consuming. Eventually, I decided to incorporate the carving into a large blanket chest. For years it was the signature piece on display at my boat show booths -priced high enough that I didn’t worry about selling it. It also served as the inspirational spark for other projects and encouragement to try new approaches.

Many artists and craft people restrict themselves to looking for inspiration in their media alone. Woodworkers look to work in wood, potters to ceramic, etcetera. Avoid that error. Groom your interests by getting excited by what others are doing as well. It may very well yield an inspirational spark you were not expecting.

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