Thinking Like A Mushroom

A basket full of mushrooms

People sometimes ask how I came up with an idea for a shape and design. It’s a good question, and one I often ask myself.

Oyster mushrooms in the wild

I have been engaged in new design work recently. When I wake up in the morning, I’m thinking about a new vase I’ve been working on and imagining some of those elements translated into a teapot or a pitcher. Or I’m pondering how to use a live edge in a piece. Or perhaps I’m thinking of how little is needed to give the viewer/user the impression of a bird in a piece. I oftentimes find myself staring into space at the studio, alert and listening, but to what?

At times when I’m not as engaged in these types of questions, my mind is more prone to wandering into unpleasant territory. I might wake up wondering whether I’ll have enough pots made in time to fill an order, or whether our tomato plants will get the late blight this year. Then there are global questions like how we can attain world peace. I’d much rather be thinking about pots…

Oyster mushrooms in the wild
Oyster mushrooms in the wild

So what is the power of creative pursuit? When I’m designing I am actively problem solving, and thinking about detail in a way that allows other concerns to drop away.

A Harvest of Black Trumpets

This is what mushroom hunting is about for me as well. My senses are sharpened as I search the wild landscape for clues that will lead to a harvest. For the moment all other concerns disappear. The veil between myself and my surroundings becomes thinner. As crazy as it sounds, I begin to breathe, to think like a mushroom.

Years ago I was going through a difficult break up. With my heart sore and open, I took to the woods. That summer there was a wild abundance of a particular edible mushroom called a black trumpet. I found them scattered about my land in places I’d never seen them before, and I was relentless in my pursuit of them. This effort kept my mind focused as I rode an emotional roller coaster. As a friend of mine said at the time “it keeps your mind out of unorganized territory.”

So back to those design questions. How delicious to focus on the shape of a bowl’s foot, or whether a thrown piece wants a swell in it’s contour and whether that swell should ride low or high. It’s the gift of the creative impulse, to bring our attention into single pointed focus on simple things.

What kinds of things work for you to bring you into that creative, quiet place? Please share in the comments, and if you’d like to sign up for my newsletter you can do so by clicking here.  And remember we’d love to see you at the studio anytime!