I’m Bobby W. Baker. When I was but a wee guppy, my friends came over and asked what I wanted to do. I always answered, “Hey, let’s make stuff!”
I have never outgrown that.
I’m Bobby W. Baker. When I was but a wee guppy, my friends came over and asked what I wanted to do. I always answered, “Hey, let’s make stuff!”
I have never outgrown that.
I find a rusty piece of metal that resembles an angel. It seems to tell me exactly what it wants to become. The rusty metal, the resemblance to a winged figure, and the mood I’m in sets off the sirens and the Muse attacks with an idea so compelling, I get excited.
Whatever this sequence of events is that ends with a bubbling up of giddy ecstasy is of vital importance to us all as creators. It is a topic vitally worthy of exploration. I, as a found-object artist, find that connection with inspiration indispensable.
This is what I want to share with people, this exquisite connection with creativity itself and the inevitable byproduct of joyous inspiration. But, alas, this is not something that can be taught, learned, nor shared.
Words fall short.
“We must have inspiration or we will not create at all. I can’t see it working any other way.”
But nonetheless, I continue to learn more and more about the nature of inspiration. And therefore I keep trying to share what I can. So far I’ve identified three ways to coax the Muse into working with us:
Occasionally there will be an instance where inspiration comes directly from your found object. Sometimes the object actually instructs you on what it wishes to become. In his book, The Way of the Human Being, Calvin Luther Martin says that a man is walking along the beach and finds a piece of drift wood which tells him it wants to be carved into a walrus.
Michelangelo says he saw an angel in the stone and carved away everything that was not an angel.
Objects may not have inherent intelligence, but they do have the power of influence. If you are the artist chosen to collaborate with an object to help it become what it wants to be, it is a privilege as well as a challenge.
We must have inspiration or we will not create at all. I can’t see it working any other way. I suspect everyone treats the subject of inspiration differently however. Some may ignore its inner workings and just wait to be struck by an idea, with no real regard as to how the idea came about.
I wholly believe in the magic of creativity and I’m willing to swim in the reverie of inspiration, eyes open and ready to catch all its mystery and delight. I’m anxious to discover as many ways as possible to become inspired, inspire others, and to learn how and why inspiration hits when it does.
The spell of an object may eventually influence you and I’m hoping that if and when you spot an object that inspires you to help it become something unique, you will experience the same wild, ecstatic sense of discovery. With an adventurous spirit and a little courage, we can rise to the challenge and embrace the privilege again and again.
I come home from work, driving up our rather lengthy, mountainous driveway on a beautiful day, the mid-afternoon sun illuminating a pure blue sky. Suddenly I find it necessary to apply the brakes when I come upon seven or eight cars parked on the landing where I would normally turn left to descend down to my dad’s house. Just beyond this unexpected parking lot I see my friend Jeff coming around a car holding a clipboard and wearing a white lab coat.
Jeff is the biggest drug addict I know, and, knowing that my dad doesn’t like drug addicts, it is strange to see him on my dad’s property.
“Jeff”, I say, “what’s going on?”
“I’m helping the homeless people.” he says. Which again is odd, because my dad also doesn’t like homeless people. Jeff goes on…
“Your dad donated this top corner of the property to create a campground for the homeless.”
“What?!” I am flabbergasted. I scan the scene and see the homeless people and the volunteers helping to set up their tents. For a few seconds I stand there with all this racing thru my mind. Did my dad finally come around to a more compassionate place in his life? Jeff tears me out of my reverie when he says, “I have someone I want you to meet.”
I follow Jeff around some cars and we come upon what appears to be the sun (on earth). A light radiating so blazingly bright that I cannot look at it directly.
“Bobby, this is God.” Jeff says matter-of-factly.
I dive on the the ground, trembling in fear. But God says in a very calming voice, “Bobby, I’m not here for that.”
I stand up and dust myself off feeling relieved, but awfully curious. “What are you here for?” I ask.
“You know how you keep asking me what your purpose in life is? And how you keep wondering what you’re supposed to do with your life?”
“YES!” I shout. “I’m so glad you’ve paid attention to that question. Thank you!”
” Here’s your answer…” God says.
Now I’m so giddy at the prospect of finally receiving this answer, I just can’t contain myself.
“Yes…?” I say.
And God says, “When you wake up, I want you to write two lists…”
Wait, I think to myself, “when I wake up?” This is the first clue that I might be dreaming.
“On one list, write everything you love. Going all the way back as far as you can remember write everything you’ve ever loved. Not like, but truly love. On the other list, I want you to write everything you can do as well, if not better than anyone you know.”
It sounds simple. Easy enough to remember. I have a feeling I’ll be waking up any minute now…
“And then,” He says, “cross-reference the two and pick something. It’ll all make sense to you.”
And BOOM the dream was over. I popped up out of bed with my heart racing and grabbed my journal off the nightstand. I wrote and wrote and wrote and the only difficulty I had was not including the things I liked. I cheated and included them anyway, but later I would use a highlighter to differentiate the stuff I’ve always loved. The writing of the two lists works. Try it. I dare ya!
I was a youngster the very first time I ever used a found object to create a work of art. I woke up one morning practically strangled by a loose string on the edge of my blanket. When I ripped the yarn from around my neck, I was holding a long, pink, tapered string.
I got out of bed, took a cereal box out of the trash and grabbed a pair of scissors. I cut out a life-size silhouette of a rat. I used the point of the scissors to stab a hole in the chipboard where the tail would be. I stuck the wide end of the string through the hole and tied a knot in it so it wouldn’t slip out. The pink strand of blanket material was tapered in such a way that it looked exactly like a rat tail.
I showed it to Mom & Dad and they thought it was genius.
The economy is not driven by natural resources. Not by gold nor oil nor wind nor soy nor corn nor silicon.
The economy is driven by ideas. Period.
You, my friend, have hundreds of ideas swimming thru your mind every day!
If you don’t capture them somehow, they will swim away.
I’m a Creative and I have come to learn the value of recording an idea before I lose it. Because memory is somewhat limited, I have seen many splendid ideas swim straight out of my thoughts, never to return.
The solution is easy. Just jot it down! Draw a picture if you need to. Say something into your smart phone. It’s a map to success for you and you alone. There is great value in your ideas, I promise. They are the very source of our economy after all.
NOTE: You’ve seen my three deer lamp, now get ready for the fish lamp. This is gonna be FUN!
Here is a story that continues to replenish my soul year after year.
It’s pitch black night outside in Riner, Virginia. The sound of crickets is strong enough to break through the walls and be heard inside. I’m sitting across from Cross Elkroot, a man in his thirties with long black hair braided in the back with a fedora crowning his head, and he is telling me what to expect. He is telling me we will enter the lodge well before daybreak and we will sing some songs and say some prayers and be done sweating before the sun rises. Then I will be taken to a preordained spot in these western-most mountains and my assigned area, which will be six foot by six foot, will be staked out. Four choke-cherry branches will be stabbed into the ground at each corner and one thousand prayer ties, which I was asked to string together over the last three weeks, will create a fence around me and protect me from harm. A fifth choke-cherry branch will be used as a gate. I am to leave the area only to go to the bathroom. I will not have any food or water. I will stay in the six by six foot area for as long as is necessary. I wonder how long this will be.
I’ve known Cross for many years, but I have never asked him to “put me out on the mountain” until now. I am listening to every word he is saying and pouring every ounce of my attention into his words. I don’t feel that what I’m about to do is a matter of life and death, but I do feel it will become a profound event in my relatively short life.
I ask Cross if I can speak to him outside. There are three other people here and I want to reveal something that I feel is very personal. Cross agrees and we step out into the pool of dim yellow porch light.
“Cross, I got myself a job and have been working for a friend for a couple years now and he has always paid me on time. But about a month ago he was unable to pay me. When I asked for my check, he simply said, I cannot pay you right now.
“I let it go for a week, but at the end of that week he still couldn’t pay me. By the third week Wells Fargo was threatening to foreclose on my mortgage and I was in danger of losing my home.
“I told him I needed to be paid and he said, ‘That’s not my problem.’ I don’t know what to do here Cross.”
“I know,” says Cross. “I am aware of what’s going on with you and I promise by the end of this ceremony you will know exactly what to do.”
I look at Cross in the haze of the porch light and I see his eyes are somehow focused on a spot between him and me. I wonder about this. Can he not look at me in the same way a groom cannot look at the bride before the wedding ceremony? Is he so deep in the spirit of this ceremony that he cannot focus outside of it? I’m not sure, but I am absolutely positive about one thing. I believe what he is saying. His conviction is strong. Cross does not lie. He has more integrity than most of the people I’ve ever known.
It’s time to get whatever rest I can now before the ceremony begins and here at this spiritual retreat center nestled in the plateau of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I’ll sleep outside on the porch of the Zendo. All the night creatures that make sound are busy doing their jobs and at first I feel I may not get much rest, but the lull comes and fills me with the closing of the day and the eyes and the consciousness and suddenly it’s time to get up and start a new day.
Up at 4:00 a.m. looks just like up in the middle of the night. But I have enough adrenaline coursing thru my veins, I don’t have to yawn. In the distance I hear drumming. Today there’s no coffee, no breakfast. We’re not breaking a fast, we’re beginning one.
The April pre-dawn morning in this mountainous region of Virginia is cold. The wind has a bite to it. Outside the lodge down the hill from the Zendo on the brink of a hillside, the fire is burning deep in a hole dug specifically to prevent the wind from blowing it out. I feel the warmth of the fire on the backs of my legs as I kneel to enter the lodge.
Three people will go on vision quest this morning. We are all present for the ceremony. The ceremony goes well and each of us is taken to our assigned areas. I have the distinct feeling that the fast is going to affect me. That I will soon be hungry and wishing I had food. But once placed and seated in my 6′ X 6′ area, I am surprised to learn that it is not food that I crave. It is water.
My spot is in a meadow surrounded on three sides by a creek which flows in a horseshoe shape around the outside edge of the clearing. I can hear it burbling over the rocks. A sequence of thoughts occurs to me. We take in all that we sense. Sounds come in our ears. Tastes come into our mouths. When we see a tree, the tree is not outside of us, it is inside of us. Our optical nerve and a series of cones and rods are producing the concept of a tree at the backs of our eyes and then traveling to our brains where we register the tree inside of us. So although it is not entering my mouth at this moment, the sound of the water is entering my ears. Therefore water is coming into my body. This may be the most far fetched thing you’ve ever heard, but it satisfied my thirst and I no longer craved water.
Now sitting here on this grassy meadow, I see the sun rising in the east. The day has begun. I am holding the bowl of my sacred pipe against my chest and aiming the stem out in front of me. This is how I will sit for as long as I am here. I wonder again how long I will be here.
I look over at the sun, barely clearing the horizon. I have nothing to do. I have nowhere to be. I have no one to answer to. There are no responsibilities. I cannot write. I cannot draw. I cannot make things. I cannot visit with any human beings. So I sit…
… the sun has barely moved. I wonder how long it will take for the sun to get directly over head. How long will it take to be noon? It looks like it is going to take a very long time; and indeed it does take a very, very long time.
It seems that three days have passed since the sun rose and finally made it to the zenith of the sky. Now that it is probably noon, there is still nothing to do. I look to the west and I wonder how long it will take before the sun goes down. What seems like six days later, the sun finally sets.
There is still nothing to do, but it is dark now. The symphony of the night creatures begins and I listen. This will be my evening’s entertainment. But it is so natural that I am not really entertained. I sit and wonder how long it will be before midnight will come. I don’t have a watch. I see a lot of stars. Eventually, I fall out of consciousness.
I wake up at some point in the morning and I open my gate so I can walk ten feet away to pee. Then I come back and I sit with my pipe against my chest and the stem aimed out. The sun is barely clearing the horizon. I have nothing to do. You see where this is going. Time is showing me just how eternally long it takes when you cannot measure it. I vow to stay awake as long as possible tonight. I feel intuitively that if I deprive myself of sleep I will enter a state of trance and actually see some visions. But without a way to tell time, I do not know how late I am staying up and once again at some sort of biologically, predestined time, I lose consciousness.
I wake up and I have a sense that everything is clearer now. The greens of the trees are greener than yesterday. The blue of the sky is bluer. The pale green-gray of the lichens is even more vibrant today. I sit up and stare into the woods, my sacred pipe aimed and at the ready. I hear the cardinals… and then I see them. I hear a heron and then I see it land in a tree near me. I keep staring into those woods looking sharply, trying to see everything that is there all at once. I do this for many hours. I have nothing else to do.
I look up at the sky. I look down at the sky. I am sitting with my feet dangling off the edge of a cliff. The sky below has something swimming in it. Suddenly I hear the whoosh of wings to my upper right. I look up into the sky to my right and there, in the middle of the sky is a stone ring with turrets, like the top of a castle, 12 feet in circumference, spinning in the air. The whooshing sound was from the wings of an eagle who is flying toward the stone ring. A golden eagle lands on one of the turrets and the ring stops spinning. The eagle is looking down at me.
I look back down into the sky and the tiny, distant swimming creature is getting closer. I see now that it is a baby polar bear swimming up toward me. He swims right between my knees and he is so cute. I reach to pet him, but he opens his mouth and his teeth are super-sharp, so I withdraw my hand, only to discover he is just yawning. I pet his furry head and take a deep breath. I hear a faint voice far below… “obby ime to…”
The voice gets nearer. “Bobby ime t’go…” I hear my name. I look into the sky to see who’s talking to me, but I cannot see them. They are getting closer because the voice is getting louder. “Bobby, time to go.” I look to my left and right and up and down, but I cannot find the owner of this voice. I am feeling very puzzled. Then I feel a hand on my shoulder and I watch the scene in front of me, the blue intensity of the two skies, one above and one below, the baby polar bear, the stone ring and the eagle slowly tear away and become smoke until the colors are completely replaced by greens of the trees that are really here and the pale green-grays of the lichens and the sound of the creek returns and it is Cross who is touching my shoulder and he is telling me that it is time to go.
“Are you sure?” I ask, “because I don’t think I am done.” But he assures me I am done and it is time to go. I stand. I march straight to a spot on the creek in front of me some fifteen yards away as if being pulled by the sound of water and I look into the tributary. The water is clear, but the bottom is covered with mud. All the stones are coated with brown, but I reach straight into the water, the whole time feeling that I am just obeying impulse, not willing nor intending any of this and I wrap my fingers around a small stone and lift it from the creek bed. I rinse the mud off in the water and I am surprised to find the stone is translucent. This, I say to myself (in my mind) is my vision stone.
We all head back to the retreat center and our favorite meal is being prepared for us by our respective ogligles (pron: oh-GLEE-glays). They are the people who assist us in our quest. They eat for us and drink for us and pray for us the entire time we are out there on the mountain. They have asked us ahead of time what our favorite recipe is and now we enjoy a feast of everyone’s favorite foods.
When I return home the following day, I remember my conversation with Cross. “…I promise by the end of this ceremony you will know exactly what to do.”
I don’t know where the answer came from. I don’t remember being presented with the answer at any given point in the ceremony, yet it was indeed quite clear. What my friend said to me, “That’s not my problem” was true. It was not his problem, it was mine. I am the one who chose to work for someone who could not pay me. I’m the one who would have to remedy the situation. And so I met with my friend and told him I quit. Although he was not happy with that summation, I was 100% confident that it was the exact right thing to do.
That was eighteen years ago. I still love my friend and I think he has forgiven me for abandoning him. And I think often about that baby polar bear, the golden eagle, the stone ring, the cliff, the two skies and how the two realities overlapped and dissolved into one another when the blue skies turned back into the trees of the forest. And with me, I have my vision stone which reminds me of my friend the creek who gave me water thru my ears.
The things we thirst and hunger for in this life may be satisfied in ways we do not expect. We live for surprise anyway, so I think this is a very, very good thing.
I want to see a doodle go from ink scratches on a piece of notebook paper to a real-life lamp. Yes I said a real-life lamp. Why a lamp? Because a lamp represents illumination. The enlightened soul can use all the real-life help it can get. When you create, you take something out of the world of spirit (idea) and manifest it here on earth (reality). Enlightenment is one of the highest principles of the spirit realm. We have to shed light on things in order to see them clearly and understand our environment. So lamps are the perfect utilitarian work of art.
Since life is no more than a work of art itself, I figure I’ll make it happen. I look thru my scraps of paper with doodles on them and I find the three deer doodle. Scribed long ago on a yellow legal pad, something about the simplicity of the three deer appeal to me.
There’s poetry in the fact that very few simple lines drawn on colored paper can depict nature’s complexity in such a convincing way.
My lovely wife Catherine has been telling me for months she doesn’t like the random boards stacked against our fence. So I opt to use random boards as the medium for my three deer lamp.
I find a beautiful, once-painted, now faded board and cut out the basic shapes I see in my doodle. For the lines that represent the necks and legs, I’ll use patinated copper house wire. For the antlers I’ll use Dogwood branches. For the ears a scrap of leather will do. Finally, for the trees, I’ll use watercolor paper.
To translate a doodle to a work of art (especially a lamp made of old boards) is an act of pure intuition. There are no pre-made instructions. I make a tiny sketch (almost as tiny as the original doodle) so I have a map to go by, but I don’t take any measurements.
I just approximate the comparative sizes of the deer’s bodies and heads and legs and necks to keep everything somewhat within the laws of physics.
The battles one fights on one’s journey to glory are what make the journey worthwhile and making a doodle lamp is not without its challenges. The most disastrous onslaught is not having a drill bit that is ever-so-slightly larger than the house wire. They are so close in size that I have to pull out a hammer and pound the backs of the deer to get the legs to fit down into the holes in the hillside where they must reside. A less exuberant soul will let the resulting bent wires discourage his or her efforts, but this is one of those projects that falls into the third category of art.
All three require a different set of disciplines and all three have their place in the world. But the stuff from your soul does not die an early death. The stuff from your soul gets birthed into this world come hell or high water! A broken antler means another trip to the Dogwood tree. Leather too thin it tears when you poke it in the deer-head holes means a thicker, more beefy leather scrap must be obtained. Finding out you purchased the wrong lamp-wire online means requesting a return authorization. Having no idea how to attach the white paper forest in an upright fashion behind the deer means ratcheting up your intelligence and finding a way that will work with the goods you have on hand.
These tiny but substantial skirmishes are always behind the scenes for the casual observers who take in your art once it is created. But victory over these perilous encounters are your ticket into artist’s heaven, where you and the muse get to kick back a cold one and recount the adventure you had bringing your idea across the spirit bridge and into reality.
This is your chance, people, to join the ranks of the artists in artist’s heaven. If I can take a doodle off of a piece of paper and turn it into a lamp, imagine what you can do!
(Click on the photos if you’d like to see slightly larger versions… unless you’re on a mobile device, in which case just stretch and pinch to your heart’s content.)
Tell me about your experiences with bringing ideas to life…
My dad died when he was 62. Seemed a tad early since I was led to believe the average male achieves a lifespan of 75-89 years.
But Dad was alive with me when we saw the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Strangely enough, we happen to have been discussing that very topic. Dad asked me, “Son, what is beauty?” I looked at him with an expression that said, “Are you serious?!”
“You know” I said. “A sunset, a pretty woman, mountains,…”
He interrupted, “No, I know what examples of beauty are. I just want to understand what beauty itself is.”
My expression changed to one of deep contemplation and then to humility. I could not answer his question. I was unable to find the words. But the events that followed freed me from a necessity to explain.
We were making our way home, Dad was driving his pickup, I was in the passenger seat and we were only about a quarter mile from our driveway. We lived in the Sierra Nevada mountains and this was late in the afternoon, early in autumn.
As we came close to the rim of the last hill before our driveway, the cloudy sky above us turned red. Just a slight pink hue at first, but very rapidly the sky went blood red. My dad looked up. then I looked up. “Uh-oh,” Dad said. “That doesn’t look good.” He was referring to the threat of a forest fire… and in this case, one that was awfully close to home. We both cringed as we neared the crest of the hill where we would soon gain a full view of the valley below.
We crested the hill and… nothing. No giant flames, no sparks and embers flying in the wind. Just a peaceful valley beneath a brightly glowing crimson sky. We both looked up again, puzzled.
“What the heck is going on here?” we both said practically in unison.
Halfway down the hill, we passed our driveway and kept driving. We now had to know what was making the sky pure red. As we descended toward the bridge that crossed the creek at the bottom of the hill, we looked in every direction for the source of this scarlet surprise above us. But we saw nothing… until we crossed the creek.
Dry Creek meanders through the valley, crosses Frenchtown Road and flows out thru a green pasture peppered by pale-green lichen covered oak trees. Out there in that expanse of green, floating on the creek, was a bank of fog. The fog was perhaps 20 feet high, 40 feet wide and followed the creek for about 75 yards. The bank of fog was pure red and glowing so brightly we could barely look at it for more than a few seconds. When we arrived and parked the car just past the bridge the fog was just going from a deep, deep red to a deep, deep magenta. It was easier to continue staring at when the magenta color came. It softened the glow just a little bit from sunlight intensity to something like car headlight intensity.
We were enraptured. There were no hard edges to the bank of fog. The red color gave way to the true colors around it with a subtle fade. It was as if red light had taken on the form of a terrestrial cloud and, while lying in the creek, was changing colors before our very eyes. The magenta began to change to bright orange and the transition created a color so vibrant and unusual that no existing phenomenon had ever matched it. The orange itself was so delightful that we were barely able to contain ourselves. As that bright orange finally faded to a pale pink we watched as all the light was suddenly drained from the fog and we were left with nothing more than a pale grey cloud lying in the creek as the sun went down far up the valley behind it.
Dad and I looked at each other, combing the surprised expression on each other’s faces.
“Well,” I said to Dad, “that was beauty!”