I’ve been writing about poetry a lot lately. Well, really I’ve been writing about how I think about designing through poetry, but in a lot of ways that is much the same thing. I suppose it involves a high degree of arrogance to assume that anyone would care, but one of the big reasons for this blog to exist is to be a means for publicly thinking through whatever it is that is going around in my head. But I digress…

In thinking about poetry I remembered something I used to do all the time at school when I was a kid, or at least from about second grade until fifth or sixth grade: I would write out as many of the exponents of the number two that I could. I’d start with the number one (20) and go on and on until I either ran out of room on the paper or my little kid brain couldn’t keep track of the numbers any more. If I still had every scrap of paper from my childhood I bet I would have hundreds and hundreds of bits that looked a lot like this…


Somewhere early in school I was told I was good at math, but I think the teachers kind of had it wrong: I was good at patterns. I didn’t so much like solving problems as just playing with the numbers, looking for relationships rather than answers. What fascinated me about the exponents of 2 is that from the simplest starts I quickly arrived at enormously complex numbers (or at least enormously complex to me at the time). I think I understood even then that simplicity begets complexity, one that is far more interesting than just pulling a random complicated number out of a hat.

To me this is the nature of great poetry: it surprises us with its elegance and beauty, but does so though the most ordinary means. This, too, is what I love about great fabric and quilts. Designing isn’t about complexity for complexity’s sake, but the building up of something resonant, wondrous out of simple, basic elements.


It is the same reason that it seems so odd that creativity is thought to be something rare, something hard to achieve. Yes, pulling that single, magical piece of complexity out of thin air is almost impossible (I have almost no idea how to do it), but sitting down, working out the next number, the next possibility, a whole chain of permutations and potentials until you run out of paper or find that beautiful number you were looking for just seems natural. In the end that’s all creativity is: putting in the time and banging your head against a desk.

I go through a lot of desks.

And numbers…


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One Response to Exponential…

  1. 1
    Mary Ann says:

    I love those patterns Thomas. Spoonflower sent me shipping notice today! Hurrah! Looking forward to texts and number, lots of numbers.

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