Hiding One's Light Under A Basket? (long)


Dont know about you, but Im my own worst critic. Without exception, I dont feel Ive ever made anything out of wood I thought anyone would pay any money for, let alone a real chunk of change. I have surprised myself occassionally (my workbench for example) but I write it off as a series of lucky accidents. And when someone compliments me on something Ive made I assume theyre just being polite and overlooking all my mistakes.
Now Im not egotistical - or humble enough - to think Im the only one who feels this way. But for convenience sake, Ill put what follows in the first person. I hope a few who read this will see themselves as the I in this tale.
With that as the context - read on - or not.
I recently returned from reunion with a bunch of my high school classmates. It wasnt a class reunion per se, but rather an excuse for getting together from all over hell (one guy spent 51 hours getting there from Australia) and spending three days enjoying a bit of a place, Charleston in this case, and each others company. The excuse was that we all have made it to, or will be before years end, sixty.
Three things about what happened at this gathering got me thinking. Thisll ramble a bit but may be thought provoking.
In my freshman year of high school I did a series of blackboard chalk carvings and gave them to anyone who wanted one. One I gave to a girl in one of my classes and apparently it was good enough, or odd enough, to be worth keeping -for four decades - and warranted reminding me about at the get together. You wanted to be an artist but your parents wanted you to be a lawyer or engineer. I dont recall ever really thinking or telling anyone I wanted to be an artist. Never crossed my mind. I drew, painted and carved things just for fun. I figured everybody could do what I did - but chose to do something else instead. Didnt occur to me that you could earn a living doing that sort of thing - earning a good living having fun. I did study Chemical Engineering but spent my working career playing with computers in a field that didnt exist when I went to college.
At our 20th reunion, several of my classmates brought their kids. I was the only adult, other than their parents, who spent time with them, often sitting or laying on the floor playing Doodles. Put a pen or pencil in a kids hand, have them close their eyes and scribble and doodle on a blank piece of paper til I yelled STOP! Wed then examine the doodle, turning the page this way and that, looking for something recognizable. Once something was spotted, even if it was just a hint of an eye, nose or maybe a wing, Id flesh out whatever it was we found. The newly discovered artist would save their masterpiece and want to do it again!. After everyone else has had a turn you can do another doodle. - Id say. To this day, one of those former kids still tells her parents to say high to Doodles each time they depart for one of our reunions. Shes in her late 20s or early 30s now. At the Charleston reunion I did a cartoon for her -The Duality of THE Doodle-ette - and hopefully it will bring a smile and bring back some fond memories of at least one non-parent adult who played with kids and really had fun doing it.
As a token of appreciation for the work my two classmates put into making these reunions happen, I turned a pair of redwood lidded boxes, with ebony finials. Each took about an hour to make and while they looked fairly nice I didnt think they were anything really special - just a small acknowledgement of all their hard work.
Now one of my classmates is the acting director of operations for The Cheetah Conservation Fund (www.cheetah.org) and is heavily involved in a bird sanctuary and visitors center in Panama (where we grew up). There are more species of birds there than anywhere else on the planet apparently. They need to raise two million dollars for the first phase of this sanctuary and a another classmate will be hosting a dinner for 800 potential major donors (read Rich People) which will include an auction of artwork. Several very well know artists are donating works for this auction. It was suggested that I make a few pieces for that auction. I politely begged off - certain that my stuff isnt in that league. My work in the vicinity of others work would be like swine before pearls. And I wouldnt want to put a friend in the position of having to mail me back my unsold work or worse yet, having to make a trip to drop them off at Good Will. But several classmates who go to mid to high end galleries regularly - and actually buy pieces - assured me that the pieces Id given them were as good or better than what theyve seen in those high priced galleries.
So now Im faced with a quandry. Make and donate a few pieces and see what happens - or just keep my light under the basket as it were and never know if a piece I did helped raise some money for a good cause. Ive started a lidded box and have noted that Im taking more time to do things just so, finding the nice grain pattern, making the walls thinner and more delicate, the form a lot more thought out, the fit nice and snug but not tight etc.. And as I go I notice that what Ive got so far is pretty damn nice and Im surprised I did it (though Im certain disaster lurks just around the corner). Maybe I CAN make stuff thats good enough to share space with nice works by other, more capable and confident than I am, artists.
So here are my questions:
When you do a special piece, do you work at a higher level than you thought you were capable of - and often surprise yourself - in a good way?
Do you think of yourself as being gifted when it comes to woodworking?
Do you, or will you, allow yourself a self pat on the back for a job well done - even just once in a while?
When youre working on a piece and everything comes together just so do you accept the fact that the universe / God or whatever is trying to tell you something?
Humility is a good trait. Some self deprecating humor is too. But if you have a gift why not use it - to its fullest - and take any compliments with a shy grin and an Aw shucks. while counting - and using - your blessing(s) / gift(s)?
Attaining perfection is impossible - but a good goal to shoot for.
Just something to think about - or not.
charlie b
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wrote:

I think your feelings are pretty common. After all, we made the piece, we know where we made mistakes or where we had to cover over some flaw.
... snip

good for you

Maybe you need to take a trip to some of those galleries and see for yourself. After all, if a fairly well-made cabinet with a bent-over nail hammered into it can be called "art", then you may be surprised at what you see.

Apparently your friends think so


Not so much gifted as very interested and see it as providing an outlet somewhat different than my day job

Of course. There's always a matter of satisfaction one feels when everything goes together "just so" and looks like what was pictured in the mind's eye.

More thankfulness and appreciation that this has occurred rather than the idea that a message is being sent

As I've heard one person put it, it's often too easy to do the "humble bit" and the "humble bit" often comes across as insincere. There is nothing wrong with gratefully and graciously accepting compliments. A simple, "thanks, that was the look I was after" or "thanks, I'm glad you like it" or even, "thanks, yes, it took a whole lot longer than I had initially thought it would" is a lot more sincere and comes across better than the "aw shucks bit".

Good, thought-provoking post
+--------------------------------------------------------------------------------+ If you're gonna be dumb, you better be tough +--------------------------------------------------------------------------------+
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Several answers interspersed within the text.

In a world where fewer and fewer thing are actually made by human hands, anything that is made of natural materials (by hand) is desireable by many. If some attention to detail and a little craftmanship is included, it borders on a spiritual experience for many. Don't sell yourself short.

I haven't quite made it that far. But it won't be long.

There ya go Charlie. You are an artist! Certainly not the conventional variety. But in the midth of your writings and various wood creating endeavors there has got to be an artist lurking somewhere in that Charlie B psyche.

I used to make cedar hanging planters when I was a kid. The kind words of the neighbor ladies who bought them from me for a coupldebucks are cherished to this day. A lot of kids do not get any kind of encouragement for their artistic attempts. Those are the iknd of experiences that deeply infuence a child. Good on ya Charlie.

My wife makes quilts. The simple, small lap quilt is always greeted with squeals of delight. These things are not available at the store. Small, handbuilt things are prized by many.

You are thinking like the person who makes the crafts, not the person who buys them. There is a sense of wonder by the non artist and non craftsperson. Part of our job is to make things that keep that healthy sense of wonder alive in people. In a world of mass produced mediocrity, anything you make will be a healthy alternative.

Get over yourself Charlie.
You are an artist.
It is time to come out of the closet.

I divide all work I do into three catagories.
1) Totally functional. This could be a shop jig. Or something basic that solves a problem. Or a job for somebody I don't paticularly like. Appearance and finish is not important here.
2) Functional and Purty. It has to look good as well as being functional.
3) Ahht. This is totally an artistic endevour. These projects are usually smaller, with a lot of attention to detail. Both in terms of machining-joining and finish. .

I think of myself as being fearless and often having to pay the price for that personality trait.

I just appreciate the fact that I got the job done. That is good enough for me. But there are pieces that I am fond of.

I am not much for giving credit to others for my good works. If a job was done well, it is because of my creativity, hard work and perserverance. And since I worked hard on it, the law of averages will see that I turn out an exceptional piece now and then.
I once knew a photographer who did a lot of magazine work. He got a lot of covers and worked with the top models and products. I asked him once what the secret of his success was. He said it was to take a minimum of 500 shots of each page he was working on. And often he shot many more than that. One cover he did took over 1200 shots.

I get accused of being a perfectionist a lot. I always laugh and point out the many compromises I willing included in the project. I think it is important to know what perfection is. Then compromise to prove that you are truly a human being capable of enjoying life. No sense knocking yourself out if there isn't some kinda reward for it.

Go for it Charlie. Make some stuff. Think of it as helping out with a worthiy cause. You helped out your friends and some birds too. There is no downside to that.
Lee Michaels
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"Lee Michaels" wrote in message

shots
One
When I was a kid in S. Louisiana hunting ducks and geese we called that the "more lead in the air, the more meat in the pot" principle.
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charlie b wrote:

I think I'm going to simply ramble as well, rather than answer parag. by parag.
I don't think everyone is their own worst critic; there are self-delusionals who insist to everyone, including themselves, that they've produced the best that anyone can. For the rest of us, I think we're quite critical of our own work, and see imperfections that no one else could find. Or the imperfections that others can see are much bigger in our own eyes.
And there are two (or more) schools of thought when presenting this "imperfect" thing to someone else for feedback on how it affects them. In some ways, we never know how good a thing is. Sure, we can look at the joinery and say "Alright it's nearly as good as anyone else's", or we can look at the finish and be very satisfied with it. And if we're building for only ourselves, then it's a moot point whether that's the truth or not, because in our minds it's great. But to look at an entire piece, and critically evaluate it objectively - well, that is nigh impossible because it's not an objective situation. That's where you need someone whose opinion you value to give a truer impression of what it really is, what it stands for and how "good" it is. "Good" is in quotes because that too is subjective. Unfortunately this is a vicious circle, but we spiral out the more opinions we get.
Charlie, you got opinions from a few people and I'll assume they are people who mean something to you, and people who would be honest enough to tell you what they really think. If that's the case, and they weren't trying to snow you, then you've at least impressed those people. Which means your work is probably very good. I agree with another poster about the "Aw shucks" response. I'd be beaming and very grateful that someone said that to me.
Last winter, SWMBO asked me to fix up a doll bed she'd bought at some craft fair. It was slapped together and sold for $20. I yanked it apart and put it together a bit more sturdily and gave it back to her as a gift for her grandaughter. SWMBO came back and asked if I could build more, which I did. She added a lot of fabric and sewed gusses an truffles and a bunch of other stuff on them to make them look very nice. Nieces and others got a few of these things. Eventually the local craft store got hold of them and sold them for an exorbitant amount of money. I felt the same as you - this is really not that good. (In truth it wasn't. I'm a beginner, and the work was rudimentary.) But a lot of people were thrilled with these things for the simple reason that we both put a lot of time and effort into them.
Go ahead. Make the pieces for the auction. If you put as much effort into them as you do with the thought-provoking posts that you put in here, your work will make them a ton of money. If the mystery of whether or not they sold is bothering you, insist up-front that you find out for sure what happens to your pieces. My guess is that they'll sell and for much more than you would have charged if you were in that business.
"Art is in the eye of..." In some ways you aren't that beholder. You're the guy who made it, and with all due respect, your opinion doesn't count that much if you're making it for someone else. That someone else is the beholder.
Make the pieces. Post them on the web. Revel in the feelings that someone thought enough of your work to ask you to make them in the first place.
Tanus
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wrote:

I'm in sort of a similar situation. While I've been selling stuff for a while I keep getting told that I should be in the League of NH Craftsmen, for which you have to go through a jury process. I've been told this by family and friends, and the owner of the craft store where I have some of my stuff. But it's one thing to hear it from friends and another to go into a room of woodworkers and have them *look for things wrong with your stuff*. I've read the technical guidelines at:
http://www.nhcrafts.org/forms/MediaGuides/Wood.pdf
And I go, "Ack!" "Urk! "Eep!" and various other noises as I read through it.

I'm still very much learning and expanding my capabilities, and I'm generally pretty conservative about adding new skills. When I do something special that tends to go out the window and I'll go further outside the bounds I set for myself, usually with good results, interspersed with moments of cursing and frantic pounding and clamping.

Nope.
Sure. When I've finished something that turns out well I'll catch myself just sort of hanging around looking at it for a little too long.

I'll let you know when it happens.
-Leuf
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Charlie Being your own critic makes you reach for better next time. It can also stop you from seeing what is right in the midst of a little wrong. Rembrandt was not perfect, just more right than wrong. Put the pieces in the exhibition/auction. The worst you have done is support a friend in a worthy cause. Besides, except for the nerves, these things are fun. ______ God bless and safe turning Darrell Feltmate Truro, NS, Canada www.aroundthewoods.com

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Charlie,
Good, lay-it-on-your-sleeve thoughts and the responses are great to read as well.
I'll add that I look to my work as a legacy. A gift to someone that has my heart in it has a value that a monetary gift would never match. It's potential to last well beyond my few years left is inspiring. Hopefully, it will reflect my values including workmanship.
I hope that my love of wood produces an embellishment that increases or awakens the appreciation of a basic natural material. A collaboration of God's work with my talents and efforts. The wood being center stage with me being a good supporting actor trying to make the star look better. The critic's review being mine and did I do my best. As a work in progress whatever stage I'm at is OK and just this step to the next step.
And if those results could then multiply through a charitable exercise then life is good.
TomNie
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charlie b wrote:

[snip]
Ah Charlie, you have insight. As background, our village has a thrice annual "Artisan's Walk" where local artists display and hopefully sell their stuff. It can be frustrating. A wall hanging out of eucalyptus crotch wood (firewood) and two pull toy ducks (fir and Ipe) never sold. Then I dug out a sketch of a squirrel feeder made from 6' cedar fencing and a glass pickle jar. I made one and it was stone ugly - never sell says I. Guess what, gone in the first ten minutes. Now I have to keep making these because if I run out, customers are disappointed. Grumble. To answer your questions:
When doing a special piece, I don't think I elevate my work level very much. I am capable, however, of slap-dashing something together. And no, I don't think I am especially gifted, although most of my pieces are self designed.
I will give myself a pat on the back on occasion. When everything comes together, I think it is some combination of inspiration, perspiration, and just plain cussed stubbornness (gonna get this right or know the reason why).
I am a people person. I have always made sure that kudos and blame were placed in the proper place, even if I was the subject. Kudos in public, blame in private, usually.
Well I have written more that I usually do, so I'll give you folks a break.
    mahalo,     jo4hn
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<snip>
<more snip>
Sometimes, the passage of time helps a lot. Yesterday, I put a headboard that I built three or four years ago into my son's apartment, and saw again some nightstands I had built for his wife a couple of years ago. And I was impressed that the hack that had built those pieces was a pretty decent builder. Fairly nice stuff.
Seems we are often perfectionists, with regard to our own pieces. And sometimes, not sufficiently patient, either. The headboard took forever for the finish (semi-experimental on my part) to cure, and the nightstands got moved about for months, as I redesigned them over and over and over. I was pretty tired of looking at them by the time I rushed them out of the shop, so I could start on another project. But they look pretty good now.
I have a talent for the design, and the shaping and the finishing of wood, and maybe other materials. But I lack patience, a key ingredient. The woodlathe is a fun tool, because the nature of the project is often determined in a matter of a few hours, and I can either toss it in the burn barrel, or bring it quickly to a finished state. And only keep the winners.
That's one of the beauties of the world in which we live. There are all kinds. Much of what is prized to others is just stuff to you and me, which we can do without as we progress towards the ends of our lives here. But those little redwood boxes, with grain matched lids and ebony finials will often be of great interest to someone else, admiring the experienced eye that found that in a chunk of recycled 4x4.
Do another dozen, and toss the firewood.
We know where the artist lives.
Patriarch
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