Don’t know about you, but I’m my own worst critic. Without exception, I
don’t feel I’ve 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
I’ve made I assume they’re just being polite and overlooking all my
Now I’m not egotistical - or humble enough - to think I’m the only one
who feels this way. But for convenience sake, I’ll 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 wasn’t 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 year’s end, sixty.
Three things about what happened at this gathering got me thinking.
This’ll 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 don’t 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.
Didn’t 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
didn’t 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!” We’d 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, I’d 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.” - I’d 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. She’s 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 didn’t 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 isn’t in that
league. My work in the vicinity of other’s work would be like swine
before pearls. And I wouldn’t 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 I’d given them were as good or better than what
they’ve seen in those high priced galleries.
So now I’m 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.
I’ve started a lidded box and have noted that I’m 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 I’ve got so
far is pretty damn nice and I’m surprised I did it (though I’m certain
disaster lurks just around the corner). Maybe I CAN make stuff that’s
“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
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 you’re 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.