Thursday, December 31, 2009

Going Pro as a Woodworker Part 2 - Is It for You? The Thrill of It All

The life of a professional woodworker/ furniture maker is a dream to most 9 to 5'ers. Having been one for thirty years I knew what I wanted to do once I earned my retirement. There is not a day that I don't count my wonderful blessings personally and professionally.

Maslow's revered Hierarchy of Needs has a top level called self actualization. As a productive, professional woodworker I honestly feel I have arrived at this level. I am who I am supposed to be, doing what I do best for people who value my work. More people should be blessed to achieve this level of fulfilment. From the hymn ,"I was lost but now I'm found." I get to work with what I have to make one of God's most beautiful creations into something of form and function. The ideas flow when you work freely with your two hands and are fortunate enough to do it with a sense of trust and not desperation.

When you are confident about your craft and your personal story, I have found that people will listen and ask questions of you concerning every aspect of what you do. You have to mention to people what you do. Very few people make a living as a chair maker. When I am asked about my "job" or volunteer people usually want to know more or they want to tell you about a piece they have from Aunt Gerdie that needs repair, etc. The thrill is you are the rare person in most settings and people will want to connect with you. Connecting with people over something you are passionate about is a thrill.

There is also a sense of permanence in creating furniture for clients. I run into people all the time that I made a bed for in the eighties or have a table that I designed for them. When they still own it and value it you are a success. Well-made furniture transcends generations. Most of my pieces will have life after I am gone. I have wondered about the hands and spirit of previous furniture makers whose worked I have repaired. This connection with fellow furniture makers from other generations is another thrill.

For you to survive financially, the customer must view you as an artist. First you have to be confident that you are an artist. It is not done through calling yourself an artist. It is achieved by asking for and receiving a very good wage for your work. Sam Maloof called himself a "woodworker." Everyone else including his business partners supported him as an artist. The price of his work showed he was more than a woodworker. Your work shouldn't be priced as a starving artist. If it is you will starve. It's a thrill to be able to pay the bills with money made from creating something of value.

Giving each piece your best is the only way to success. I learned a lesson with my first rocker commission. I had asked for (with knees shaking) and received an artist's price for the rocker. I worked and sweated over every detail. My wife kept saying, "Why aren't you finished with that chair?" My answer was that it was not my best yet. When I finished and the customer picked it up they were over-joyed with my work. A few nights later, I heard a knock on my shop door. The customer identified himself and I opened up and was surprised to see him thinking surely something was wrong with the rocker. He said he and his wife just loved the rocker and felt like it was art worth even more than they paid. I received a 20% tip or bonus for the chair and the other chairs he ordered. The blessings from doing your best never stop. Actually your best is really something excellent.

Doing your best and being recognized for it is the thrill of it all!

Part 3 of Going Pro - Is It for You? Will deal with how do you advertise and build a market for your art.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Going Pro as a Woodworker: Part 1 - Is it for you? The Dark Side

I was traveling before six in the morning recently, on my way to do a personal appearance as a woodworker. There was a big chance that I would hit snow driving north in the early hours. Why was I up and about at that time, driving into who knows what? As dawn broke I saw other people, grim faced, headed to work. This caused me to think about some of the other jobs to which I had trudged, day after day, five days a week. Who do I have to answer to now? What makes me do this? Is it worthwhile?

On 11 AM on Christmas Day past, celebration was interrupted with loading a rocker into an SUV to make a delivery to a local bank president's family. I had worked nonstop for two to three weeks to finish the rocker as a Christmas present from a father to a daughter's family. Everybody else was Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, cooking Christmas goodies, but I was in the shop with rasps, scrapers and sandpaper in hand. The muscle memory is easy when you are constantly moving your hand and arm back and forth, back and forth, forth and back, on and on. Why? Why? Why? When I finish this rocker, fortunately I get to craft another one and do this all over again!

My hands have grown gloves. They are rough. They are a purple-lish brown all the time from the walnut. I've got a scar running across my palm and an index finger that always feels like it has an electrical current running through it as a reminder of what can happen while working half asleep.

It's all about your point of view at the time. You have to be able see the big picture, understand what motivates you, knowing that nothing worthwhile comes without sacrifice, and that the possibility to achieve only comes when we complete the drill. You also have to work hard at the task at hand, be it sanding, measuring, coming up with a work around, paying the bills, working on the website or planning to connect with someone with enough money and interest to pay you to build one.

Sounds like a great life! Huh? It is not for everybody. I am not an overnight success with the DVD bundle. A good friend explained it to me recently. "You learned your trade one success and one failure at a time for thirty years building furniture. You worked your plan to finish raising a family as a full-time educator while you worked nights building furniture commissions for clients. You retired from one career at the same time you finished the DVD, book and pattern bundle to go with teaching sculptured rocker making at Highland Woodworking. You paid your dues many times over. You finished the drill!"

Sam Maloof told hundreds of woodworkers and want-to-be pros at his workshops that with all his talent, making a living was hard. He said the mailman would eagerly celebrate with him with the coming of a check and despair at delivering the bills. If you have mouths to feed it all becomes real very fast. You have to have support. Meaning there has got to be someone willing to carry your water while you work your plan.

Can you finish the drill? The next post will explain why finishing the drill can be worth it to you!

Part 2 - Is it for You? The Thrill of it All!