This interview with Sheila Landry is from the September 2012 issue of our LumberJocks’ eMag
1. How did you first get started working with wood?
Many years ago when my children were small, I used to do sewing projects to earn extra money for the household so that I could be a stay at home mom. One of my favorite things to design was mohair collectible teddy bears. For the bears, I designed not only the bear itself, but the costumes and many props that I included with them. Many of them required wood items, such a sled, a drum, or maybe even a tambourine for a gypsy bear. My friend Cari introduced me to scroll sawing so that I could make these items for myself. By crafting them myself on the scroll saw, they would be unique and enhance the quality of my bears. Cari’s dad was also a great help, as he was an engineer and had lots of tools and equipment. He used to allow us to use his shop and we learned how to use many of the basic tools. The more we learned, the more we wanted to know. Soon it became a favorite past time of ours. We also enjoyed decorative painting and began cutting wood pieces for our painting needs. We loved to go to the lumber yard and pick up their drop offs out of the garbage bin. The guys who worked there thought we were crazy, until we started bring their ‘garbage’ back all painted. They saw what we could make of it and were pretty impressed. Soon they were calling us if they had a load for us to take. We would thank them by bringing them coffee cake!
2. What was it about woodworking that initially caught your interest, enticing you to get into it at the level you are now?
I love the versatility of working with wood. There are so many creative ways that you can shape it into beautiful things. Scroll sawing in particular is fascinating to me because by the processing of removing bits and pieces of the wood, you are able to create incredibly intricate objects.
Seeing the level of work here on Lumberjocks really is inspirational too. The first time I browsed the projects, it was like visiting a wonderful woodworking museum! There are so many projects here that range from simple to very complex. I thought it was great too that no matter which level of woodworking people do, many are willing to share their knowledge and techniques with others through classes and blogs here. Knowing that there is always someone to help takes much of the fear out of trying something new. I think people are more willing to try different things and advance their skills because they know if they get stuck, help is just a post away.
3. Tell us a bit of history of your journey from that beginning to where you are today
It has been quite a journey from that first time I used a scroll saw to the present. Shortly after learning, I began having small ‘craft showings’ from my home a couple of times a year to help with expenses when my children were small. This allowed me to be a stay at home mom and be with them throughout their early years. I began by making a few things that I sold to friends and family members to decorate for the holidays and give as gifts. Once, I had made a gift for a friend to give to her sister who was in the hospital. When she presented it to her, a couple of nurses had seen it and wanted to see more. I decided to make a sample of several items, have a home craft show, and then allow people to place orders for them. That would allow me to purchase minimal materials and also if people wanted specific colors, etc. I would be able to accommodate them. The first showing I had, I sent out six post cards to those nurses who were interested, telling them to bring their friends if they wished. I set up a couple of rooms in my house as showrooms and tagged everything and printed out order forms. Not only were there sewing items, but there were lots of painted wood items as scrolling led me to learn more about painting and I loved doing that.
The response was incredible. I think in that first show I had orders for over $8000 of merchandise! You can imagine I was busy filling orders for the next few months with two small children! Unfortunately, I had underpriced my things and really didn’t make much profit from all that work. That is one of the reasons I like to share my journey with others through my blog. I like to let people know not only of my successes, but also my mistakes in hopes that they will learn from them and have an easier time than I did.
Those early shows were a lot of work, but they led me to meet up with two gentlemen in the area who owned their own scroll saw pattern company called “Scroller.” They lived five minutes from me and through word of mouth, they called as they were looking for someone to add painting instructions and color into their designs. It was with them that I met the people from Creative Woodworks and Crafts Magazine (in 1997) and began my long relationship with the magazine.
Scroller is no longer owned by Scott and Roy, and was sold long ago (in 1998) to Winfield Creations, which focuses on mainly larger yard art type patterns. I still wholesale my patterns to them currently.
4. What inspires you regarding wood creations?
I like many types of scroll sawn designs, but some I feel are a bit ‘busy’ for my own taste. While the huge and complex clocks are really nice, I prefer to do something that is a bit simpler. Back when I began scroll sawing, I used to love the Victorian style of decorating. Seeing intricate pieces in antique stores was really an inspiration for me to recreate the same type of pieces on the scroll saw. I suppose this was the beginning of my own designing.
Over the years, I evolved somewhat and as I got to ‘know’ different wood a bit better, I sometimes prefer to allow the wood to dictate the design rather than the other way around. I find that the more interesting the grain or figure of the wood, the less complex I make the design. On some projects, you need to just allow the wood itself to be the focus, not the design.
Becoming a designer as a profession took many years. The transition from crafter to professional designer was a long one for me and I pretty much learned the ropes along the way. There is more to designing than just drawing a picture. Besides that, you need to learn software (I use all Adobe products in my designing), photography, woodworking techniques and you also need to know how to explain things so that others can effectively reproduce the project. There is no shortcut to learning these things. I was fortunate that the great people at Creative Woodworks and Crafts magazine were willing to help me along. In essence, they were my teachers.
5. What are the greatest challenges that you have met along the way? (and how did you overcome them)
I hate to admit it, but when I began woodworking over fifteen years ago, I think that being a woman was one of the biggest challenges that I encountered. Woodworking was traditionally a man’s area, and while there were some great women that pioneered woodworking techniques for us girls (like Diana Thompson, who designs wonderful compound cut patterns) they were few and far between. In the beginning, it was difficult to have respect from many woodworkers.
I remember a particular incident that I had at one of my first shows that I did with Scroller. The guys went to lunch and I was left at the booth. A couple of gentlemen came up and asked when ‘the guys’ would be back because they had a blade question. I told them I was one of ‘the guys’ and I would try to help them. They looked at me doubtfully and with some coaxing I got them to ask me the question. I loved the look on their faces when I was able to answer them intelligently and I actually think I helped them out. I think they were shocked that a woman would know such things.
I also used to like when I demonstrated scroll sawing at some of the shows. It was as if people couldn’t believe a girl (and a blonde to boot!) could operate a scroll saw. The other women were really interested, too. I used to tell them it was no more dangerous than using a sewing machine (which it isn’t) and by assimilating it to something they could relate to, I think I brought a lot of girls on board. Over the years, I sold a lot a scroll saws to women (indirectly) and I hope to think that I helped the industry grow a bit in that area.
6. What is the greatest reward that you have received from woodworking? (personal or tangible)
It is difficult for me to list all the benefits I have enjoyed because of my woodworking. Besides the obvious ability to make a living doing something that I love, I believe the friendships and people that I have met ranks the highest. So many of my customers have become my friends. I love the way that woodworkers are willing to share their love of what they do and it is an instant ‘ice breaker’ when you first meet someone. Besides my customers, I have met many people in the industry and in businesses who have shared information with me and helped me become successful. Learning from each other is a very valuable experience, as I said before.
Because of woodworking, I am living a life that is full of creativity, challenges and fulfillment. While many people really dislike their jobs, I feel so fortunate that I am able to make a living doing something that I love so much. I wake up every morning thankful for the life I have and I do what I need to do to protect it. While I realize that many people would not like to do what I do on the scale that I do it, for me it is a dream come true and I am happy to be able to contribute to the craft as much as I can.
7. What is your favourite tool that you use for woodworking?
Of course it is the scroll saw! I love it because it is such a wonderfully versatile tool and there is very little else you need to get started in working. You can make most scroll saw projects from start to finish using just the saw and perhaps a drill press and sander. You don’t need a large shop or lots of room (I run my business with my partner Keith out of our 1 bedroom place here!)
Besides the basic safety rules, there is a very small learning curve in using a scroll saw, too. Just about anyone can sit down and start scrolling – even children (supervised, of course!) Because scroll saws use very small blades, there is also less chances of having accidents. While it is possible to cut yourself on the blade, there is kind of a joke among the scroll saw people that in order to cut off a finger, you would need to work hard at it. Using a scroll saw is very much like using a sewing machine. If you break it down, all you are really doing is following lines to remove tiny pieces of material, one bit at a time. The results can be beautifully intricate fretwork, or wonderfully fun contemporary projects like word art and even functional items such as bowls and baskets.
8. What is your favourite creation in/for your woodworking?
That’s like asking which of my children I love the most. I tend to switch back and forth from projects that are quite difficult and delicate to some that are fun and easy. One of my favorite projects of all time is my “Wright Inspired Candle Tray” which I designed in a Art Deco style. It was also one of the most challenging. Contrary to what many believe, cutting straight lines on the scroll saw is much more difficult than those flowing and curving designs. The Wright tray required many hours of strict concentration on my part not only to keep the lines straight, but to keep the corners sharp and crisp. I think it is one of my nicest pieces.
9. What tips would you give to someone just starting out or currently struggling with woodworking?
I think the most important thing to do if you are just starting out or struggling is to find a place to network and ASK QUESTIONS!
You would be amazed at how many wonderfully talented and skilled people are willing to share information regarding their skills. Books and tutorials are helpful too, but nothing beats hearing from others’ experiences and learning through the challenges that they have already met – and conquered. One of my favorite quotes is by John Donne – “No Man is an island entire of itself.”
A second bit of advice that I would give is that you need to give things a bit of time before giving up. Many people are impatient these days. We live in a world of instant gratification and expect results immediately. However, many of the skills that woodworking requires take years to develop and refine. It is only by hard work and dedication that you are able to achieve success. In my mind, there is no such thing as ‘instant success.’ Things worth doing require time and patience and sometimes many failures before being able to call oneself a success.
I am sometimes asked “How can I become a successful pattern designer?”
When asked this question, I don’t really know how to answer. It has taken me years of hard work, learning, dedication and yes – failures – to be at the point in my business I am now. I guess I really must love what I do or I would have given up a long time ago.
I think to be successful in anything, you have to have a pure love of what you are doing. You can’t watch a clock or expect to ‘get rich quick’ or achieve success by counting the hours you are working each day. It has to be a part of you from deep within.
10. How did you find LumberJocks and what is it that keeps you coming back?
I was sent to this site by Steve Good, who is a great asset to the scroll saw community. Steve has a daily scroll saw blog in which he shares patterns, information and ideas on scroll sawing. I was looking for ways to expand my business and Steve thought that I would enjoy all the things that Lumberjocks had to offer.
When I joined up, I noticed that we had the ability to create blogs. I have never done blogs before but I enjoyed writing enough and I thought it would be a cool way to get to know some of the members here. I never imagined that I would be able to write over 800 blogs (with almost 900,000 reads! Maybe when I reach a million, I will get a t-shirt or coffee cup?!)
I remember when I wrote that first blog over two years ago I felt kind of silly. Who after all would want to read about what I was doing here in my little place in Bangor, Nova Scotia? When I first hit that ‘post’ button, I was kind of scared. But what did I have to lose? Soon I received some nice replies and they just keep on coming. Through the blog I have made many wonderful friends from all over the world. It is as if we are having a cup of coffee together in the morning to start our day.
Writing each day quickly became a habit for me. In my daily blog, I like to share what it takes to run a small business. It isn’t just drawing and running to the bank to cash the checks. There are negotiations, creative slumps, decisions on marketing, accounting and many other aspects that I encounter regularly that I like to share with others. By doing so, I hope to help people see what is involved in not only establishing a business, but keeping it going in these difficult economic times.
I realize that every day isn’t full of excitement. On those days I try to offer an inspirational saying or humorous cat pictures on my blog to entertain and inspire people – or just to make them smile. Life hasn’t always been easy for me, and I have learned that focusing on positive things and having a positive attitude is a wonderful way to overcome many of the adverse things in this world. I call it ‘pink cloud living.’
I come back because of all the wonderful positive feedback I receive from people, and also because of the great friends I made here. There are days when I just don’t have a lot to write about and think about skipping a day, but when I do, people come looking for me with emails and private messages. Apparently some have come to expect my morning writings and miss them when I am not there. That is kind of nice.
I have received countless letters from others saying that something I said or did, or even some of the quotes that I post have helped people through some difficulty that they were having. That alone is reason to come back. If I can help even one person, than my time here is well spent.
In closing I want to thank everyone here at Lumberjocks for making this forum possible for all of us to share our love of woodworking. Without it, I certainly don’t think that I would be where I am today regarding my business, or my life. Having a place to meet people from all over the world is an amazing privilege. I know I will keep coming back as long as you will all have me.
Thanks to Sheila for taking the time to do this interview as well as her 800+ blogs!
-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)