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Joining the Fellowship: What this Lumberjocks Stuff is Really About

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 02-16-2007 07:48 PM 1101 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Ethan’s latest blog got me to thinking (scary huh?).

I started to comment in his blog, then it dawned on me that I should make the comments in my own blog, then it can count on my number of postings. Ha. Could I really be that competitive? Nah, it is just fun.

Very good topic he covered. I discovered several years ago that if I wanted to make a living at this journey, I had to make things that others couldn’t, or wouldn’t make, and charge more than they would.

If I can sell at the same show something similar to another guy that is living on his retirement savings, then his price can be lower than mine.

Case in Point: I attended a carving/sculpture show and found some tremendous talent, much better than I can do. Mostly, the carvers were all retirement age, or older. There were staff walking sticks with wood spirit faces carved in them that make my canes I have made look pretty poor. They also had carving and folk art all the way down the shaft. The price on most of these staffs were in $25-$30 each range. And, they were not selling. Not more than 2 blocks from the convention center, I sell my canes regularly at a store for more than $200. Their work is better, but mine sells higher. Why? It is fun to ponder, huh? Canes seem to sell to a different market and at a higher price, and are used for different reasons. Something about the product/market in that gem. At the same show, there was a guy that does some of the best Scrimshaw art I have seen. His price for a scrimshawn pocketknife with a couple of deer running on one side was $30. The cost of the knife for him to engrave on was around $30.00. He was basically just trying to get his money back on the knife, and he hadn’t sold any of them. He was pretty disappointed, and so I tried to change the subject and discuss the quality of his work.

My desire to find a niche I can afford to live on has meant that I had to challenge myself in learning new skills and invest in tools that others didn’t have.

I have never been in a Woodworkers Guild, but several from around Kansas have invited me, calling, emailing, and requesting that I join. I don’t really have time to do that right now, but I know I would enjoy the fellowship as you do Ethan.

What I am interested in joining is a Guild of professionals that all work together to sell their work, and share with each other. For instance, if a gallery works great for one guy, maybe it will for another and they help each other, sharing the contacts and greasing the skids for the new guy.

One time a couple of years ago, another wood artist that I know loaded up their van and headed to Santa Fe out of desperation to see if they could find a gallery to sell their work. They contacted me to see if they could hand out my brochures, or show some of my work. I wasn’t organized quick enough to get them more than a few brochures before they headed out, but I deeply appreciated their thought and effort toward me. A few months later, I called to follow up on what they learned. They had found a gallery and unloaded their van full of stock, but they couldn’t get the money out of the gallery for the items that have sold, and it was a 30 hour round trip back to get the rest of it. They were in a pickle, so to speak. I wasn’t too interested in chasing after that gallery for sure.

So far, I haven’t found the type of Professional Guild Group that I am looking for. My fellow woodart friends and I talk about it, but no one takes the initiative to organize it. An example is a group in Missouri (www.bestofmissourihands.com) that works together. I could join their group and attend their yearly convention and meetings, but since I live in Kansas, I can’t use any of their benefits, gallery contacts, or other helps. Rats.

What works in Missouri ought to work in Kansas, or the Mid-West, or the whole USA, or the whole world, but someone has to organize it, and that is, quite frankly, not my Gift. I can cast vision, dream, talk a lot, write too much, and pontificate, but when it comes time to do administrative work, I’m all left thumbs (no insult intended to left handed people- you are great!).

However, I am starting to see this kind of help through the personal email service here at Lumberjocks, and it is starting to fill that niche that I had been looking for in a professional guild.

We don’t meet in person, but meeting daily online. A fellow lumberjocks is currently helping me with finding a gallery in the Northwest where he says my work would be popular. That kind of help is a huge benefit to me, and I will be following up with his suggestions. In turn, I would do the same for others, but nothing much sells in Kansas. I still have to do the work and photography, and application writing, but he gave me the contact names of the galleries and their jury process instructions. Now, I need to do the work of making the contact.

In comment to Ethan’s adventure listening to the nice man talk about his toy horse business, there are several prinicples I have had to learn, mostly the hard way.

1a) Selling my work doesn’t make me better, just allows me to spend more time doing what I love.

1b) It doesn’t matter what the price is, my self esteem is not a component of what someone is willing to pay for my work. Sure, the more the pay, the more I feel good about myself. But the reverse is true as well. So, to protect myself emotionally, I have to find my self esteem in who I am, not how much someone is willing pay for my art

Case in point, I saved a beautiful little oil painting from the trash by paying $0.25 for it at a local thrift store. It was painted in 1974 by a woman I have never heard of. The painting is of a spot I am familiar, and has good memories for me, and it is well painted. I couldn’t resist the price, and felt that I owed it to the artist to snap it up and save it from the trash, where all things end up in thrift stores that don’t sell for a quarter after a few weeks. It brightens a spot on my shop wall, although it would look just as nice in the house. The cost of the art has no bearing on the art, or the artist’s ability. I have seen napkin sketches on the Antique Roadshow by Andy Warhol where he spent about 10 seconds drawing a butterfly and flower that my 5 year old does better. But, Warhol’s work is now worth $30,000 to someone.

2) I don’t have a retirement pension, government support, grants, or any other means of support, so because it costs money to live in this world, my time has a value, and so I must charge out my time in my woodworking. I have been trying to get a certain amount of pay per week, and per month, regardless of the hours I have had to work to make it. I hope over time, I can cut back on the hours, there is more to life, and I need a balance sometimes. For others, they do woodworking for the love of the craft, or the joy it brings others. I know people that never sell anything, but give it all away for the joy they get in giving. I know people that never give, or sell anything, and it all hangs in their house, cluttering it to the point it is overwhelming. When questioned, they can’t part with any of it, and I understand that as well. I can encourage them that others would buy their work, but selling it isn’t a thing they want. The Late Grandma Moses, the famous folk art painter, was never a good artist. Her paintings are very primitive, and she had a hard time finding anyone to buy any of it. She stuck her neck out a little and hung some of them in a local drug store for a couple of bucks each. Going back to the “Miraculous Discovering” theme, a New York art dealer stopped in the drug store while passing through town on the way to somewhere important. The rest is history.

3) Making woodworking items specifically to sell, is a different venture than just doing woodworking. It doesn’t make it better, just different. Recently another lumberjock indicated that he made $300 in 4 days work, and that was a good amount for him. I’m glad for him, but I can’t keep ahead of my bills unless I make $200 a day, and I live cheap. I think it just has to do with the point that each of us are in in our lives. I saw a guy taking barnwood and making cheap birdhouses out of them with just a few boards and a nail gun. I scoffed in my heart, but, I watched him all day carry new stock in load, after load, after load, after load, all day from his huge trailer to his booth at an open crafts fair. After watching him do this and adding up the sales in my head, I think he probably made more on that one Saturday selling bird houses to ladies at an open crafts fair than I make in a whole year. Yet, I don’t want to make what he makes. That is his deal, and I have mine, they just have different markets.

I could talk more, but then Dick would tell me it was too long. So, I will continue this thought in another posting some time.
Thanks for your feedback Dick, I do appreciate it,

Mark

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com



12 comments so far

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 3761 days


#1 posted 02-16-2007 08:34 PM

Mark
Your Blogs may be lengthy, but at least they say something worth reading.

Comment: I think the problem with craft shows, the shoppers think they’re at a garage sale, or flea market.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN. http://www.woodcarvingillustrated.com/gallery/member.php?uid=3627&protype=1

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 3776 days


#2 posted 02-16-2007 08:35 PM

Mark there is an outfit called the furniture society. They seem to be more along the lines of modern studio furniture. I joined the other day. I’m not yet sure how I’ll like it, or if they will like me. You can count on me keeping you posted.

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 3622 days


#3 posted 02-16-2007 08:36 PM

if we all did the same thing in the same way, well.. life would be pretty boring and everything would become a “justa”.

And so we each walk our own paths, in our own way, pricing according to our own needs and beliefs. How fortunate are those that find their niche and can spend their time expanding it, challenging it, adding to it and making sure that it doesn’t turn into a job.

As some of us test the waters, trying to find out niche I am reminded of a conversation with Don about what the motivation is behind a person’s need for verbal affirmation. What I found that my fingers had typed was that I sought acknowledgement that I was on the right path.

I also think about the great artists/craftsmen that show their work on LumberJocks and we, the viewers, KNOW that the individual has indeed found their niche and is on the right path. But then, we are not that individual. Only the Spirit knows for sure. Does it feel right? Is it rewarding in some way and not a burden? Is it… or is it…...

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View scottb's profile

scottb

3648 posts in 3788 days


#4 posted 02-17-2007 03:30 AM

Mark, Don’t ever think you’ve gone on to long… even if you start rambling, we’re paying attention!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- http://blanchardcreative.etsy.com -- http://snbcreative.wordpress.com/

View Obi's profile

Obi

2213 posts in 3698 days


#5 posted 02-17-2007 04:48 AM

They did it back in the 20’s and 30’s. Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, I think Buster Keaton, and some others founded United Artists. It’s all about pimpin out the Jocks.

AND ROCKLER IS GIVING AWAY TWO MORE FREE WORKSHOPS, INCLUDING A POWERMATIC 3 HP TABLE SAW, A JOINTER, BANDSAW, AND DRILL PRESS. FREE, FREE, FREE, FREE, FREE. ENTER EVERY DAY. IF I CANT WIN IT, THEN YOU MIGHT AS WELL.

CLICK ON THROUGH MY WEBSITE TO GET THERE EASILY.

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2008 posts in 3867 days


#6 posted 02-17-2007 05:40 AM

You are all being so nice, I guess I will keep thinking out loud with my keyboard. I try to come up with things I am dealing with, and make it something others can learn from.

We are all in this together, and I view it as a fellowship, which goes beyond the actual love of creating something from wood.

Obi: I never seem to win anything, but I have signed up for the Powermatic stuff several times myself. Thanks for reminding us all. I didn’t know the history of UA. Living in CA, you probably know a lot more about what makes this world tick. I can tell you a lot about wind here in Kansas, but that is about it.

Debbie: you’ll have to talk more about the “justa’s”. I know about the “shoulda-woulda’s”, but not much on the other. I think the most that any of us can help each other is to encourage, motivate, and poke a lead if you find one. Probably the most help I have gotten from you all is just knowing you are out there, battling the same things I am, feeling the same passion and worries. There is comfort in knowing that we are not alone.

Dennis: let me know more about this society when you get a chance. I met the guy I told you about at the WDC that gets work out of a guild in Florida, and says it has helped him find work he would never have located otherwise.

Dick: thanks for your ongoing support and encouragement. I love the concept of what you are doing with video and audio. I think it has some real merit for this lumberjocks site the more the rest of us get the equipment, and understand how to use the technology. Your leadership is important for the rest of us, please keep going and posting!

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View Obi's profile

Obi

2213 posts in 3698 days


#7 posted 02-17-2007 05:43 AM

Hey Mark, I’ll bet if you asked that Lumberjock that made $300 in 4 days work, you’d find out that that was his best payday, since the mahogany pulpit … Oh, I mean it might have been the best payday he’d had in a while. Cabinets pay great, but then just about any three legged monkey can build them, and most of the cabinets I’ve seen lately look like it.

And having to deal with Home Depot and Lowes doesnt help. Then you get family members that tell you to go back to work at McDonalds and quit wasting your time on a pipe dream that wont ever come true.

I, personally, am an artist. So I guess til the big money comes along I keep on keepin on, holding tightly to my faith. Knowing that the one responsible for all of this so far, has more in store.

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2008 posts in 3867 days


#8 posted 02-17-2007 06:54 AM

I understand where you are Obi. Don’t give up if you can help it. There is something important in your life that would have to die off before you could work at something else. Don’t mention that “McDonald’s” name again, please. I would lose all hope if that is where you ended up with all of your talents.

Besides, you’re too deep in it now to worry about what the family says about you! My sister was just plain angry when my wife told her of my plans to quit my job and do my art-furniture work full time. Why would she get angry? I don’t know, but you might see similar things in your family. Family relationships are often covered with baggage and emotions that go back years and years, and don’t necessarily deal with reality today.

The business counselor I saw on Wednesday recommended that I continue on my path to make original art furniture, and sign it all with my name signature like I have been doing. But, while I am waiting for that side of the business to be “discovered”, I should not turn down anything, including cabinets, only do them under a different business name, and not put my signature on them.

For instance, if a person wanted a piece of custom furniture, I would sign it with my name and “Mark DeCou Studio”, but if I did a vanity, or book shelf, or something else that was not really art-furniture, then I would use another business name, like “Wildcat Cat Creek Woodworking” (the creek across the dirt road from my house).

He explained that this would keep the exclusivity in my signature, while allowing me to make any money I can without worrying about how it will affect the collectibility of my art-furniture work in the future.

He also explained that this sets apart a business that could be sold off at some point to another woodworker as an entity that has value higher than the liquidated capital assets of the business. It would be difficult to sell the name “Mark DeCou Studio”, but someone might want to take over another business name that has a history of quality work and expertise, a local name recognition, and a customer database. The “Mark DeCou Studio” would die off with me, but the other business could continue.

That made sense to me, as I won’t live forever, and it would be nice to know that someday my heirs can do more with my efforts than just have a Saturday estate sale of all of my life’s collection of tools and effort. I went to one of those sales last summer for an old woodworker, and I felt sad for his family and his legacy while we all poured over his stuff trying to figure out how to pay the least for it on a rainy day. Trampling that wonderful lawn he cared for so well.

I hadn’t thought about the concept before of having separate business names, so I have been noodling through it this week. Using his advice for instance, you might consider using your “ye olde cabinet shoppe” that way, where you would use that business name for doing things that pay the bills, while reserving your “obiwan the monk” signature for the art-furniture work. Think it over awhile and let me know what you think of the concept, I’d appreciate the feedback.

Dennis: if you are listening, I have been thinking about sharing this concept with you as well as you use the name “Woodsongs Furniture”, and as you seperately develop your carved art-furniture with your actual signature. Let me know what you think also.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 3776 days


#9 posted 02-17-2007 07:22 AM

Mark this is the Furniture Society. I’ve been checking out their forum and am pretty unimpressed. I’m really in a wait and see attitude with this group.

I still haven’t signed any of my furniture. Keep thinking of getting a brand or some sort of decal. Often thought of separating my work into two companies. I’m still thinking of going after a few kitchens. Have actually put out a bid. Mark if you move to Idaho we could start a drywall business! Some of the kitchens I’ve been involved with have been pretty artistic.

View scottb's profile

scottb

3648 posts in 3788 days


#10 posted 02-17-2007 07:29 AM

That idea with the two businesses is brilliant. I’ve almost put that into practice actually. Dad and I have our “Day job” but I’m also setting aside the time for the “fine art commissions/projects” In addition to the moonlighting job (the old career), while keeping my eyes open for new opportunites.

It seems to me that most of the big names in the woodworking world teach or publish (or both). My current long term plan has been to do one or the other… just as soon as I have enough experience to do so. After being in newspapers for so long, a job at a magazine would be an easy fit for me (relocation aside, if that were necc.) But who knows what new opportunities will abound as the world keeps spinning! (Lumberjocks board of directors – regional toy (making) drives, LJ TV, as well as our entry into the guinness book of records for “most bowls turned in 24 hours”!

And yes, career/life wise, you occasionally have to solicit advice outside the family, or at least outside the sphere of people who depend on you, or may end up having to help you if things don’t go as planned. Their advice is tainted with fear, if not “thoughtful good-intentions”.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- http://blanchardcreative.etsy.com -- http://snbcreative.wordpress.com/

View oscorner's profile

oscorner

4564 posts in 3772 days


#11 posted 02-17-2007 07:35 AM

Mark, I’m a cross from one of those that make things and find it hard to part with them and one that enjoys the pleasure I can give to someone by giving them something that I made for a birthday, anniversary, or other reason. I faced the pricing problems when I had my dirt business. I tried pricing my dirt cheaper than anyone around, but gained no extra business for it. In fact, I would haul material all day and couldn’t pay for the fuel I burned, let along the insurance and other cost that I incurred. I’m sure the same rings true for woodworking. When making a living, one cannot price one’s work in the hopes that it will sell, but must price it so the bills can get paid. It is interesting, too how the same or better work fairs in different venues. Like those that couldn’t sell at, $30 what you were able to sell for, more than $200. It baffles the mind the way others look at something and place a certain value on it. As a woodworker, I know the time, material and effort it took to make a project, while a person that may want something I made might scoff at what I would sell it for to them. Thoughts from them as: it just a piece of wood, you got that wood for free, didn’t you, why so much? echo through the air. The key as you pointed out, is to find a niche that will support one’s work and pay what is needed to allow one to continue with that work. The number of talented woodworking individuals in this country along is astounding and for all of them to be able to make a living selling their creations would be wonderful, but not practical, I guess. I’d like to be able to generate money to help me with the cost of my woodworking, but at the same time I want to be able to relax and enjoy my time in the shop. I already have a job and don’t want another one, unless of course I could spend more time enjoying my woodworking. I hope you can find the connections that will help you pay the bills, so you can enjoy your woodworking as well as make a living at it.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View Bill's profile

Bill

2579 posts in 3623 days


#12 posted 02-17-2007 09:50 PM

Mark, that is a great idea about building multiple business lines for your products. I just read a similar article in Woodshop News . It was about a furniture maker that created a line of products by starting with one piece, then expanding it. After several years, they created a new style in a single piece, and it led to a new product line as well. They said the new product line was now 90% of their business. So maybe instead of a second business, you just have a second line of products under your Mark DeCou studio.

Hang in their Michael, you will make it soon. Mark and Dennis have already shown it can be done, and on your own terms. You all are a bit further along than I am so far, and I learn a lot by reading all of your postings.

-- Bill, Turlock California, http://www.brookswoodworks.com

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