In Part 1- “The Dark Side” I hit the realities of life as a woodworking pro head-on. It’s hard to make a living and may not be your dream. Part 2 gives my version of why the struggles can be worth it if you can finish the drill!
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 a favorite traditional hymn’s lyric, “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!
””Here is a link to a magazine story about my relationship with a student/ client and how it has changed my life and given me the “Thrill of It All. http://www.columbusandthevalley.com/archives/nd09/rocking_chairs.html
Part 3 of Going Pro – Is It for You? Will deal with how do you advertise and build a market for your art.
-- Charles Brock