My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond #48: The Best Way to Learn is to Teach Others

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 07-21-2010 01:43 PM 4118 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 47: A New (Self) Challenge Part 48 of My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond series Part 49: Still On Track! »

I was going to write about something totally different today. I had something happen yesterday that wasn’t very pleasant that related to my business and I was going to share it here and tell my story. It wasn’t a positive thing, but everything did turn out OK and I am back on track and I thought it may be one of those ‘lesson learned’ blogs that you might be interested in.

Then I woke this morning and was going through my email and I received some responses from a couple of customers and I felt that I would rather share something positive with you all today. (After all – we follow where we focus and all of that!) I decided to let the other issue go and move on – since it is over and done with. I think it is a good decision on my part.

So yesterday I open my email and it is a letter and a picture from a customer who did my “Welcome to the Nuthouse” plaque (Actually – that was one of my partner’s designs, but it is under my company’s name. I still have to get used to the fact that I am a growing company and every design is not mine. When I use the term “my” design in these instances, it is mainly out of habit and because it is sold under the Sheila Landry Design label.) Anyway, the plaque was recently in the magazine and had two segmented squirrels on it as well as nuts and leaves. The customer changed the plaque to his liking and among other things, put one squirrel and added a chipmunk on the other side. He wrote and told me the story of how it is for his other place in the woods where his wife feeds the chipmunks there on a daily basis. It was nice to see how he personalized it to his life and I loved the results and story. I emailed him back yesterday and asked him if I could show it on my Customer’s page on the site, where I like to share what others do with my patterns.

I opened my email this morning to his reply. He told me a story of how when he first started doing intarsia, he had purchased some patterns from a well-known intarsia designer. He found some things in the patterns that he felt were not one hundred percent correct to his liking and changed them. He said he wrote a letter to the designer, telling her (in a nice way) of his concerns and suggestions. (From his tone, I could tell he WAS a nice, soft-spoken person. He was well-mannered and polite) He said that he received back “a very nasty note back asking who I thought I was telling her what was wrong with her patterns and please not email her any more.” He continued on in the letter to me that he subsequently purchased over 50 designs from her because her work was beautiful. I can take a good guess at who he was talking about, because he ruled out the other predominant intarsia designer in the letter, and it is difficult for me to understand why she would be so offended.

He closed his letter by saying that he doesn’t change others’ designs because he feels they are “wrong”, he changes them because he wants them to his liking. He happily gave permission for me to use his picture and he was glad that I wasn’t offended by his changes.

I just had to sit and think a minute and absorb it. For the life of me I couldn’t understand how someone would be offended by another persons interpretation of their design. After alll . . . isn’t it art and subject to ones’ interpretation of it? We all have a right to like and not like what we choose. As far as I am concerned, no artist is great enough to impose their artwork on others and force them to like it. Are the egos really that monumental?

Coincidentally, I did my usual scouring of my favorite forums that I do every morning to see what was said about the topics and projects I was watching, and on one of them someone posted the same Nut House plaque. I had told her yesterday how much I liked it and was watching that board and this morning there was a post where she answered a question about the stain she used to someone else and then she directed some thoughts to me about it. It seems that she had some trouble with the shaping of the leaves, as there is no clear way it was described to do them. She went on to say it took her a while and she had to ‘wing it’ but she was happy by the results. She made it clear that none of the other intarsia or segmentation patterns detailed this process either. She also suggested that I maybe do an article on shaping that would help others who were new to understand. Finally, she mentioned that she was unclear as to whether she should cut the vein lines in the leaves or just shape them. Ultimately, she cut them and they looked fine.

I really appreciated hearing the feedback from her. I immediately responded to her concerns on the board because I didn’t want her to feel as the other customer that wrote me did about changing things or speaking up. With every order that goes out, I personally write a short message to my customers and let them know that I am here for questions and I tell them that I want to hear their concerns. It is so important to me to see things from others’ viewpoints.

Unlike some of the more detailed things I do (such as my animal paintings) that are intended as art and not as a pattern, my patterns and projects are meant to teach others so that they can accomplish the design with relatively little difficulty and perhaps even learn from doing it so they can apply their knowledge to other projects. (Heck, I even put step by step pictures of my Cheetah painting on my site which was never intended as a pattern. I guess I just like to show how easy it can be when you break it down to steps) I never want to be in a place in my career where I forget to consider those who are just learning the process and teach over their heads.

I had a very dear, valued customer ask me on the phone one day why the magazine keeps printing the mundane set up process of the projects I do over and over again. She was what I would call a seasoned scroller and had been scrolling for years and years. She said she would like it better if I skipped that part and described more difficult aspects of the process. I explained to her that especially in the magazine, I need to assume that someone is doing the process for the first time. I don’t mean that I have to talk down to them, but I do feel that they are entitled to the basic explanation of the process. After all, it is easier to skip steps then to wonder what should be there and is not.

After doing this for over 15 years, I need this interaction with people so that I keep myself grounded and not let my knowledge or experience overshadow the fact that many of the people who enjoy my designs are just beginning. After all, keeping the hobby alive and healthy means bringing new people in all the time. When I talk to others either in forums or online or here, I love hearing the basic questions because it reminds me that people just don’t know. Some say they feel stupid, as this lady did and I assured her that she wasn’t asking a stupid question. Others feel that they are bothering me because they are asking basic questions. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If I were to want to build a cabinet, you can bet the ranch that I would be asking some of you who make beautiful furniture some pretty basic “stupid” questions. We just aren’t born knowing this stuff – we need to learn it from others.

I never want to be like that other designer. If I get to that point, it is time for me to pack away my blades and do something else with my life. We all have our own specialization – every one of you reading this and every one of us (now 20,000!) in this forum. I also (pink cloud thinking alert!) believe that every single one of us 20,000 here have learned something because others here were willing to share. That is why we keep coming back. The only thing that may feel better then learning from others is teaching others too. It has nothing to do with egos. It isn’t because one is better than the other. Everyone has something to bring to the table. My woodworking mentor Bernie once told me “anyone who said he hasn’t made a mistake is a liar”.

So I learned a lot already today and it is only a little after 7am! Is this going to be a good day, or what? Now I want to do an article or series of articles on different aspects of shaping intarsia and segmentation. I need to add it to my idea book. I am excited about the thought of it. I really wish I never had to sleep! :)

As far as the deadline for the new projects are going – as I said, some things came up yesterday that slowed things down. I did however, have communication with my wholesaler and they are going to take what they can up until Monday. That is their real cut off date because the pictures have to be at the printer by the first of the month.

There really is no big pressure here. Just a fun goal I put on myself to test myself. I figure I can get three more designs to them by then. If I only get two – so be it. I still am going to stay on my path and keep things pushing a bit. I want to do an update on my site by the first of the month and hopefully I will have the others I planned to do by then. If not, they will be on the next deadline I make for myself. I do this because it helps me keep focused. There really is no punishment – self or otherwise – if things aren’t completed on time. It just helps to structure my life and keep the purpose clear. We do make our own destiny, I believe.

So happy Wednesday to everyone. Enjoy your day and share your knowledge – you will be surprised how much you learn! :)

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

6 comments so far

View lew's profile


12102 posts in 3780 days

#1 posted 07-21-2010 03:58 PM

As a vocational teacher (retired), I fully agree that the best way, to really learn something well, is to teacher others.

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3011 days

#2 posted 07-21-2010 04:42 PM

I have never understood why artists can be so averse to input, especially if they make a product that is meant to be used by other people. Boggles me a little :)

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9231 posts in 2945 days

#3 posted 07-21-2010 05:30 PM

It boggles me a LOT, Lis! :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View rhybeka's profile


4038 posts in 3146 days

#4 posted 07-21-2010 10:23 PM

Truer words couldn’t be found. I’m glad the artist didn’t keep that man from continuing with his hobby…I’ve seen people who have had bad experiences like that shy away from doing a hobby they love because their minds bring back that painful experience and its tough. I wish there were more teachers around that I could learn from and shadow around… Good thoughts Sheila!

-- Beka/Becky - aspiring jill of all trades, still learning to not read the directions.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3140 days

#5 posted 07-22-2010 01:22 AM

a very niiice blog about that brutal cuold be said (as I do a lot)
there is no stupid questions if comes to learn new things or if it has something to do with safty…..period !
the stupid question is the one that was never spoken :-)

and it´s good to hear you live up to that, not that I ever daubted it
I think you wood be a great teacher if you ever go that way with scrollsawing classes

take care

View BertFlores58's profile


1698 posts in 2947 days

#6 posted 07-22-2010 08:59 AM

Lis and Shiela,
I felt the same with respect to course designing in the Maritime Education, far different from woodworking but it is the authorship that is in question somewhat called Intelligence Property.. But let us just face the fact that the public or customers are the one that knew who you are. Both of you are art designers, and so with Andy, Benjie, Martyn and many others, most of us will always remember who you are.

I think the lumberjock as a website must also help in telling the world each member special qualities:
What I mean for example… allow me to just use name from what I can remember.
Scrollers: Shiela, Cosmo35, (this two I always remember)
Boxmakers: (Martyn, Spalm, Myself, Andy, etc..
Cabinetmakers: CJIII,
Cutting board pattern makers : Plenty…..they he she…. who ever
CNC Carvers: Lis..
and so on.

UP TO YOU ALL !! Just a thought

-- Bert

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