Emotional vulnerability in artistic ventures

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Forum topic by David Craig posted 12-09-2012 09:06 PM 1519 views 0 times favorited 24 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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David Craig

2137 posts in 3306 days

12-09-2012 09:06 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question vulnerability woodworking philosophies creativity

Any kind of creative venture involves a certain amount of emotional vulnerability. I don’t care if you are following plans or winging it, committing yourself to making things, music, painting, writing, woodworking, etc. puts a certain pressure of success or failure and sensitivity to acceptance or rejection when sharing what we create. I believe new woodworkers are most vulnerable, but I see that sensitivity even with the most experienced and gifted. I don’t think it ever completely goes away.

I know, for myself, I have a difficult time working with somebody around. My father would have me help him with a number of projects when I was young and would critique me to death for not already being a skilled tradesman. So sometimes I get a little overly responsive when someone tells me I am doing something wrong in the shop. To top it off, if someone is around me, I instantly forget everything I have learned and start working like I have never seen a tool before in my life. I have worked on that a little bit and have had some understanding friends take some of that pressure off.

How do you folks deal with that strain? What personal philosophies or practices have you put into play to help you develop that “thick skin” to protect you from insensitive people. And what advice would you give a new woodworker who is tentatively putting themselves out there?

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

24 replies so far

View Don W's profile

Don W

19007 posts in 2765 days

#1 posted 12-09-2012 09:48 PM

I think I developed a thick skin so long ago, I don’t really know why.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View cutworm's profile


1075 posts in 2991 days

#2 posted 12-09-2012 09:50 PM

Listen to constructive feedback. Ignore the asses.

-- Steve - "Never Give Up"

View Dez's profile


1166 posts in 4275 days

#3 posted 12-09-2012 09:52 PM

Most of my “thick skin” has come about over time and through the successes I’ve had. It also made it easier to deal with criticism when I finally realized that no one does everything the same way and most people I know are not as experienced as I am. ( I don’t have a lot of contact with highly skilled woodworkers etc).
My father was the same way – always “you could/should of have done it this or that way”, I was lucky I suppose that he raised all of us to believe in ourselves as well.
I remember him coming back from vacation one time and asking why I hadn’t done some task he had set for me. I told him “Because I knew you would just nit pick me to death so I waited until you could take the lead to make sure it was done right”! That went over almost as well as when I just went ahead and finished the task – “You should have…..” LOL
Now I actually enjoy having someone watch as I have things I can teach and share. The only bad part is that it takes me longer to do the job what with the visiting and answering questions. (Hard for me to work when my lips are flapping!) :D

-- Folly ever comes cloaked in opportunity!

View JoeinGa's profile


7739 posts in 2204 days

#4 posted 12-09-2012 10:02 PM

Other than the occasional day that my wife might sit in my shop for a short while, no one is ever around while I work. But if there ever was somebody, they’d have a hissy fit watching me do some of the stuff I do. I’ve removed safetys from my machines so I could do something that was impossible with the safety attached. I’ve cut things way too small on my radial arm saw and used my grinder without gloves on. I clean greasy car parts with a paint brush dipped in gasoline. And I’m sure I’ve done worse.

But all that is MY CHOICE and I do it in a way that I never feel I’m in danger of losing a finger, arm, or eye. Hell when I was younger I painted cars in my garage without even wearing a dust mask :-) And I’ll bet as a baby I chewed on the lead paint on my crib. Just last month I removed the tag on our mattress (oh dear,,,, the Feds are probably on their way to my house now)

But yeah, I do see where you’re coming from. I’m my own worst critic when it comes to my projects. My wife says I’m anal but I think of it as more like paying attention to details. :-)

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View Ted's profile


2873 posts in 2408 days

#5 posted 12-09-2012 10:35 PM

I can’t stand anybody watching me as I work. Whether they are watching to learn or to make sure I do things right, it bothers me to have eyes peering at me when I’m working. The one exception is when little kids like to watch me work… I actually enjoy that, because I know they are not watching with a critical eye but, rather, because they like to watch.

-- You can collect dust or you can make dust. I choose to make it.

View pierce85's profile


508 posts in 2760 days

#6 posted 12-09-2012 10:38 PM

First, by not assuming you have thick skin. Most people don’t. In other words, understand your vulnerabilities and work with them. Second, find and develop a routine that allows you to momentarily bracket biting criticism before addressing it, and then tackle it in small pieces. Third, learn to recognize criticism that you can quickly dismiss and cast aside. Piece of cake, right?

Just don’t end up being the arrogant fool or the overly-sensitive masochist. Both types are incapable of dealing with criticism.

View whitebeast88's profile


4128 posts in 2388 days

#7 posted 12-09-2012 11:11 PM

fortunately the only one that ever watches me is my wife or my 5 year old daughter.everything i make my daughter says mom’s gonna love it weather it’s for her or not.but to stay on topic no matter what i’m doing i can’t stand for someone to watch me,if i have someone a friend or someone else comes to look at my stuff i tense up.not that i’m afraid of critcism but more i beat myself up enough i guess.

-- Marty.Athens,AL

View OldSneelock's profile


8 posts in 2514 days

#8 posted 12-09-2012 11:30 PM

If there is a quick fix for a unwelcome advise I’ve never found it. Generally having others around when I’m working is a good thing. Someone to hold the other wrench or hand up a board is almost always welcome. There are times when I really don’t need the particular audience I have giving me advise. If I’m unable to avoid the helpful suggestions I tend to ignore them. Everyone knows I’m hard of hearing so I can get away with it. Usually after 5 or 10 minutes of being ignored most go looking for better sport.
If there are friends that you can share projects with then invite them. They will tend to deflect the kibitzers away or at least dilute the effect.
One last thing. Developing a thick skin just so you can tolerate people you don’t like having around is a waste of time, effort, and energy. People I don’t get along with are seldom invited to hang around and never get invited back.

-- Old Sneelock, Michigan,

View a1Jim's profile


117328 posts in 3774 days

#9 posted 12-10-2012 12:05 AM

Since I teach woodworking it’s not a problem to have someone watch what I’m doing,but in my contracting business it can be a problem when the home owner or the know it all neighbor decides to stand right in the middle of my work area and tell me how to do things . Even when it is the owner paying for the job it still slows me and my crew down. As far as just watching I don’t have a problem if I can keep my work progress going. I even have a clause in contract that there will be an increase of cost if pet’s neighbors or others(homeowner) impede my work with a minimum of $100 hr . It’s basically there as a lever, because I’ve never charged for any delays.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 3166 days

#10 posted 12-10-2012 12:54 AM

I always find that if I’m designing for myself it takes way more time than if I’m doing it for someone else. I don’t make any jobs to have around and maybe sell on later, it’s all commissions, it’s all working to a brief, I already asked the questions when I met the client so I usually don’t run into the problem of producing design concepts that are wide of the mark. I draw it up, if they like it I make it. If we’ve been talking at cross purposes, I make the design changes until they are happy with it and make it. Ultimately, it’s not my job, so I don’t have to be happy with how it will look. If the client loves it but I’m indifferent, that’s a result. They get what they want, I get a cheque. Happy days.

Is that a thick skin? No. Just a practicality of making stuff for someone else. I’ve never had any issues with any clients and most of my work is repeat business or recommendation so I must be doing something right.

Making stuff for yourself is a different proposition. There isn’t the pressure to just ‘answer the brief’ i.e. come up with something that will work without spending hours and hours that you’re not going to get paid for doing.
If it’s your own, you can design something without compromise, leave it on the back burner for a while, look at it again. Tweak, tweak tweak. Tweak it until it’s just right and then make it, hell, change it in in the middle of making it if there’s something you found you could do better or slicker, or just because you want to. My jobs are mine and I wouldn’t make them if I wasn’t happy with them. So if someone comes round and has a bewildered look on their face looking at one of my pieces for me, it doesn’t matter, because it’s for me, not them.

Some might think that’s a little arrogant, but here is the reality – you are only going to torture yourself if you subject every thing you make to scrutiny. If you are that narcissistic you make yourself vulnerable.

I rarely have an audience, but when I do I don’t mind. If someone is that interested that they want to see what’s going on, then that’s fine by me. It even presents the opportunity for you to reassure them you know exactly what you’re doing – and why – and more so than anyone else they’ve ever had do work for them before.

View Gary's profile


9386 posts in 3630 days

#11 posted 12-10-2012 01:06 AM

If it’s in my shop and someone wants to tell me what they think I should do, I show them where the wood pile is so they can make their own. If it’s someone I respect, I listen and learn. I don’t have to be the best. I just want to be MY best and that takes lots of practice. I’ll probably never get there. I’m not sure it’s thick skin with me as much as a straight forward attitude.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3040 days

#12 posted 12-10-2012 02:43 AM

I understand the not liking someone around you in the shop.
I’ve gotten in a strict habit where, as soon as someone enters my shop, I stop whatever I’m doing until they leave.
I don’t know how to develop that thick skin you’re looking for, mostly because I guess I need it to.
My brother is the worst. He’s tried and cannot build the things I do. Yet, he’s always quick to tell me how I should do something different to make it better. What I’ve done is never good enough. I know it shouldn’t bother me since he’s going to critique anything I do harshly. It always does to an extent though.


View HenryH's profile


139 posts in 3602 days

#13 posted 12-10-2012 02:49 AM

My wife told me this when I turned forty. Not sure it totally applies here but I agree with it.
“At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.” – Ann Landers

As far as criticism of my work most people who see my stuff are just amazed that I or anyone can actually make stuff in their basement! Be confident and take rude comments for what they are.

-- HenryH - PA

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 2344 days

#14 posted 12-10-2012 03:16 AM

I think a sense of humor is essential to any sort of endeavor in life, but particularly to any sort of creative endeavor. The ability to laugh at myself and my mistakes is invaluable.

I don’t like to have people in the shop with me, not because I don’t like to be watched or judged, but because they distract me and make things unsafe. I don’t think I could do what Stumpy does though, or at the very least if I did, I’d have to edit out the parts where I get pissed off and demolish something that isn’t cooperating.


View Sandra's profile


7207 posts in 2272 days

#15 posted 12-10-2012 04:18 AM

Someone once told me that we are not responsible for the expectations placed on us by others. If anyone ever expected me to be an astro-physicist for example, they’d be sorely disappointed.

Woodworking for me involves very little vulnerability which is one of the reasons I love it. I enjoy it and it is not tied to any expectation that I allow to be placed on me. Neither society nor the people around me expect me to be good with tools or woodworking and my livelihood does not depend on it.

As a mother and a wife, I expect a lot of myself as far as keeping the house running smoothly, making sure everyone is fed and knowing when the kids need new shoes. I’m completely responsible for birthday parties, toenail clipping and rashes of all sorts.

I don’t know anyone who would go into a traditional couple’s home and say “gee, he keeps a very messy house” It’s still a reflection on the wife for the most part. Men on the other hand are expected to be ‘handy’ at the very least.

So for the purposes of this topic, being a ‘jockette’ is a bonus. I still get bemused looks when I start talking about dadoes and endgrain.


-- No, I don't want to buy the pink hammer.

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