Editor's letter Woodcarving September October 2019

I often encounter carvers who know want they want to carve but don’t quite get round to it. Having written that comment, I don’t mean that people cite running out of time, which we all know is the main reason people don’t get round to doing something, but instead, the original comment pertains to people saying they are not sure how to start or do some aspect of what they wish to make.

We all encounter those issues at some time or other, so when you do, take some comfort from the fact that you are not alone. But here’s the kicker – how you move forward is up to you, but each route has risks and rewards.

Risk and reward
Many people will know what they want to make, have done a bit of research and might just go for it carving-wise with the knowledge they have. The risk is that some or all parts of the project chosen may be beyond the skills a person currently has. That said, with tentative adjustment of existing skills, they might be able to muddle through. The sense of achievement in this route is great, but so can be the frustration of spending all that time on something and not liking the end result.

We all learn by mistakes and even seasoned carvers are not always satisfied or even pleased with what they have made. We all need to be analytical and critical, without getting caught up in the ‘I can’t do anything right’ cycle.

There is a risk in everything we do and as we learn more and tackle ever more complex things, we encounter different risks from the ones previously met and we build on skills.

Experiential learning
When I was learning skills back when I left school, I learned by doing and making mistakes. OK, the foreman and work colleagues would show me how to do something, then allow me to tackle the same thing under supervision before doing so on my own. I was allowed to make some mistakes as I learned from there, but not the same mistakes over and over again.

It was a building block-style learning process. You see, do and then practise it over and over again, introducing new elements and aspects that allow you to adapt the skills learned as you tackle new things.

Planning for success
I was always taught the following points to remember.

1. Know exactly what you need to do or make. This means you need to do some research and not just have a cursory glance at the reference material. Really understand it. If required, make sketches.

2. If you still are unsure about any aspect, ask someone who you trust who does know what is required and can offer good-quality guidance.

3. Never be afraid to ask for help. Nothing is simple if you have no idea what is wrong, what problems you are likely to encounter or how to go about something you have not tackled before.

4. Once ready to start, ask if you have the right tools for the right job or if something that you already have can be used safely.

5. Once you have started and then get stuck on a technique or aspect of what you need to do etc., check your reference material and/or ask a friend for advice and practise what needs to be done on waste material before you commit to undertaking the necessary process on your live work.

6. Stop frequently and check your progress. It is of ten easier to alter things if you stop regularly and check, but not so easy if you get further into the project without dealing with a mistake that should have been dealt with earlier.

7. Learn from a process but do not be phased by it. If something goes wrong, you have learned how not to do something. This is a valuable lesson too.

8. Never give up, but do take a break if you get frustrated or tired and come back to it when you are refreshed. It is surprising what a difference a clear and refreshed mind does for creativity and thinking.

9. Once your project is carved, always test the finish you intent to use on waste wood to check it is what you want before committing to applying it to your carved work.

10. Finally, no matter what you are doing, try to have fun.

Let me know your top tips for tackling something new and let me know what you have been making.

Have fun, Mark
To get in touch, please email me: markb@thegmcgroup.com