The world of woodworking is full of handbooks, videos, manuals, and magazines that aver to show you the best way to do things.
Full disclosure time, my woodworking library has more than a handful of these in it. But it’s essential to be selective in your choice. If you are not careful, all you’ll be doing is allowing a publisher to separate you from the cha-ching in your bank account.
I advise sticking to texts that teach fundamental techniques rather than those which spout about twenty-five beautiful projects for the woodcarver.
Here’s my rationale. Unless those twenty-five projects advance your skills, they are of little use to your mastery. Also, projects can be traps if they are not presented with skill-building techniques. Cut here, file there, and paint this color gives you a chickadee or a Santa, but not skills related to carving other things as well. It’s a paint-by-the-numbers approach to craft. And as a result, any long-term value is lacking. So it’s my view that projects are a means to increase mastery, not an end in themselves.
If you’ve read my blog for a while, you might know that my 19th-century craft masters were users of patterns. But patterns are just the beginning point for a carver. I completed a dozen eagles from one basic pattern. Only the last looked anything like the master from which I carved it.
I varied the pattern and sketches for each eagle so you could tell the family resemblance but not much more. This was possible thanks to having the fundamental carving skills needed. Knowing how to alter feathers, the head, eyes, and body make each carving stand out individually.
In the beginning, it may seem unbelievable that you’ll turn away from project books. But if you master underlying skills, you will. First, an idea will come to you, and then you’ll begin analyzing it for the skills you’ll need to create it. Then, working through the planning process will force you to modify your idea and go back to your library to look at a particular skill or approach you’ll need. Eventually, a completed project all of your own will take shape.
Here’s some final advice. First, start keeping a journal book of ideas and thoughts on technique. Not all ideas will jell at one go, and some might take years. So keep the journal handy to add notes and sketches to the concept as they occur. Secondly, make art a habit. Visit exhibits, look at art from areas other than your specific interests, grow your interests, and your inspirations will grow as well.
Develop a mindset that a new project is a journey, not a one-time destination. After all, art and craft are lifetime occupations, and not everything gets accomplished at once.