How-to and DIY books, magazines, and videos abound in topics ranging from videography and needlecraft to woodworking. The better ones demonstrate fundamentals and projects that build on those fundamentals. I have a number of them in my library because there are things I don’t often do, and having prompts on the techniques can save time and wasted wood. But I have no subscriptions to any magazines or video series, and I no longer buy books in that genre.

Around seven years ago, I realized that little was getting published about the styles and topics I carved or was interested in carving. Instead, I was more likely to find material relevant to my interests in modeling, painting, antiques, or even ceramics and industrial design.
This lack of material is no affront to me; it’s just that as part of the ordinary course of a person’s evolution as an artist or craftsperson, you tend to wander off beaten paths in search of the new. It’s a healthy sign that you edge towards the boundaries of the map into those places where old-time cartographers drew dragons and sea beasties. It means your skills and qualifications are growing, and your perceptions are widening.

I’ve seen this in aha moments from cooks and graphic designers. Sometimes, new technology alters their perception of what can get done with the new tool, material, pigment, or technology. There is a heady moment of realizing that you stand at the border. There are no how-to books and articles – just you, your abilities, and the need for a lot of experimentation. You find yourself looking on the internet for skill-developing modules developed for use by the original users. You adopt, adapt, and abandon what doesn’t work.

There is a lot of failure and backtracking. Many people might say, “you can’t do that.” Or, “that’s not traditional!” Just remember that few DIY books teach things the way they were done in the 19th century. The approach may not differ from the truly traditional, but the tools and materials have all developed.

A hale and healthy craft or art form benefit from experimentation. This isn’t to say that tradition is not valuable, but I’m not giving up my new bandsaw, acrylic pigments, or air filtration units to do things the way they were in 1870.

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