Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | February 14, 2010

Woodcarving Commissions

Woodcarving commissions have always been something that I have struggled with.  For one thing, I like to carve what I like to carve and that generally means I have an interest in the subject.  I don’t particularly enjoy carving things I have little or no interest in.  So, when someone asks if I can carve a toad, for example, I can’t get too excited. No offense intended… to toads or toad lovers.  Without exception, every time that I have accepted a commission for something that I have no interest in, it has been a drudgery to get through it

Recently, I was approached for two commissions.  Each had an interesting set of circumstances and in the process of working with the client and doing their carving, I ended up feeling a strong connection to them and ended up with a couple of new good friends.  The stories go something like this:

Story No. 1

I received a note from a young woman living in Australia.  She told me that “home” was British Columbia, Canada and that she had always had a great interest in North Coast Indian art and that two totem figures were particularly important and meaningful to her.  They were the Eagle and the Owl.  My client both loves being in the outdoors hiking and horseback riding and she is a martial arts expert with stick fighting.  In the outdoors, in the Outback, she is faced with snakes and other varmints where a good strong staff can come in handy (carrying a gun is illegal in Australia).  She asked me to carve a walking staff to her size specifications and containing an Eagle head and a full bodied Owl.

I selected a piece of hawthorn that was harvested some 20 years ago.  It was very straight and just the right diameter.  For those of you that do not know, dry hawthorn is like steel.  It is not a friendly carving wood.  It had to be carved in much the same manner that an engraver engraves metal.  Clearly, it was the hardest wood that I had ever carved.  It took in the neighborhood of 10-12 hours to do the piece.  Now, here is the deal… I love North Coast art, I love the client’s specific totems, and I love carving walking staffs.  Because of those factors, accepting the commission for me was a “no brainer.”  And, while I am leaving out several details, her story behind why she wanted the staff connected with me.  Over a period of a couple of months, we communicated regularly and developed a friendship.  And, perhaps the best part of all is that I received a moving note from the client, that almost brought me to tears, telling me how much she loves her staff.

Haida Eagle/Owl Totem

Story No. 2

This time the commission is from a young man.  Initially, he told me that he had seen a picture of one of my carvings and was compelled to attempt to buy it.  It just so happened that this piece was a favorite of mine carved in the 1970’s as a walking staff.  I still owned it and I loved it dearly as it had very special meaning to me.  I told the client how important it was to me and if he wanted it, he would have to pay dearly.  I also, suggested that I could carve something similar as a commissioned piece.  He agreed to the later.

In the process of carving his piece, I had asked the client if he would mind sharing with me what the importance was to the piece.  To my surprise, he was quite candid and his story is a real attention getter.  The client, while in a meditation was directed to “Google” a particular phrase and if he did, he would make a meaningful discovery which was tied to other aspects of his meditation experience which I will not repeat as they are highly personal to the client.   Following the meditation, he Googled the suggested phrase and the first image to appear was my original carving and that image was, in fact, depictive of the rest of the them of the meditation.  Pretty cool stuff!

Here, again, the subject matter is of great interest to me (and if you don’t believe me, look around my web site).  They are the Eagle and Wizard.  Like the woman above, I felt a deep connection to the client so accepting the commission was easy to make.

Wizard and Eagle


There are rewards for completing commissions such as I have described above.  For me they are:

>    Doing something that really pleases a client and brings them joy… doing something meaningful for your client;

>    Creating a friendship with clients, not quite like others you have.

>    This may sound a bit silly but validating your worth, abilities and the fact that other people like your work and recognize you as a good artist/carver;

>    Let’s face it… there is the income factor;

>    I am a believer in energy so I believe doing commissions that people deeply appreciate… and subjects that we love will attract more of the same.

Although, I have inferred this above, I have not been so direct as this: Do things that you love and want to do.  I deeply enjoy carving and pleasing others (and myself).  Doing projects that I don’t want to do at a soul level takes the enjoyment out of it and will, quite frankly, not produce the quality that I or my client wants nor may expect. Nor will it be impactful to the client.  And, if you do very much of what does not ring true for you and does not contain positive energy, you will lose your interest in carving.

Stay sharp and happy carving.  Be Carveful!

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