Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | March 4, 2011

Just say “Yes” to Practice (Woodcarving Practice-that is)

Often when I tell someone I am a woodcarver, I get a response something like, “How wonderful! I wish I could carve, but…” and then a series of comments about how they would love to carve but they can’t even put a point on a hot dog stick or that their grandpa was a carver but they did not inherit any of that talent, etc.  Or maybe they had an experience where someone laughed at an early attempt to whittle something and it embarrassed them.

I hear these types of statements all the time from arts festival goers, from students, from folks I meet at parties… everywhere.  A helpful analogy that I often use is this: “Have you ever learned to ride a bicycle or play a ball sport?  How did you do the first time you mounted your bike, swung at a tennis ball or used a pool cue?”  I am sure there was a good laugh in there remembering those early attempts to learn something new.

I suggest that woodcarving is a lot like any of these other recreational activities.  True, some folks find it easier than others or learn faster than others initially.  But even Larry Bird had to learn to make a basket for the first time.  But we got “good” at anything we are good at through practice.

Forget about the idea that you must produce at the level of Ian Norbury or the great masters the first time you pick up a carving knife or a gouge but remember… with practice you may well be a master someday.  I’ll bet on it.

Handling woodcarving tools is learned through practice, and sometimes with the guidance and support of a good instructor.  We all need a lot of focused practice and, hopefully, fun.  A good teacher can give you clear instruction, step by step.  And, they can give you pointers on what you might do something better.  Afterward you need plenty of time to play with what you are learning.  Practice, practice, practice.  By the way, “practice” is not like the piano practice.  Woodcarving practice is “doing it”… just doing it.  And, member, “fun” should be a necessary ingredient.

With time, practice, and good support, every carver can find their own style.  It used to amaze me that a class of 10 folks all doing the same project could produce 10 distinctly different carvings.  Creating an atmosphere of exploration and fun…a safety zone for creativity… will allow anyone with the interest to learn and grow and to get closer to creating the masterpieces they may see or sense in their creative heart.

As I recall, I produced my first carving at about age 5-6.  I took the corners off of a short 2X4 scrap and called it a car.  It was a dang fine looking car too.  I also remember the wizards that I carved as a kid had no eyes… just slits where the eyes should be.  I thought they were pretty cool just the way they were but at the time I couldn’t carve eyes.

But, I never gave up.  I have always had the urge to make a cool creation out of wood.  Clearly, I have had some catastrophes but I have also created some carvings that wonderfully fulfilled my inner vision of what I wanted… some even more so than my initial hopes.  I have finally realized that when I do make a mess of something, I can always start over… remembering that there are more where that on came from.

Try listening to that small voice inside of you; asking to do something new… try to move beyond what you are comfortable with.  Try to avoid getting stuck with only carving ducks, or only carving cowboy caricatures, or only carving tiki gods.  Spread your wings and pass beyond that little, “I can’t” …and give yourself the experience of creating something different. Practice!  No one else in this world could possibly create what you make… certainly not like you do.

For those of us who have already said, “Yes” to practice and are working away at our art…I am reminded of the value of fun… the fun of enjoying the practice and the process as well as aiming as high as possible for results.

Here’s to Practice and stretching your abilities.

Keep sharp and be “carveful.”

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