Thursday, April 14, 2016

Letting go

Last summer I spent a wonderful weekend with other spoon carvers at Oliver's idyllic home in the Catskills. I have written about this experience elsewhere, but what I have not written about was the creative crisis it caused.
I felt like I was stumbling all weekend, tripping over one amazing spoon design after another and getting all off balance.  The keel on this one; the way the bowl meets the stem in that one; oh look, a "dolphin" spoon design; etc...  I had amazing chats with all sorts of interesting folk, but by the end I had a much less clear vision of what I wanted in a spoon.
I spent much of the winter thinking, not really carving.  Looking at photos, studying examples of other's spoons.  It helped a little, but ultimately I was not feeling settled in what design I wanted to pursue.
In the end, as winter turned to spring, I gathered up some windfall wood and grabbed the simplest and smallest template I had and just started carving again.  I kinda had to get back to the basics and let go of fancy design.  Keep it simple, I thought.  Carve one, see what you like, and then carve another.  Slow down.  Let go.
I feel like it helped.
I know some carvers find great utility in batch carving.  Some axe out a pile of blanks and work through the pile in stages: this cut on all of them, then that cut on all of them.  I find this way of working hard, because I don't end up concentrating on the whole spoon, how all the parts work together, and end up duplicating the same mistake over and over.  I guess if I was better at carving this might be a good exercise, but I am still figuring out what works and what does not.
By the end I felt like I was getting back on my game, and even spent time decorating a few.

Beyond letting go of design ideals, I am also trying to let go of spoons.  I tend to want to keep them for future reference, but that also means few besides myself get to use them and provide feedback.   And so, yesterday I sent off this little spoon to a friend.  

I hope to send out more of my work soon, including bowls, so I can get some constructive critique.


  1. Eric, I often neglect looking at folks blogs for long periods, but find myself pleasantly surprised when I do get around to doing so.

    The last gathering was definitely chock full of talent in both the folks that were there as well as those represented in the collections present.

    I'm a big proponent of batch carving, but I probably don't caveat it enough with all the time that needs to go into developing designs before you can get the big benefits. I think I quietly hammered away at my primary designs for about 18 months of constant minor and sometimes major tweaks before I felt like they were good enough to commit to permanent templates. I went through long stretches were I avoided looking at the work of others to try and develop my own style.

    I think it's particularly hard to develop your own style when there are so many stellar spoon carvers out there exploring the same fundamental form. Despite my best efforts, I can objectively look at my standard spoons and pick out many aspects and trace them back to influences of folks in the community of carvers. I've actively made an effort to make them my own and change things if it's too clear that it's something I'm replicating from another's work, but there's a limit to how far you can take this and still have a spoon.

    I really enjoyed the spoons you posted last month including the one above and am eagerly awaiting more to see how things have progressed.

    1. Hey Don! Good to hear from you! Thanks for the feedback. It makes a lot of sense to me, refining befor batch carving. Glad you like the spoon. Sent that one off to Alex for him to test drive. He sent me a beauty in return. Love swaps. Hope all is well and enjoy Greenwood Fest! I highly recommend chatting with both Dave and Peter. Dave is especially good about sharing technique.