A Note of Encouragement to Beginning Carvers

If you’re doing any wood carving these days, you probably belong to one or more Facebook groups for carving. Or you follow some expert carvers on Instagram.

Seeing beautiful woodwork every day can be inspiring at first. But eventually it can become discouraging when you begin comparing your own work with what you see on the internet.

So when you get discouraged because your work doesn’t look like “theirs,” it’s time to stop making comparisons. The people who produce beautiful work today didn’t start out like that. Their first efforts were probably no better than yours.

Here’s some of my early work still in process. I learned a lot with each one.

If you must compare, then don’t compare your work today with the work of people who have been carving for years. Compare your work today to the work you did yesterday. Don’t aim at perfection; aim at improvement.

So get off social media for a few days and carve a dozen spoons in a row. With each one, try to improve a little bit on the previous one. Once you lay out the whole dozen, you will see a marked change from #1 to #12. (If you see no improvement, it’s time to revisit your technique.) Yes, it is important to observe the best qualities of the best work you can find, and imitate it where you can. The time will come to chase perfection, but now is probably not that time.

Even excellent carvers can be ten-percent pleased with ninety percent of their work and ninety-percent pleased with ten percent of their work. But it’s that top ten percent that gets a nice pic posted to social media. So when you’re comparing your first attempts to the pics you see on Instagram, you’re setting yourself up against the best work of the best carvers. No wonder we get discouraged sometimes!

One more thing: not everybody who posts pics on the internet is 100% honest about their work. Pictures can hide a lot of flaws. A few photography tricks can make mediocre woodwork look great.

So don’t compare your work in person to pictures of other people’s work. If you want to make comparisons that will help you improve, then pick up other people’s work in person. Buy antique spoons when you find them at antique shops. Participate in a spoon exchange, or buy a spoon outright from a carver you admire. You will learn far more comparing your work to a single example of another carver’s work than you will looking at a thousand pictures.

This applies to all kinds of woodwork, not just carving. Comparing your work to the work of social media “influencers” is the road to despair.

Don’t give up. You can do this!

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