Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 1/15/00

Six Steps to Success
by Walt Akers

I was recently in Portland, Oregon and had the opportunity to wander through the many 'fine art' galleries they have in the downtown area. I was surprised to learn the Pacific Northwest has a vibrant woodworking community which has generated an immense volume of fine woodwork... I was even more surprised at the prices that some of these modern day masters were asking.

Now, I have a nodding aquaintance with hand tools, power tools, finishes, polishes, and blisters - and it's safe to say that I know a hustle when I see one. So I probed the benefactor of one of these shops, 'The Real Mother Goose', to find out why these craftsmen thought so highly of the fruits of their labor. The information that I gleaned from the spritely young man led me to realize how confused I really was... and what I really needed to know to get ahead in the woodworking world.

Against my better instincts, I'm going to share this information with you...

1) Have a STUDIO. You may talk all you want of your workshop and how well outfitted you are -- but these guys will still regard you as a beer swilling, blue collar clod with a case of the crabs. You'll never be an artist until you have a STUDIO.

Now, I know what you're thinking, "What is a STUDIO, how do I get one, and will I still be able to keep my beer and crabs?" That is a difficult question, even for the experts. Although my informant couldn't tell me the exact difference between a workshop and a studio, he assured me there was a difference - and it was BIG... I concluded that it must be color. Buy paint!

2) LOOK Different. You can always pick the artist out of a crowd of lesser humans --- they have a distinctive, oddball, artist-sort-of-look about them. The Kings (and Queens) of the artistic world are those who can express this weirdness without using props like make-up, dark glasses, facial hair or clothing - they just look strange (even more so when they're naked). Lesser royalty might disguise their lack of inate strangeness by dressing in a wardrobe devised entirely from milk cartons, tin foil, and strategically located band-aids.

3) SMELL Different. Stop bathing and use a very strong cologne to augment your natural essence... People WILL notice the difference...

4) THINK Different. For years I've looked at the works of the great woodworking/fine arts masters and have said to myself - "How can a sane person possibly produce something this bizarre..."

The answer is, "They can't - they're nuts..." You can never produce something like the "Red Blue Chair" by starting with a sensible design and then making it odder --- you have to start from an incomprehensibly goofy concept and then battle your way back to sanity (or as close as you can get)... Stop taking your medication today!

5) SOUND Different. Being understood is not one of the major requirements of an artist. While good grammar may have served you well in grade school, its time to put the stinging lash of Sister Mary Elizabeth's "ruler of knowledge" behind you and set a new course...

Start by making up new names for all of your tools --- a "drill press" sounds pedestrian, but a "stationary boring implement?"

This approach can then flow from your studio to other parts of your life. Name your house, your furniture, your wife AND your neighbors. Ignore any existing captions that might have been arbitrarily assigned to them - remember YOU are the artist...

You needn't work too hard to come up with names for your creations... when in doubt, assign a utilitarian name that describes the essence of the piece - like "TABLE", or "BENCH". For added emphasis, you may add a piece of punctuation; i.e. "SCRATCHING IMPLEMENT!".

Invent new words. Make them as long and pretentious as possible and then use them continuously until they are accepted (or at least understood) by those around you --- then disavow them... Some of my favorite made-up words are "aguchified", "buffuglio" and "entourage"...

Speaking of which...

6) Have an ENTOURAGE. History has taught us the only thing you NEED to be a leader is FOLLOWERS... Get some! The homeless are excellent in this capacity because they work for cheap and they ALREADY look, smell and sound different...

I am proud to say that I have implemented (almost) all of these ideas - and it has led me to the production of something that (I believe) is completely different....

Having said that... It is my pleasure at this time to introduce...

"CHAIR! by Walt Akers at the Twisted Oak Studio"

Walt - The Unwashed

Walt Akers
Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

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