Thoughts on Woodturning Symposiums

Several of us were just at the AAW Annual Symposium in Pittsburgh. For all the first timers, it was mind blowing. Even for the veterans, the amount and quality of the Instant Gallery—which is like a gigantic Show and Tell—never ceases to amaze. There were dozens of demonstrations all day long from the best talent on the planet. And if you wanted to buy toys, the vendors were certainly there to swipe your credit card. (Actually we bought two lathes at show-special rates … but you will be the beneficiary when you show up at workshops or TNT.)

This year my experience was a little different. After the first day, I was thinking that maybe I would not come next time. My mind was saying, “It is a lot of money; I could be home turning; I am not seeing anything new; blah, blah, blah.” But by the end of the symposium I had attended two sessions that made the difference for me … and I will definitely be going to Atlanta. At events like these you never know where you will find the nuggets of gold that make it all worthwhile. But in my experience, I always find them—somewhere.

In a panel discussion entitled “Chasing Professionalism,” David Ellsworth and a Gallery Owner shared about ways to improve our “one of a kind” pieces and how to approach the market as artists. Another panel discussion was the Instant Gallery Critique, where a panel critiqued some of the best pieces of the show. Both of these sessions helped me think about the creative process and brought home to me the value of getting other eyes, besides your own, on your work. Sometimes I say, “I do not care what other people think, I just make what I like to make.” And that is fine, but that approach keeps me missing the things I miss when I am too close to the forest to see the trees.

All this brought up the concept of mentoring; how important a mentor can be in our development and how we can cultivate ways to get that feedback which is so valuable. You have heard it said that “Practice makes Perfect,” but it is not true. Practice makes permanent. The truth is that Perfect Practice Makes Perfect. If I am practicing wrong, I am only perfecting the wrong technique. So two of the best ways to get into perfect practicing are having mentors and getting honest feedback from people, other than your mother. She will love everything you do.

I have had some awesome mentors in my 5 years of woodturning. Shortly after I arrived in Virginia, I stumbled into the Hill High Gallery and Don Maloney was on duty that day. I got his card and a while later called him with a question. He said (of course) “Come on up!” So I did. Don taught me to think big and turn big. I have driven up to his shop on Raven Rocks many more times. Thanks Don! Our club is blessed with many good turners. I cannot think of one who would not respond the same as Don. Turners in general are generous people, especially when it comes to sharing their addiction. I heartily recommend finding a mentor or three.You can go through our mentor coordinator, Dale Bright, or just ask someone who is a little further down the trail. I will bet the response will be, “Come on over.” I will bet it will be worth it if you do.

Getting honest critiques of your work is another way to boost your woodturning career. Just today I went over to a turner friend’s house with a piece that I was stuck on to get another set of eyes on the work. It is more than what we experience at Show and Tell. When you ask someone to critique your work, you need to be open and leave defensiveness behind. You will be surprised how sometimes a person’s experience of a piece will be totally different than yours. You were too close to it. Seek out and cherish those opportunities to get honest critique. Not only is good to get critiques from senior turners but also people from other disciplines, and people with just good taste and a sense of style—maybe not even wood turners. Those last two sessions in Pittsburgh reminded me of all this. Those are the type of smacks to the side of the head that I need and the Symposiums provide. So I will be in Atlanta next year and especially at Fishersville for the Virginia Symposium. Do not miss out on these great opportunities.