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.