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  • Andrea Durnell

Why Do You Do It That Way?

It would be easier if...

It would be faster if...

It would be cheaper if...

You could make more money if...

You could sell so much more if...

You could reach so many more people if...

You are capable of such success if...


If my goals were any of those things, or if I was not thoroughly enjoying what I do and the way I do it, trust me, I am not unaware, or incapable of change, and I would be doing them. As carving season approaches this year (next week, most likely) I start to rethink my goals and reestablish my work ethic, and principles. It has been a long pandemic!

Not all artists' goals are to build a brand, develop a product, or eventually make it big selling to the masses. There are still quite a lot of artists out there (and I know a lot of them!) who are quietly doing what they do best, appreciating the process, the materials, and their ability to manipulate those, as much as the end result and creating what they do because that is the essence of their soul.

I also have a lot of artist friends who do desire to "go big" and I appreciate that just as much. I am just not one of them.

The question of power tools comes up a lot. I have a lot of power tool toys, but I don't use any of them in any of the work that I sell. Why? There are a lot of ways to answer that, but I truly do appreciate what can be done just with my hands and the force I can create with them. I am great with a Dremel, but there is not a lot of satisfaction in carving something faster just to be done. And, it is noisy and a lot messier. Power saws? Sure, I have them. I prefer to hand cut the wood I find. Yes, it is labor and takes longer, but I can take it in the woods with me to collect some deadwood without disrupting any birds or other animals with the alarming noise.

I have stopped using wool roving this year but I had a lot of discussions with a lot of felters over the years who thought I was nuts over some of my methods. There are a million ways to create many types of felt. Some methods are as old as the practice of domesticating sheep. I prefer the results I get with the simplicity of using only my hands. Not bubble wrap. Not a washing machine.

I am particularly drawn to the type of work created before machines and power tools made our lives easier, faster, cheaper, etc. I have the luxury of not having to hurry and I also am not convinced that all modern conveniences have made our lives better so I am hanging on to some of the skills that modernization has left behind. That's all. I don't hate any of that. My personal life is pretty modern. Don't take away my KitchenAid mixer, my sewing machines, my Dremel, or my washing machine, but I still make all my bread by hand, do a lot of my sewing by hand, and every bit of my carving by hand.

These modern machines are amazing but they were made to improve upon skills that, in some cases, are almost extinct. I think hand skills are worth preserving. My KitchenAid can make the dough for bread, but it really can't account for the daily differences in humidity, flour density, or a little heavy-handed measuring. If you can't make bread by hand and don't know how it should look and feel at every stage, you could be making inferior bread and not even know it--especially if you haven't eaten that artisan bread in its native environment to know what it is supposed to look, feel, taste, and smell like.

It is much the same with sewing and carving. And, if I can avoid plastics, artificial ingredients, and reduce waste at the same time, so much the better.

So, die-hard heritage artisans out there, and those of you who continue to support us all in spite of tough times in a pandemic, you are my people! Thank you! I am looking forward to seeing you all at shows this fall!

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