This is a question I have been asking myself for the past nine months.
Like most woodcarvers, I would like to sharpen my carving skills and become the best carver that I can be. I have been carving for about eight years, and I have found that to become a better carver you must practice, practice, practice.
To say that my first experience carving was disasterous would be an understatement. I bought a woodcarving book, a set of razor knives, and a 2" x 2" block of pine lumber and proceeded to try to carve a human face. After cutting myself approximately 10 times, I threw everything in the corner and decided that I couldn't do it. While browsing a community fair one day, I came upon a local woodcarving group doing a carving demonstration. While talking to one of the carvers, he handed me a sharp knife, a piece of basswood, and let me whittle a few strokes. That was all I needed to be hooked. I joined the club and enjoyed myself for two years until I had to move. The group was very supportive of their new members, gladly sharing experiences and ideas. As a result, I enjoyed myself and my carving improved.
After several moves, and several years of carving alone, I decided to try to find a carving club in my area. I visited with a local professional carver, who said that he didn't know of any local clubs, but he thought there would be a lot of interest in this area. So I decided to start a carving club.
My first problem was to find a place that the club could meet. The location would have to be large enough for a group to meet, not mind the mess created by flying woodchips, and not mind the noise associated with some carving tools. Since I live in an apartment, my place was out. Luckily, in my search for a local carving club, I came across a hobby shop that sold some carving supplies and was receptive to the idea of allowing a woodcarving club to meet at their location. They had four large tables appropriate for carving and did not mind the mess as long as the club cleaned up after each meeting. That was one problem solved.
The next problem was one of notification. How do you let people know that your club has started. For the first month, I sat at the hobby store and carved. I figured that just seeing someone doing it would create enough interest. While this approach allowed me to meet a lot of people, it did very little for increasing membership.
My next attempt at increasing club membership was to print some inexpensive business cards that could be left at the hobby store during the week. Hopefully the cards would help to remind local carvers that the club was meeting every Saturday and encourage them to drop in. After two weeks, a total of three business cards had been issued. It was time to make a carving to catch some eyes. But what type of carving should I do? The answer: A woodcarver.
After working for more than two months on this carving, I was seriously beginning to wonder if I would ever get it finished. In the meantime, three or four more business cards were given out, with no new carvers coming to the meetings. About this time, some doubt began to creep in about the feasibility of a carving club in this area. I felt that I definitely had to get something to catch their eyes. I settled for a Santa Face like I have done a hundred times. I completed the carving in one weekend and painted it the following weekend. I also made a card holder to hold the business cards and make them more visible. This created more interest in the cards, but still did not result in an increase in membership. After I completed the carving of the woodcarver, I swapped it out for the face. After 6 months of meetings, I was still the only carver in the group.
A friend suggested running an ad in the local newspaper. They publish a section in the Sunday edition that hi-lites all of the club meetings for the upcoming week. Since they don't charge for this service, this seemed like a good idea. I ran an ad, which brought me in contact with two other carvers, who liked the idea of the club, but haven't returned since their first meeting. This left me still as a club of one.
That's when I thought it was time for a promotional gimmick. Maybe by doing something with the local children, the adults would get involved. I then set about advertising a Carving for Kids meeting. The idea was to give kids a popsicle stick with sandpaper glued to both sides and let them sand away to form a teddy bear from a roughout. This idea went over like a lead balloon. After spending a week preparing for the event by drawing shapes, cutting out roughouts, and eating popsicles (the only fun part of the chore) I had only 1 child show up for about 15 minutes. By the way, does anybody know what I can do with eight 1" high teddy bears.
The carving ad ran for about 6 weeks, then lapsed because I forgot to renew it. Although the ad didn't initially bring in more carvers, it was not in vain. I still meet the occasional carver that remembers the ad, so when time permits, I will run another ad. Since it was now getting close to the Holiday Season, I decided to cool any promotional efforts until after the first of the year.
When I returned from my vacation, I renewed my efforts to increase the club's membership. I got an internet account through the local freenet and am working on a Website for the carving club. I also contacted the local paper and got an account that allowed me to post notices to their on-line calendar of events. I notified all of the carvers that I had met in the past nine months and personally invited them to the carving meeting. I started with the carver I knew the best, and worked my way down. I am proud to say that at the last two meetings we have had three carvers (a 300 percent increase in membership) with all three carvers saying they would try to be back next week.
Even though the web page is still under construction and there are no guarantees that the carvers will keep returning, the new year looks much more promising. I won't try to tell you that starting a club is easy, but the attempt has rewarded me with valuable experience and many new friends. Will I try to start a club again if I move? In a heartbeat.
If you're ever down around Gainesville, Florida on a Saturday morning, stop by Hobbyland, 25 NW 16th Ave., and say hi. Bring your knives, gouges, and wood, or buy them there, but plan on staying a while, because I plan on having the best club around by the time I'm finished.