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Notes From the Net Special-

A Word from the Pros

By Loren K. Woodard and Matt Kelley
Email Loren at wdcarver@lakeozarks.net or visit his web site at www.naturesnaturals.net

The various woodcarving listservs are fortunate to number among their members several carvers who are true professionals - they make their living solely by carving wood and teaching. This special editon of Notes From the Net Special will begin an occasional series devoted to the words of wisdom from those pro carvers.

This special edition will feature Joe Dillett of The Carving Shop, Somonauk, IL and Ivan Whillock of
Ivan Whillock Studio, Faribault MN


Joe Dillett on Written Contracts For Friends:

When asked about written contracts for friends, Joe responded:

You bring up a good point when you talk about friends. You said: "I choose to not put myself in that situation-and I did it for some friends-without a contract-and don't EVER do that! They want it-sign on the dotted line. "

Many times it is harder dealing with our family and friends, mostly because we do not want to charge them the going rate. We tend to think that maybe our friend expects a deal "because we are friends." There are many people you would not ask to sign a contract, like your family members, but you still may intend to charge them something to cover your costs, even if it is not the going rate.

The Invoice becomes a very important tool when dealing with friends. Have you ever given a friend a real good deal on a carving, let's say a $100 carving for $25, and the friend liked it so much that he went out and got orders for 6 more at the $25 price, thinking they were doing you a favor?

The invoice is the tool that stops that. Without an invoice your friend would never know the true value of that carving. So on the invoice I write the value at $100 and show a discount line subtracting $75, and a balance due of $25. I even make an invoice if I'm giving it to them (with the exception of a gift or if it for someone like my mother.) You can call the discount anything you like, maybe a family discount or a friend discount or a one time discount.

In any case your friend knows the true value of the carving. It's also easier for you when the friend asks you how much it is. You just hand over the invoice and don't have to say anything.

Last week an older lady, whom I've done work for in the past, came to me with 2 photo albums that another carver really messed up. Things like the wrong dates and stuff like that. It was only a 4 hour job to fix it, but at my $50 per hour rate I knew the lady could not afford $200. I told her the job would be about $100 and she signed the order. On the invoice I showed my normal charge at $200 and gave her a one-time discount of $100, leaving her balance at $100. She left happy knowing she got special treatment.

Another reason for an invoice is to show replacement costs so your customer can get additional insurance to cover any loss. When you give someone a discount and the item is destroyed, you may not wish to give the same discount for the second carving. In cases like this, I write the discount, on the invoice, as a one time discount. Then tell the people that their insurance should cover the total amount without the discount because that is the replacement cost at today's prices. Insurance companies normally bump the replacement costs slightly higher to cover any inflation for a few years out.

Making an invoice is very easy. I Just modify the contract by taking off "Order Form" and replacing it with "Invoice", and removing the approval line and adding a thank you. Most of the time that's it. I file it under a new file number and print it out.

With the technology of computers you can easily gather all your invoices and sort them by name or date. You also have a cool mailing list of your past customers for sending show notices, thank you cards, news letters, and stuff like that.

Contact Joe Dillett at the The Carving Shop <jdillett@thecarvingshop.com> or visit his web site at http://www.thecarvingshop.com

Ivan Whillock on Comissions:

Ron Wiener wrote:

For my 2 cents worth, when I take on a commission, I charge a market rate for my time and I require startup deposits, sometimes non-refundable.

Ivan responded:

You make some very good points. Eighty percent of my work is done on commission. There's some security in that, too. You know that what you are making has a buyer. Cuz that's my living, buyers are GOOD!

Years ago dealing with a church commission taught me two lessons: get it on paper, and get a down payment. Most people are great, but that "just one person" who isn't can be expen$ive. I worked on a project for three months based on verbal agreements during a personal meeting with the church board. No one bothered to tell me that the pastor had nixed their plan--he wanted. . and got. . .new carpets.

I, too, have a standing agreement with my clients: if at any time you don't like it, I'll buy it back for what you paid for it. Fortunately, I've never had to . . . knock on (you guessed it) wood! My friend, Angel Lillo, had an interesting rejection, however. A client refused a terra-cotta portrait of her son because the portrait didn't capture his "beautiful eyelashes."

Bill Aker wrote:

I get the feeling from some of the reponses to this particular thread that if it (a comission piece) is rejected it turns into firewood, or goes into the "I'll never do that again" bin. Now, I can understand this if it is a portrait head maybe ... (I'd still have reservations on not putting even that up for sale).

Recently, I secured one of my rare commissions to do a standing full figure mountain man, symbol of WV & WVU. If for some reason my work is rejected, it will go in general inventory and will be displayed show to show.

Sometime, somewhere, somebody will walk into my tent and declare their love for that piece and move heaven, spouse and pocketbook to get it!

The only problem I have is to live so long ... ha!ha! ...

Rejection only means that somebody who will love it more and has a real need will get a second chance at it!

To which Ivan responded:

Exactly right, Bill. You never know who will walk up and think THAT'S the carving I need. I've hauled some things to shows for years and suddenly had several offers in a single show.

I have two rules: don't ever go back to "fix" something you've carved--spend that effort on a new one, and don't ever throw anything away.

You can use rejects to try out stains, etc. Label them with what you tried. They serve as a future reference and are a history of your progress as a carver. Then if you feel you aren't making progress on occasion, take a look back at the stuff you USED to do. That usually makes you feel better.


On bargaining down on price, Ivan wrote:

If you have collectors of your work, you are doing THEM a disservice by bargaining down the value of your work. Past buyers invested in your carvings with the assumption that they have a particular value.

A customer once tried to talk me down on the price of a commission of the Lord's Supper. "What if you take out some of the detail?" he asked. "I can give it to you at half the price," I replied, "if I do just six apostles."

Ivan also wrote:

Here is an incident that happened to me some years ago that illustrates the point of "bargaining" about the cost of a carving. It's long, but it serves a point:

A woman approached me at a show and asked if any of my forefathers were carvers who signed their carvings as I did, with "Ivan."

I answered "No."

Insisting, she asked if my father was a carver who signed his carvings with "Ivan."

I replied that as far as I knew I was the only one.

She said, "I think I have one of your carvings, then."

I said, "you sound disappointed. Don't you like it?"

She returned, " I like it fine, but I bought it as an antique, and here you are, ALIVE."

She described the carving, and sure enough, I had done it. I even remembered the sale. I was wrapping up a display at a church that featured my carvings after a commission. A man approached and said "I would like to buy that relief. Would you take $500 for it?"

It was quite below my asking price, so I refused.

He said, "I love the carving, but I only have $500."

After his repeated requests while I was loading the carvings into my van, I finally relented. He pulled out a roll of $100 dollar bills out of his pocket, pealed off five, and walked off with the carving.

I didn't have the nerve to ask to ask the woman what she paid for the same carving--as an antique!


Many carvers have an "aw shucks" attitude about their own work. They are easily talked down because of their own modesty. They themselves aren't sure of the caving's worth. They then let buyers convince them that the price should be lower. They are, in effect, selling the by-product of a hobby rather than a work of art.


From Ivan - A woodcarving joke?

A shopper said to the carver, "I'll give you $5 for that carving."

The indignant carver replied, "Hey, I paid $10 for the wood!"

"Yes," the shopper replied, "but that was BEFORE you cut into it."

Ivan on showing your work at a show:

Whether you have good sales or not, I believe that showing your carving is an important means of educating the public on the value of your work. Take some expensive stuff along. Put the price out there where people can see it. Let people know there is a value involved here, and that those who want a fine work of art can turn to a wood carver to get one. They don't have to only think of paintings and bronze sculpture. They can also get a cherished wood carving.

There are people who are hobbyists and are interested in recouping only part of their investment. That is fine. There are also professional artists who work in wood and create collectable works of art. This wide world has room for everyone, hobbyists and professionals. The public has to be educated about the high priced works as well as those priced to "sell".

A number of years ago I sat at a show, not selling a thing. My stuff was too expensive for the crowd. A year later a priest called me. He said he picked up my card at that show. His church commissioned $20,000 worth of carvings, and his referrals let to several other commissions.

Put your stuff out there for people to see. Price it for what it is truly worth. We are all ambassadors for wood carving.

Contact Ivan Whillock at Ivan Whillock Studio <whillstu@means.net> or visit his web site at http://www.whillock.com/


Thanks to Gordon Paterson for providing copies of material used in this article - M. Kelley


Well folks, that wraps up this special edition of Notes From the Net. Please take some time and check out the wood carving lists on the Internet. There is a lot of knowledge free for the asking on all of the list serves.

For information regarding the various email lists for woodcarvers, visit The Carvers' Companion Links Page, or click the links below.

Woodcarver's List - Woodcarvers' Porch - American Stickmaker's - Knotholes List - Fishcarver's List