Carving Out Your Opportunities
By Perry A Reynolds
As we continue our passion for wood carving many of us may desire to explore additional opportunities in wood carving related activities. Many, if not most, eventually choose to begin selling their work. This choice can be for many reasons. From simply seeking additional income to support our carving habit, to reducing our abundance of carvings or may be to eventually seek woodcarving as a full time occupation. Even if a person is not an accomplished wood carver there are still plenty of opportunities that exist for the artistic, creative or energetic individual that wants to participate in carving as an vehicle for additional opportunity.
Lets take a look at various opportunities that a carver or artist may choose to explore. Broken down into clearly defined aspects and categories of carving, the following ideas are simply basic choices.
All wood carvings can be divided into two basic aspects: Abstract and Realism. Many carvings also bridge these two categories. One good example is caricature carvings. Though we can easily recognize them as a human, animal or other figures they are abstract interpretations of those entities.
Types of Carvings
A brief description of the types of most commonly found wood carvings include:
This can come in many forms but for the sake of time and space this can be best defined as carvings meant to be placed on a shelf, displayed on a pedestal or hung on a wall, tree, door or other place of display for visual enjoyment. The vast majority of woodcarvings fall into this category.
Things meant to be used in daily life. Spoons, Bowls, Jewelry, Hunting Decoys, Display Shelves, Furnishings and other carvings that are provide not only beauty but also function.
This aspect incorporates both decorative and functional. Examples include Fixed Furnishings, Door and Window Moldings, Doors, Mantles, Cabinetry, Staircase Components, Signage or any other carving that provides decorative function and except for moveable signage is usually a fixed entity that becomes an integral component of a home or a commercial building.
As a carver, artist, crafter or any other occupation in which a person chooses to participate for profit it is imperative to structure your products or services so that they will make money. Here is a basic formula if you are seeking to market your work as well as survive in the carving related business (or any business). Material + Labor + Overhead = Cost. Cost + Markup = Sales Price. If you undercut your labor you walk backwards. Overhead encompasses the indirect costs such as supplies, transporting the products, packaging, advertising, business cards, entry fees, displays, etc… It is also imperative to add a profit (of whatever percentage you choose). Disregarding any of these factors is a recipe for failure. If you are interesting in marketing your work as a profitable hobby and you adhere to those simple formulas then as your customer base grows you will be afforded far more opportunities!
Shows and Festivals
This is where most carvers get their start. Shows and Festivals can be exciting and a lot of fun. It is important to select the right events that have the most opportunity to sell your work.
Woodcarving Shows attract quite a few participants and usually have a pretty good attendance. One thing to keep in mind is that the vast majority of those that attend these shows, both in displaying and in visiting, are “carvers”. The rather small percentage of those attendees that buy a carving are usually non-carvers and the opportunity to sell your carvings is rather competitive. The true value of a woodcarving show is to gain experience in participating in shows as well as the interaction with other carvers. In addition you may acquire a ribbon or two or other award that can add to your portfolio of experience. Credentials, so to speak!
Arts and Craft Shows are another avenue that many use to sell their carvings. Typically these shows fall into two categories: Open and Juried. From my personal experience juried shows have a much higher revenue stream then an open show. It is also important when choosing which shows you plan to attend to ask questions such as “how many years has this event taken place, what is the average attendance, what marketing does the event participate in to attract its visitors”, and so on. Usually these are outdoor events so the weather is either your friend or your enemy.
Galleries and Gift Shops
Consigning your work to galleries and gift shops offer carvers an opportunity to expose their work to the public in a brick and mortar setting.
Galleries typically work on percentage of the sale. This percentage may seem rather high to some artists. The gallery has considerable overhead to justify these costs. Advertising, Rents, Insurances, Utilities, and many other costs associated with marketing the artists work. Established galleries are usually very selective in the artists that they choose to represent and for good reason. They know their clientele and can best determine which artists best fit into their business model. If the carver feels his or her work is of the quality or uniqueness to be displayed in a gallery they can simply submit pictures and a brief biography. Even if the gallery does not feel your art work fits into their vision they are usually willing to provide feed back that can be very valuable. It is commonplace for an artist, of any medium, to feel their work is of special qualities and many times do not give themselves a sincere evaluation of their work. If your work is to the standards of gallery representation it is always best to seek out established galleries. Galleries come and go frequently and selecting one with a good track record and longevity in business is your best bet for success. Galleries may require exclusive representation of your work within a certain geographical radius or may require assurance that other galleries representing your work be of the same standards of quality and market share.
Gift Shops can be a lucrative method of marketing your work, especially if you are fortunate enough to live within a short distance from a tourist area. Some gift shops work on a consignment basis while others many times buy outright just prior to their season. Some that work on consignment pay when things are sold while others may pay on a monthly basis or at the end of the season. Gift shops differ from galleries because they desire to focus on the tourist market therefore price levels are typically much lower then galleries. Generally gift shops do not require exclusive representation of your work.
The Internet is the most widely used medium for advertising and communication on the planet. From social media and networking to stand alone websites promoting goods, service’s and a wide array of other entities. It has replaced many traditional stores and has complemented the brick and mortar businesses. It has been a blessing to many and has became a slow death sentence to others ( such as the record stores, newspapers, the US postal service and many other’s).
Social Media is an excellent method of sharing information, checking out others work and getting the word out about your carvings. By creating a business page and attracting others to visit it is most likely your best chances of gaining interest in your carvings. Many post their woodcarvings and offer them for sale in Facebook, Google and other groups. In many cases they post them in groups associated with wood carving which is rarely reaching prospective buyers. Since most that visit those groups are woodcarvers themselves few are in the market to buy another carvers work thus opting to carve something similar themselves.
Websites have became the catalogues and brick and mortar stores of yesterday. Websites are a vital asset for anyone seeking to attract customers, offering one stop information and the ability to buy from the comfort of home. There are many options for a website today. Many choose free websites where they use a template to create their site. Typically these sites will share a domain name with the host of the site. Others offer to host your own domain such as dot com or dot net as well as upgrade to a more professional site for an annual fee. These sites are user friendly and do not require any maintenance or ability to write any code. In most cases they also limit bandwidth and the ability to expand the sites functions without a monthly or annual cost. Others choose to both have their own domain as well as the ability to customize. Regardless of which type of site an individual selects there is one vital aspect that they must either know how to do or pay someone to do for them. Search Engines! Without proper search engine optimization having your own website is similar to being lost in the pages of a newspaper, which makes a website difficult to find — the proverbial “Needle in the Haystack.” Search engines reveal hundreds or thousands of links for any given search. The ability to be found within the first few pages, preferably the first one or two, in extremely important and without such the odds of your website being successful is severely diminished.
Blogs have became popular and generally are an information or topic related web address for those that enjoy writing. The actual definition is “a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.”
Patterns are an excellent aspect of participating in carving for those with drawing ability and are detail oriented. In past days pattern designers would charge higher prices for their patterns because of the necessity to advertise in printed publications, personally attend shows and exhibitions and physically had to print, package and mail the patterns to the consumer. Today that has changed. A pattern can be purchased online for a very reasonable price and can be delivered via email in a matter of seconds.
Cut Outs and Rough Outs are an additional income producing opportunity for carvers who generally design their own patterns and have established themselves as a woodcarver whose work is sought after or enjoyed by the public. There are many without the tools or machinery to produce their own cut outs or rough outs and are particularly attractive to newer carvers that have not yet developed the necessary skills required to produce original works.
This is pretty self-describing. The carvers that have spent the time developing sufficient skills in practically all aspects of carving gravitate to instructing others. This usually includes the ability to create patterns, cut outs, rough outs, organize their curriculum and of course have displayed the ability to carve.
This is an excellent outlet for both those that can carve as well as those that may not carve as well but have to expertise and equipment to finely hone tools. This usually requires the investment in sharpening equipment and supplies. This is not for the faint of heart. In order to professionally service another carvers tools the individual must be well versed in the sharpening process. From knives to gouges the sharpener must be able to regrind, sharpen and polish to a high degree of professionalism.
The event organizer is the “behind the scenes” backbone of any show and festival. They are well organized, understand the business aspect, logistics, marketing and a mirage of other activities that make these events successful. In many cases these individuals are not carvers at all. They are support professionals. Though they may carve their primary focus is making the event a success for both the carver and the spectator.
These are just a few of the opportunities that one can take advantage of to become an intregal part of the carving community. As we all strive to become a more proficient carver there are times that we wish we could do more to participate in this great art form. As shown above, there are many facets that welcome participation in the wonderful world of woodcarving.
Copyright 2014 Perry A Reynolds
Perry A. Reynolds is a long time carver and owner of the website Carvings and Canvas, which is “Dedicated to the Joy of Woodcarving and the Promotion and Preservation of woodcarving as an Artform!” Perry is also the owner and moderator of the Facebook group Woodcarving 101 — The Joy of Woodcarving