As our reputation has grown and with a steadily increasing number of commissions, it has become necessary that I clarify for our clients the nature of what we are trying to do and the ways in which our commitments to absolute excellence will affect them.
It is our studio policy that we attend to our work on a first-come-first-served basis. Once a deposit is received a job is begun with the intent of completing the work in a timely fashion (or, if there is a backorder situation, the job is assigned its place in the queue, and will be undertaken in the order it was commissioned.) However, what may not be understood clearly is what we necessarily mean by “in a timely fashion”.
There are two of us in the shop: myself as the sole carver, and my lovely wife Marilyn, who does many of the detail and finish sanding operations, as well as most of the painting. We are of a comfortable age and move through our days at a middle aged pace. Together, we are committed to giving each of our clients our very best work… period.
I am able to carve “at the top of my game” for between five and six hours in a day, and generally not more than 5 or, with unhelpful stress, 6 days in a week: Beyond this I begin to lose the intense level of concentration skilled woodcarving requires, and my eye-mind-hand coordination begins to get sloppy. Machines and computers can do better, but machines and computers are not creative. I assume that you, my client, want my best work.
In short, at a certain point in time I begin to make mistakes, some of which can be corrected, some of which cannot: These last can jeopardize an entire project, especially toward the final stages of detail carving.
There are days which, practically upon rising from bed, I know that if I touch a piece of wood I will ruin it: On those days I do not try to carve. There are days when I cannot hold the image of my finished sculpture in my mind clearly enough to allow me to trust myself to remove wood in order to get to that desired end result: On those days as well, I find something else to do. Lastly, I am a migraine sufferer, and while I have these headaches under a measure of control, if one manifests, neither I, nor you, want me to work on your project.
For these reasons, and the fact that I am a perfectionist and don’t know how to do less than my best work, I want each of you, each of whom Marilyn and I regard as our single most respected client, to understand why I may tell you that a project is taking longer than I originally estimated, and also to understand why I ask you please to not commission work at the last minute and then press upon me to get things done in your time frame. Handcarving is NOT a 21st century discipline.
What we do cannot be accomplished all that much more quickly now than it could three or four hundred years ago. Only a few of the tools we use have moved into the modern era, most are pretty much the same as they were in the seventeenth century. Exceptional work takes time and requires patience, and I try to do exceptional work.
Additionally, large and complicated jobs sometimes cannot completely dominate the life of the studio… they simply may be too time and energy intensive to allow for either our inspiration or cash flow to work well. There are times when I will intersperse smaller jobs among the stages of a very large commission, both to keep food on the table, and to keep myself creative and fresh, and to avoid burning out before the big piece is done.
Along these same lines of thinking, I have had on occasion the problem of having a commission drag out from the client end, for any of a plethora of reasons. For example, more than once it has taken a substantial amount of time from the time the project has been started to the approval of a final design by the client… In several cases, as much as a year.
Yet when the project parameters were at long last finalized, I was pressured to get the work done in the originally proposed time frame, when most of the time had been wasted by the client. This doesn’t work! When this kind of situation arises I have to put other work on the bench to keep my studio viable, and this means that a delayed project gets moved toward the back of the line, and again must wait its turn. The only way to avoid this kind of problem is for the client to move decisively and without procrastination and with clear communication at each stage of a project from the beginning. I will work with you, but I will not be pushed around or bullied, nor will I let a client “jump the line”.
R. Stephan Toman ~ Master Woodsculptor
December 3, 2014