Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Weight of the Wait

So, as I wrote in the previous post describing my experiences at a recent furniture show, it would appear be hard to know whether I could measure it a success for some time yet. I didn't sell anything at the show, and I had met some great people, some of whom told me it might take three shows in a row before sales started coming along.

Well, they were wrong. I just got a commission today to build a dining table!! Yahoo!! I was shocked, though the client was definitely over-the-top keen on the joinery and designs I showed him at the show, and I am pumped, to say the least, that this client is so enthused about my work. And he has the resources to make it happen too, which is not an insignificant detail.

This table is not just any old table. It is going to be based on a 16th century Ming Dynasty piece which have been obsessing/drooling over for years and long contemplating building for myself. I was going to build it for myself because I doubted I would ever find a client who would be interested in such a highly complex piece, one with loads of concealed joinery. In fact, I had started drawing the table out on SketchUp a couple of weeks back, thinking that a couple of planks I had on hand might just make the beginnings of a nice dining table.

This table had a completely novel constructional system. It's absolutely unique. It's frame and panel, but doesn't look like it. It looks like a big slab of wood forms the top, but appearances are deceptive. It's not veneered - you know I don't do veneering. I'll explain more about the constructional details of the piece later on, but in my mind this table was so far ahead of its time, such a work of inspired genius on the part of the unknown craftsman who created it, that I was wondering if an advanced alien race on a spaceship had in fact visited China in the 16th century and revealed a few tricks. I'm only kidding here, sorta. The construction of this table blows my mind, and I have never seen it for real only in a couple of photos. I will do my best to honor the genius who created it with this dining table. It is to seat 10, so it will be the largest table I have made to date.

I need to check in with the client to see if he is cool with me doing a blog on the build. Hopefully he will be supportive.

In other news, the bell tower project planning and negotiating is still churning along, and the client in California has indicated he wants me to take care of all the project details, as he has come to realize how complicated many of those details are and that he would only be slowing the process down by being in the middle of that. So I'm starting in earnest to look at sourcing/pricing the wood, and may even be taking a trip to Alaska in the next while to look at some Yellow Cedar logs. A lot on the plate all of a sudden. Whew! It beats having little to do and worrying about when the next project might materialize of course, but sometimes these transitions can be abrupt. Holy crap - a lot of work lies ahead!

The lesson I take from this is that even though work has been scarce the past couple of years and a few choice looking projects have fallen through or been put on extended holds due to funding constraints, my constant drive to develop my carpentry by study and making models, by making speculative pieces like the lantern and tsuitate - and not for a 'market' but because I really liked the forms of those pieces - and by doing various exploratory drawing designs (one of which led to this table commission), and by taking financial risks like the recent show, by doing talks on Japanese carpentry, etc, well, it has really paid off. Fortunately, things seem to have worked out and justified my strategy, though even I had my doubts at times. At least for the near future, creative juices can flow and I can express my craft.

I did seriously start to consider a job at a hardware store to bring in some $$$, so I have made a close escape from a job I wouldn't be so excited (or particularly qualified) to do for the time being. I have to also credit friends and family for their support in recent times, both emotional, financial, and otherwise. And one more point - moving out to a new place means it can take a while to get established and that marketing is crucial when no one knows who you are. It's taken me two years on the east coast of the US to get things going.

'It's hard to count on anything' seems to be a common lament among those who craft things for a living, and it is so true. For the next year, plus some, however, I've got a pretty full slate and a couple of absolute dream projects to engage with. Sweet! I feel very lucky indeed, and I also believe that 'luck' sometimes is when preparation meets opportunity.

All for now. If you're struggling for work right now, or in a job you'd rather not be doing, how are you preparing for the future?

11 comments:

  1. Fantastic news Chris, I had a strong feeling you would get work from the show.

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  2. hear you on the uncertainty of this craft, whether youre flipping house or building fine furniture...well maybe the flipping houses part isnt the same but the point is there.

    we never know what'll happen tomorrow. i know i doubted my future doing this stuff and i havent even been doing it for that long. but i know if im able to keep doing this, then i will, cause i love every second of it. and i know you do as well because your work is just outstanding. i wouldnt even dare to cut the joints you cut, or simply the sketch-up work i see you do...my god!

    build it and they will come...or so ive been told

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  3. Great news, I am happy for you (and me) to hear about a new project. Now that you have our attention about new joinery horizons, I hope that we will get some breadcrumbs about this Ming table through your blog.

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  4. Chris - I had the pleasure of meeting your wife at the show, I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to say hello to you! She entertained my two small kids with the secret mitered / pinned joint. I overheard you talking about joinery to a potential client and loved the descriptions you used, obviously you have great passion for your work.

    I'm starting up my furniture business as well and would love to meet up and chat more when time allows as we live not too far apart. Super glad to hear about the commission - Congrats!! That is awesome. I look forward to hearing more about the table on the blog.

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  5. Hi Chris -
    Recently stumbled upon your blog ... must say I enjoy it very much ... both informative and inspirational.
    Have been considering applying for the Milwaukee Show, so you account of your experience at Providence was quite worthwhile. Congrats on the commission...it's encouraging given the dismal economic conditions.
    Matt P.

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  6. Dale,

    your support is always much appreciated.

    Nick,

    yah,I used to hear that too: "if you build it they will come".

    Now I wonder if it might be more appropriate to say "if you build it, and they don't know about it, you'll have it all to yourself"

    Damien,

    "breadcrumbs"? I hope I can do better than that - think delicious chocolates raining down upon you. You might consider having discussions with the folks who say I'm too long-winded, hah!

    Morton,
    yes I do remember your face from out of my peripheral vision that day. Sorry I didn't get a chance to speak with you,but give me a shout if you want to get together at some point.

    Matt,

    about the Milwaukee show - drop Dale Osowski (uppermost commenter) a line and ask him about it as he has attended the past two shows there (hope you don't mind Dale!).

    ~Chris

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  7. Hi Chris

    No problem, Matt can contact me anytime if he has questions. Perhaps even attend one of our advisory board meetings if he is nearby.

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  8. Great news, Chris! Hope to see something of this table later.

    Tom

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  9. good going chris... i knew that it would all come together for you eventually. in my opinion doing high end work is the only way to go ,as the middle class are long gone . i have been doing high end work for the wealthy for a while(boring stuff) , and last year i decided to take it up a few notches and make things that would probably never sell. but ... they did and do , surprising how that works. and i had the fun of doing what i wanted with no compromises , plus i won a bunch of awards along the way this year. so good for you and this tower will be a huge feather in your cap. one that some guy out there on some blog will show pictures of a hundred years from now.

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  10. Hi Craig,

    long time no hear! I hope you're doing well and thanks for the support.

    Tom,

    I plan to write another build thread on the table, pending approval from the client. He's paid a deposit on the drawing, so things look to be going ahead.

    Gregore', Thanks. I fear your conclusions about the disappearing middle class are all too true. Congratulations on your recent successes in your jewelry path!

    ~Chris

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