Learning to carve takes me back several decades when I was in elementary school. Remember those kid's in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade who were "revered" for their ability to draw great pictures during art class? Besides producing great pictures they always got special recognition from the teacher and everyone in the class. Even more than producing great art I believe that I envied their positive attention which became a motivator. Kids are no different today where positive attention for excellent work is a very strong motivation to succeed.
I noticed that the kid's (usually only one in the class) who produced that great art were the one's who were always drawing. I'm talking all the time. One kid named Dan Roper especially comes to mind. They had the best decorated 3-ring binder notebooks, they doodled during class... they were always drawing on request for everyone and it seemed like the pencil was glued to their hand at every opportune moment.
I believe that this early experience taught me that the only way to get better at something was to do it all the time. To get better I know that I have to carve something every single day. That's the reason I wear pants with cargo pockets so that I can have a small project with me 24/7... OK, I do take my pants off for bedtime, but they're only 3 feet away at any given moment. My Carvin' Jack (by FlexCut) is also always on my belt loop so I’m always on “go”.
Back in the early 1990's I wanted to stretch my ability to the next level so I became obsessed with learning to carve face's... mainly woodspirit faces. I literally studied the people around me with a laser beam focus (and I continue to do so today). Whenever I'm talking to someone my brain is also absorbing a lot of information about how their nose is shaped and its relation to their eyes and forehead, the unique form in their lips, their eyes in relation to their nose, etc. I am truly obsessed with learning and EVERYONE is my teacher. I've actually become pretty good at carrying on a conversation while simultaneously absorbing a lot of facial structural information then tucking it away somewhere in my brain for future reference. That's really how I've gotten better at what I do because there's a lot more to it than just reading how-to carving books. You must engage your brain in real life.
As for woodspirit walking sticks, I recall having to carve over 30 of them before I was finally satisfied with trying to sell them. They weren't bad sticks and I loved them but I still needed to improve. I gave them all away and remember jokingly telling the happy recipient that it was only a "B" stick. But the day came when I was finally satisfied and knew that I deserved to be financially compensated. I continue to refine my own unique brand of carving but I never want to feel like I have "arrived". I continue to be obsessed with learning more and being obsessed has a lot to do with it for me.
When I successfully hiked 2,565 miles in 2001, Mexico to Canada, on the Pacific Crest Trail I became obsessed with ultra-light camping methods and pack weight reduction. The base weight of my pack was only 9.2 pounds and that's the main reason that I made it all the way in only 109 days. Same goes for learning to carve because you WILL learn how to carve if you become obsessed with learning how and never quit looking for your own answers. If you want something bad enough then you WILL find a way to get there. Several decades ago I wanted to be a good wood carver more than anything so I kept at it almost every single day for years.
Looking back to those early experiences in elementary school I know that I learned a lot about how to obsess myself with learning something new. Then I was motivated by all the positive recognition from teacher's and peer's, but today I am doubly rewarded with extra dollars in sales and even my career has been centered around teaching kid's to carve and work with wood every day in woodshop and Scouting classes.
So how long did it take me to get what I consider good? All in all I'd have to say that it's been a lifetime experience and that I've always found ways to push myself from one level to the next... AND I always carve something, no matter how simple, every single day! If you do that then you will greatly improve your ability to carve great things tenfold.
Whittling TIP - One of the great joys of whittling is its portability. Carrying a piece of wood in your pocket with your pocket knife lets you whittle anywhere. However, ...
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