I've just about unpacked from my busiest week of demos yet - on Thursday I was in Oxford and on Friday in Mytchett, Surrey. There is a distinct lack of visual evidence to prove I was there - I think I need to take a photographer along with me. I did get one shot of some of the audience settling down for the Friday night demo, which was to about 80 people. I wouldn't normally have done two back-to-back demos in a school week (yep, the day job is still going!) but I had thought it was in the school's Activity Week when the bookings were made last year...ahem....in fact, this week is Activity Week, so I managed to lumber myself with a day at school followed by a drive to Oxford for an evening demo starting at 7.30. I made it in time and had a great evening with plenty of complimentary comments. Then there was the drive home back to Brighton. Excitement and adrenaline are great stimulants, and I felt great when I got home just after midnight. However, I didn't feel that great on Friday morning! And after another day at school, there was a drive to Mytchett...this one was not so far away: only two and bit hours instead of the three and a bit hours to Oxford. And I was pretty whacked by the time I got there. The Surrey Association of Woodturners have a great set-up - and a large hall for their meetings. I have to confess to feeling a bit foolish before it started and wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew with the demos right next to each other. I needn't have worried...the adrenaline kicked in all right and I had another great evening. It was probably the best demo I've done, all modesty cast aside!
I started by asking how many of the audience coloured their work. A fair few hands went up. When the question, 'Who hasn't, doesn't and won't ever colour wood?' was asked, only two hands went up. I had to thank them for coming and invited them to heckle as much as they wanted - if they did, I didn't hear them!
So, when it goes past the point you aren't happy with, take it off and start again.
Another concern I hear is about 'ruining the piece of wood'. I understand this, especially if you've spent upwards of £12 on a twelve by two inch beech blank. But I think we could be a bit less precious about our wood if we want to improve any of our skills. When I started turning, there was almost an obsession about making something from each piece of wood. It felt like failure if there wasn't an end result. It was as if success could only be measured by having something to take indoors to the family, who no doubt were waiting with bated breath to see what glorious creation would emerge, who would then be amazed and in awe of my talents. I'm pretty sure this isn't something only I felt. But now I see most pieces of wood I put on the lathe not as a finished item waiting to be revealed, but a piece of wood to continue developing ideas on and to try out new things. There are some pieces of wood I put on my lathe with absolutely no intention of them ever being something finished. I learn far more from trying out things that go wrong, or that go too far (apparently, you can put on too much colour!) than I do from another finished item. In a two inch thick blank, there are many colouring opportunities as you turn the blank into its finished shape - flatten off the back and try out some colouring, learn something from doing this, and then turn it off as you start shaping the back. Try out another colouring idea, and then turn some more off. By the time you've got the back shaped, you could have tried out at least half a dozen different ideas (and not ruined your wood). You can do the same on the face side. Many of my finished platters have in fact had a fair few experiments with colour tried out on them. And if you hate all of the attempts, no one will ever know you've tried them out unless you tell them.
I used this technique at the end of each of the demos as it's quick to do and means some audience participation as I get several members of the audience to shake my cans of paint (not a euphemism!) I was asked at the Surrey meeting where I got this idea from and I answered it honestly - I pinched it from someone else! There are many videos available showing the work of street artists who create amazing space scenes with spray cans. They tend to use a couple of colours - I use five; so although I've pinched the idea, I've tried to make it my own. And for one member of the audience on Friday, this was the moment that the colouring light bulb lit up for him - all the other things I'd done hadn't done it for him, but he loved this idea and told me so at the end of the demo. These are the moments that I do demos and videos for: someone seeing something they want to have a go at, or seeing how they could adapt an idea and try something new.
I had started the Friday demo feeling tired and a bit apprehensive; I ended it buzzing - not because I thought I'd done a good demo, but because there were so many appreciative comments at the end. And that's where I'd like to end this blog - thanking all the turners who spoke to me at the end of the demos. I hope that some of them will end up with paint and stain on their hands, even on their turning smocks, but definitely on a piece of wood!
Keeping sane and finding creative expression in a piece of spinning wood