Where is wood turning going?

Discussion in 'Woodturning Discussion Forum' started by hu lowery, Jun 27, 2013.

  1. hu lowery

    hu lowery

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    I hope to turn wood for many years and just a fact of life, I can't afford hobbies, there has to be some expectation of profit involved in the long term. Ideally, I want to get paid for doing something I would pay to do if I could afford to!

    As I look at wood turnings here and on other sites I am uncertain of the path wood turning seems to be taking. Post processing seems to be taking precedence over the turning itself in many instances. Fantastic wonderful pieces of art but it matters little or nothing that some are turnings, matters little or nothing that some are made of wood. they could as easily be ceramic or any manmade armature that the artist started with as a base form and built on. Not possible to simply look at the object and realize that it was turned on a wood lathe or even that it is wood.

    There is a place for the extensive post processing. However I have to admit that it simply isn't what I want to do. I have already made my living doing the extensive post processing. When I recarved auto body shapes from plastic filler and then sprayed what was basically a plastic coating over the work it was little different from what I see some of the wood turnings become. It was a process that I was quite good at, people had to wait six months or more to get a vehicle into my shop which sounds ridiculous even to me. This isn't a process I want to go back to however. I don't even want to turn very elaborate pieces except possibly the occasional change of pace piece. Hopefully in time I'll manage to turn some simple elegant pieces with maybe a few embellishments on some. That with a simple sealer type finish that leaves the texture of the wood exposed is the goal for my work.

    Looking into your crystal balls, is there a demand for this type of work not only today but five or ten years in the future? Will there always be a demand? Will it become such a small niche it basically reaches the vanishing point with only a very very few people able to market this type of piece? I am interested in primarily art pieces, bowls and hollow forms, not primarily pieces to be used.

    All opinions are most welcome. I'm trying to see into a very cloudy future and those just starting also and those that have been turning for a lifetime can all have insight to offer.

    Thank you for your thoughts!

    Hu
     
  2. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    It is probably a good thing that making fancy artsy fartsy stuff isn't your bag because as is the case with the vast majority of us, it won't help you achieve your goal of woodturning paying its own way if you take that route. Once a woodturner has "arrived" in the art world, the prospects are much rosier. For everybody else, striving to create art is mostly an exercise in self satisfaction from the whole creative process.Several members of my club get income from craft shows by selling pens, peppermills, bowls, Christmas ornaments and snowmen and Santa nutcrackers. Don't expect to make much money, but enough to pay for itself and maybe a bit more. Your per hour wage will be below the poverty level if that matters.
     
  3. Patrick Miller

    Patrick Miller

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    Good point to ponder-
    Looking back it appears there has long been a demand for roundish, container-esque vessels formed from wood and finished clear. Looks like there has also been a place for art pieces that may or may not have seen a lathe somewhere in the process. I can't predict the future but the past is usually indicative. I started turning in 2010 (20 hours a week) and quickly found a mentor that helped me develop the skills to make presentable wooden containers, bowls, platters, hollowforms, vases etc. He has also helped me explore well beyond the lathe into the realms of color, texture, design, embellishment, mixed media as well learning to market my work. I'd like it if my wood art hobby/compulsion/obsession/jones/habit would, at least to some degree, pay it's own way- more important as I contemplate retirement but I still want the freedom to be able to mostly make based on my imagination versus my wallet. I think there will always be a market- for everything- I just need to find it. There are 6 billion people here on the 3rd Rock. For each piece I decide to sign I'm only looking for one of 'em.
     
  4. hu lowery

    hu lowery

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    took a slight pay cut years ago

    Bill,

    When I went into unplanned retirement my pay scale was $95 an hour in the mid-nineties. My pay dropped to about ninety-five cents an hour if I was lucky! One way or another I mostly find myself paying for the privilege of working like a dog.

    The main issue is that I have to be free to work my own zany hours, I can't conform to other people's. If I want to turn at three in the morning it is a nonissue. If I want to knock off with something half done it is my business too. I have to have that level of freedom, not an option. I pay for that freedom with a large element of risk, financial and otherwise.


    Patrick,

    I haven't been fortunate enough to find a local mentor, I have adopted the members of this and a few other forums instead! Also owe a good bit to some of the people that post a lot of video. My feeling is that there will be a market for decent simple work if I can find that market. I have seen the silliness of different markets putting up to a hundred times different value on the same things! I also shake my head in awe at a sculptor who sells stick men for as much as a hundred thousand dollars apiece. Look a lot like what we drew in preschool or kindergarten if we were young enough to have such things. I was a bit behind, drew my stick men in the first grade. Don't remember even getting a nickel for them though!

    Anyway, I have seen over and over that the buyer's sense of value is what matters. Many people with money to burn often see more expensive as better. People pay a hundred dollars for blue jeans and a hundred and a half for t-shirts. I'm pretty sure my twenty dollar jeans and three dollar t-shirts last just as long.

    I'm just wondering if the marketplace is going to turn to 99% heavily post processed turnings or if my turnings are going to be marketable at a modest price when the time comes. I have one bowl for sale right now asking $8800. I don't expect it to sell anytime soon. Hope to sell a similar bowl for about sixty dollars. Those I would hope to have a pretty wide market for.

    hu
     
  5. MichaelMouse

    MichaelMouse

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    In your location, you should be getting 75-100 for a salad or popcorn bowl that takes a bit less than two hours from log to buff. If you start turning bark up, you can tap a bit of the art market or wannabes. Nice thing is those are not re-turned, so they're done in an hour and sell like three. If you want to turn, reduce the post-processing. If you want to paint, burn or blast, have at it, but realize that you are now in the market where one will pay highly, but a hundred will go harrumph and walk by.

    Galleries are OK, but the prices you see don't usually amount to much more to the turner until you're in the 1%. I mostly "wholesaled" to those who wanted work on consignment, because I didn't care to play the game. They could get things at the end of a show, but not the beginning, for a modest discount.

    If you want to make money, become an authority, not an artist. Sell those DVDS and books to the base of the pyramid.
     
  6. hu lowery

    hu lowery

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    would be great!



    Michael,

    These days my wants are small. I'd be happy as a pig in flop to net an average hundred dollars a day for the days that I work. I know there is a great deal of truth in everything you say, always more money to be made as a supplier or instructor. I have taught a time or two, trained to be more accurate. I don't think I am bad at it but not something I desire to do and I get into the fixed schedule issue. I think you hit on pretty much exactly what I need to do, a bunch of bread and butter pieces with the occasional piece to try to catch the arty folks' eye. Got to challenge myself a bit sometimes too. I don't want turning to become a job. Right now I have a strong enough desire to turn that I turn almost every day. I want to keep that level of desire. My real concern was if there is a market out there for bread and butter pieces and if most turners feel it will remain.

    Painting, burning and such are skills in themselves and I have seen some very nice artistry right here. Those are the kind of things that do seem like a job to me. Not the artistry, all the prep and clean-up. I do want to turn, not spend more time preparing to create and cleaning up behind creating than I spend trying to create something. Also, unless I reduce it to technique instead of talent I'm a lousy artist anyway! :D


    Thanks for your post. Your messages are always greatly appreciated!

    Hu
     
  7. Owen Lowe

    Owen Lowe

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    Hu,
    I don't think your market is debating the post-processed turnings versus simple, good design turnings. That is a matter of personal taste and the fit into their lifestyle. Whatever you like to make will appeal to buyers of similar tastes. The trouble though, is that for non-artsy, good clean woodturned pieces, you are competing against glass, ceramic, and plastic bowls that sell for a fraction of your price for a comparably sized piece. Additionally, these other materials can be soaked, dishwashered, 'fridgerated, and microwaved; your wood item needs "special" care that most people are leary of jumping into.

    By the way, given that they are similar, what is the reasoning behind the $8740 range between your two bowls?
     
  8. odie

    odie

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    Boy, now Hu......You've raised some very interesting points. Patrick has hit on one aspect of turning wood that most all of us have contemplated......the desire for us to make money with our turnings.

    I have respect for those who make the pursuit of money a determining factor in where their turning takes them, but I'm not one of them. Art, in its true form isn't about money.......it's about those things that drive the desire to produce the most appealing result his ability and resources allow. It's about satisfying this desire within the heart of the artist.

    My belief is: If one is true to his heart, there will be those who will instinctively see this in his/her art......and, will want to own a representative piece of the artist, as well as something that is a bit more than just a "thing" to decorate his, or her home.

    My thinking is definitely romantic, and isn't rooted in a capitalistic attitude.......but, there is a sense of honor in keeping art separate from pursuit of money, and more targeted towards it's true form.


    =====


    You've raised other very interesting and excellent points that I'd like to respond to......but, will have to be later....especially regarding "post processing", as opposed to simple excellence in turning.....

    ....thanks for bringing these things up. :D

    ooc
     
  9. hu lowery

    hu lowery

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    a few pieces of paper



    Owen,

    The eighty-seven and change buys a few pieces of paper with it. I see some specialty turnings bringing many tens of thousands that originally sold for $200 or less. The makers new pieces still sell in the low thousands. Odds are that anyone starting out will never have that collectability, definitely including me! However, if I ever achieve that collectability my first signed piece is going to be sitting on my shelf or I am going to be able to say I bought a very nice lathe with the proceeds from it.

    Definitely going on the just need one buyer for it theory and I do have access to a few high end buyers around New Orleans. If one decides they want my first signed turning of any kind they are going to have to pay for it. I really don't think it is impossible for this piece to sell in the next few years. Highly questionable that it is that valuable but sometimes value is in the eye of the beholder. I have met a few people that even many years ago threw tens of thousands around like toilet paper, a couple even hundreds of thousands. Just one of them come along and they or a significant other of the moment want the piece . . . If it never happens just sitting there on display with that price tag on it will up the value of my other pieces in some people's minds.

    I seem to be shooting at a pretty narrow market niche for most of my work. Obviously I can't and don't want to compete with the mass produced bowls. I also don't want the vast majority of my pieces to compete with the very high end stuff. Probably the majority of the pieces selling from just under fifty to under two-hundred dollars at a guess based on size, beauty of the wood, and form. A few larger or more complex pieces to be on display with them because there are always some conspicuous consumers who have to buy the most expensive offered. Finding and keeping my market is the catch. I'm hoping to discover if the market even exists with this thread. I may be coming to wood turning a decade or two too late.

    Hu
     
  10. hu lowery

    hu lowery

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    looking forward to hearing more from you

    Looking forward to your further thoughts. There is the thought "build it and they will come" however that isn't true for the majority of people. They have to conform somewhat to the existing market to be commercially viable. One catch is that I don't have decades to build a market, a few years at most to build at least a small demand for my stuff. The best way to raise the value of most artist's output is for them to die. Great for the people possessing their work, not any real benefit to the artist. For some reason that isn't the route I want to take . . .

    I won't make things I dislike just to sell them. At the same time I won't have as my main output some radical off the wall things I like that only one in a thousand or ten-thousand might like well enough to buy. I like kinetic pieces. Could turnings be incorporated into those in a manner that everything is in harmony? I'd like to play with the idea some time. I have another idea for something I haven't seen. I'm not talking about it at the moment because many people are already capable of creating what I want to and I can't, yet.

    Almost all people whose output has to have commercial value are forced to walk a line between what others want and what they are willing to create. I wanted a custom rifle that a friend was maybe the best in the world creating. At the time I could afford it. My friend had told me that he had already created over a hundred similar rifles and he was sick of building them. Although he turned out dozens if not hundreds more great rifles of the same pattern I never requested the one I wanted a great deal. I couldn't ask a friend to create something he didn't want to make.

    Those that want to be commercially viable usually have to find a line defining what they want to create and the market wants to buy. The line will be different for each person. I don't know where my line is yet but I know that I have no interest in creating things that you can't look at across the room and know it is wood. That doesn't make others wrong that create such things just not my cup of tea. Lyle Jamieson does fantastic carvings based on hollow turnings. I much admire them but ultimately not where I see myself going either. Hopefully I can make the wood itself and the form sing to people.

    Hu
     
  11. Mark Mandell

    Mark Mandell

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    Hu,

    If you want a gauge on commercial viability, you need to speak to the "market makers" rather than turners. Go to galleries and speak to the owners. Go to SOFA shows. Look for groups like the Collectors of Wood Art affiliated with the AAW and see what they are "doing." You'll find that there are groups-within-groups, each with a special focus, so your target market may be smaller than you initially would think.

    Consider that the price a piece will bring depends entirely upon who's buying it. June Cleaver can get a nice big salad bowl for $16.95, or a whole set for $45 in the kitchenware section at Wegman's or Whole Foods. Cruise the craft shows to see what the hoi polloi are buying and for how much.

    Collectors and "art" galleries, pay for work on a completely different basis with the price determined by the perceived up-side of the "investment." The price now is largely guided by their perception of what the piece will be worth 5, 10, 20 years from now. You will get their attention when your creativity produces something that makes you stand out from the crowd, smallish crowd though it may be. The value of the piece is driven by the value of the maker's "name." A funky Ellsworth piece (if there is such a thing) will far out-price a prime "Mandell" every time.

    You don't get to be flavor of the month by just putting sprinkles on plain vanilla. Your market for an $8,000 bowl is the person who has the money to back up their assessment that it's actually worth $10,000 and will be worth $20,000 next year. That person is unlikely to be another turner unless they happen to have hit the Power Ball numbers. Turners are makers rather than collector/investors.
     
  12. Gary Chapman

    Gary Chapman

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    Hu,
    You are asking a question that only you can answer.
    It is not "Where is turning going?" but where are you going with turning.
    I am a retired art teacher of 34 years,have been painting,sculpting,printing, building furniture and teaching for one reason-to satisfy my need -creativity.
    I turn for myself, I draw for myself, the need to fullfill something in me to invent, to build , or to design is a desire I have to do.
    I am at a point in my life that money is not the driving force, myphysical and financial needs are taken care of but my need to create will always be there.
    There is however a need for validation, being an artist, that also gives me satisfaction or reinforcement. Whether the bowls stack up in my attic or I sell them at galleries or shows, when a person buys that piece and tells me how much he loves it, tells me how it makes him feel--that is also very important personally to me and gives me more incentive to create again and again.
    We all need positive feedback, one way or another, whether it be with good comments or a check. Again ,validation ,it's why we do what we do.
    So, I guess I am trying to say, That"s where my turning is going and that is all I need.
    Just my two cents. Gary
     
  13. Owen Lowe

    Owen Lowe

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    What a great response Mark.

    {I didn't know Howie was a turner! ;) (I know, one L.)}
     
  14. MichaelMouse

    MichaelMouse

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    If the hoi polloi aren't buying the stainless at Wally World (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hoi polloi), they will be going to craft shows bargain hunting. Don't go there. You want the show that bills itself as an art show and demands that applicants pass some sort of a jurying process. As imperfect as it may seem to have the paint daubers decide what's good in wood, it does guarantee you a different attitude among potential buyers. They are primed to pay a higher scale for something that doesn't just serve salad, but does it in style.
     
  15. hu lowery

    hu lowery

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    I do have my path charted, always subject to minor change

    Basically I know where I am willing to go with turning. I also know I have to reach a certain target group, those with enough disposable income to be comfortable buying fairly high dollar knick-knacks. The e-bay and yard sale crowd isn't going to work. I do have some small ins with the art crowd around New Orleans. At this point it is possibly just a matter of building a group of quality pieces with enough variety to basically put on a two or three day showing of my stuff. I'm still a ways from that. However the art crowd tends to have a group mentality. They buy what their friends want to buy too. If the simple pieces are seen as comparable to what they can go buy off of the big box shelf I'm sunk.

    My real concern is that looking at the galleries here and on some other nice wood turning sites the focus seems to be getting away from basic turnings and simple finishes into the turning just being a canvas for other work. If the market becomes almost entirely focused on this post processed stuff I am likely to have wasted a lot of time and money on something without even any hope of return. I truly love outdoor and wildlife photography and was pretty fair at it. I took a hard look at the market and had to decide that there wasn't a realistic expectation of return on investment. I'm trying to determine if there is a realistic expectation of at least a positive return assuming I turn out quality pieces of the type I wish to turn. If not, there are other activities that I enjoy more, mainly because they don't involve pushing a broom every evening!

    Hu
     
  16. Mark Mandell

    Mark Mandell

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    A reality check, here Hu.

    If you're "getting into" woodturning for the potential profit, I'll step up and discourage you now. Even the biggest names in the field do not depend on their work product to make a living; they teach, sell tools (and lathes), make how-to videos for sale, travel for demos, do product endorsements, and most have "day" jobs. Last time I saw figures on this, something less 1% of all the artists in this country make a living from their art, and then only after half a lifetime of effort.

    From your comments, it appears you plan to be a devoted member of the Round & Brown League. David Ellsworth leads that parade so you'll be in good company. With that choice, however, you're taking yourself out of the "what's new in the world of woodturning". What's new always involves more than what was done before. Collectors, those people that lay out the real money, look for uniqueness on top of precise craftsmanship.

    All that said, those who try to use art as a business venture most often find their big idea becomes last week's flash in the pan, and their market demographic, the trendy artsy crowd, move on to the next "happening dude". The people who make money in art are not the artists, never have been. The people who make hard currency profits on an investment in art are the collectors and dealers.

    But

    Feel free to try to prove me wrong. It'll take you years and years of dedication and persistence with boatloads of rejection along the way.

    Of course you might also find something else along that path; the enjoyment and personal fulfillment of making things, and on that you can't put a price.

    Cheers
     
  17. Steven Antonucci

    Steven Antonucci

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    Woodturning... craft.

    Wood "art" ...lathe not necessary.

    I recently posted a kuksa (drinking cup) that I started on the lathe to a traditional crafts board. The lathe was instrumental at arriving at a rough shape quickly, but I recut the entire thing with traditional carving tools to my finished surfaces. Is it a turning? I wouldn't call it one.

    You can make more money making useful things than you can making art. Sure, the big names get big prices, but most don't sell that many pieces. They make their money teachingand demonstrating, where they sell their tools and videos.

    Steve
     
  18. hockenbery

    hockenbery AAW Advisor Staff Member

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    I'll add a bit to what Mark and steve said.
    It is easy to make a little money woodturning
    Making a living is really hard. There are two ways to get ahead.

    1. Simply turn better and faster than just about anybody else. Make lots of product and develop wholesale clients.
    Get into the architectural and furniture restoration market develop clients

    2 turn work that no one else has done and create a niche in the art market.

    There is rule of thumb that it take about 10,000 hours of working in any craft to become "successful"
    This is sort of like a five year apprenticeship.

    Occasionally people with a good art background move up quickly because they are especially innovative.

    Have fun
     
  19. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    I'll make a WAG that for those wood artists who have "arrived" to a place of recognition by their peers and collectors also had a dream of where they wanted to go and didn't allow bumps in the road to discourage them. But I'll also guess that they had far more than unbridled enthusiasm going for them.

    I suspect that part of their background involves either formal or self taught art training. A creative mind is essential. At this early stage in your long journey you are saying that things that are not "pure"as in no carving or burning involved is not where you wish to go.

    There is no sharp dividing line to distinguish embellished from pure woodturning -- just a little extra sanding could be considered too much embellishing -- or it may not. A little leather, beads, and turquoise may seem to be OK to many woodturners, but not necessarily all. David Nittmann does basket illusion turnings that are burned and colored. I think that most woodturners are in awe of his talent and would not reject it because of the decorations.

    I have seen some incredible high gloss automotive type paint jobs on woodturnings. I wish that I could find someone to put a paint job like that on my Dodge RAM. It is not something that I am interested in doing, but I still appreciate creative designs. There was a lady in our club who is a true multimedia artist and she turned wood as a foundation for painted and sculpted art. The rule book doesn't say anything about carving and painting turned objects. A turning does not have to be round -- with no carving or sawing, it is possible to turn a perfect cube on the lathe just as easily as one can turn a sphere. What I am getting at is that you have barely begun so don't restrict where you can go.

    Concerning your question about the direction of woodturning, the answer is wherever you wish to take it as well as where every other turner wishes to go in their own journey. If it is to survive, expanding seems to me a good indicator of a robust future.
     
  20. hu lowery

    hu lowery

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    Forty-five years too late


    Mark,

    I'd be forty-five or fifty years behind if I just found the enjoyment and personal fulfillment of designing and making things now. I have been designing and making things since I was a child. I have competed with a large variety of equipment largely of my design and construction with unique features including cars, rifles, pistols, pool cues, and some of the supporting equipment for competing with such things. All had my personal stamp on them and all were successful.

    A few minor details beyond my control, mostly hurricanes, have me starting over from ground zero without a home of my own, my shops, or most of my equipment. Nothing like a back against the wall to be inspirational though! I don't doubt that what you are saying is accurate but I don't feed anyone but myself and a stray cat and I'm not planning on putting either of us through college. Wood turning has to net more than it costs, and has to do that in the fairly near future. It doesn't have to be a cash cow. I do have a handful of interested collector type buyers that are willing to speculate a bit on anything I'm willing to sell. I have a pretty longstanding reputation for quality, anything I do. I have to build a long ways from those few people of course but I have built some extremely successful businesses largely by word of mouth. One difference between me and most starting a business on a dream, I know business having built my first in 1973 and having had a double handful of businesses since then. I can be a bit fiddle footed!

    Just did a little research, hard to tell what it means but I'll talk about it in a reply to the thread rather than to any one person.

    Thanks for your posts. I do plan to put some of my pieces to the test with a gallery owner in the fairly near future. Should be interesting anyway.

    Hu
     

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