Maker's Risk

While studying fine woodworking abroad in Sweden, I had a classmate who was in his first year of study. We were all beginners in the scale of things, but this fellow was starting from a particularly naive place. He had produced a handsome little marquetry piece that was going to become a simple serving tray. He used veneers that were quite thin, maybe 1/32 of an inch.  He had joined the veneers and glued them to a substrate, but was tentative about moving forward to the next phase, sanding and finishing.  He approached a cluster of classmates that I was amongst and asked,


“What do you do if you sand through the veneers?”

We told him, “You don’t.”

He then said, “Yeah, but, what if you do?”

And we again emphasized “You just don’t.”

He had accomplished something important by joining those veneers, but was afraid to move forward for fear of losing the ground that he had just gained, the work that he had just done. He had made something fine, and in it, now had something fine to loose. But to stop there, to not complete the tray for fear of sanding through the veneers, would be a greater failure than to have never joined the veneers at all.

 This paralysis, this doubt, this inability to move forward for fear of messing up what hasn’t even been done yet, is an old ‘friend’ of mine, one that I’d rather not keep around.

 Being artists, being makers, we must continuously, continuously confront the fact that we might totally screw it all up at any moment. We could pour blood, sweat and tears into a piece, and when it is done, it might be really ugly, or not work right. Or, maybe we could be sailing along making something that is truly perfect and resonant, only to drop our scissors, or make a bad cut, or spill our coffee, and ruin what we have worked so hard to create. 

 It is a brave thing to be an artist. The deeper we go, the farther we reach, the more we invest of ourselves, the higher the stakes, and the more we have to loose.

 And yet, all this chance for failure really only serves to highlight our brilliant and resilient ability to succeed, when we hold our dreams and our visions high in our hearts. If we succumb to our fears of failure, give in to the paralysis, we will travel little within ourselves and never really know what we are capable of.