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Before you even carve...

I have always enjoyed period furniture. I stroll the antique stores, browse the interwebs, read and have a lot of books on the subject. My dream getting into carving started with architectural carving, and included furniture as well. One day searching for furniture carving, an article mentioned Mary May, which is how I came about this site!

So enough of the story and a question. Where do most carvers acquire the furniture they carve. I’d like to build mine, then carve it, but that takes a lot away from the joy of carving. I have spent the last 2 weeks making furniture and haven’t touched a gouge at all! Is the furniture just a commission from a carpenter after it’s built?

Curious of other’s background on the subject. I do enjoy carpentry as well, but would rather be good at one instead of mediocre at both. ?

2 different ways I can think about it going would be to either make a partnership with a furniture maker, so he makes and you decorate or contract a furniture maker when you want to make something and tell him exactly how you want it.

I agree with SmokyRick. I am not a furniture maker, but I do work with a lot of them.

The way I started was going around to various furniture making and woodworking shops with my portfolio of photos. It took several years for them to trust me enough to know I could make what they needed. But after a while, they began to present ideas to their clients that included custom carvings of mine. Often these were custom carved fireplace mantels, where before they would have to use pre-cast materials, or machine carved details.

So until the furniture makers know you are out there, they won't consider adding these elements. Once they are aware of you and what you do, they can claim a "niche" market of custom carvings for their clients.

Sometimes you just need to create a market that isn't there. Lots of meetings, lots of trying to convince people, and lots of beans and rice for dinner...

Thanks Rick and Mary. I’ve done some looking in the Nashville area, and there doesn’t seem to be a market here for that. Like you said Mary, it might take some creation.

Mary, when you created your portfolio, did you include mostly things that you wanted to do, or did you vary the articles across the architectural board so to say?

Also Mary, in your book you mentioned going overseas to apprentice in one of your teacher’s old shops. Did they make furniture there prior to carving, or has the history of carving always been a partnership of carver and carpenter? Sorry, lots of questions!

For my portfolio, I put anything and everything that photographed well. The more, the better. That way they can see the variety. Try and keep them in categories in the portfolio - furniture carving, signs and letter carving, sculptural carving. If there is a type of carving you simply don't want to do, don't show them photos of those 🙂 I am not very good using knives and doing whittling and caricature carving, so I leave that to the experts in that field.

I am not really a furniture maker. I know just enough about building to know whether it is being done right, but I really have stuck with the carving.

The difficulty is making a living while focusing on just one skill. There are benefits and drawbacks to this. The drawbacks are that when work slows down, you don't have much to fall back on. Specializing in several skills allows you to not say "no" to things that come through the door. The benefits of sticking with one skill is that eventually you will have reached a certain skill level where you hopefully will be known and respected for that particular skill. Then they will come to you for that.

My recommendation: learn all aspects of woodworking, but try and focus on carving, and become an "expert" in that field, if that is your main interest.

Or it helps if your significant other is a surgeon, lawyer, or otherwise independently wealthy so you can play in your workshop and do whatever you want (I married for love, not money, so I'm working my butt off - but having a lot of fun in the process).



A different topic... The new book! -which is almost too beautiful to bring to the carving bench; it  looks as if it belongs on a coffee table to be admired... but, I do intend to prop it up in front of me.  I wondered how you thought about its use as you wrote it - are the lessons progressive, so that ideally, I would start at the first lesson and progress to the second?   Or, is it meant to skip around?

However, I need to carve some anthemium leaves next, which are much more stylized than acanthus leaves, and I just realized I need to begin these leaves in 2 weeks, so I will have to figure out how these are carved first.  THEN, I can carve my way through the new book!  Any way you can video a crash course in anthemium leaves in the next few weeks?



Thank you Mary...lots of great experience in your reply. Much appreciated!!

Hi Joyce. Thanks! Look at the Greek Acanthus Leaf chapter. It shows the technique of carving these sharp leaves. You can adapt it to the anthemium. This might be best as a separate topic in this forum. Enjoy the book! I doubt a lesson on thus will be up within 2 weeks. Sorry!