Last week on my Instagram page, I shared a story in which I talked about removing a post due to criticisms left in the comments. It seemed to have struck a cord with many people and I received several messages from craftspeople who admitted feeling insecure in posting things based on the judgmental comments received from others. Some of these people had tens of thousands of followers. I was a little surprised that THEY would feel insecure. In an ironic twist, I received a private message that very day from a master engraver that I had never spoken to. The message had one sentence, “How did you get 30,000 followers?” When I read it, the “you” was flashing in neon and it made me feel incredibly insecure.
The question didn’t feel very nice, but maybe it wasn’t meant to be hurtful, maybe he just wanted to know how to get his work viewed. I replied that I don’t buy followers, that I just share my work with others. I’m a primarily self taught engraver, still learning, and finding my own style. I complimented his amazing masterful work (which it really truly is) and left it at that. The next day he responded that there was indeed a “cheeky tone” to his question and he apologized. Though I appreciate that he apologized, it's not the first time that higher skilled person has poked at my work and I’m quite sure it won’t be the last.
A friend asked me a few months back why I didn’t have a YouTube channel. It’s a question I get all of the time. The above scenario is exactly why I don’t. I’m not a trained, traditional engraver. I’m an artist using engraving to create my own visions. I cannot imagine the ways my technique would be ripped apart. It told my friend, “My skin isn’t thick enough for YouTube.”
I’m not sharing these stories looking for an ounce of pity. I am sharing them because they caused me to reflect on myself and I realized I’ve allowed a lot of labels to stick to me. I don’t want to be a person who is scared to share my journey of learning because someone says something hurtful or demeaning. For every one of those people, there are so many others who have encouraged me and given me advice out of sincere kindness. One such person is a toolmaker from another country. I opened the mail one day last summer and there was a package with pieces of ebony wood. This person sent them to me to encourage me in wood turning. At that time, I had only turned two things. He was sending me the best of the best wood to encourage me to keep going. I was floored.
You know what? The girl with the head strap retainer, bad perms, bleached jeans and high tops never realized quite how dorky she was until after the fact. I had a circle of friends who encouraged me, came to my spelling bees and piano recitals, and told me they liked my art. I believed them. It’s time to put the labels in the trash. If anyone reading this is struggling with an inner sense of inadequacy as a maker, use it to push yourself forward and better your skill set. Don’t hold onto the label, learn from it. Keep your eyes on the goal of honing your craft, listen to the voices that want to help you and tune out those that are mocking you. You’re in competition with who you were yesterday, not them. That last sentence is a paraphrase of the master engraver who apologized for his snarky question. Something good came out of that and I’m going to learn from it, not add another label.