Professional woodworker or Artist?


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I've been reading a lot on what people have to say about going pro. I've read the arguments about what is "pro" and what is hobbyist. I agree with some things and completely disagree with others.

This really got me thinking, so I'm starting a thread almost as a sanity check.

My question is what are the differences between a professional woodworker and an artist who works in the medium of wood?

I know there are certain requirements for certain activities and zoning matters greatly. But let me paint a picture...

I run a tiny design studio. I do architectural design (I am an architect). I do artist renderings of buildings. I do graphics. I do furniture design. And, of course, I actually build some items for sale (some functional, some just art). I do all of these things under my design business so that I can properly pay my taxes.

I don't do any of these things as a primary business. I don't build cabinets for a living. I don't spend 8 hours a day designing websites and I don't sell products full time. I doubt any of these things could even add up a sizable amount alone.

I have grouped these services together because, for me, they all utilize the same skillset. Now, Mr. Professional Woodworker is going to tell me I don't know know what I am talking about because drawing on a computer and running the saw are completely different things. All I can offer is the Frank Gehry couldn't begin to design a school at the level I can, yet we are both architects and you have heard of him and not me. So, on that point, if you cannot understand my grouping of services, we will just have to agree to disagree.

I have also grouped these things together because they allow me to pay taxes on monies earned and actually do utilize, on a daily basis, many of the same, supplies, electricity, etc.It would make no sense to create 5 different business and track all differently.

So, in all of this, if I make wood art, functional or otherwise, what am I? Woodworker? Artist? Guy with too many side things going on? Does running an "artist's studio" mean something legally?

I hope this spurs some type of dialogue.

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Woodworking is a trade not a profesional industry. :) You either do it as a business or you dont. If you do it as a business you then you are a business owner that is a woodworker. If you dont do it as a business then you are a hobbyist. If you do it for a business then you are an employee that is a woodworker. No such thing as a pro woodworker. Your either good at the type of work you do or your not. Personally I dont see a reason for a label. Im a business owner that makes cabinetry and furniture.


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I took Mr. Barton's question to be one of a more philosophical nature. There are people in business as both artists and woodworkers. I took his question to be more of how should he correctly describe himself in marketing terms. Someone like Amber Jean, who has been featured in FineWoodworking considers herself an artist and someone like yourself may instead consider himself a woodworker. My point is that it matters most how a person views themselves and the market they are addressing.


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My question was somewhere in the middle. I know what my skillset can produce and am pretty confident in it. It gives me a very unique approach, and that is my edge on the market...whatever market that is.

With that said, perception is reality, and I'm curious as to what other people would call me. Not that is is important to me defining my own self worth, but rather how the world would view me. Just as a marketing exercise, if I could understand that, then I could choose to accept it or change it.

The very odd thing about woodworking is that it can have a very blue collar stigma. I don't mean that in any type of insult at all. I rather take pride when someone says it about me. However, "woodworking" has one leg in worker, one leg in craft, one leg in craftsman (Martha Stewart vs Ol' Norm), and one leg in art. Maybe something like ceramics has the same problem. If I make a cool table, am I a craftsman woodworker, just production worker with a cool product, or am I an artist with a technical skill? If I make a bowl, is it art? People all over the world have been using wood bowl for centuries. Are they all artists?

Woodworking is such a broad term, and even the elite are rarely taken seriously as fine artists. Until the 80's you would be hard pressed to find a gallery showing wood art outside of a cultural exhibition.

A woodworker could be the guy who hangs a door in my home. A woodworker could be a guy who makes beautiful wood sculptures. A woodworker could be the 1000 shades of grey in between. I guess at the end of the day, I can't decide how the rest of the world sees a woodworker.

I do like Don's point, one he is very consistent on, that once you do woodworking as business, you become an employee to the business entity. I think it is a unique and accurate perspective. It is a similar thought that has kept me from opening my own architectural practice.


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Well, you nailed it. It's all perception. I think artist enters into it when it involves creativity. Many woodworkers aren't that interested in designing or creating something unique. While I have great respect for someone that simply has a high level of skill, I'm developing my skill to specifically create. But, I also don't have to make a living from my woodworking, even though I will have it as a business at some point.


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Vic, I think you and I are in the same boat on this one.

I enjoy the technical aspects of woodworking. I try to learn each new skill in its most pure form before I learn the shortcuts. But after that, I am interested in form making and less about how achieving some technical mastery that only a woodworker would enjoy. That is not to say I build slop. It is more like why not use a dovetail jig vs hand cut them or why not use a power sander vs hand sanding? I'm not interested in the 3 minute dovetail, I'm interested in the overall piece that the dovetail is a part. Of course, it goes without saying that shortcuts are only valuable if you know when to use them. If shortcuts are your only approach, then the range in which you can build becomes limited.

I love the building part of woodworking and take great care and pride in that part of the process. I just love the finish form more.

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I'd actually like to be considered a master by my peers by the time I'm done building in this life. So, yes, I do want to master the technical aspects. However, what drives me to want to become great in that is to be able to produce the stuff that floats in my mind. In terms of what I like in regard to style is all over the place. I like very few pieces that are ornate. I appreciate them, but love flowing and subtle curves the most. People like Michael Fortune, Maloof, Seth Rolland are among some of the makers that have the most influence for me. However, there are elements of many that I'd like to incorporate into pieces, even if I don't care for the overall aesthetic. Green and Green is an example. I love that they play with different planes, but I can't see a time when I'd do a piece completely in that style. For instance, the faceted box joints I used to join the sides on Gretchin's Cradle ( ) are a simple rip off of a Green and Green box joint, just my version.

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Good Topic. This is a topic I discuss with my oldest son frequently. He is a Professional Artist. He does sand sculptures for a very small company all over the world, and OWNS his own business as well, doing studio painting and murals. He has a degree in 2d art. While I on the other hand, am a Professional Carpenter. I dabble in my shop doing small flatwork projects, and am a little bit more serious with my woodturning.

My son truly is an Artist, while I consider myself just a hobbiest. His contention is, that I am as much an artist as he is. He makes his living off of his art, while I on the other hand, just sell a couple of pieces that keeps me in sandpaper. I am just a guy with a lathe in his basement, who happens to turn out a couple of nice pieces upon occassion. I myself, do not consider myself an artist, but rather just a dabbler with a decent skill set. We run into this kind of discussion often in the turning world. Do you have a shop, or do you have a studio? Are you a professional who makes his living off of turing, or who can substantially augment his income with selling his work, or are you a person that just dabbles.

You said it on one of your other posts. Perception. How do you percieve yourself, and how do others percieve you. You may call yourself whatever you want, but in reality, your peers and customers will give you your "title" Just be what you want to be, do as good with your work that you can possibly do. The recognition will come, but first you have to earn it.

I am just a lowly woodspinner.


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I think you have to define art. I see art as that cool thing on the wall or on a table that has no real purpose other than to look cool. I think if you turn cool vases and things like that you are an artist but on the other hand your also a woodturner. If you make chairs and furniture your a craftsman but your also a woodworker or furniture maker. People are going to think of you what they want. I dont see any reason to try and put a label on yourself unless you are looking to market your work. If thats the case then I guess you need to decide based on who your trying to sell to. Some galleries have their own terminology for example Northwest Woodworkers in Seattle call all their contributors artisans. Of course if you wiki it.

An artisan (from Italian: artigiano) or craftsman (craftsperson)[1] is a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative, including furniture, clothing, jewelry, household items, and tools or even machines such as the handmade devices of a watchmaker. An artisan is therefore a person engaged in or occupied by the practice of a craft, who may through experience and talent reach the expressive levels of an art in their work and what they create.


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There was about this general topic. I will reiterate all of my views of taking the subjective semantics and putting a more scientific breakdown of it (which essentially has no place in a subjective discussion, but it's kind of fun :-)


I think there are four different types of people that create things: artists, artisans, craftsman, tradesman.

There are many elements that go into the purpose of the creator's objects. While the best of each type of people that create things have can be high in each element, it's not necessary:

creator's emotion

audience's emotion

creator's aesthetics

audience's aesthetics

pre-existing requirements

skill required



An artist creates something for his own emotional or mental expression or release, or to evoke an emotional or mental expression or release from their audience. The object stands on it's own:

creator's emotion = very high or very low (the artist might not care about his own emotions, but only about the audience's)

audience's emotion = very high or very low (the artist might not care about his audience's emotions, but only his own)

creator's aesthetics = very high

audience's aesthetics = very low

pre-existing requirements = very low

skill required = low

efficiency = very low

money = very low

An artisan creates an object that generates emotional or mental expression or release, or to evoke an emotional or mental expression or release from their audience, but the object's everyday usefulness is still a consideration. The object stands on it's own, but it's surroundings may be considered:

creator's emotion = high or low (the artisan might not care about his own emotions, but only about the audience's)

audience's emotion = high or low (the artisan might not care about his audience's emotions, but only his own)

creator's aesthetics = very high

audience's aesthetics = medium

pre-existing requirements = low

skill required = very high

efficiency = very low

money = medium

A craftsman creates an object with a specific purpose or use. The object mostly works or is viewed in conjunction with other objects or it's environment, but may also stand on it's own:

creator's emotion = low

audience's emotion = low

creator's aesthetics = medium

audience's aesthetics = very high

pre-existing requirements = high

skill required = very high

efficiency = medium

money = high

A tradesman creates an object that is one piece of a whole. The object does not stand on it's own:

creator's emotion = very low

audience's emotion = very low

creator's aesthetics = low

audience's aesthetics = low

pre-existing requirements = very high

skill = medium

efficiency = high

money = very high



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