Are You More of an Apprentice or Hobbyist?

Real Me Monday

Today, we are happy once again to have Jan’s husband, Tom Johnson, share a guest post. He is a wonderful husband, dad, accomplished entertainer, actor, singer, and musician, all around fix-it guy, remodeler, furniture builder, biker, and most of all–his grandkids adore him! You can find out more about the group he performs with here. 

Last month I wrote a blog post about “two being better than one.” Well, when it comes to income, it’s even more true! So, I decided to open up a little side business online this week at a little site called Etsy. It has helped that I have been preparing for it for almost 38 years.

Here’s how it all started. I was in college here in the Ozarks when I met the father of one of my fellow students. Big John was quite a character, and one of his favorite hobbies/side businesses was wood carving. Well, he thought everyone should “whittle” and proceeded to set my college roommate and I up with carving knives and wood. I told him right off that I had done a little whittling at home in Wisconsin and he asked me to show him my project the next time I saw him.

First carving

Tom’s First Carving

Well, I did, and he laughed. The elf that I had carved was quite square and featureless. He assured me that it was a common novice effort and then we got down to the business of learning the art of shaping wood.


Results after a little coaching from a master carver…


CarvingsAs I remembered this, the following inspiration came to mind that can encourage you in your pursuit of creativity. I think we can break down your pursuit into two categories with corresponding considerations:

The first is the old “Trial and Error” (and maybe success.) The second is “The Apprentice” or find someone who is proficient at what you want to learn and be their pupil.

To some, the act of jumping into a project with both feet and giving it the “old college try” is the red cape in front of the bull. In fact, just tell them they could never do it and watch them go. To others, they never try to venture because of a variety of reasons: fear, discouragement, lack of a starting point, need of tools, to name only a few.

I relate some of this to computer owners. Windows people tend to be manual and update readers. They usually learn as much as they can before they even plug in the thing. Mac or Apple people tend to plug and play, then learn more by doing and ask questions later.  You could say “different strokes for different folks.” Millions of computers have been sold in both formats and more power to each user.

So, too, with us creative types. Some learn by doing and others do by learning. Now either way is great, but it takes a different path to reach the goal of a successful pursuit.

If you are on the front side of starting in your creative venture, consider the following three “rules of thumb” and maybe it will spur you on to less frustration and more accomplishment.

1. If you want to make a career out of it, learn from the master. The faster you learn the most efficient way to create, the faster you can begin to see your goals. The tricks of the trade are best learned by the apprentice.

If you want a hobby, dive in and learn it as you go.  The hobbyist may or may not learn the tricks for efficiency, but it’s less important to them.

2. If you are easily frustrated by seeming failure or complicated procedures, learn from a master. A great teacher will do the task in front of you, then do the task with you and then let you do the task by yourself until you learn it well enough to not only do it but maybe even teach someone else.

If you even think you have a knack for the project, don’t wait another day. Just do it, as they say. (Hey, that rhymes!) If you have the skills, enjoy the thrills (ha, there it is again) and polish them as you go.

3. If you are a stickler for perfection, learn from a master.Whether you are trying to earn from your venture or can’t look at something after it’s done without noticing tiny imperfections, let someone guide your hands and give you what you need to be the best.

If you are satisfied with “E’s” for effort, don’t even hesitate to give it a try.  On the other hand, I made many “pencil holders” from pottery that I tried to throw on my own. But they are nice pencil holders!

So what do you think? If you want the instruction, do the online courses, vo-tech classes, community groups are some of the other ways that you can get the instruction you need to advance your skills and knowledge.

One last story. In the early 90’s I was between jobs and was talking to a potter friend. He was needing some short term help, and I almost begged him for the job. Oddly enough, the night before I was to start work I had a dream about how to make a mug on the potter’s wheel. I saw how I was to hold my hands, how to pressure the clay into the center of the wheel and then how to form it into a mug. And, viola, the first time I tried it, it worked. The only problem was that the 8 ounces of clay was to make a 12 ounce mug. Mine was, well, a little more clunky and bottom heavy. But then the fun began, and I quickly learned to throw my own mugs.

First Mug

Tom’s First Thrown Pottery Mug


Mug comparison

A little comparison on the mug size!

Story, part two. My skills as a carver suddenly rose to the surface. Mugs with faces! Soon, Tom’s Ugly Mugs were born. What a hoot!Tom's Ugly MugsTom's Ugly Mug



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