learning craft is like learning music so why do we teach it differently?

When I started teaching wooden spoon carving I would allow people to “go free with the wood” just teaching them basic technique and letting their imaginations run wild. They made crap spoons but were happy. After a while I decided for my foundation beginners course I had to restrict the options and teach in a much more methodical way in order for people to learn the basic skills. Things went so much better, the spoons improved and more importantly people became better carvers and were empowered to make better work when they got home. I was still allowing much more choice in my more advanced developers courses but I was never really pleased that folk were moving on as much as I had hoped. Last week I changed all that, I ran a new developers course in which we all worked together on copying some excellent spoon designs.  We started with a romanian gypsy spoon based on one carved by Ion Constantin, then did my standard Galician eating spoon design and then chose other spoons form my collection to copy. Here are a few images sent to me by David who was on the course and made very nice spoons. Spoons on the left of each pair are the original and the one on the right David’s copy.

The results were fantastic. The spoons were great but also people learnt so much more. They learnt about what makes good design as we discussed what made each spoon work, and also they learnt fine control of their tools to make exactly what they set out to make. Here are some more spoons made on the course.

To me this is very much like the way people learn music. First you learn to play the best music that has gone before, this gives you control over the instrument but also introduces you to the vocabulary of your chosen medium. Once you can do a superb job at reproducing examples of craft you like then is the time to progress to making something truly your own. This may come through going back to the roots looking in museums. It may come through combining influences from other craftspeople you admire, it may be a step on in a new direction but given the sound foundations of craft skill and knowledge of materials and the vocabulary of what has gone before you will make beautiful objects.

If you go freestyle too soon you may be a born genius but more likely what you make will be the craft equivalent of someone picking up a violin for the first time and going freestyle.

I can understand people wanting to make their own individual work but it really helps if you learn to play others music first. I know these folk will not go home and carry on making replica Robin Wood spoons any more than musicians carry on playing the first song they learned, it is a useful part of the development.

Here are a few more pics from the course from Keith

learning spoon carving knife grips

discussing spoon design

carving eating spoons

finding spoons in crooked timber
splitting a crook to get several spoons
studying knife sharpening
sharpening under the microscope

knife edge x20
Keith Mathews AKA Fritiof Jnr with his spoon

It was a fun course, I run these just twice a year and there are still places left on the autumn courses for both beginners and developers details here 

4 Responses to learning craft is like learning music so why do we teach it differently?

  1. jarrod February 12, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    great approach Robin. I agree 100%. Looks like you had a great class with some really nice spoons made.

  2. walkerg February 12, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

    I couldn't agree more. Those early skill lessons are like learning the notes on the musical scale. Once you have a clear image of them imprinted in your mind and some sense how notes can be combined, possibilities abound.George R. Walker

  3. Luc February 13, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    That was my big mistake in the beginning: I was doing it freestyle and didn't really know what I was doing. Then I started to copy other designs and it seems that my technique got better. Then I understood that there was a link between design and technique, but tell me if I'm wrong. Great post!

  4. Richard February 16, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    When I first started carving I felt it was somehow 'cheating' to copy other people's spoons and designs. As a result I made a lot of ugly, clunky spoons. As a teacher I come across a lot of children who produce a lovely piece of work, only to apologise for tracing or copying someone else's, as if that diminishes their personal achievent. I was so glad when at Spoonfest I attended the class by Steve Thomlinson who not only suggested that we copy the spoons we like, but insisted that we did – it set me free and while I still have a lot to learn, I have learned so much about form and technique simply by copying and mimicking successful spoons.