This is not a self help book. Nor does it claim to be. And I loved it for that very reason.
Master Your Craft: Strategies for Designing, Making, and Selling Artisan Work by Tien Chiu does exactly what the title states, it gives you strategies. I am the kind of student who likes loose guidelines to work within. Give me a general idea of what I should work towards, and I will work very hard to get there. I even stated in my Instagram post about this book that I wished I had this when I was in college.
Most of this book is geared towards the actual creation of your work. Chiu’s strategies include how to look for and find inspiration in your every day surroundings. She speaks on the creative cycle and how it is not a linear course of action. I am very guilty of saying to myself “I know what I want to make- so I’m just going to do it.” Inevitably, I dive into a project without properly setting myself up for success. The new idea fails, and I feel defeated. Her idea of breaking a large goal up into attainable steps is great. Something my husband always reminds me of is that “Picasso mastered realism before he began creating in the abstract“.
Something that I really enjoyed about this book was it’s very positive approach to difficulties creatives face. Some of these issues are creators block, fear of copying other’s work, and pushing your limits. Chiu’s voice is not the only one sharing these positive perspectives on a craft practice. There are interview excerpts throughout the entire text from artisans such as Jane Dunnewold (surface design artist), Mea Rhee (potter), Tim McCreight (jeweler), and many others.
It was so nice to see a craft book that was dominated primarily by textile artisans. Many creative books about craft business and craft theory in the past have focused on ceramics, wood, jewelry, and glass leaving textiles pretty low on the proverbial totem pole. It was so refreshing to see the number of textile artisans out number the other crafts. It makes me feel better represented in my craft community and that what I make will make a difference in the grand scheme of the craft theory world.
About the Book
In the beginning, the layout of the book with the insertion of quotes frequently breaking up the text, was a little distracting. I expected it to be more straight forward. The more I read, the more I realized that it was meant to be read more like a conversation. After I made this realization, the book was more enjoyable for me to read. It was like sitting around with my craft friends and talking about our perspectives about creating.
A small section of the book focused on selling artisan work. When I was reading, the longer Chiu talked about design and finding creativity, the more I worried that the selling section would leave me wanting for more. Although the section was small, it packed a wollop. Like much of the book, the questions were directed at the reader to help them come to their own conclusions about what type of craft they do and how they want to sell their work. I really liked this because the business of craft is not one size fits all. There is not one correct way of selling what you make (or if you even have to sell your work at all!) She does speak on some nitty gritty pricing ideas and photography, but generally the reader is left to decide for themselves what is going to be best for their practice.
Reading this book made me evaluate how I want my studio to operate. Right now, my business is just starting, and I already see way too many paths it can go down. I am going to start utilizing some of the small strategies in this book to help me not only break out of my comfort zone design wise, but to make my business more profitable and more importantly, enjoyable.
I recommend this book to everybody who makes. Many crafts people work in their studio solo. In my experience, it is hard to separate myself from my work to give an objective opinion. I am lucky that I have a partner who has a strong understanding of design. For people not so lucky to have a creative partner, I feel that this book might be a way to help train yourself to think about craft objectively.
Chiu also addresses the infamous phrase “finding your voice“. This is a very current and very real situation that I am in. I am trying to find my voice in a sea of different avenues of weaving. It makes me a little frustrated at times because I feel like I am stagnant in my own creative growth. This book helped me to recognize that my growth isn’t stagnant, I just have to take more realistic chunks out of the creative pie.
In the end, I would read this book again, in conjunction with Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland. I have big ideas and I am often afraid to tackle them. These two books together are helping me find the courage to start chiseling away at the mountain of potential. And I hope that you take a chance on yourself and read them too.