Becoming a maker does not always or need to mean that you make your living from making things to sell. Sometimes we see selling as a validation to our efforts, a sort of badge of merit if you will. Look, I just sold a chunk of wood I had and made £10 for something that was firewood an hour ago. Suddenly we project ourselves into the world of the artist and even if we sell for a poor amount that will likely keep us poor we at least sold to another person who wanted what we make. Whereas I do see that we feel the importance of making to a level that people see a quality that sets us apart, the reason for making is much, much higher than merely selling. Everyone who works to make money coming from someone else sells themselves to that someone else. This will never be avoided because, well, there is an economic reality whereby working is the means by which we engage with employers even when we think that we are so-called freelancers or self-employed. In reality, neither such animal exist. Often, using the term freelance means you could not get the job you want doing what you love most, or those providing work don’t want employees that depend on them keeping records, paying taxes, staffing an office and withholding money for government departments like social security and national insurance, etc. Taxi drivers and deliverers of food are good examples, you know, these are the ones who self-declare themselves as self-employed or freelancers even if in their hearts they know that they are not truly ‘free‘ lancers or ‘self‘ employed.
Go back into the etymology of ‘freelancer’ and you will find mercenary fighting men who sold themselves to others as men who fought with their lances and would not pledge any particular allegiance to another higher authority but sold themselves to the highest bidder. They had no loyalty and might even switch sides for a higher pay mid fight. I would never consider myself to be a freelancer anything. I am more dedicated than that. Being a so-called freelancer is often a substitute for being unemployed these days. Sad to say.
Making is a way of life for me and always has been. Of the eleven or so coffins I have made thus far to date I have never needed to charge anyone for them so I haven’t. Each dovetailed corner I cut caused me to reflect on the dovetailed lives this or that person touched with their own life, polishing the outside made me think about how woodworking is as reductive a process as life itself is. We are constantly being reduced by circumstances that cause us to rethink where we are going, where we came from and what we left behind. I made sure that the casket was strong and made only from biodegradable wood and finish, again a respect for where we came from as in the earth. They take me 40 hours to make one coffin and the insides are lined with wool padding. cotton fabric and love. Would I ever make a coffin for money? No, I am afraid not. But there is nothing wrong with that. Wooden caskets readily return to the earth as they rightly should.
Other work that I have done has been income-producing and some of the favourites have revolved around my interest in wildlife and birds especially. Of the collection I used to sell in Texas under the name Hollow Log birdhouses I had some favourites that came as my first designs. I made thousands of these birdhouses and these were my bread and butter items for several years. I wanted bluebird houses that were fit for purpose. I hunf= them on my fenceline. My first efforts were again an act of love. No money exchanged hands as I tested them out over several seasons. Of all of my wildlife encounters, my first most magical moment was seeing a pair of western bluebirds build their nest in one of my boxes and then raise a first and second brood in a single season. In making the thousands I took only wood that was destined for bulldozing and burning, converted it into product, fine product well made, and sold each piece to my customers. I was working for them when I made them in the same way I was making them for my family to support them as they grew. You see I was self-employed on paper, technically, yes, but I was engaged in work for my own needs and the needs of others. Was I self-employed? Yes and no. If self-employed means doing everything yourself then yes I was. I wore many hats in a day from bookkeeper to telephone operator, marketer to maker. This is self-employment. This is freelancing. Take it or leave it, we never work for ourselves, even when we retire!