Thursday, November 3, 2011

Blacksmithing Apprenticeship Day 1

The first day apprenticing with Metalsmith (Bill Dawson) was truly humbling in the process of craftsmanship. I find it especially important to reflect upon the feelings of inadequacy and failure that are rapid to emerge when learning any new skill. A sense of urgency, swift maneuvers, and reliance upon experience based intuitive behavior are necessary for achieving efficient hammer blows. I have a feeling that my patience, motor skills, reflexes and detail oriented focus will propel me to someday achieving proficiency, but today I was faced with the important lesson that failure is an amazingly integral part of growth.

Each of my hammer strikes was reminiscent of absolute failure when comparing the results with the master's example. However, the feeling of acceptance and understanding that emanated from the master was piercing. It kept my self imposed humiliation at bay and allowed me to utterly fail without losing my desire to try. The unsuccessful results are difficult to accept, however the master's energy was a true lesson of compassionate love.

In order to learn, one must fail miserably. As I get older I recognize a reluctance to try new trades that will once again reveal a novice skill level. This inability to accept incompetence significantly hinders growth and a compassionate instructor who HAS THE TIME to buffer these feelings of failure is essential. Writing this notion evokes a common sense acknowledgment, but feeling and experiencing this, as I have today, hits me like a tsunami.

The master achieves a rare level when they learn to share their skills. It is nurturing and essential to learn this way. There are few occasions in my life that I have experienced this, and today was one of the first times I have been truly aware of it. It is important for me to emphasize and reflect on because it is a personal life goal to achieve the ability to share.

Many times when I meet very skilled artists I notice a hermetic and protective element of their craft. It is though communication is impossible, except with others as skilled as themselves. I now recognize that communication with novices is an extremely important step in development. My life has been a continual pursuit of education and I have rarely encountered skilled educators. Today I learned that education is not an institution or system, but a tool set in the process of mastery.


  1. Hay Travis,
    Nice post! This was quite an inspiring one - I/we are just in the middle of making a straw bale wall, and the techniques are all really different to what any of us have used before. I loved your post because it reaffirmed that quality of making/hacking that is most challenging and difficult, but also most attractive: that of learning new skill, and being willing to play about, try things out, and get things wrong. Every fail is a step closer to success, therefore a small success in its own way right...

    I look forward to reading more about how your apprenticeship goes, sounds like you have got a good teacher!


  2. Hombre,

    I am building a bicycle powered guitar shop in Spain and could use some help adapting a sanding rig to bicycle power. Can you help?
    We have an artist in residence program here that would provide you a free place to stay.

    Thanks !

    Federico Sheppard