Norman Brown has been a woodcarver in the Pacific Northwest for over 30 years, and a full-time artist since 2006. He specializes in carving hewn hardwood bowls, creating unusual, geometric and natural shapes. All of his pieces are made using hand tools and traditional carving techniques and he procures the raw materials he uses locally in the form of logs that are otherwise destined for landfill, fire wood or slash piles.
We asked him about how he carved out a path to start his own creative woodworking business from scratch, and how aspiring creatives can turn their passion into a full-time career.
What steps did you take to turn your love of woodworking into a business that has sustained you full-time for nearly 20 years?
I spent many years collecting the tools I needed for my wood art, and made sure to always have a dedicated space for my woodworking. During that time, I created many types of woodworking projects to grow my skills, and sold my work on a part-time basis. Early sales convinced me that people wanted what I was making.
However, I could not see a clear path to supporting my family and raising my children while working as an artist. Even though I enjoyed working with wood from childhood, created throughout my life and was able to take some art classes in college, I originally pursued degrees in science that qualified me to become nationally certified as a clinical laboratory scientist.
While working in labs, I also taught woodcarving through a local community college. My lab career provided the financial security to see my children raised and off to live their own independent and creative lives.
It also put me in a position to be completely debt free with a reasonable cash reserve before taking the plunge and becoming a full-time self-employed artist. I continue to learn new skills as a woodcarver with nearly every new project, always challenging myself. And with the untiring help and understanding of my spouse of 42 years, we constantly work to grow and hone the skills needed to make my passion for woodcarving into a small business.
What advice would you give to an aspiring creative who wants to turn their passion to make things into a full-time career?
We all start in different locations and under different circumstances, so take some time to study the ups and downs of your own starting place.
Be prepared for a long journey and lots of hard work. Allow as much time as you can spare to constantly improve your skills, as well as time for self-reflection to learn from your mistakes.
Be tenacious and just keep going. When things get tough, money gets tight, sales are not what you’d hoped for, use your passion to create to work out solutions to those problems. Creative activities other than art, such as gardening, can be a great release of stress, and can also contribute to building a comfortable and balanced lifestyle.
And as with all small businesses, do your research on regulations and insurance, write a business plan and educate yourself in basic business administration.