Herding Fish

coaching for artists and makers

Certainty and Risks in Making

22 May 2022

Social media places the world in our pocket, bombards us with endless possibilities, and sneaks in those marketing and productivity systems that promise ‘success’. But most of them take no account of the risks in making your own product, with your own hands, in between the school run and the laundry.

Workmanship of Risk

David Pye, woodworker, designer and writer (1914- 1993) was Professor of Furniture at the RCA from 1948-1974. In The Nature & Art of Workmanship (1968) he defines craft as work where:

‘the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on judgment, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works. The … quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making;’

Pye called this “The workmanship of risk”

I really like that idea of risk in making – that tiny edge your thumb finds on the handle of a hand thrown mug, or the variation in the colour or weight in a handmade textile bring those pieces to life. The certainty of machined perfection leaves nowhere to catch our thoughts, to connect with someone else’s creative input. It becomes manufacturing by hand.

Balancing Risks

But a maker’s entire business has to flex and absorb the risks that come with working in this way. Even with familiar tasks where we can trust the outcome, there’s always the possibility of missing a step, overdoing something, dropping the ball. And when we’re trying a new idea or technique every stage can have unknowns. The reality of balancing those risks while spinning all the other plates is a skill in itself, enabling your business to operate alongside the ups and downs of production.

David Pye would never have anticipated a world of solopreneurs who not only engage with the workmanship of risk, but also take on the risks of marketing, supplying sale or return stock to fill gallery shelves while keeping an eye on Instagram to see what everyone else is up to. It’s hard to steady your hand when your head and your pulse are racing.


@lizandmollie | Instagram


So how about a different definition of success? Where you get to be a healthy happy human and make things?

Creativity, project management and marketing call on different aspects of your skills and personality, but all three stages rely on you as your fully resourced adult self. If you get out of balance, everything else can feel like hard work. My one to one coaching is person-centered, focusing on how to build your resilience so you can meet your own demands in a way that works for you.

As Maya Angelou said:

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do & liking how you do it.

What would success look like for you this week?