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  • Writer's pictureIntarsia Wood Art

More Than Sawdust: Why Intarsia Is About Happiness, Not Wealth

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

So far, we’ve covered the history of Intarsia and what tools you’ll need to get started on your journey. But we haven’t covered why you should get into Intarsia in the first place. So, in this blog post, we’ll cover the many reasons you should consider getting into this wonderful craft. We’ll look at the cost involved, the time you’ll need to devote to the art, and how I got started and am still going. Let’s clarify one thing before we get started though, you shouldn’t be getting into Intarsia to make money.

My Journey: From Rags to Fancier Rags

Like I said, getting into Intarsia shouldn’t be about making money, rather it should be because it makes you happy from the very minute you get into it. In my case, it was very simple and almost love at first sight. I can still remember the first Intarsia magazine I bought. It had an Intarsia wolf on the cover, and I remember thinking about the sheer beauty of the wood, the uniqueness of the craft, and the inevitable question: “How do they do that?”. I was hooked right away by this craft that I had never seen before.

Once I finished my first piece, Intarsia turned into a passion that never left me. After making a few pieces for the house, it became imperative for me to show off what I had learned and share it with friends and family. Intarsia became the de facto gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Every member of my family has multiple pieces in their house.

For me, it’s always been about giving. There’s no better feeling than to see the look in someone’s eyes once they’re presented with an exquisite piece of Intarsia, that you poured yourself into. Over the years I’ve strived to cultivate that feeling, and instead of focusing on the money, I focused on the people I was doing this for. Remember that wolf featured on the magazine cover? It's my very first piece and it’s proudly displayed in my workshop to this very day.

Health Benefits: Make Intarsia Your Happy Place

You’ve heard the expression: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”. I think this applies to hobbies more than it does to day jobs. If you love your craft, it’ll never feel like work. Take profit out of the equation, and it becomes your happy place. Don’t get me wrong, you can also get that feeling if you’re getting paid to make Intarsia, however, it may not feel that way if you’re solely getting into it for the money.

Intarsia is my Zen zone. The time spent in the workshop is a blend of reflection and meditation. Whether overcoming challenges with parts that need redoing or adding the finishing touches to intricate pieces during an invigorating session, I consistently emerge from it with a sense of peace and satisfaction. I can’t say it’s always been this way, especially not in the beginning! But like with any hobby, patience is a virtue.

But what About Money? The Commission Conundrum

Once you attain a certain skill level, the typical advancement involves taking on commissioned projects. These may come from friends, friends of friends, or even strangers through word of mouth. It's crucial to assess these requests thoughtfully and uphold the enjoyment factor. What I mean by this is that I seldom replicate the same piece unless in exceptional circumstances—I simply find repetition less enjoyable. Therefore, if you choose to extend your services broadly, there's always the possibility of someone requesting multiples, like 10 or 50 of a particular item. Consequently, I exercise caution in selecting the commissions I undertake. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: “Will I enjoy doing this?” If the answer is anything but a resounding yes, then move on.

The Cost of Intarsia

With Intarsia, the financial prospects are limited due to the significant time investment required. Crafting a detailed piece can demand 50 to 70 hours of labour, coupled with costs for materials such as wood, blades, glue, and sandpaper. Consequently, the production cost is notably high.

Buyers are often drawn to the aesthetics rather than the intricate production process, leading to pricing adjustments to align with client expectations. I typically adopt a per-piece pricing model, considering the intricate steps involved in tracing, cutting, sanding, fitting, gluing, and finishing. As the number of pieces increases, so does the overall artwork cost.

My standard rates are $3 per piece for projects using local (North American) wood and $5 per piece for those utilizing exotic wood. This discrepancy is due to the higher cost of exotic wood compared to local options like oak and maple. When a project involves a mix of local and exotic wood, I opt for a middle-ground approach, charging $4 per piece to cover material and finishing costs.

So, let’s look at a couple of examples. Keep in mind that everything is in Canadian currency:

Example 1:

The goose comprises 52 pieces, crafted from a selection of local lumber—pine, walnut, cherry, and cedar. Mounted on a live edge slab, it received a Polyurethane finish.

Following our pricing formula, the initial asking price for this piece would be $156. However, we must consider the backer cost, which amounts to $15. Therefore, a fair price for the geese would be adjusted to $170.

The total work time invested in completing this sculpture ranges from 10 to 15 hours.

Example 2:

The horned owl features 143 pieces, including a custom frame adorned with paw prints. The composition incorporates a blend of both local and exotic wood.

Simplifying the calculation without delving into the intricate count of exotic versus local wood, a midrange price of $4 per piece is agreed upon. Consequently, a fair price for the owl is determined to be $572.

The total work time dedicated to completing this piece falls within the range of 35 to 40 hours.

Do these prices appear steep to you? In the end, it's subjective. For me, $572 for 40 hours of work spread over several weeks, encompassing the expenses for wood and shop materials, seems notably low. However, from a customer's standpoint, the justification for this amount lies in clarifying the intricate process, detailing the steps required to fulfill their request, and emphasizing the quality of the final product.

Geographical location also influences the pricing of your artwork. Attempting to sell your pieces at a local high school Arts & Craft fair may not yield success. Conversely, showcasing your work in a boutique in Mont-Tremblant could result in the sale of numerous pieces.

In my personal experience, when dealing with commissioned pieces, I rarely encounter resistance to the price. Those who make the effort to make a special request are typically well-informed about their purchase and appreciate the craftsmanship and quality of the artwork.

While it's highly unlikely that your Intarsia hobby will cover your mortgage, there's always that new tool you spotted last week that's tempting you to make the purchase. You might find that whatever money you make from Intarsia only fuels your next project, and that’s perfectly fine. Like I said, it shouldn’t be about making a profit, it should be about doing something that makes you happy. More importantly, it should be about making others happy as well. Whatever motivates you, enjoy your woodworking!

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