Andy Roth is a craftsman that came through one of our training sessions last year. He hails from Canada and is one of the most creative and eclectic guys we know, so we asked him a few questions about his path and personal creative process.
He has known he wanted to be a builder of some sort ever since he was little. He has memories of hammering nails into wood in kindergarten and knowing somehow that it was one of the most natural things to be doing. All of this was confirmed in high school through construction classes and various working apprenticeship programs. He admits that he was not suited for the traditional classroom and remembers his mom telling him to, “Please just go enough to pass.” She knew him very well and knew he had his own course to chart.
Andy said that had an amazing woodworking teacher in high school, Mr. Martin, whom he respected a lot. It was in this class that he really began to find his place and began to excel because of his love of and skills with tools and construction. The summer after school he was hired as a laborer for a high-end renovation company. He busted his ass to prove himself; and by the end of that summer he was brought on as an apprentice and was given the opportunity to work under a number of skilled carpenters. As an example of what a great opportunity this was he said that he learned how to hang doors six different ways from six different carpenters. This allowed him to pick the approaches he liked best and hone his own personal skills. He continued to work other builders for about 8 years before he decided to “make the jump” to working for himself. This is always a daunting move into the unknown. Andy’s advice to anyone thinking about doing the same is to be upfront with their employers and to leave on good terms. Though Andy was confident in his skills, he was “scared shitless” at first, but knew that if it didn’t work out he could always go back to working for someone else. That was a short 16 years ago.
Working for yourself has its challenges though. Andy said that some of the most challenging times was when he made the mistake of working with the wrong people. He has lost both money and time because of it. But in times like that you just have to dust your self off and stand a little straighter and push on with even more determination. These things happen; it is how you respond that really makes the difference. Failure is not in his vocabulary.
Andy says that he now is very satisfied creatively. He continues to grow as a tradesman and has has the privilege to work with clients that trust him enough to give him creative freedom over projects. He feels that the more freedom he has in a piece the better his work is. This is said like a true creative. This place of trust and freedom is hallowed ground for a maker and is often indicative of experience and passion. Andy says that satisfaction comes from doing what he loves everyday; meaning that he “doesn’t work a day in his life.”
He feels that he is in the most creative and rich time in his life right now. But like all great men, he is not alone. His family is the center of his life and is a huge motivating and inspiring influence. He goes on to say, “I have a very talented and beautiful wife that I love with all my heart . She is very supportive and brutally honest about my work! But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I also have a beautiful son who’s is 12 yrs old now , a little man. He helps me in the shop and comes with me to meet with clients; I hope he finds the same joy of working with his hands as I do. I also love him more than anything on this planet.” As makers we are blessed with a rich life already, but it is so refreshing to hear how integral and essential family really is when it comes to finding our place.
I went on to ask him about what inspires him. “So for me I get inspired from all sorts of places, people, and experiences. It’s all based on positive energy and people who appreciate hand made objects that some consider art. My shop, is filled many great things that I love and inspire me. For example, I have some old machinist lights that were once bolted to some industrial press or something and have this crazy patina you can’t fake. They are the real deal. I also have an old anvil on a wood stump, and a pair of old rusty yellow headlights that are off of a 1950’s bulldozer. This is what makes my juices flow, these things don’t have a price tag because they are not for sale, I [mean the key is] to surround yourself with people you love and respect and objects that have a story behind them.” This quote may be one of my favorite from the whole interview. This is the gospel of the material maker. It is all about the life of the object and material. Respect the history and life because that is where the richness is found.
Andy goes on to talk about growing as a creative and how criticism can be double-edge sword. He said that it used to bother him how everyone has an opinion or critique regardless of their experience or understanding of the craft. But he has had to learn to “distance” himself somewhat from his work so comments don’t feel so personal. It is hard because he puts so much thought, time and energy into each piece; it really is personal. But Andy recognizes that he needs feedback; constructive criticism. The wisdom lies in knowing which is which. He says, “I listen very closely to constructive criticism, if you don’t you will never evolve and grow. I’ve always said if your not making mistakes your not making anything.” He went on to say that making mistakes is a critical part of his process. When you have such an eclectic style such as his; when you are always experimenting with materials, processes, and how they interact, mistakes are just part of the process. He works with wood, metal and of course concrete. He says, “To experiment with these amazing materials and create a functional piece of art is what my life’s work is about and always will be till the day I die.”
“I listen very closely to constructive criticism, if you don’t you will never evolve and grow. I’ve always said if your not making mistakes your not making anything.”
Andy is a kindred spirit. We are thankful that our paths have crossed. It can sometimes be a lonely road to forge your own path and it is the opportunity to meet people like Andy that keeps our fires burning. Check his stuff out on his website and give him a shout. I am sure he would love to hear from you.