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How to combine digital skills with real, physical crafts

It is now two weeks ago that I shared the 3 lies I told myself that lead to the failure of Likewise. After quitting the project I had been working on for months, it was time for a much needed break to reflect and mentally prepare for the projects to come. Luckily, countries within Europe have opened up to visitors a bit more, so we managed to rent a car and drive to a location in beautiful Slovakia, with plenty of nature around.

One evening we decided to fire up the old outdoor grill to prepare ourselves a little feast. By the time we heated the charcoal and prepared the food to be grilled, a thunderstorm appeared above our heads and it started raining. Any reasonable person would’ve taken the food inside to finish cooking it there, but for some reason we both didn’t want to. It was like something deep inside of us got woken up by the struggle to make food outside, and we didn’t want to stop. We stayed outside for hours, in the pouring rain, until we both finished eating.

Thinking back on this event, I wonder if we, digital makers, are making a mistake with our lifestyles. Despite all the privileges we enjoy, like money, freedom and security, are we losing part of what it really means to be human? Are we sacrificing part of ourselves by spending such a significant portion of our time indoors in front of a screen? How often do you really see the sun? When was the last time you actually felt the rain?

Real-world impact

Don’t get me wrong, I love all the benefits of working online and wouldn’t trade it for the world. However, wouldn’t it be incredible if all these hours spent in front of a screen would culminate into something tangible, something real instead of something that only exists in the virtual world? Perhaps this is why so many software developers secretly (or in Daniel Vassallo’s case, not so secretly) dream of woodworking.

Woodworking is just one example though. What about metalworking, construction and farming? As a software developer, I’d love to apply my skills in all of these fields, despite never having had training in any of them. The idea of creating something high tech, by combining traditional crafts with modern solutions excites me like almost nothing else. I also don’t think that it's a coincidence that so many digital makers are interested in minimalism, vanlife, burning man, hiking and camping. These jobs, hobbies and lifestyles give a way to connect with what it means to be human again.

Digital makers in a physical world

I'm very interested in how you combine digital skills with real, physical crafts, like woodworking, construction, metalwork and agriculture. Even if you don't actually combine digital and physical crafts, but somehow manage to find a great balance in them, like digital makers that are minimalists, hikers, vandwellers, bushcrafters and homesteaders! Are there any role models in this space I should absolutely follow? How do you personally deal with the desire to make something real? Let me know in the comments!

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    Great read! I combine my online hassle with DJing, but I doubt I'll make a living from scratching vinyl in local parties ;) I agree on the comment about the lack of sun, sometimes I just want to head to the park with my laptop.

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      Music wasn't the first thing I had in mind when I thought of creating in the physical-world. But when you think of it, music has great real world impact, one that can be felt at any party. Great example!

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    Spending time offline will increasingly become more and more valuable for all of us online creators . It is so amazing you open this topic! I think a lot of us can relate...

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      Absolutely! Now the world is opening up a bit more again, I hope that we manage to find a good balance between online / offline activities. Now so many digital creators work remotely, we have the means to do it

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    There's actually a lot of people doing this. Simply share your process and work on Youtube/(tiktok nowadays could make building a following way faster) and then you'll gain an audience that would want to buy your products.

    I've considered doing this for painting, I just paint for fun, but have though about filming the process and posting that. But it is an extra layer of work. I already have another channel that I post on to build an audience for one of my projects, so I think I'd probably burn out if I try doing both haha.

    If you don't like documenting and then having to go through that process of editinc, etc. then it could be a bit harder. Or you can hire someone to help you do the things that you don't want to spend time doing.

  4. 2

    I'm actually exploring this topic right now. My work and hobbies have largely been working on a computer to produce a digital output; software for creatives and digital artistic content. While I do get outside to hike, cycle, workout, etc... I had a strong desire to get away from the computer and "make" something with my hands.

    I spent a year or so exploring new offline hobbies; making music with analogue synthesizers, woodworking to make simple furniture, arduinos and circuits on a breadboard, etc. From this exploration I learned a few key things:

    1. My job at the time sucked up too much of my personal time (overtime, late evening meetings with clients in other timezones, mental fatigue, etc.). I needed to change this.

    2. Leveraging my digital skills (3D modelling, programming, design, etc.) was a valuable complement to the new analogue skills I was learning. I should explore this more.

    3. Being creative is extremely rewarding to me, specifically independent creation with no boundaries, and I want to incorporate this into a regular part of my life.

    I was laid off 8 months ago and it was a blessing; I decided I would split my time 60/40 between a startup SaaS I want to build and my creative endeavours under a personal brand I created (CtrlShiftMake). Since then I've accomplished a few things: released a single on Spotify, worked on NFT artworks with a release pending on ArtBlocks.io soon, invested time into a webcomic I'd like to make, etc.

    It's still very much an experiment and due to COVID/financial limitations, still largely digital. But my goal here is to try and see what people like without much pressure and over time, I can transition to more physical works as I progress under a unified brand.

    Time will tell if I can manage to make some money from this, but at least I've prioritized personal fulfillment more than I was previously and I think that's key.

    edit:

    Going to plug a few things I've created during my exploration that I'm proud of, both as validation of my efforts and because... I want to share :)

    https://www.ctrlshiftmake.com/

    https://open.spotify.com/artist/7xnYSTTaAr81ER2HtZF3Nc?si=BYsUKOWPQNeC4r9PKYsjNw

    https://opensea.io/collection/photosynthetic-collection/

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    Funny story. One of my side hobbies outside my real-world career full-time job and all my side businesses and projects is building cutting boards.

    For me, one of the best things that can be done when looking to dive into a new offline hobby is to develop a brand/website/web property around it. It's a wonderful method for learning about your hobby through developing structures and strategies to teach others. As an added bonus, if you get your web property built up well enough, your investment into the new hobby can mostly be considered business expenses.

    I do this with upcoming travel to learn as much as possible about the location and build an effective itinerary. I do this with my more general hobbies and things I'm looking to get into. So, for example, with the cutting board pursuits, I went ahead and recently registered http://howtomakeacuttingboard.com/ (I'm surprised it wasn't taken yet to be honest), and I have about 30,000 words of content already to load into the site when I can find a gap of time to do so!

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      That's such a smart way to combine online and offline interests! Were the travel websites similar to travel blogs, or did you also sell something on them?

      Funny coincidence that you got into making cutting boards, just like Daniel. How does it feel for you to make something physical, like cutting boards? Is it similar to the dopamine hit you get from creating digitally or does it hit different?

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        Great questions!

        RE: travel blogs or sales, they are mostly guide-based. One that I am currently in the process of finishing up is Best Hotels in Las Vegas. It's sitting at close to 150,000 words of content, with a bunch of individual, in-depth hotel reviews and then top X guides that interlink into those reviews where applicable. I like to think about monetization after the fact, but with this one I will likely be submitting it for AdSense soon and then booking.com's affiliate program.

        However, with some of the travel sites, I can develop Amazon Affiliate Network content that works with them and standard buyer's guide styles. One example of how I've done this is with the Best Hiking Backpacks guide. I have a bit more formatting to finalize on that guide, in addition to a table to add from Table Labs.

        RE: building cutting boards, I find it cathartic, and a good step away from the digital world. The process is somewhat relaxed as well, as I do almost all of it with hand tools.

        I take my time selecting the right wood for the job, either going to a local Woodcraft for smaller cuts or a place near me called EcoRelics that has larger slabs of exotic and domestic hardwoods (for example, I recently grabbed a nice live-edge slab of walnut and a planed piece of wenge).

        Once I have the wood I need for the main piece, inlays, patterns, etc, I will make the necessary measurements, and then cut with a Japanese hand saw. I don't bother putting them through a planer, as minuscule ridges are all part of the handmade experience. But if there are some jagged edges, I will run it through a little 7 3/4 inch miter saw I have.

        Then, once the cuts are made, I use Titebond III to glue them up and clamp them. Then the sanding comes in once the glue dries. Typically, I use 120 grit for imperfections and removal of over-glue, 400 grit for smoothing, and then 1000 grit for final polish. Tack cloth afterward removes sawdust, and then I put it into a mineral oil bath I built with 5 gallons of food-grade mineral oil and a Rubbermaid container. It sits in there for 12 hours (too much longer and it will soak up enough oil to start to sweat some of it out over time in the Florida humidity), then up onto a rack to dry.

        The last step is a quick buff with some beeswax, and then I put some rubber feet on the bottom and burn my initials very small into the underside of the board. It's a nice, relaxing process, and great for podcast listening when not running the saw or sander.

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