Carving out a passion

GT Magazine (Geelong Advertiser) , December 2015

Greg duncan 05

A few lessons from a master of finishing what he’s started is the motivation needed for completing our personal projects, writes Miranda Luby

Chapter one. Two words I’ve written a number of times. In fact, I have about five first chapters of novels squirrelled away in a folder in my computer and while they have each other for company, there are no ‘chapter twos’ to give them much hope of ever seeing the light of an airport newsagency.
Personal projects, endeavours we’re really passionate about, are easy to start but not so easy to finish. From writing a book to designing and building your own house, setting up your own craft and DIY blog to learning a language or an instrument, personal projects can be daunting, time consuming, expensive and difficult and it’s easy to lose motivation and convince yourself it’s all just a bit too hard.
Then there’s Greg Duncan.
I was in Tasmania last week, driving the road between Strahan and Hobart, when I saw a sign for ‘The Wall’. Hidden in the wilderness is an enormous shed that holds the first 10 years of Greg’s 12-year-long personal project. The artist is crafting 100 one-meter-wide by three-meter-high intricately detailed carved panels of Huon Pine that tell stories about the history of Tasmania’s central highlands.
Laid out next to each other, the 80-something completed panels, every inch painstakingly carved into a section of the masterpiece, are a lesson in passion and dedication. This is a man who is finishing what he started. It’s enough to put my multiple chapter ones to shame, really.
Right, I thought, after spending an hour wandering the shed, filled with a mixture of awe, inspiration and envy. What’s the lesson here? It may be an extreme example of a personal project, but if this man can dedicate himself for more than 10 years to something there must be a few tips we can take away from him.
Well, firstly, he’s held accountable. His personal project has become a tourist attraction. It’s pretty hard to give up when you’ve got tens to hundreds of people coming to view your work every day, counting your panels and asking how much longer it will take to finish. Not that I think offering tours of my study for people to watch me type is going to help, but telling someone or several someone’s about your project seems to be a good way to keep it on track.
Greg’s also tackling his project one panel at a time — each chip of the chisel at a time, in fact. Of course he has an overall picture in his head but along the way he can celebrate the achievement of mini goals by finishing a leg or an arm or one whole panel.
Thirdly, it’s pretty clear the artist is doing this for no one but himself. I’m sure Greg has people he’d love to see him succeed, and perhaps world-fame and riches have crossed his mind from time to time (ahhem Oprah’s book of the month) but he started the self-funded project purely because it was something he wanted to do for him, so no external factors can affect his motivation.
And that brings us to passion, which is obviously the driving force here. This is a man with unwavering passion for his craft and for Tasmanian history. When we approach a personal project we have to ask ourselves, am I passionate enough about this to see it through? If the answer is yes then that’s half the battle won. Okay, maybe one tenth of the battle.
There are some valuable lessons carved into the walls of Greg Duncan’s soon-to-be-completed masterpiece and they’re enough to motivate me to tackle my personal projects with new inspiration… chapter two.