Jeff Soan – Wooden Creatures

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I couldn’t make it to see wood sculptor Jeff Soan’s latest exhibitions, and so he very kindly sent me this little fish, to give me more of an idea of how his work moves in the flesh. As he said, it is “part of the pleasure”.

I know that I am always getting very excitable about the work that I feature here – that’s not only because I only choose to write about things that do genuinely interest me, but also because these really are, in my opinion, something very special.

Made from ash, this little fish sits lightly in my palm, and with each movement of my hand, it bends and moves as if it is alive. Each little cut into the wood is so precise, the design so perfect and true. The finish is truly lovely, a mix of scarred and darkened wood, bright shimmering greens and polished amber hues.

Jeff says that he prefers to use spray paint to decorate these fish – applied through, of all things, fishnet tights – a happy discovery one day when looking for a perfect way to mimic the texture of fish scales.

He follows the arrangement of the annual rings in the wood, finding beautiful curves and circles which form part of the design.

“I go with the wood, I want to enhance what it is saying already”

Patterns and natural forms are then brought to life by tried and tested combinations of torching, digging in, spraying and sanding, until the desired effects are reached. Torching the wood not only gives a beautiful dark sheen, but lends the piece an extra special sensory value, as it smells so beautifully of wood smoke! Jeff also says that as the wood is torched, it naturally forms into scales, the pattern deepens in.

This little fish sparkles like real scales do, in the light.

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By cutting the wood into narrow sections, and securing it to canvas, Jeff enables the most amazing movement into his creatures.

These beautiful seals, one of his most popular creations, will curl and move to your touch, gazing up at you in such a soft eyed, lifelike way that it’s almost unnerving!

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I have to smile a little that this Border Terrier is made of Douglas Fir. Jeff has made crocodiles from this wood too, as he likes the “reptilian texture”. Hammered, scraped and gouged, it certainly gives a pleasingly furry impression to this little dog, with a really “muzzley” muzzle. (Yes I made up that word.)

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“I love O-Matic’s!”, says Jeff, describing this dear little automata. It puts me in mind of some of the inventions finding their way out of Wallace and Gromit’s workshop. He cites Heath Robinson, “..although my mechanisms are rather the opposite of complex.”

As you move the handle, the dog moves and wiggles, wagging its tail. It was, as Jeff describes, “a bit of a disaster really.. I am rubbish at automata”. But I think that its clunky nature and slight aura of embarrassment is totally part of the charm.

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Jeff prefers to work with reclaimed wood. He tries to use every part of it, so that for example, he says “the offcut portion of a fishes tail may form the breast of a bird.”  He says that he particularly enjoys working with partially rotted wood, which, once microwaved and cleaned to stop the rot and remove any hidden residents, gives way to wonderful naturally formed raised areas, textures, and colours.

He rarely uses traditional tools, preferring to make use of many usual and unusual implements in his self titled pursuit of “wood butchery”. Rotary carving tools, blowtorches, wire brushes and even meat tenderisers are some of his preferred items to hand.

“I’ve got used to power” he says, talking of his tools, and, with a certain mix of both guilt and pride, “I abuse wood horribly”.

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Recently, Jeff was given some of the original timber from the Cutty Sark, and asked to make creatures that would have been found on and around the ship.

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The lovely Collie above is made from oak, and the collar made from the original hull planking. He is modelled on the dog kept by the aptly named Captain Woodget, who sailed the Cutty Sark during her most successful period of service in 1885. Captain Woodget sounds like a fascinating character, who Jeff tells me was known for his habit of roller skating on deck!

The powdery, matt black finish is achieved by painting with an iron solution, which creates a really natural looking colour that is actually created in the fibres of the wood, rather than sitting on top. This is painted or sprayed in. I love the effect.

This, other animals, and even a small automata of the ship, made from offcuts from a mixture of timbers, will be on display at the re-launch.

I asked him what inspires him to continue to work in wood in this way. He answered, “I don’t really know why I keep doing this..sometimes I just think, what’s the point, so what?” But then he tumbles into an excited run of sentences about this experiment and that, new techniques he has learned, new things that fascinate him, and it is obvious that this is still a love to him, these are not just run of the mill offerings..I think this is immediately evident in the objects themselves, which fizz with energy and life – this is true passion, and true, grown skill, from a real craftsman.

You can find Jeff’s website and blog here.

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Edward Teasdale

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I’m very excited this week to show work and thoughts from UK furniture designer and maker Edward Teasdale.

Edward Teasdale appeared on the UK Crafts scene in the 1980’s. He worked as a furniture designer in industry, a maker and later a teacher, before once again establishing his own workshop in the Lake District, from which he now works, creating pieces for exhibit in selected galleries and for individual clients and collectors.

Elemental and enigmatic, with the intense energy of a rising wave, something alive hums from the pieces below.

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“Like every other maker my choices of material and process are not arbitrary but conditional on careful thought and experience, subject to practical and value judgements. So too with stylistic preferences where my personal aesthetic is probably more immediately connected to local conditions and a long term bond with the natural landscape, particularly the history and characteristics of the Lakes area of Cumbria. Here, the objects of my surroundings; mountains, moors, estuaries and lakes have a pervading and affecting elemental presence, particularly when experienced in what some call inclement weather. Everywhere in the landscape there are indicators of life; in natural light, wind, water and woodlands, in the mellowing influence of time and weather, in the simple disciplined human interventions to contain and control and in the value in striking a balance between the natural and man-made.”

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“Salvaged painted wood is a waste product of urban renewal and unlike the natural unfinished wood varies a great deal in visual character. Collecting and responding to this material is a new situation every time and involves a more conscious image building process, making each coloured piece of furniture more unexpected and unrepeatable.”

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From the beginning, Edward made “small consciously modest crafted objects comprising a basic utility and somewhat rough hewn appearance”, using found woods.

“I was determined to adopt a light touch approach in terms of production (small, basic, ethical) and make modest things that communicated my thoughts, values and visual ideas, but were also very practical.”

His relationship with wood began much earlier than this, he remembers:

“I loved climbing into trees when I was young and with school friends built shelters every summer out of natural materials in the woods around my home in the Lake District.

“I progressed from whittling bows, arrows and fishing rods (out of Hazel and Yew) to making sledges, bogies and rafts out of reclaimed materials using my fathers hand tools.

“Without noticing I must have developed a real interest in wood, as well as some skills in designing and making things. Now I appreciate that it’s the cleanness, and the visual and tactile warmth of wood, coupled with its versatility as a practical and aesthetic medium that appeals to me.

“I love the smell of wood, its density, its bulk, its texture, and the variety of types and surfaces available. I do however like to think of it, and work it, as a non-precious material.”

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“In construction terms my objects have the same economy as country fences, gates and stiles (not self consciously detailed or elaborated in design or craft terms). I use locally available found materials; especially those that already have worn and naturally aged surfaces. I stick to basic furniture requirements (storage box, seating bench, table surface)”

“I have tried to break with certain practices in my field choosing not to use exotic, plundered and endangered woods and not to use complex high consumption production processes. The finishes created do not aim for the perfectly controlled appearance of machined materials and production but retain much of the rawness and weathering of the reclaimed material used.”

“It is the quality of what I can achieve rather than the quality of what I use that matters most to me.”

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“Interacting with the physical world has always been central to my life. The natural landscape and built environment inspire me equally but consideration of such things as Art, Sculpture, Architecture and Environmentalism have all played their part in forming my work.

One of my original motivations was to capture something of the qualities of traditional rural buildings that (very naturally) meet essential needs through building by hand with local materials.

The character of my work is now well established, new ideas are inspired by the materials I find or client needs and from sketches and scaled drawings I make the work entirely myself in a small garden workshop.”

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All finished pieces are marked (usually centrally on the underside of the bottom) with a 2 digit date stamp e.g. 93 and a separate stamp in the form of a leaf. Most pieces are in private homes and collections in the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand but examples are also in the possession of the British Council, Arts Council of Great Britain, Usher Gallery Lincoln, UK.

You can read more about Edward on his site here.

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Rupert Blanchard – Salvager, Designer, Maker

I’ve been following designer/maker Rupert Blanchard’s work since first seeing a cabinet of his at Elemental in London.

Rupert spends many of his days salvaging hundreds of drawers, doors, fittings and fixtures from second-hand furniture dealers, car boot sellers, market stall holders and waste clearance companies, before finding the right combination to construct a new piece of furniture. He works and lives in his London studio –  originally part of the Shoreditch Police Station, and more recently a furniture factory.

What I like particularly is the warm way that he describes the items that he finds and makes new homes for..

“I’ve collected cardboard boxes for many years now, nicely worn warm brown cardboard with bright graphic prints. mostly from dusty attic spaces via car boot sales, stuffed with unwanted possessions.”

I can relate in some small way to his collecting obsession. In my second year at art college I found myself filling an entire old wardrobe shelf with old matchboxes, just because I liked how they looked, and thought I may use them some day. I’ve collected old bike chains, cogs, and rusty metal in the same way.

But Rupert takes it to a whole new level..and makes such new beauty from these old things.

I have no idea where he keeps them all…

 “A small selection from my collection of over 300 boxes have made their way into the new furniture collection.” 

Where does a person store over 300 cardboard boxes??

Apart from simply loving the look, and admiring the artful way that Rupert has reconstructed each piece, the whole idea completely appeals to my romantic and nostalgic tendencies. It’s impossible not to let your mind run about when looking at these collections. Where have those drawers been, touched by whose hands? What made that mark, that scratch? Every drawer and tiny lock has its own story to tell. They are like little lost children, found a new home, and given a long hot bath and a new pair of shoes.

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The colours and shapes are well chosen too. I love the contrast between the handles here –  flat and thin, soft and round, and the long, lippy ones – mouths with an overbite. You get the feeling that this is a very considered collection, but it doesn’t feel too precious either. I’d love to see this kind of approach used on a larger scale, in a kitchen design for example.

“I select items that would often be disposed of without a second thought.  Every item has its own tale to tell as I prolong its history and preserve its future.”

Here Rupert makes use of vintage enamelled advertising signs, damaged and no longer appealing to collectors. I think of the streets these signs graced; the lives passing them by, the designs giving hints of their era. On the top sit reclaimed school laboratory work tops, refinished but still visibly used. Quietly holding a stolen moment in history. Who knows which bored or inspired student has leaned their arms on top of them, with their test tubes and bottles of acid..it could even have been me or you.

You get the feeling that these pieces have a little giggle to themselves every now and then when no-one is looking.

I can see why Rupert is compelled to make these things sing again.

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You can read and see more about him on his website –

www.stylingandsalvage.com.

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Fabulous Folk from The Contemporary Craft Festival, Bovey Tracey

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I only had a few hours last Saturday to visit the Contemporary Craft Festival at Bovey Tracey, but what a fantastic few hours it was. The work and people that I met there exceeded my expectations; there was such originality, commitment and true skill on every corner.

Visiting last weekend really confirmed to me my love for work made by hand, and the magic invisibly imbued into something that has taken time and physical effort to create. A spoon that has taken five or more hours to carve from a single piece of wood, a pot formed from clay collected on the hillsides, caressed and moved into achingly beautiful shapes, a lampshade decorated with wrap after wrap of a single piece of thread, tucked so gently into the other side. These skills and actions have value and meaning and feeling, and they must be maintained and supported. This is so important.

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JULIA JOWETT

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Julia was one of the first people that I met on Saturday, in the “one year on” tent, showcasing artists and craftspeople who were one year into their new businesses.

Julia works dense hand embroidery into metal gauzes and figuratively manipulated wire lines, before combining them with drawing and screen printing onto fabric and paper. This combination of sculpture and drawn elements, sometimes also incorporating words and phrases, made for a really engaging series of work that I was really drawn into. Each one feels a little like a keepsake box, a collection of memories or stories.

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You can make contact with Julia on her blog, here.

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ADAM BUICK

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 I felt an instant connection to Adam’s work, as I wandered into his small space in the corner of the tent. Something wonderfully quiet, natural and peaceful sang out into the surrounding crowds.

Looking on his work, I felt a strong sense of the sea and the landscape, something very close to nature. I later learned that Adam lives and works by the coast in West Wales.

Once home, I was fascinated to read more about his work, and took a look at his website and blog. I spent a good while reading there, and found him to be not only an intriguing artist but also an engaging writer and thinker.

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Adam has been recently involved in a self directed project entitled “Earth to Earth” . He placed an unfired clay jar onto a coastal hill at Carn Treliwyd, Pembrokeshire, Wales, and recorded its gradual weathering away to the environment as a series of photographs, one taken every 33 seconds. On his blog he makes comparisons to his process of firing in the studio, to the effects of the weather on his work. As he says “I am still committing the jar to the elements, air and water instead of fire and there is still a transformation.”

The end result is a moving and dreamlike time lapse film, showing not only the gradual disintegration of the jar, but the changing wild landscape, sea, movement of animals, and the sky and stars. It spoke to me of many things, of resilience, of fragility, and the power of the natural world.

The film was shown at an outdoor event in the centre of Buenos Aires on the 17th of May. You can watch a small portion of the film here.

I really encourage you to read more about this project, it is so fascinating and uplifting, and to look more closely at Adam’s beautiful work on his site.

It made complete sense as to why his work has such a quality, why it holds something of that passionate connection to nature, even in that crowded, noisy space.

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JANE BLEASE

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A warm and Autumnal hued space welcomed me in to Jane’s beautifully arranged collection of handmade lampshades, framed pictures, bookmarks and jewellery.

I was really taken by the absolute precision and care it must take to wrap each single piece of thread round and through the wood burned holes that decorate each handcrafted piece that she works on. The shades give a beautifully warm light, and are totally unique.

Jane is based in her studio/shop at The Manchester Craft and Design Centre. You can also see more and buy her work from her website here.

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CLAIRE ARMITAGE

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Claire’s fantastic energy buzzed all about her space as I stepped in to admire her collection of handmade silk scarves. She was dressed beautifully in her own handmade dress from her own line. Once I looked more closely at the designs on each scarf, I was struck by their intricacy and individuality. Each piece of work is finished with delicately layered edgings and hand-embroidered details, and each one seems to tell some story, of the sea, the landscape and environment. They are truly original and stunningly beautiful – you really have to see them in real life to truly appreciate them.

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Claire designs and hand prints her scarves and dresses, plus undertakes work as a costume designer and illustrator from her birthplace in Cornwall. You can visit her site here.

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NIC WEBB

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Nic was the last person that I met as I made my way out from the crowds. His calm manner and friendliness drew me in to his space, filled with carefully arranged displays of hand carved, traditionally made spoons, ladles and bowls. I really enjoyed the feeling of slow moving time and focus that seemed to fall from the displays and his way of working, there was a quiet honour to each piece of work.

I love that each spoon, each bowl that he creates is slightly different, and is worked with the wood not against it, enhancing each grain and knot and forming it into something original and full of spirit and life.

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You can visit Nic’s site here.

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I hope that I have shared with you a little of the warmth and originality that I found at Bovey Tracey. If you are near at the next event I really encourage you to visit. You can read more about the festival at their website here.

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to let me into their space and take photographs.

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Colour Bright

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Well, if your weather has been anything like it has been here for the past two weeks, you might be growing a little sick of the colour Grey..I certainly am, and so have been comforting myself with a search for something brighter.

Here are some of my visual cures for the “Supposed to be Summer but Feels like Winter” Blues..and if you’re having a beautiful hot sunny day where you are, enjoy!

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The creation of textile designer Lorna Syson, these fabric wall flowers would add interest and colour to any room. Lorna says that her inspiration comes from the British countryside, particularly in the Springtime. Her original flowers were based on Dahlia’s that she saw growing at the Eden project in Cornwall, and all of the designs since have their roots in countryside walks and being outside. These flowers can be bought ready made, or bespoke from 20cm upwards in a huge variety of colours, and are easily nailed to the wall using the back petals. Add a little Spring to your wall!

The cushions are fabulous too, and made from a really interesting fabric, being 75% wool and 25% stinging nettles, all sourced and manufactured organically. Huggable, bright, and cheerily good.

Visit Lorna’s site here.

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I found it really difficult to pick which pieces to feature from the work of Ceramic artist Myung Nam An (above). I find these, from her “Eyes” collection, completely unique and fascinating. I like the fact that they reference certain forms, but still remain totally open to individual interpretation. Some are a little like alien life forms, or strange wonders found in the deep seas, giving you a peep before crawling away on suckered feet..some are fun, like childhood sweets, or quirky ladies hats at the races. Working individually or as a group, it would be hard to choose.

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Hello! Such a cute little owl print from Peris & Corr – an organic textile printing company from North Wales.

Peris & Corr offer a water-based screen-printing service and can print onto t-Shirts, tote bags, babies clothes and more. They also design and make their own range of handmade textile products and greeting cards. You can read a little more about their printing processes and see the prints being made on their blog too.

I also particularly liked these Welsh blanket lampshade designs. Bright and lovely.

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Lastly, but by no means leastly, these fantastic coat hooks, made from vintage 1930s wooden shoe lasts really brought a smile to my face..

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I found these at White Dove & Wonder, a company run by art and antiques dealer Susan Gaston and her husband Jimmy.

Grown from an impulse purchase of a collection of vintage Northamptonshire made shoe lasts, Susan and Jimmy began to see many interesting and attractive uses for these discarded items.

They both come up with the designs together, and then Jimmy painstakingly restores each shoe last before hand-making each piece using natural wood.

(I don’t think the doggy comes with the coat hook, but I’d take him home happily too 🙂 )

That’s it for now, I hope you have a bright and sunny day, wherever you are.

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Joseph Cornell

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Assemblage boxes by American artist, collagist, and filmmaker Joseph Cornell.

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Tilly Losch
c. 1935

 Construction, 10 x 9 1/4 x 2 1/8 in; Collection Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman, Chicago

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Object (Roses des Vents)
1942-53

 Construction, 2 5/8 x 21 1/4 x 10 3/8 in; The Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Untitled (The Hotel Eden)
c. 1945

 Construction, 15 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 4 3/4 in; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

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Untitled (Medici Prince)
c. 1952

Construction, 15 1/2 x 11 1/2 x 5 in; Collection Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Shapiro, Oak Park, IL

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Toward the Blue Peninsula
1951-52

Construction, 10 5/8 x 14 15/16 x 3 15/16 in; Collection Daniel Varenne, Geneva

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I find Joseph Cornell such an intriguing character.  Self taught, he was one of the pioneers and most celebrated exponents of assemblage. I am in love with his sense of symmetry, both in design and colour. There is something very calming about the exactness of these boxes. Everything just fits, it works. Each square is where it is born to be, each shape leads you to the next, creating a great journey for the eye to dream upon. There are stories and surprises in every box, offering small places of contemplation and inspiration that celebrate the unique in the commonplace.

I have always been fascinated by miniature worlds, looking into something and finding a million other little scenes and universes. These give me that feeling, like gazing into a deep rockpool and imagining yourself grown tiny and swimming inside. You cannot help but try to formulate connections between the objects here, to uncover meaning and create stories.

Cornell was a passionate collector – books, prints, postcards, and printed and three-dimensional ephemera all found their way into his life and work. He was also continually keeping notes and diaries, exploring ideas and carrying out “explorations” where he would conduct research, collect material and compile extensive files on individuals or topics of interest to him. These became thought of as artworks in themselves.

There is a fascinating collection of his papers, correspondance and diaries, along with a biography, at the Archives of American Art website here. See some more of his works here.

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Smooth..soft curves to caress..

Contact Elin direct for commissions, via her site.

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RIchard is represented by by the Medici Gallery in Cork Street, London and also the McGill Duncan Gallery in Castle Douglas.

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Visit Sylphs site for more information about her work, and a list of stockists.

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I hope that you enjoyed this moment of quiet gazing!

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