A career in the making...

Hello strangers, its great to be back in front of the screen writing again and I have some exciting news to share with you.

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Since my last post I have said farewell to gainful employment and started a full time furniture making course with the exceptionally talented John Lloyd in East Sussex. Eight weeks in and going strong, I have swapped my city desk for vice and bench - ahh the title of this blog kind of makes sense now. I now spend the majority of my days on my feet, using my hands and learning to be precise and aware, it's a stark departure from the days of meetings, spreadsheets and early flights. I expect to be working on my first commissions in spring next year and have started to put ideas on paper, I will share the process of design and the making with you over the coming months. 

I started off planning to become a craftsman several years ago, dreams and plans have now become reality, it is fantastic to have left the rat race and start down the path of a new career. The creation of Petrel Furniture Ltd. is a major milestone in this journey, Petrel will be a business dedicated to the craftsman maker, it will herald design and traditional craft skills, initially we will focus on furniture and expand to cover other craft disciplines as the business grows. 

Over the coming posts I will share the process of learning focusing on design decisions, hand skills and techniques. I will also continue to seek out influential makers both past and present and give my views on material use, environment and design. I hope you enjoy seeing the business take shape. 

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The new seat of learning, a barn in beautiful East Sussex.

 

Welcome aboard it's going to be a great trip. 

Exploring London’s Art Galleries

For the avid followers of Andrew Graham-Dixon, of which I am one, I recommend several short courses run by the Bishopsgate Institute on exploring London’s art galleries. For the past several Friday’s art historian and tutor Aleks Zaczek-Gbiorczyk, has expertly navigated our group through the National Gallery and Tate Modern to explain the history and context behind some fine artworks. I confess I am an amateur when it comes to art history, I can broadly classify works into periods and identify key artists from their style, a Turner from a Rothko if you like..but that's about it. The course has given me is a deeper understanding of the chronology of art movements and the impact of historic events on the creation of styles and themes. Aleks selected a wide range of work with each week focusing on a thematic purpose to explain the development of form and movements - take the development of perspective in early icon painting for example. The great thing about the course is that it allows you to stand in front of a piece of work and through Aleks deep knowledge start to fully appreciate its context and through that its possible meaning. I do enjoy spending time in galleries, the ability to dip in for a brief spell and take in a few rooms is a great privilege (especially considering the National and the Tate are in the most part free), this course has heightened this enjoyment as I now have a deeper understanding of the artist and the history of the great movements. Check out the Bishopsgate Institute for the next course in this series

If you are passing the National Gallery and have 15 mins spare I urge you to see the Wilton Diptych, this has been one of the most stunning works of art I have seen in many years, it is full of symbolism and beautifully crafted; for me It has been the highlight of the course.

 

Geometry & the Oder of Nature

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Looking out at a dreary wet Sunday afternoon I am so very pleased to be sitting on the sofa with my feet up listening to BBC Radio 6 music, Huey's rhythm and blues selection is a great soundtrack to this Lazy afternoon. We had originally planned to venture out to browse the floors of Liberty to do some research in the homeware and furniture floors and indulge in a cup of tea and a slice of something nice. We have made a rule to never go near Oxford Street in the rain (very sensible), so here we are enjoying the warmth of our Melin Tregwynt blanket and time to catch up on workingbench and some business planning. 

Well what's been happening? This week I am terribly excited to have signed up to a course in Geometry at the Princes School of Traditional Arts. The school originates from the Royal College of Art which had established a traditional arts curriculum in 1984, in 2004 Prince Charles founded the Princes School of Traditional Arts (PSTA) as a charity with a goal of teaching and preserving art forms and techniques fundamental to the great cultural and religious traditions of the world. I have followed the school for a while and although initially daunted by some of the courses finally decided to jump right in and have signed up for a short course on Geometry and the Order of Nature. The course provides an introduction to geometry and numbers in nature and the universal art of pattern. I must say I am a little nervous about the first lesson as it has been years since I have been in an academic environment let alone close to a compass or protractor!  I hope to use the teaching of this course as a foundation to understanding the basic symmetry types and how they can be used in my furniture and  homeware designs. I am already bubbling away with ideas on how veneer and inlays can be used to create geometric patterns and build a narrative for a series of work. This feels like the first major step to a new creative career since making the decision to change direction. 

The school has a wide range of unique courses which includes Chinese brush painting, The art of mosaic, Islamic Art and Ottoman design and ceramics...crumbs! Well worth taking a look at the short evening and weekend courses. 

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Quick snap of the membership brochure - stunning pattern work and geometry. 

Cauliflower cheese on mixed roast vegetables and greens for dinner, let the coziness roll.

Business Planning

Airplane Two simple words that leave me quite cold, after all what sane person wants to spend hours forecasting long term drivers, market demand and product segmentation. This week I took the advantage of time out of the office for a few business trips to put down ideas of the new venture on paper. I find a dimly lit cabin the perfect environment to gather thoughts and start to answer some fundamental questions on what form the business will take...what kind of company do I want to run? After staring at the blinking cursor for what seemed like an eternity, well half way across the English Channel to be accurate, I finally started writing the business plan.

There are many decisions to make when you start presenting ideas on paper and it all started a little off key, I have spent years dreaming of 'what if' and 'wouldn't it be great to produce...' I have notebooks upon notebooks of ideas, trains of thoughts heading to many different destinations, now is the time to condense the ideas into a decisive plan, a business that responds to creativity, environmental respect and the desire to produce something exceptional.

It is clear that help is required to get these thoughts into a logical and coherent plan, after all if I am seeking an investment, a backer will need some fundamental questions answered. I flicked through a variety of business planning and self help titles in the airport bookshop and decided on one of the Financial Times Essential Guides - Writing a business plan by Vaughan Evans (ISBN: 978-0-273-75798-6) - This title seemed the most practical and straight forward, it is written by someone who has created and reviewed many plans and know what a 'backer' is looking for. Although I am yet to decide on the kind of investment the business will need Vaughan's book offers the most flexibility in presenting a plan targeted to a debt and equity. I am fortunate to have many years in a commercial environment under my belt and feel comfortable with the vocabulary of finance, the book is logical and allows you to build the plan through each chapter, it starts by asking fundamental questions at the core of the business.

So there I sat, nearing the end of my short flight with a busy day ahead and yet a separate exciting journey had begun, I had taken those stuffed notebooks and started to define something new. Someone had once told me that new ideas are precious and need to be nurtured, treat them like a newborn and protect them. Weird as this sounds I feel a certain parental protection to my plan, it is newly formed after years of conception and quite precious.

Over the course of this journey I intend to share with you ideas of this new business, however now is not the time. I will share a few questions which I started to answer this week, perhaps you are thinking of starting something new and wondering how to get those  scribbles into a structure.

1. Market Demand: What is driving demand for the buyers of a product such as yours?

2. Competition: Is industry competition between you and fellow suppliers of your product intense? Why are you unique?

I have completed the first section of the plan where I define the business and define some initial short-term goals, it feels great to have started but like all long journeys I have many miles ahead, I need to accept misdirection, wrong turns and fatigue...but boy am I up for it.

A new direction...

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The time has come... The mind is set... The planning is underway... Ideas are forming... It's time for action.

Like so many of us I have often dreamt of that job, the one that allows you to be free, excel at a discipline, learn a skill and become exceptional...the kind that bleeds effortlessly into your whole world and shapes your character and way of life...the one that feels so right that you wonder how you missed it for so long. 

I have decided to establish a craft business, a partnership which designs, produces and markets fine British crafts. A small business that has design, function and master craft at its heart. Later this year I will start a one year cabinet making course that will focus on the design and the skills and discipline required to make exceptional furniture. I will close the door on my current career and embark on a new journey, I direction that I believe will equip me with the necessary technical and aesthetic qualities to build a business. Along the way I hope to meet makers across disciplines and form a partnership, a business we own and share in its success.  I will track this journey in workingbench, the warts and all, the business planning, the resignation, the ideas and the impact, I welcome your thoughts, direction and comments. 

I long to be exceptional...produce something real...be humble in my learning...generous in my teaching...and please customers with original exceptional craft. 

I hope you will join me, its going to be a blast. 

 

Craft Pottery: Richard Batterham

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I am so excited to post something about Richard's work. I first came across Richard whilst reading about Bernard Leach and the famous St Ives pottery where Richard studied following formal education at Bryanston School, he still continues the Leach tradition in producing rugged domestic stoneware. I recall a quote where Richard states that the main principle of his work is to "enrich rather than adorn life". I am a strong believer in functional craft and that expertly crafted items can enrich our lives if used with respect and care.

We are the proud owners of two Richard Batterham plates in a elegant sea green colour which we picked up from David Mellor's Sloane Square shop, although they cost an eye watering £50 each we use them most days and take great pleasure in their form, feel and design. The plates are rugged and by no means elegantly finished, the glaze runs into pattern and is cracked in places. The plates have confidence, an assurance which comes from a masters touch, they do not need to be refined. I hope one day to hand them down to a next generation or loved one so they can enjoy them as much as I do, to me this is the essence of mastercraft. 

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David Mellor design has a great selection of his work and currently has 10% off! 

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Peder Moos

Today I have been looking at the work of Danish Master Cabinetmaker Peder Moos (1906 – 1991), a truly inspirational character with some stunning work. Peder was perhaps not the most well know of the Danish furniture makers of the functionalist movement but in my view he was certainly one of the best. Working mostly to commission he is thought to have only made between 30-40 pieces, his work is incredibly rare and hard to come by, his furniture is held by a number of museum collections and commands significant price tags at auction. I first came across his work through reading James Krenov’s outstanding book ‘A Cabinetmakers Notebook’ (ISBN 0941936597) where James recalls a wonderfull anecdote:

"A story that has stuck in my mind and affected me is one of the innumerable anecdotes about a legendary cabinetmaker in Denmark called Peder Moos. He is gone now but this story has helped me and it just might help someone else. It's about a woman in Stockholm who, at the time that Peder Moos was fairly well know, wrote him a letter and asked him whether he would make her a cabinet. Several months went by and she did not get a reply, so finally she called him on the telephone and repeated her request. He muttered something about well, yes, he would do that, or at least he would think about it. Several months went by and still no answer so the lady wrote him a card reminding him of her request, and again she did not get a reply.

Then one day, the story has it about a year and a half after she had originally contacted he, there came a postcard from Peder Moos, "I have made a piece for you." The lady, of course was tremendously excited; she took the first possible train down to Copenhagen and then to the smallish town where Peer Moos lived and worked. She went to his shop, met him - and there was a chair. The lady looked at the chair, and took it and paid for it, and went home very, very happy"

James goes on to comment that this story encouraged him to have freedom in his interpretation and the importance of being left alone with the brief. For me the exciting thing here is that a craftsperson of such high regard and respect can direct output and in this case produce something so far from the brief and still delight the customer. Peder answered to the craft, the materials available and the accurate transformation of the material into form, it was his interpretation. Here's an image of one of a table from Peder Moos, this was taken from an auction catalog last year. I long to see his work up close in real-life.

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Notice the use of the wooden pins, Peder was known for shunning screws nails and screws and relied on wooden pins and wedges, wood on wood. I also adore the carving of the draws it gives the piece great confidence, you just want to touch and interact with the piece.

Decopedia has a nice little section showing some more images of Peder Moos work.

I will focus more on the great James Krenov in later posts.

Series: What does it take to become a master craftsperson?

So, let me introduce this my first series on what it takes to become a master craftsperson. The idea of pure craft is quite alien to most of us, I work in an environment so distant from craft that it is difficult to understand the level of commitment and skill required to become masterful. We are losing the understanding of traditional crafts and our craft heritage - take cabinet making, glass blowing, ceramics, metal work; all craft disciples which require many years of practice to become competent let alone to become masterful. This series will explore many ideas around to concept of becoming masterful, the sacrifices required and explore the exquisite objects from a number of master craftspeople.

I thought I'd start with an inspiring quote from Eugen Herrigal the German philosopher in his book Zen and the art of Archery (ISBN 0-679-72297-1)

"Far from wishing to waken the artist in the pupil prematurely, the teacher considers it his first task to make him a skilled artisan with a sovereign control of his craft. The pupil follows out his intention with untiring industry. As though he had no higher aspirations he bows under his burden with a kind of obtuse devotion, only to discover in the course of years that forms which he perfectly masters no longer oppress but liberate. He grows daily more capable of following any inspiration without technical effort, and also of letting inspiration come to him through meticulous observation. The hand the guides the brush has already caught and executed what floated before the mind at the same moment as the mind began to form it, and in the end the pupil no longer know which of the two - mind or hand - was responsible for the work."

Glorious quote don't you think, I think I have only glimpsed the possibility of this kind of complete mastery once or twice in my life. 

More to follow tomorrow - Happy New Year to you all, I hope 2013 brings you great opportunity, health and much happiness

Time to set a few ground rules

I have taken advantage over the post Christmas quiet to gather my thoughts and compile some interesting ideas for Workingbench, I am truly excited about the interesting things I have lined up and look forward to sharing ideas with you. Before we jump into the good stuff I thought it would be worthwhile setting a few ground rules, for me that is; not you... although I will only ask one thing of you...for now at least.

It is the first time I have put finger to key and decided to create a blog, this site has come from many months of research and tinkering with ideas. I'm sure I will get to terms with wordpress and enrich the site with images and better design so please bear with me as I learn and develop.

So here we are a few ground rules I intend to follow, I hope they will provide a foundation for a unique voice with quality and originality. 

1. Content: I will author my own content and not plagiarise the mountains of stuff available throughout the internet to bulk up my blog. I may refer to a site or publication and will always reference.

2. Quotes: I will reference quotes and extracts.

3. Images: I intend to build a library of my own images, where this is not possible i.e. for a specific piece of work or maker I am interested in - I will reference the source. I will also try to seek approval to use an image prior to posting, although this may not always be that practical. 

3a. One for you all.  Please ask to use any content or images, I am not precious about my image library but believe in common courtesy, if you ask nicely I may even send you the full size jpegs 

4. Your comment: I welcome your thoughts and ideas, please be constructive, insightful and critical - lets have a debate and share ideas. 

That's all i can think of for now, I will put a summary of these rules into my 'about me' section and may add/refine in the future.

 

Let the fun begin.