by Alan Moore on 11th May 2018
Alice is a designer, a maker of all things in wood. Alice shares her views on what a life of craft gives her — A joyful life of enduring satisfaction. Explaining the importance of having respect for the living material she uses – wood, Alice touches on the need for meaning connected to living an authentic life. How and why ‘craft’ as a practice is so deeply wedded to our humanity. What we may have lost. Which is maybe a clue as to why it is that people are increasingly looking for the handmade, the authentic. Because there is truth in beauty and beauty takes us home.
The practice of craft, design and making has been a part of my life since I can remember. What we make and why we make it are central questions that always arouse my curiosity and today I am going to meet someone who designs and makes beautiful things from wood – Alice Blogg.
AB So I describe myself as a designer maker, predominantly in furniture – from smaller to larger pieces.
A In my book Do Design I say that the world in sensual and textured and that actually good designers are masters of their materials. Talk to me a little bit about what materials means to you as a word and as a practice.
AB This wood that I am using grows in the same place as I do, therefore it is linked to me in some way, it is about the finishing of it, the touch of it, it’s not about just the look of it. Material is everything to me, its texture, its texture can be soft, smooth, it can be rough, but it is all what makes it so beautiful.
A A very famous Japanese craftsman said “objects are born, not made”, but talk to me about how you go about designing.
AB When I come to design, it is easy if you have a commission because you have a specification, the hardest thing is sometimes as an artist or a maker is making something without a specification. I don’t sit down and just draw something up, that is not how it happens. I will make, I will prototype, I will bend bits, I will steam bits, I will have a tree that I have cut down maybe that has a certain curve, maybe it is more straightforward that I have an idea and then I find a piece of timber.
A There is a certain level of respect for your materials, both from where it comes from and then actually how you are going to use it. So it is almost like a form of honouring of that material.
AB Yes. I think if you don’t have respect for your material it is not going to work with you, you need to work with it, you need to understand it. It almost needs to understand you in some way, you work together to create something. When you are pushing it into a way that is not going to want to be in then it is not going to stay there and last for longevity, you have got to understand how it wants to move over time, because wood is living. It moves all the time.
A This place where you source your materials from is very important to you. What does beauty mean to you.
AB To me beauty is something that is very quiet, it is very honest, and it is very grounding. I think without love and your hands touching a piece it cannot necessarily be beautiful.
A How would you describe quality as part of your practice and philosophy?
AB I think quality to me is aiming for perfection, I think as craftspeople we will never achieve perfection, but quality is really, it is about knowing that my piece will last, hopefully, for ever.
A So we must pursue to be the best we can be, but equally not to be disappointed perhaps, or understanding that as you say, we will never get perfection and to understand that craft then is a daily practice and the more you practice
AB The better you get, but also with that, imperfection is beauty. So the fact that a craftsperson can not ever be perfect means there is always beauty because there is imperfections. My dedication has been, hours, years, my whole life really I suppose and I still, I still don’t think I know anything, which is hilarious. I think in the world we all strive to be like the person we look up to and has the perfect figure, or creates the perfect thing, but actually it is not about being that. I think it is OK just to be who you are and do what you want to do.
A Of course, there is that idea about craft of what you have also been explaining which is actually the giving to others, there is a joy in the making, but also in that somebody else is actually sharing in your skills and your knowledge and your capability.
AB I have never wanted to be a teacher, I never want to be a teacher, but I believe in passing knowledge on from what exists to others. Whether that is them being in my workshop with me, or whether it is delegating it to them to make it for me, but I believe we are all working together and I think it is a really lovely process of sharing things, it doesn’t have to be in a group for teaching. I think it should be like that in life, we should all share with each other our knowledge, therefore it makes the knowledge stronger and last longer within craft.
A There seems to be a revival of craft, craft made products internationally. Do you have a point of view on why that is happening, why do you think people want the handmade, why do you think people want objects – a chair, a basket, a wardrobe, or whatever it is, that actually has come from a more artisanal way of being made in this world.
AB I think it is interesting because I think we have lost as humans what we ever came from. I think we started by making things for ourselves, by hunting, by finding our food and I think, I don’t know if they were happy then, but I think maybe that is how they lived their life, it was, you had to make something to have it. These days it is a really commercial world you click a finger you want it now. I think this whole revival back to craft brings us back to who we are as humans and maybe people are trying to have some of themselves back. I think there is a slowness in it. I think it is a good thing for makers, so we can achieve what we want to achieve and people will buy it and understand it.
A So the idea of making reconnects us to a fundamental humanity as human beings. Leading on from what you have just explained what has that life of craftspersonship given you.
AB When I first started, everyone thought I was nuts doing what I was doing. I was just about getting by and I don’t know why I ever chose to do it, there must have been this reasoning and that is because I wanted to be at my bench every day and then it made me happy, earning not very much money didn’t make me happy and stressed, it was hard but that has taught me to appreciate it now, it just is who I am. I could never change it for a thing. It brings me contentment, it brings me my lifestyle. My lifestyle is a maker, is a designer. I am constantly thinking about it, I am not switching between 9-5 is my job and at home is a different person. I am the same person every 24 hours of the day, it is a dedication to something greater. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know why I ever chose to do it or why that it makes me content, or why that I strive to do what I do, but it just is. Anyone who dedicates and focuses really achieves, because they want to get up in the morning, they want to go again, they want to do that 10 hours again, they want to go to bed tired again, they want to get up again and they want to go again. Ok, sometimes we don’t want to get up, that’s fine too. If you dedicate and you keep going, you get up ,you are honest about what you are doing, you work hard, and you just literally keep going, you feel so good when you have a holiday, or so good when you have achieved a piece of furniture in my way, but you just, I think everyone should have a dedication to something because it just takes their mind into a different world and it makes you completely free.
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