ARTISAN SERIES | ELISE MCLAUCHLAN

I think that when we find a connection to something it has a way of getting under our skin. So much more than something that we are ‘influenced’ to like ever could. I was immediately drawn to the work of Elise McLauchlan and the way she turns the most beautiful timbers, into bold, modern shaped pieces. But I really felt a connection when I learned these beauties are crafted in Canada, my husband’s homeland. A country my kids are citizens of, and I once called home myself. That’s the beauty of pieces that have a story. So here is a little insight into Elise and her craft, hopefully, it will get under your skin too. If not, simply falling in love with her incredible work is just fine too!

How did you get into woodturning?

I began my design career as a Visual Merchandiser for the fashion brand, Mulberry. After five years of installing the props and fixtures, I grew fascinated with building techniques and methods. I left my job and enrolled in design school in London at The Cass School of Art and Architecture to study Furniture Design. I experimented with countless forms of making and processes and after designing a chair with wooden shapes on the back spindles I headed for the lathe. I was hooked. I’ve been turning relentlessly since that first chair.

 What is your process for creating such beautiful pieces?

Woodturning is the craft of using the wood lathe with hand-held tools to cut a shape that is symmetrical around the axis of rotation. That symmetrical approach naturally led me to turn geometric shapes in a variety of forms. I took great pleasure in knowing a handful of tools could create such a wide range of shapes and textures. It was simply a case of problem-solving. There were no limits for the shapes I could form on the lathe and the visual qualities of wood only added to it.

I try to take a more sculptural approach to the traditional craft of woodturning. I make bowls and sculptures with an abstract and geometric style. Usually, when I get on the lathe I have a vague shape in mind but once I start turning I find the wood and the grain usually dictates the final output, I’ll adapt the shape of the wood and make what feels right for that particular piece. I make objects that are occasionally sculptural but mainly functional.

 You are originally from the UK, what made you move to Vancouver and what do you love about it?

 I moved to Canada four years ago now, I was actually born in Canada but brought up in the UK so I always knew that at some point I'd make the most of having a Canadian passport and live there for a while. I'd just finished my degree in furniture design in London so it seemed like the right time for me to make the move. It's so easy to stay in Vancouver as it’s a much slower pace of life than London, it basically feels like a big village. I've been back to London since and seriously struggled with the commuter battle. I've lost my skill to manoeuvre a busy train station. I live in an area called Mount Pleasant with my boyfriend and it feels like a lovely balance of city living and village living. You can go to a great restaurant on Main Street but also go to a coffee shop underneath someone's house on a quiet street. If I had it my way I'd live somewhere incredibly remote, just trying to convince my boyfriend!

 

What do you miss about England?

The thing I miss most about the UK is the craftsmanship, art, and exhibitions. First Nation wood carving is incredibly inspiring to be around but in terms of new crafts, Canada feels like it's still developing. I was spoilt in London with free exhibitions and a constant source of inspiration. I also really miss pubs, when I'm back home I make sure I pack in the exhibitions, the pubs and a roast dinner or two.

What inspires you?

I feel like inspiration comes to me sporadically, I'm incredibly observant, probably to a fault and I'll notice every tiny detail of something, even when I'm watching a film I'm looking at what's going on in the background. My eyes are constantly scanning rooms and if 

I see something I like a little ping goes off in my brain and I'll either jot it down or take a photo. Nothing gets passed me. I love furniture, inspecting how it's made and judging its function, fair judging though, I know how difficult it is to make a comfy chair! One of my favourite inspiration spots is the Monocle Cafe in London, it's all oak paneling and furniture, it's the perfect balance of being incredibly functional and also very well designed. 

Another thing I love about your pieces is that they are handmade from natural resources so they are by nature, sustainable. How important is sustainability to you in your work?

 Creating sustainable products that will last a lifetime is hugely important to me. It doesn't matter how beautiful a mass-produced ceramic bowl is there is something so special about owning a similar bowl that an actual person made with their actual hands. Mass made products don't create that same emotional connection and no matter how much you like it, it's bound to get lost in a move or broken in the dishwasher because you don't have that same connection to it. I hope that every person who buys my work knows how much time and care I've put into each and every item. There's always a story behind each individual piece and it's always one of a kind. It has to sit in my house for a while the oil dries so if nothing else you know that I've stared at that piece of work making sure it's perfect for far too long. I also believe wood improves with age and use so keeping it a lifetime and passing it down just makes it even more special.

Image by Kelly Brown Photographer

The wood that you work with is stunning and suits the modern shapes you create perfectly. Which woods do you like working with and why?

 My favourite wood species to work with seems to depend on my location. In the UK I used a lot of beech and oak, two very readily available local woods. In Canada, I use lots of maple. There are so many different types that it's almost impossible to get bored, it's constantly surprising me. I've been using a lot of burls recently, I go to a great local wood shop, that has incredible pre-cut bowl blanks, great staff, and a kitten! Perfect! I think I would go in there every day if I lived closer. I also work with a lot of walnut, it’s the most satisfying grain to oil up, it completely transforms the piece. The grain reveals itself slowly and you never really know how a piece is going to look until after it’s oiled. I still get excited about seeing the final result.

Do you have any exciting projects you are working on, or anywhere you would like to see your work to evolve to?

I went to university for furniture design and that was always my main focus so I would love to get back into that. It's definitely my next major project. I definitely won't give up on bowls though, I'd like to make them out of the offcuts of the pieces of furniture and include them with a stool or bench as a little extra. Make sure nothing goes to waste!

I've also just taken a course in Italy for hollow forms so once I've 'mastered' that they will definitely be something I start to produce regularly.  

Image by Kelly Brown Photographer

Image by Kelly Brown Photographer

Image by Kelly Brown Photographer


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