Woodturner Elise McLauchlan is the latest craftsperson to be featured as part of our Barbican Makers initiative, which gives up and coming makers the opportunity to showcase and sell their work in the Barbican Shop.
How did you become a maker?
My first introduction to furniture was being dragged around countless antique shops by my parents, bored out of my mind, hating the smell and begging to leave. Now I can’t get enough of them.
I began my design career as a Visual Merchandiser for 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 exactly is woodturning?
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 turning 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 make objects that are occasionally sculptural but mainly functional.
I try to take a more sculptural approach to the traditional craft of wood turning. 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.
Could you tell me a bit more about your exclusive Barbican inspired collection?
The Barbican was always a huge source of inspiration for me during my time at university and a haven from London living. It was an inspiration in the sense that being there allowed me to further develop and focus design ideas. A quiet, calm and design focused space that redirected my thoughts and ideas. I was always my most productive, relaxed and creative self behind the backdrop of the Barbican.
I try to take a more sculptural approach to the traditional craft of wood turning
For that reason I refer to the Barbican as my happy place. An easy escape from London in London, beyond peaceful, even when it’s heaving. This is the focus behind my Barbican range. A handmade wooden tea set that forces the user to transport it and themselves to a relaxing peaceful state of mind. The process of having everything you would need on one tray forces you to take yourself out of every day situations and just have some ‘you’ time. Each piece is handmade on the lathe - one of the most relaxing, meditative pieces of machinery with a uniquely hypnotic process that adds to the design behind the collection.
What does a typical day (if there is one…) look like in your studio?
I’d like to say I have an easy going, relaxed approached but in reality I live by the rules of my to do list! Shamefully, my to do lists are often timed by the minute, otherwise I’ll end up getting distracted from the real work and just turn some fun shapes. My list will be filled with orders I have or restocking my website. Its rare I make two of the exact same piece, which definitely keeps the studio interesting. 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. Ill complete all the bowl blanks that I had prepped for that day and prepare the ones for the next day. The rest of the evening is spent picking wood chips out my hair!
Try to explore your own medium and push boundaries
Do you have any advice for aspiring makers?
My main advice would be to enjoy it, there will be times when you’re overly critical of your own work or compare it to other makers but as long you can still say you enjoy it then you’re doing the right thing. Try to explore your own medium and push boundaries before you settle on a style, there’s no right or wrong in making. Its so hard to put your work out into the world and that alone is enough to be proud of, you just have to go for it!
Video by Mike Scorgie