“Shooting Star”

15 08 2012

This project developed from an unusually wide-ranging brief entitled ‘Multiplier’. It called for four weeks of general experiment, followed by two weeks focusing on a single product. I explored a dozen or more ideas, from slumped-glass caterpillars to a single chair crafted by twenty-four different participants. What emerged from the process was the realisation that highly complex objects can be constructed from a large number of comparatively simple components that readily lend themselves to repetitive manufacture – obvious really.

I decided to develop the ideas I started in the Sugar Bush project, using multiple strips of reclaimed cedar to create a multifaceted flower form, but this time the pieces would be steam-bent to achieve the sculpted organic shapes I was looking for. It would be built to house a single 75-watt halogen lamp, and to hang from the ceiling in a large space, perhaps an art gallery.

My first attempt used 24 shaped and bent strips of wood and, I have to say, the result was a disappointing failure – it was just too… well, boring. So it was back to the drawing board with the realisation that I would need to add more pieces to make it interesting – a lot more. In the end I used over 650 pieces to achieve the desired complexity, all slightly different to each other.


To suspend it from the ceiling, I made a long stem to house the wire and to give a texture something like a palm trunk. The effect is like a rocket tail, or a shooting star.

“Sugar Bush”

15 08 2012

This project began as an investigation into how materials react to long exposure to a harsh outdoor environment; how they distort and acquire patina over time. I wondered how I could create a design that embraced these changes rather than resisting them. I wanted to make something that would emerge organically over a long period, with an outcome that was calculated but not exactly known.

I took the protia flower (known as ‘sugar bush’ in South Africa on account of its sweet centre) as my starting point, and constructed a few small-scale prototypes using strips of MDF and a light bulb. I soaked the MDF in water and watched the glass bulb gradually splay out the wooden petals like an opening flower.

For the full-scale version, I decided on strips of well-seasoned cedar (reclaimed from a disused pergola) for the enveloping petals. Cedar has a naturally high oil content and will last untreated for many years but, if subjected to a steady pressure, it will inevitably bend when it’s wet. After much careful design work at the drawing board, I cut over 300 thin strips of wood in four different lengths, proportioned according to the golden ratio, and assembled them in six layers around a circular base. The strips were left rough sawn on the outside, but planed smooth on the inside.

For the central bulb I cut a circular piece of ordinary window glass and slumped it in the kiln to form a dome. The glass softens at 712˚C and droops in free air into a natural parabola shape. The glass was then annealed at 540˚C for five hours and allowed to cool down very slowly. The whole process took 33 hours. I cut off the rim and sprayed the interior surface of the glass a transparent red. I made a heavy tapered wooden base, inset it with 200 led lights and covered them with a two-way mirror, which allows the lights to shine out at night, and presents a perfectly reflective surface during the day.

At last, liberally waxed, the sealed central assembly is carefully inserted into the framework of petals. The idea is that the weight (approximately 40Kg) of the glass interior will slowly distort the wooden petals, sinking lower as it splays them out to reveal more and more of the red bud inside – a process that should continue over many years. At the same time, the petals will slowly turn a silvery grey and perhaps twist, as rain and sun take their effects. As with a real flower, water is drawn through rather than rejected, and becomes an essential part of the process by which the piece will gradually change and evolve in response to its environment.

For the time being, the petals are tightly drawn in, inviting you to peer inside which, perhaps unexpectedly, immediately presents you with the agreeably spicy aroma of cedar. For now it’s not giving itself away at a single glance but, over time, it should slowly open up and transform into – well, who knows what exactly? It’s an experiment, and I’ll be watching what happens to it over the coming years with interest.

“Lasting Impression”

15 08 2012


The brief was to create an enduring tribute to someone I admire, living or dead. I chose to create a memorial bench dedicated to the (very much alive) sculptor Anish Kapoor, as the body of work he has created over three decades has left a lasting impression on me.

My idea is to create a high quality slatted bench with a sculpted impression in the slats at one end that looks as though someone (perhaps Kapoor himself) has recently sat down on it and left his shape behind in the wood, frozen in time. I hope it will embody his dictum: ‘Don’t give too much away.’

Not having physical access to Mr. Kapoor’s backside, my first step is to make a three-dimensional impression of my own rear end using foam soaked with plaster-of-paris and wrapped in a bin liner.  After 45 minutes it’s set enough for me to gently get up, and then I can take a positive cast from the mould using more plaster.

I cut the mould into slices that I use as templates for cutting out the wooden slats, which are all of different thicknesses, distributed randomly.

The material for the bench is recycled kauri, a wood I enjoy using as it has a straight grain with few knots, and a beautiful golden colouring.

All that remains is final assembly, smoothing down, and oiling. I’m very happy with the way the uneven contours of the sculpted slats reflect the smooth flowing lines of a landscape – a motif often used by Kapoor.

I must say I like the final result. It’s an immediately comprehensible piece that also manages a certain irony – it evokes a single instant in time at which someone simply sat down, an effect that actually took me a week of careful planning and painstaking execution to achieve. It’s also extremely comfortable to sit on – at least for me, being precisely my shape – and the cat seems to like it too.

The highly personal nature of moulded impressions sculpted into a seat would make this design a rather touching heirloom piece for a family. It struck me recently that, if I could persuade some famous people to ‘sit’ for me, I could create a whole series of ‘Celebrity Lasting Impressions’.