February 4, 2010

Artist-Maker Nic Webb’s Hand-Carved Objects of Wood and Wanderlust

Ash Bowl, 2009, diameter 25cm. Photography by Michael Harvey

The first impression is lasting. I’m referring to Nic Webb’s artistry. His objects are handcrafted using traditional tools and methods. All natural, like his words:
“When I begin carving I look for the differing qualities in each piece, allowing the grain and character to influence the design. Each spoon evolves to have its own personality and when finished becomes a showcase for the limitless beauty of wood.”
Webb reveres his material, respecting wood’s natural pliability. He discovers suitable pieces during his walks around the British Isles or travels overseas. Both the material’s location and age are respected—and deservingly so, in Nic’s pious approach. Here he shares his thoughts about working with “fresh living wood.”

Can you please tell a little bit about yourself?
Where are you from? What do you do for a living?

I graduated from Brighton College in 1994 with a degree in Fine Art. Since then, I have worked as a painter and maker. I currently work in Camberwell, London, within a community of artists and makers at Vanguard Court Studios. I am originally from Suffolk, South East England.

What is your statement about being an artist-maker?
I am passionate about working with wood, as it is a natural material that can be sourced ethically and sustainably. I work with traditional tools and methods to minimize the impact of my making. I love to work with green wood (fresh living wood) because of its malleability. In the process of seasoning, the wood can twist and move, creating wonderful natural surprises and allows great freedom in my making. I love the fact that designs evolve from the grain itself and each piece develops to exhibit the natural beauty of wood.

What drew you to the world of spoons?
The spoon is an ancient tool that is recognised and has its place within every culture. It is a humble object that serves us every day. It is a symbol of nourishment and hope.

Beech Spoon and Branch, 2009, length 35cm. Photography by Michael Harvey

Why the preference for wood? What other tools and materials
do you use to work on your ideas and make them grow?

Wood is pure, formed by nature and is a versatile and varied material offering limitless and unique making opportunities. My work and designs evolve instinctively and spontaneously.

I receive much of my material from tree surgeons working in the parks and gardens of London. Friends also give me great pieces of wood from all over the world. I love to walk and spend time in the natural environment and collect timber from all over the UK. I also work with combinations of precious metals, ceramics and stone.

How does time factor into your work?
The spoons are labour intensive, and I regularly work a seven-day week. I try to work with focus and concentration, in order to optimise my working day.

Rest for both the physical body and the creative mind is vital for fresh and innovative work.

What is the most rewarding part of making your objects?
I enjoy all aspects of the making process. Ultimately though, it is the pleasure of seeing and handling the finished object that I find most rewarding. It is also a joy to see others interact with the work and hear their reactions. When the work is finished, the object begins its life.

Was there a part of your work that was particularly trying
and how did you deal with it?

I have always enjoyed my work. Though recognition can take time. It is the privilege of making objects of art and craft that enables me to overcome the challenges. I have always made the most of opportunities and I direct 100% of effort into my work.

How do you stay creative? Do you draw? Or keep a journal?
I draw and paint and experiment with new materials and ideas. I keep my eyes and ears open. With regards to ‘staying creative,’ I don’t think it is something I could turn off.

What is your advice to nurture a handcrafting sensibility
and maybe engage a career in making art out of a raw material
like wood?

Be patient and conscious. Take time, learn from others, and share what you have learned. Try not to be disappointed with early mistakes. Quite often, mistakes can lead you to new beginnings. Respect the material and the tools. Your eyes and hands are very precious, so take care to work safely. Be inspired by others, but try not to copy.

Birth Spoons (from right to left): Cherry, Sycamore, Spated Beech, Buddleia,
Elder, Indian Bean, 2009, length from 15cm. Photography by Michael Harvey

Any future themes or phenomena you’re planning to pursue
in your work?

I intend to pursue an organic approach to making. Allowing materials to suggest both form and narrative. I look to explore themes of germination and decay, creating objects that appear not to have been made by hand, more that they have grown or been formed by processes of natural erosion. I am keen to expand my use of materials to bring further colours, textures, and qualities to my work.

In 2010, my work will be on exhibition in London, Hamburg, Antwerp, Tokyo and Seoul (South Korea). Some of these shows are collaborative projects with other makers. I am also making bespoke ranges of work for restaurants, stores, and retail outlets. My work will also be featured in a number of books, publications, and online magazines. Furthermore, I am running workshops teaching green woodworking at my London studio.

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Typeface of quotation is Futura designed by Paul Renner in 1927.

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Read more from Design Feast Series of Interviews
with people who love making things.