Our new tutor, Michael Amphlett, is a greenwood carver, practicing the art and craft of carving wooden wares, such as spoons, shrink-pots, bowls and other small items. The general craft of carving is often known by its Scandinavian name ‘slöjd’ (“sloyd”) and, in the last ten years, spoon-carving in particular has become a very popular pursuit. Teaching our keen students over this two-day weekend workshop, he enthusiastically supported each new learner to design and create their own personal brand of spoon. Who knew there were so many types!?
One of the students remarked that she was less concerned with ending up with an actual spoon, because she was lost in the wonderment of the making process. 'It's meditative, it takes you out of yourself, the noises, scents and feel of the tools and the wood are a welcome antidote to modern life'.
How do you start to carve a spoon?
First you need to choose a piece of green (unseasoned) wood with character. All woods have different grain pattern, colour and suitability for spoon making, so look for a piece of wood where you can utilise that character to make something interesting. One student chose beech, and the piece she picked had deckchair like stripes of different coloured grain running through it. These will be positioned centrally to the bowl of the spoon. Another chose sweet chestnut because of its durability and because he wanted to get the circular grain pattern, naturally occurring in the wood, to run around the bowl of the spoon. We also had spoons in cherry, sycamore, applewood and birch, and some made from spallted wood, which has a dark colouration caused by funghi during the growing process.
What are the most important tools to have?
A good sharp axe is a must, and also a cross cut saw to cut into the wood to chop with the axe to. As you can see from the images, the students worked with these tools for most of the second day. Day one was axe work only when they created wooden spatulas, or butter knives. Once you have got your basic shape, then it's time to get out the spoon knives - usually a straight knife and a bent knife. The chopping block is also a must.
How long does it take to make one?
An expert can rough out half a dozen spoons in a day, ready for the finer work with the knives. Our students made one spoon each on day two of the workshop, in a variety of shapes and sizes! It takes years of practice however to create spoons as beautiful as those that Michael had in his collection. Some were even too precious for to him to sell, like this little collection of four small spoons all made from the same piece of wood. It's a pity they weren't for sale as I had my eye on these....
All in all, an excellent workshop with students achieving some wonderful work. We look forward to welcoming Michael back to Ardington for many more happy spoon carving workshops. To see his next available dates, you can click on the button below - we hope to see you spoon!
Bob and Del Neill, husband and wife team, spend much of their year travelling to art and craft shows teaching and demonstrating, as well as topping up the four galleries that Bob supplies with his pyrography. For the uninitiated, pyrography is the art or technique of decorating wood or leather by burning a design on the surface with a heated metallic point.
Bob works mainly on wood and the unique thing about his work is that he uses colour to enhance his designs. The process goes something like this: first choose the piece of wood, be it a board, platter, dish, spoon (plus many more), then prepare your design and the medium and then burn the pyrography onto the surface. The colour is applied at the end of this initial process. Sixties designs are the style preferred but some of Bob’s work has more historic attributions such as the Celtic knot-work wooden pebbles or the Art Deco bowls and boards. Then the colour is added as a secondary layer and for this, Bob uses water based acrylics, iridescent water based colours, even felt pen. The beauty of the water based medium is that you can see the pyrography design work beneath the colour; it acts just like a wash as in these beautiful platters and dishes below.
When we took over at Ardington we decided we’d like to support a couple of charities. We wanted them to be involved with art therapy in some form and the two we chose were The Art Room (Oxford) who, using art as a therapeutic vehicle, help children and young people re-engage with learning and thrive in life. Our other chosen charity is Combat Stress, which helps veterans get their lives back.
We’re not a massive company with a huge budget so large cash donations are not really viable for us so we decided to offer some places on workshops via the Combat Stress Facebook and Twitter pages.
And that’s how we came across Mick. He contacted us after seeing the post and asked to join our Contemporary Furniture & Up-Cycling course run by local furniture restorer, Oliver Piepereit.
Obviously, Mick has been through a tough time and when talking to him it was clear he didn’t want to talk about the backstory that brought him to our door - and to be honest, I wasn’t going to ask about it because frankly it’s none of my business.
Mick also made it clear that to help him cope day to day he needs to focus on the ‘now’. One of the things that helps him is going on workshops and working with his hands. Along with his wife, he’s attended workshops all over the country on things like making Rustic Garden Furniture, Wood Carving, Pottery, Bookbinding, Making Porcelain Poppies and now our Furniture Up-cycling course where he’s restored a lovely antique seat.
Mick’s other focus in life is his involvement with the Royal British Legion Riders Branch. As an avid biker he speaks very proudly of the Riders’ charity events like being involved with the RTTW - Ride To The Wall which is a unique motorcycling fundraising ride with a dedicated service of remembrance that provides an opportunity for all motorcyclists to ride as an organised group to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to pay their respects and recognise the sacrifice made by the 16,000+ service men and women whose names are engraved on The Wall of the Armed Forces Memorial. Another event is the Allied Memorial Remembrance Ride where bikers from across the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, South Africa, France and New Zealand join forces. He lists lots of other charity rides like the Dapper Ride and various Poppy Appeal rides. He was even involved with the world record for the most amount of Triumphs in a single parade. You could sense the pride he felt in all these activities but you could also sense the sadness he feels at the prejudice the British Legion Riders Branch and bikers in general still suffer from. He remains hopeful and positive that things will change for the better.
We would be proud if we could make things seem a little better for our veteran guests, even if it’s just to provide the opportunity to escape from whatever they need to escape from for a few hours in a friendly, safe, learning environment surrounded by like-minded people.
We really liked Mick, he was genuine and a good contributor to the group dynamic over the two-day class. We all need to meet a Mick because, as clichéd as it sounds, it helps you ‘keep things real’…we wish him all the very best and hope he continues to find the focus he needs.