Stories from turners in lockdown
This been an unprecedented time and as my income comes entirely from wood turning through doing course, demonstrations, and my own craft shop. We already had an online shop and with the craft shop being closed we decided to pay more attention to putting more items online.
It also given me the time to adapt my workshop space at home to allow me to do Demonstrations and lessons over the internet. Yes, I have had teething problems getting the technology working to deliver the absolute best results.
Also, jobs that normally get put on the back burner, because we are usually busy in the shop, have been started and some finished. Garden is looking the best it has ever in several years.
It has allowed me to look at my woodturning in a new light and tackling items that would normally have waited for the quieter winter months.
Wendy and I work together every day normally so in that respect nothing has changed but a few days away before the season starts has just not happened. But we are both safe and in the end that is all we can hope for to come out of this sane and healthy.
I set out at the beginning of the lockdown to carry out a deep clean of my workshop. This involved emptying the workshop out as much as possible and vacuuming the rest. I also went through my wood stocks and got rid of anything that was well and truly firewood. Eventually about half a ton went next door as they have a wood burning stove. It had its dividends, I found about 50 bowl blanks in various timbers and of varying sizes and finally reached the back corner of the workshop where no living man had been before, well at least for the 36 years since I built it.
It has been my intention for a few years now to shoot some videos in the workshop but following the sessions on Zoom run by Martin Saban-Smith I soon discovered that I had most of the equipment needed to do live streaming. I did have quite a bit of technical help from my son (and a birthday present of a microphone helped) and soon I had all the bits we needed. Using my local club as guinea pigs I proceeded to harass my friends with live demonstrations, this was a double edged sword as it not only served to teach me a bit more about managing the equipment and identifying the downfalls but also it gave local turners the experience of taking part in a live stream event. As some of the club members are well into their 80’s this is no mean achievement.
I did think that I would be able to take advantage of the lockdown to build up my stock levels but that has not really happened, I have made a few bits and pieces but not as much as I expected to make. The duties of Chairman of the RPT did not stop with the start of Covid-19 and I have found that the calls to me have increased. Some of these are from members that need a bit of advice and other calls are from members that just need someone to talk to. I guess I can fit that bill as I could talk for England. During this time the evenings were spent trawling through the government guidelines so that I could produce a risk assessment for the co-operative shop that I am a member of.
I am sure that I feel the same way as countless others probably do and that is the hardest part of lockdown was not being able to see my grandson, well not in person anyway. We would face chat and Skype and were grateful that we had the technology that allowed us to do that.
On the brighter side I was delighted when my daughter gave birth to our second grandchild, a little girl who already can wrap her Grandad around her little finger.
I had written this piece a few weeks ago and had not got round to sending it in and so I can say that now the restrictions are being lifted bit by bit, I have managed a cuddle with my granddaughter and my grandson can once again come and spend time with us. It is the little things that are the most important, family and friends and good health.
Lockdown… The opportunity to have seemingly unlimited time in the studio to consider new work to produce fabulous things…. Well if you’ve been following for a while you’ll realise that’s not quite how my brain interpreted things…. It’s been, shall we say, challenging to see some of the incredible work being produced by some wonderful artists across the globe during this time. I’ve made starts to things explored a couple of ideas but seemingly hit dead ends or just not been enthused in the way I’d hoped to carry them onto actual pieces…. Today I decided to take some of the advice given to me. I’m putting too much pressure on myself to create the next “fantastic” series… To move on and develop what I’ve been doing…. I need to just make something, anything just to remind myself that I too can manipulate the tools correctly, I was beginning to have my doubts…. So I’m making a simple bowl…a bowl for me to put crisps in with a glass of vino this evening…. So far… So good… Fingers crossed for this afternoon…..
Margaret Garrard, member of the Register of Professional Turners (RPT), and Company Bursary Award Winner (2007), has been unsettled by lockdown and is looking forward to some rain to inspire her creativity.
The lockdown has unsettled me, with no timetable to prepare for demo’s and jobs/commissions from furniture companies and antique restorers. The uncertainty of when/if things will resume to a stable “normal” situation. I should have such a lot of time to spare now, but there always seems to be things that remain unfinished. We have now got over the period of taking it in turns for my husband and myself to walk the dogs each day, we can now go out together, which in the lovely weather we have been having, is great. Re the weather, each morning the sun has been shining …… workshop or garden, and the garden wins most times. There is much inspiration within our back garden. But mind and hand coordination are stunted by uncertainty.
Looking at the positives; I have discovered Skype and Zoom, which I would never have made time for while busy with turning; I have turned a few artistic pieces that I had planned before lockdown; It was easy to help my husband to clear out his shed, but not so easy to dispose of all the “rubbish”; My tidiness of my own workshop is improving, ……… slowly; We will be eating much more home-grown fruit and veg from the garden this year; I am looking forward to the promised rain, as I am sure this will focus my mind into creativity.
Things will improve, and I hope we all get through it. But I am sure that we will have to make adjustments to our usual working practice’s.
Shortly prior to our first whiff of concerns about Coronavirus, I had made considerable changes to the structure of my business, dispensing with my rented shop-premises in Bala in favour of working from home. My work was distributed around seven of my region’s galleries and artists’ cooperatives, all of which were selling well, and were then well stocked, whilst I was concentrating on providing woodturning tuition 3 or 4 days a week, demonstrations at woodturning clubs and writing for Woodturning magazine. When the full restrictions of lockdown bit down hard on us, the twenty-or-so bookings that I had for tuition were all postponed, a dozen demos were cancelled and all that I had left was the writing, which generally occupies just two or three days each month!
From the outset, I decided to make the most of what many of us naively thought might be a month or two’s break from normal routines, by getting to grips with unfinished projects around the home, but then the penny gradually dropped regarding just how serious and protracted the lockdown could be. It struck me that there were two quite different roads that I could then travel down. The first would have been to re-structure the business again, but this time concentrating on on-line selling, the second was to concentrate on physically restructuring my workshop area and timber stocks, whilst concentrating on a more local market; I chose the latter!
Marketing through web-sites, social media, video and live streaming does not come easily to me. If there had been one aspect of owning my own small shop and gallery that I had really enjoyed, then it had been the personal interaction with my clients. I attended several RPT Zoom meetings just to see if I could find a course through my reticence, but gradually became more certain that the latter of the two courses was right for me. Thus, I used localised social media groups where people I knew were the main participants, and it paid dividends almost immediately.
Commissions came in slowly and I kept a close look at what was happening in Bala, then supported local causes by providing simple pieces of work for them as “thank you” pieces in recognition of their efforts. This reaped dividends and further commissions appeared. Individuals and groups that I supported, shared my work on social media (doing the job for me!) and my social network of contacts expanded.
Meanwhile, my workshop took on a new appearance, spruced up ready for its next students to enter, but by far the single most important aspect of lockdown, above all that I have mentioned, was the birth of a granddaughter. Times are good; I rejoice in the silver linings that Coronavirus has afforded.
I suppose I differ from many other RPT members because I work full time and turn part-time, along with doing my bit for the AWGB as chairman. When I was recently made redundant, I considered becoming a full time turner but remembered reading that the best way to make a million as a woodturner was to start off with two million! I decided it wasn’t the right time for me to take the plunge (seeing how the economy has been affected by the Covid crisis, that could be one of my better decisions in recent times!). I accepted a full time Job with regular salary, while turning part-time, mixing tuition from my home workshop, demonstrations at clubs and trade events; online sales; exhibiting at shows.
When back in March we were all instructed to isolate and to work from home, pretty much overnight, demonstrations for the foreseeable future were cancelled, I took the decision to cancel all tuition and all the exhibitions and shows also disappeared. So, like many other turners, I started thinking about how I could fill the void for my personal turning and for the AWGB and its members and clubs. I already had a couple of webcams and a microphone, so it seemed the obvious starting point to reach an isolated audience both for myself and the AWGB. After some more experimentation and the purchase of a few more accessories, I successfully completed a dry run to a few invited “guests” and then did a public demonstration under the auspices of the AWGB remote demonstrations as the inaugural demonstrator (some may say guinea pig!). Since then I have purchased yet more accessories to improve network connectivity, sound quality etc. and am now available for bookings for remote demonstrations, tuition and workshops.
I have now written about how to get started in remote demonstrations, and set up the twice weekly ‘talking turning‘ sessions hosted by the AWGB, which feature a workshop tour followed by group discussion and Sunday afternoon demonstrations by a variety of turners.
The Covid lockdown has affected so many people in so many walks of life and the human cost of the pandemic has been horrific but I think for me, a few positives have also come out of the situation we have experienced. I have connected with more turners from various parts of the world and now I have the facility to do remote demonstrations, I am no longer limited by the distance I can travel. In some ways, the global turning community seems to have become a little closer.
What a strange time, it’s like living in a limbo bubble. I have had a couple of commissions for table legs and roof finials, but I have started an exciting new venture with sculptural pieces. However, this entails turning long vases and none of my tools are long enough to reach the bottom of them. A friend forged a very long, hefty tool from iron mined in the area, it is exceedingly heavy, not very sharp and a bit scary to use. I had a catch and cracked one piece with it.
And this is the beginning of the sculpture from it. I have finished two sculptures but I don’t want to reveal these at the moment.
I also have a new toy, a spherical slide rest which goes on the Ornamental lathe. Like all ornamental procedures it is complicated and time consuming and I haven’t had the time to spend on it yet.
I also have plenty of jobs in the garden. The veggie garden has never looked so tidy.
Happy turning everyone, keep safe and enjoy our great craft. Many thanks to the Worshipful Company, the AWGB and RPT for their support.
Lockdown has been varied, trying to keep on track can be difficult, juggling many balls and dropping a couple (many still buoyant I am glad to say!). Having many facets to my business is helpful. In February, I was fortunate to have a commission for a stool and a table. Although this commission was welcome, the shutdown came a fortnight too early, and I couldn’t get the toughened glass I needed. I have just managed to order this now though and hope to have it by the end of May.
The other project I decided to get done was one for home, a new gate, as when you are self-employed you never get round to doing things for yourself. I have called it ‘the lockdown’ gate. I have also been spending some time building my social media presence (which takes me a long time to process!), and have accomplished the ‘zoom’ meeting with some success.
If I couldn’t have gone to my workshop, I think I would have succumbed to a downward spiral. Not saying that this time has not been tough, but I have been through worse. Stay safe and keep sane!
Frazer Reid Company Bursary Award Winner, (2017) has had no government help so far, but is waiting to see if he’s eligible for a grant from Creative Scotland. Here is how Frazer has been keeping busy during lockdown:
Well 2020 got off to a very busy start. I was flat out until mid March until things went into lockdown, luckily I managed to finish a few big commissions and get them collected just in time.
All the exhibitions and shows I had planned to do up to September have been cancelled already. These are really where I get the bulk of my sales and commissions during the year. I’m planning to try and sell a lot more online and use social media to drive this.
I’m still able to get to my workshop and am using this time to clean up organise things and fit some new dust extraction that I’ve been needing to do for a while. I am still taking commissions and able to post out smaller items and plan to promote these. I haven’t received any grants through the government schemes as I haven’t been eligible for them as I don’t pay rates. I have applied for a grant through Creative Scotland and waiting to hear back about that.
I am trying to make this as much as a positive time as possible and work on building up my online presence, promoting the online shop, finishing odd jobs and repairs that never seem to get done and hopefully some creative time to work on some more artistic pieces and design some future projects.
I am working on a coffee table at the moment which is going to be raffled off for the NHS which I should have finished by the 7th of May if all goes to plan.
Living in the Western Highlands the lockdown came just as preparation for the tourist season was starting. I have orders for spurtles and quaich’s which are now on hold and in reality, the season will not happen at all this year. With my income streams being woodturning and a B&B I need to start to think about how we will recover and rebuild, however this will have to wait, until we know what the recovery process entails
Presently I am coordinating the response locally for community support. I live in a very rural isolated community, one that is recognised as being in top 1% of the most isolated in Scotland. The coordinating is taking a lot of time, we have just been awarded a community support grant of £3k. and are looking at our priorities.
I still haven’t planted the vegetable patch, last year I was caught out with a frost on the first week of May, so I have been holding on. I have also just noticed that my supply of elm, that was destined to become quaich’s has woodworm!
Last week I was invited to join a zoom conference club meeting with my old woodturning friends at Surrey Woodturners. It was great to see and talk to them all again, a great use of modern technology.
Timmy Cooper, Company Bursary Award Winner, (2011) is enjoying life on the farm and fulfilling orders:
Living rurally on a farm it was a strange feeling at first knowing that a world was changing around me though seeing little difference in day to day life beyond a peaceful sky lacking the odd plane. It has been joked to me that I almost live in self isolation anyway so I am lucky in that my life has not been altered radically though I have missed the company of my partner, Julia who is currently 6200 miles away with an uncertain homecoming date.
I was exceedingly lucky to receive my largest ever order before lock down of 306 Elm bowls. These have kept me rather busy, though with 300 of them being the same it has left time for the mind to wander while the hands work which at times has been a challenge. It was nice to take a break from the bowls receiving a 25 ton load of beautiful English oak from Northampton for me to kiln dry for a cabinet maker though after loading it in the kiln I am quite sure my back will be aching long after lock down and thankfully reinforcing the pleasures of turning.
Although new commissions have dried up I am intent on using my time wisely to get the sawmill out and mill another kiln load of timber with some particularly beautiful rippled and quilted maple giving me something to look forward to working in the future when life returns to some form of normality.
In these difficult times I am trying to remain positive. Forgetting my demonstration bookings and courses have been cancelled til at least August and instead focussing on what can be done with all the time this has freed up.
Apart from the obvious of staying home and staying safe I now have time to catch up on those jobs that have been neglected in recent months in the workshop and in the home.
My workshop is in my garden so I can spend as much time as I like in there getting ahead with stock for Christmas. I attend our local Stately Home Craft Fair yearly, hopefully it will be able to go ahead this year! This week I’ve been turning nesting Burr Oak natural edge bowls which is quite demanding physically but very satisfying.
Apart from the workshop I am concentrating on improving my online presence. I have set up a shop on etsy (harkerwoodcrafts) and continue to increase the pieces for sale on the site, looking at improving my website and I’ve even posted a few images of recent work on the Instagram account my granddaughter set up for me a few years ago.
So… keeping busy
Deliberately not posted to instagram for a while as surprised at how much the total isolation of lockdown has impacted on my need to create. Thankfully with more structure to my day, video calls with friends and plenty of walks in the fields opposite my cottage, things are improving. There are now multiple pieces in make as well as several ‘play’ pieces exploring new shapes and techniques. This last week has seen me empty my freezers of wood, now all rough turned, creating freezer space for the imminent arrival of a gorgeous sycamore tree and a large cedar of Lebanon log. The former for more Corvus pieces and the latter to put some of the ‘playtime experience’ to good use. Stay safe everyone.
2020 was looking to be a very exciting year.
I was looking forward to arrange more turning tuition with Les Symonds and thoroughly enjoyed the first weekend session for the AWGB Certificate in Woodturning Course through the Bursary and learned so much from it.
However lockdown came into force a week later forcing everything to go into standstill. I found it very hard to adjust at first. I think I went through many emotions as I’m sure others did. I was upset for plans being cancelled and have suffered a bit with anxiety and worry as I learned to adapt, but eventually I accepted the situation and feel a bit better by now.
I found it hard to find motivation to do anything at first so I decided to take a step back and just turn for the love of turning and practice what I had learnt, more as therapy for myself really. I found exercise helped me mentally too, I look after my Grandad’s spaniel currently as he is housebound and she loves to jog with me every evening.
My partner still goes out to work, and I felt useless and wondered how could I contribute. I know one local who lost his life to this horrible virus and it was incredibly upsetting for the whole community.
I was creating a few tealight holders as stock last Thursday and decided to turn one with just small inlays to fit coloured thread with the colours of the rainbow. I lit the candle during the clapping for NHS that Thursday to thank the NHS and to remember those who’d lost the battle and posted an image of it on Social Media. The response I got was incredible, many wanted to order, therefore I have been making a batch of them with what wood I have left and will donate big part of the proceeds to NHS charities.
Being in the workshop has helped keep me sane, although it can be lonely at times I have had visitors of the 4 legged kind come check on me.
I am currently piloting the Diploma in woodturning that the Worshipful Company of Turners and AWGB have written which is great, it is a lot of work practical and written and I only started last week so hope to have this complete by Christmas if all goes to plan. The biggest venture is I now have a rented studio/shop at a local craft centre where I demonstrate and sell my work, but this has to be on hold for now. I have a lathe at the studio and a very small display area where after lockdown people will be able to come in and look at products and see turning being carried out at the same time.
While I am waiting to get back to work, I have designed an apron for the NHS hospital in Bristol made from our PVC boat covers and sent the samples off yesterday, so if they approve them, I will be making these for a while! Which is great to be able to do something to help!
Paul Ferguson MBE, Liveryman and professional wood carver and gilder, has turned his hand to painting.
I’ve re-visited drawing and painting over the past couple of years while continuing with my wood carving and gilding business. I was always the artist. I went to art school when I was sixteen instead of going into the sixth form. The course required you to be eighteen and have two A levels but they had discretion. The cocktail painting is just something I dreamed up for the present times, after I had mixed it!
I was lucky to finish a project before the lockdown and the project manager signed off the invoice the day before they were put on furlough. Apart from that we are all happy here and will hopefully continue carving when people start to return to work.
I am pleased to say personally I am keeping well during all this chaos. I was very lucky to have moved my workshop to my home at the end of last year, which is enabling me to continue turning during the lockdown. Last year was a record year for my small business, after exhibiting at the British Craft Trade Fair at the beginning of the year and building up a collection of new wholesale clients across the UK, this year was looking very positive. Unfortunately, mother nature had other ideas! The small timber yard that I rent, where I store all of my specialist timber was severely hit by the flooding at the beginning of the year. After over 2 foot of water damage, we thankfully salvaged a lot of what we could and have moved out of the yard to recover some losses during the short term, which has now been a bit of a blessing in disguise.
Like every creative at the moment, I am prioritizing building my online presence and have started photographing my product ranges to sell online to try and draw in some income. I have applied to the Arts Council Emergency Fund for Individuals and will cross all of my fingers and toes. In a way it will be nice to finally get on top of my admin and build up a better level of stock, for as and when we can reopen. Until then I will adapt as best I can and try to keep fit and healthy.
Up until now my time has been spent making sure my family and neighbours are ok, doing food shopping and picking up prescriptions. Life seems manageable at the moment, and like everyone I will just have to see how the year pans out.
Martin Saban-Smith, Websmaster and member of the Register of Professional Turners (RPT) has been keeping busy writing articles to help other woodturners during these difficult times. His positive outlook is catching. Read about How to keep busy with your business in lockdown (PDF), The changing world of UK woodturning, personal thoughts and feelings (PDF), Changes in club meetings (PDF), Pros and cons of remote meetings (PDF), Bring on remote demonstrations (PDF), Woodturning on social media (PDF).
When this is all over…… Although the end of ‘it’ in the UK may only be (another) three weeks away, I have seen many things in our woodturning world changing. I have seen clubs embracing new technologies to keep their meetings going, I have seen turners pushing themselves to engage with those who are stuck inside through online communication, and I have seen some turners investing in diversifying their business to include some sort of online capability. There have been suppliers juggling with working from home and keeping up with an increase in online orders despite supply issues, and there have been other examples of changes in behaviour in reaction to the wider, global events.
So much is changing so quickly that it can be quite a daunting to keep up with or even keep an eye on everything going on. With my ever optimisic and open mind, I am sure the woodturning world we emerge into when we are allowed out will be a better, more engaging and interactive place.
Things are understandably tough for a woodturner who relies on teaching, demonstrations and commissions, either architectural or giftware but I am sure we will see it through to the other side.
I started to write something to go on the turners website about what I am up to but have just deleted it all as it sounded so miserable, so I am going to look at the positives and have created a bullet point list:
• The sun is currently out
• I have spent time making stock
• I can still escape from home and go to the workshop
• I am burning or jumping up and down on all those pieces of work that I wasn’t happy with
• I have moved my stock of sandpaper into 3 separate positions in the workshop only for it to end up back in the original place
• I have put some of those spare tools on eBay and got excited when something sells for £2.99
• I have not vacuumed the workshop yet as I didn’t want to peak too early
• I don’t have to put proper clothes on, and having been living in shorts and a “wife beater” vest
• I did trust my eldest son to cut my hair (whilst we were all drunk I hasten to add)
• I have discovered Zoom and have had some serious and not so serious sessions
• I have lived in the same area all my life but have discovered new areas on our walks
• Even though I am spending more time at home my cat still hates me and I have the scratches to prove it
Keep safe everyone and I look forward to seeing you all soon and happy to help with any turning questions you may have.
In some ways the lockdown is helping me, I’m fortunate because I have a shop that has had to close, so I received some money from the government. I’m using it to carry out loads of repairs and maintenance on the shop building; it’s my home, shop and workshop space, so I have everything under one roof which is really handy. I have an outbuilding which is my woodstore and recently discovered it had a cellar full of rubbish, approximately 12 tons worth! I have since emptied it, and both floors are now racked out ready to start doing timber sales once the situation improves. I’ve still got a huge list of jobs I either need to do or want to do, so I’ll be keeping busy for the foreseeable future that’s for sure. But everyday sees an improvement so all steps in the right direction.
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