This season we introduce a stunning collection of turned wood vessels by Lancashire based maker Laurence Brand. Drawing inspiration from the mechanical beauty in machines that surrounds him; Laurence strives to create elegant, refined objects for the home – made primarily from fine, native hardwoods. The work aims to celebrate honest and minimal design, elevate beautiful materials, and bring to light the rich process of making.
We recently caught up with Laurence and had a chat about exactly what makes him tick and what he’s got planned for the future.
Q – How does it feel to be a young designer and gain recognition for your work so early in your artistic career?
I am amazed by the amount of recognition I have gained since leaving university just over a year ago. I feel very lucky to have been able to exhibit at so many fantastic galleries in my first year as a designer maker. With all this exciting exposure and recognition comes a great feeling of responsibility to progress with my practice and make the most of every opportunity – which I find quite daunting at times. In the best possible way, I was thrown in at the deep end immediately after graduating, when I had galleries wanting to exhibit my work, so I had lots of stock to make. Quickly I had to find a workshop and figure out how to run a designer maker business. The first year has been a huge, thrilling learning curve for me and I am eager to see what happens next.
Q – Where do you find the core inspiration for your work?
At the core of my practice is a fascination with wood. I find wood provides a limitless supply of colours, textures, smells and character. I enjoy the process of combining wood with other materials, for example, warm, radiant brass paired with rich English walnut, or a coarse, open grained oak box with a smooth, sumptuous pig suede lining. My aim is always to celebrate the intrinsic qualities of materials and good craftsmanship.
Old cast iron machinery, oil cans, handtools and curious mechanical devices surround me in my workshop and nurture a curiosity I have for mechanical and functional objects. Most of my ideas, at least in the initial stages, are inspired by this intrigue, and it often dictates the final form of my pieces.
Q – Where do you source your materials from?
Most of the wood I use comes from logs I buy from local tree surgeons, or occasionally, trees that I fell myself. All the trees I buy from tree surgeons are destined for firewood, so it gives me great pleasure to breathe new life into wood which would otherwise be burnt.
Getting from big, ugly logs to fine, furniture grade timber is a labourious but rewarding challenge. I begin by planking the logs using a large bandsaw, then carefully sealing the ends of each plank to slow down the drying process which prevent splitting. The planks are then stacked neatly to begin the drying process which can take up to three years for thick planks; during this seasoning time the weight of the planks is carefully monitored to calculate the moisture content.
The huge benefit of this expensive and labourious process is that I can use non-plantation grown timber which is often dull and lifeless. The timber I use is often of unusual species, infected with diseases (which enhance its appearance), or timber sawn from unusual parts of trees (e.g. branch junctions), this is all wood which a commercial sawmill would not touch.
Q – What are the most challenging aspects of your practice?
I find that combining materials, which is a crucial aspect of my practice, is very difficult to do. My vessels, for example, were really tough to design.
Wood, regardless of how “dry” it is, gains moisture from its surrounding environment which causes it to swell, but equally loses moisture when the surrounding environment dries up, causing it to contract. With this in mind, combining wood with brass, which is very stiff, is probably not a great idea. Naively I thought my vessels are so small that surely any movement in the wood would be insignificant …I was wrong. Within a month of making my first vessels the wood had moved so much that it had become completely detached from the brass, and the vessels completely disintegrated. Thankfully after weeks of head scratching and experimenting I came up with a design which allows the wood to move independently of the brass, so my vessels will look as good in 10 years time as they do the day they leave my workshop.
Q – What is your greatest achievement to date?
Winning the Craft & Design “One to Watch” award at New Designers (London, June 2014), and the continuing support from Craft & Design magazine, I feel has vastly increased my exposure to galleries and other makers. I think this award has led to many fantastic exhibitions and stocking prestigious galleries such as Mint, The Hepworth, and the Whitworth.
Q – Which project/design have you enjoyed the most and why?
I am currently working on a project that I am really excited and passionate about. I have come across some pieces of bog oak left to rot in a field; these are logs which have been preserved for between 3000 and 6000 years underground in peat bogs, and when cut up, will yield the most stunning black timber.
At the end of this month I am planking all the logs using a mobile sawmill, some of this wood will then be stacked for seasoning, and some will be used when wet.
Bog oak has an incredibly high moisture content which means it warps dramatically when it dries. I intend to make work which focuses on the material’s tendency to warp. I look forward to experimenting with such a special and rare timber.
Q – Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I hope that in five years time I will be making a living from my practice, and although this still feels like a bit of a fantasy, it is growing slightly more realistic day by day. I got my first international sale last month from New York, and I hope that in the future I will get the opportunity to exhibit overseas and start to build up an international reputation. To be honest though, I don’t have much chance to think too far into the future, most of my time is spent panicking about whether I have enough work for next week!