This week, I decided to shine the spotlight on two of the recent BA honors Furniture Design and Make graduates from Rycotewood. I would say Freya Whamond and Sam Bolt left the workshop of Rycotewood with a flourishing reputation, as both were notable examples of students that are fully committed to design and craft.

After leaving their workbenches in Oxford, the two have since set up their own design and make enterprise, based in Herefordshire, called Troo Studio (https://www.instagram.com/greenbenchworkshop/). On the run up to Christmas their presence on social media has shown us some beautiful projects, including some playful, textured jewelry stands.

I was interested to discuss with Freya and Sam about their time studying furniture. What were the challenges? What were the successes? And by hearing both their answers, I think there can definitely be a few lessons learnt for those wanting to follow in their footsteps.

The first thing I have to note from their experiences is that, although they entered into furniture education from different backgrounds; Sam being influenced by his dad’s kitchen business and went on to study at Hereford Technology college prior to Rycotewood, whereas Freya studied on the art foundation diploma at Leeds College of Art; it seemed as though neither of them were certain on where the course would lead them to.

As I found out, learning to take a creative approach and translate that into a physical form, was what Sam took from the course – he had never drawn before he began his studies! Freya tells me that her biggest learning curve was learning to trust herself, which is something that I am currently in the midst of working out. And also that the creative process never changes. She says, “You will feel inspired, excited, productive and then absolutely stuck. Then spy a solution and start working out how to graft the idea into reality. I realised that the feelings I have towards my own work are a direct reflection of the process I went through and I learned that I want to fully engage in as much of that process as possible so that I can look at the finished piece without wanting to chop it up for fire wood!”

Both were in agreement when I posed my next question on how to promote woodworking to females. Both were of the opinion that craft needs to be promoted better to young people as a collective. Freya explained how ‘supporting girls and young women to see themselves in a making role comes from respect and understanding; for yourself and others’. Her confidence in her practical abilities is a result in learning to be ‘hands-on’ from a young age. I’m very much in agreement with Freya’s statement that, “there’s a growing ‘maker culture’ that seems to have established itself on social media, places like Instagram, which is cool because it bypasses mainstream routes of education”.

This is something that I feel will be very engaging for young women with craft disciplines, particularly if their experience in education is similar to mine. Having a bias of female or male teachers throughout your educational career, whether you are male or female, is placing you at a disadvantage, as you may only experience the subject through one perspective. A gendered perspective can be just as insightful, as the opportunities of cultural or historical influences. Therefore using social media to give young people female role models helps promote craft to girls in a more natural, inclusive way that is able to take place outside of the workshop.

From listening to Freya and Sam’s responses I was also reminded of how important it is for the educational system to promote creative career opportunities, even if there is not a definite job foreseeable. An interest in ‘arty stuff’ lead Freya to pursue furniture design, despite there being times of ‘blissful ignorance’. And as Sam says, “it’s down to teachers and parents to encourage the young generations to listen to their intuition and do what they want!” An atmosphere of encouragement and guidance is what is needed to support those students who wish to pursue a successful journey into the arts.