“When I was a child about 4 or 5 years old I watched a film called Treasures of the Snow. It involved an old man who had a workshop in the Swiss Alps and he took a young boy under his wing because he’d been cast out of a village for causing an accident that harmed another boy. The old man taught him to carve and the boy used this to try and earn back forgiveness by carving a Noah’s ark, which he gave to the injured boy as a present and to show his remorse for what had happened. Carving wasn’t the main focus of the film, but the ornate animals fascinated me and it sparked my interest in wooden objects and trying to make things from wood myself.
Since then my interest continued through school, which was noticed by teachers and my family who always encouraged me. My creative and artistic side also supported that and led me to do an art foundation course but although I tried many different artistic mediums, I was still captivated by wood and it’s natural beauty.
Having never had the opportunity to try woodcarving I followed the furniture-making route, which took me to study Furniture Design and Craft at Bucks New University. It was a surprise to me when the opportunity came up to take part in an Erasmus exchange to learn woodcarving at a specialist school in Jurva, Finland. I jumped at the chance and the 3-month course turned into a full academic year. Since then I knew that woodcarving was my main passion and furniture making though it’s still there it’s taken a bit of a back seat.
Since further exploring furniture and carving I’ve come to realise that I see myself more as an artist/craftswoman than a designer/maker but it’s hard to really ever define yourself I think because in the creative field you are always challenging yourself, developing and changing.
It’s sometimes hard to see how you can make it in the craft sector, and on leaving university job hunting was a challenge at times. Even though I have looked at other pathways and options during my career, I’ve never thought it wasn’t worth pursuing. I love using my craft skills and it’s always worth pursuing what you love.
My favourite piece is a clock I made called ‘Ocean Leaves’. I made it whilst I was a student on the woodcarving course in Finland. It was the first one I designed myself and was able to make something I actually liked the style of.
I have definitely found that within the furniture making industry it is predominantly dominated by males, but have often been encouraged as a female within the field. It was a similar experience for me in education being one of only 4 females and 20+ males on my degree course. When studying in Finland I was the only female on the carving course, but was always made to feel welcome and equal to the other students. I can’t fault the education I received in Finland, it was fantastic. The teacher didn’t speak much English, but I learnt so much as it was all practical with carving and drawing lessons each week. He was always watching us carve and showing us how to improve.
I’ve often felt at a disadvantage as a female in this area of work as there can be lots of heavy lifting and the need to operate large machinery, which I think is often designed for the use of men rather than women. I’d encourage any woman in this field of work not to be discouraged by that though, I’ve learnt to just ask for help if I can’t manage something myself and quite often things are a ‘two man job’ as it is, so I think a big part of it has been something that I’ve built up in my head as a disadvantage rather than others seeing that.
Being quite conscious about being a female in this field, I have always addressed it if going for interview to see what the company’s reaction about it is. If the company would see it as a problem then it would put me off from wanting to work with them. I have experienced some sexism and discomfort as a female in the industry but the positive experiences I’ve also gained outweigh the bad, so it has never stopped me from wanting to pursue this career.
I didn’t have the best experience at University. If there were something I would change about the education system, it would be for a practical placement of at least 6 months within industry to be compulsory for students to do as part of the course. For anyone following the same path as me I would really recommend trying to gain as much industry experience as possible. Is it necessary to study at a higher level or is there another route through apprenticeships that you could take to get to where you want to be? Saying that, without going to university I wouldn’t have had the same opportunity to study carving in Finland and be where I am now so I’d suggest that you weigh up all of your options to find the best route for you.
I didn’t feel prepared at all for industry on leaving education. The main challenges for me were my lack of confidence in my knowledge of woodworking and use of machinery- and of course speed in making! Luckily my carving skills and potential were recognized by the company I now work for and they have been patient and willing to help me learn and become more proficient. There is nothing more valuable than gaining actual experience in industry and I’ve learnt so much from just working in a furniture company I don’t think anything can prepare you better than real life experience itself.
There are so many designers/makers out there and many have aspects that I can identify with, but none that match mine completely. Everyone’s ideas and skills are different and that’s what makes it so interesting to see others at work. We can all inspire and challenge each other’s thinking.
My hopes and aspirations are changing as I progress in my career. I would like to be able to concentrate more on woodcarving and the artistic/creative side of woodwork but wouldn’t like to rule out any other possibilities as I enjoy learning about and experimenting with other materials and techniques within craft, such as leather, straw and marquetry”.
For more information on Lizzy’s work visit her website here: http://cargocollective.com/solizzy