Of all the natural materials our planet is blessed with, my favourite has to be wood, the warmth, texture and versatility can not be rivalled in my opinion. If you've followed my Instagram or this blog for a while you will know how obsessed I am with tress and wood, one day dreaming of building my own timber home in the woods.
Living with real wood in our homes is not only aesthetically beautiful but can be so beneficial to our health and wellbeing, helping to lower our blood pressure and heart rate. It's a miracle material, a precious gift from nature.
So I am delighted to be sharing a small business story with you that celebrates the true beauty of this wonderful material. In todays post I welcome to Matt Garlick from Glowood, who shares the story of how his nature inspired business came to life. Matt is based on the Norfolk coast, engulfed by big skies and far reaching sea views. With a constantly changing natural landscape all around him he creates stunning, one of a kind, hand turned wooden objects.
Over to you Matt…
I’m a woodturner living on the Norfolk Coast in a house that looks out across the Sea. There is no land mass between us and the North Pole. The cliche around the big skies of Norfolk is indeed, very true.
I have a single garage converted into a workshop which is at bursting point. It’s like a sliding tile puzzle, in order to use the chop saw, the work in progress table has to be cleared. When I cut down long lengths of wood on the bandsaw I have to feed them in through a window. These restrictions on space mean it’s well organised and every nook and cranny is used to it’s full potential. Despite it’s limitations it’s a space of I’m happy to spend hours in.
I left school with a bunch of O’levels and no idea what I was going to do. Further education wasn’t something that my family did, the work ethic was good but university was never discussed as a possible route. I’ve had a multitude of jobs never really sticking at anything for more than a few years. Nothing I did was fulfilling. I always found myself watching the clock, counting down the minutes of life I’d traded for money. I observed friends settling into careers, happy to put in extra hours because it made sense, they had a purpose. This isn’t to say that life was rubbish. I had met Sarah, my amazing wife & had two wonderful boys. Time spent with friends was great… I just hadn’t found my thing.
Around ten years ago we decided to move to Norfolk. We wanted to step off the hamster wheel as much as life would allow. I bought an old Citroen H van and turned it into a mobile pizza business. It was successful but after three years I was bored. Every day was like the last, prepping, driving, cooking, on repeat..
At this point I had what is referred to in old money as a mid life crisis. Why couldn’t I stick with the successful business I’d spent the last three years building? Why couldn’t I be one of those people who left school, got a job and just got on with it? The question ‘what am I going to do?’ rolled around my head incessantly. Looking back I became quite depressed unable to think clearly about the future.
At the same time Sarah started a business making lamps. Her father spent many years as a hobbyist woodturner and was making the bases. As demand increased it began to take up more of his time than he wanted. He passed his lathe on to me and from my first attempt I was hooked. At the age of fifty two I had finally found the job I wanted.
I have always been creative but wasn’t really aware of it when I was younger. As a child I spent hours drawing, building dens, making bows & arrows, all creative pursuits. At that age creativity flows freely and manifests in most of what you do. As I passed into adulthood creativity got pushed to the back of the drawer. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but that uncoupling from creativity was why I had found work so uninspiring.
I should have gone to art school…
In the main I’m self taught. Finally finding something I wanted to immerse myself in meant that I was happy to spend hours learning. Failure was common at start the but I embraced it as part of the learning curve. Each mistake is another step towards competence. I love the fact that I’m still in the foothills of mastering the craft. In essence, the principals are simple. Present a cutting tool to a spinning piece of wood at the correct angle and remove stock. As I continue to expand my knowledge I realise there is so much to learn.
There’s a book by Keith Rowley which has been around for years which is yet to be bettered for the beginner. It explains the basic principals. Youtube can be helpful but I’m judicious with what I watch as the content is not always produced by people with sound experience.
As I spend more time at the lathe the tools become more of an extension of my hands. This increases creativity & spontaneity as there is no need to stop and think about how to approach the process.
The living tree is the perfect sculpture. Where do you start with what’s wonderful about wood? Every piece is unique. From the pale tones of Sycamore to the swirling grain of Yew they all offer a different palette. They all work differently too. Some cut like butter, others resist & blunt tools almost immediately. Working seasoned wood differs from Green (wet) wood. Possibilities are endless.
I derive great pleasure from repurposing wood that’s already had a life. Once I started woodturning I developed a keen wood radar. An old table cast into a skip has four potential lamps in the legs. Crown green bowls, often picked up at car boot sales are made from Lignum Vitae, a truly stunning wood. I was lucky enough to pick up a Mahogany staircase that was, to my mind, shamefully being removed in a house renovation. Newell posts became lamp bases, the bannister rail became candlesticks.
When you find a piece of wood that’s sat at the bottom of a garden, you are entering the conversation mid point. The elements have already giving the wood something to react with, wood reacts to rain, sun & wind in different ways, spalted is an example of this. Bone Oak is the wood that has died and remained on the tree for years. Seasoned where it stands, its bark stripped by the elements.
I’m inspired by the material itself. As soon as you start turning, potential reveals itself in the most mundane piece of firewood. A place where two branches separated on the tree will provide interesting grain patterns. Gnarly logs that have sat on the ground for a period of time may have taken on water which will colour the wood unpredictably.
My surroundings are also a constant source of inspiration. Dotted along the coast are wooden sea defences that have spent years tussling with the sea. Invariably they concede, the waves taking tiny pieces of timber each time they meet, rounding off the straight edges creating curved profiles in a way an artist couldn’t achieve.
From the top of the house you can watch the weather fronts assembling out at sea. Sometimes they bowl in towards the shore, other times they will pass West to East, obscuring the horizon. As I type the sea is turquoise blue with the morning sun gilding the gentle waves silver.
Nature on a grand scale gives perspective on life that is completely truthful. Religion, politics, money and a multitude of other endeavours humans spend so much time wrapped up in are all stories used to make sense of the world. But that’s all they are. The natural world exists and evolves whether we believe it or not. It’s the ultimate truth.
We’re all susceptible to spend too much time thinking unproductively. Stepping out and gazing out across the sea helps me recalibrate. It gives me clarity leading to inspiration.
My favourite piece of work changes, but for a while now it’s been one of the green Oak vessels I turned from a fallen tree. It really encapsulates the conversational qualities of the process.
I noticed the tree whilst out with the dogs. It had fallen out of a church yard across the wall & nearly into the road. I contacted the vicar who was happy for me to take as much as I wanted. I turned one of the branches the following day whilst the wood was still very wet. The combination of heartwood, sapwood, pith & bark, all with their own densities meant as it dried It pulled itself into an amazing shape. My work had made the branch a graceful shape but the reaction from the wood elevated the piece bringing movement & texture that wasn’t there before.
Highlights are commonplace and understated. I tend to return to the workshop a few hours after I’ve finished for the day to cast a fresh eye over my work. I’ll gaze at some pieces for ages, moving them in & out of the evening light. I’ll pick them up to gauge how they feel in the hand and reflect on the process. This period of reflection nicely completes the days cycle.
Finding a way to re open the creative tap is an ever present highlight. I spend my day working with a wonderful material which constantly inspires me to repeat the process.
Thank you so much Matt for sharing your story. Matt's inspirational story proves that when you do find that creative endeavour you deeply connect to, one that sparks true joy within, you can create something truly beautiful.
I am very lucky to own a piece of Matts work. Admired by every visitor I have, this Hurricane lamp below is so unique and fits perfectly in my home.