Luke Neil talks furniture and adaptive reuse

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This story first appeared in Design Online in August. IT TAKES A KEEN EYE and imagination to see creative potential in large discarded household goods. When it comes to repurposing these items into unique and beautiful pieces of furniture, practical ability … Continue reading

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Majestic Walls creates vibrant 3D wall art

This gallery contains 5 photos.

VANESSA FIEBIG was destined to make her mark as an artist. She grew up in the romantic region of Tuscany, Italy, in a house where you couldn’t see the walls for the artworks that adorned them. Art was her father’s … Continue reading

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Gill Cohn’s multi-layered encaustic art

Gill Cohn working with her encaustic palette.

Gill Cohn working with her encaustic palette.

GILL COHN’S STUDIO in North Bondi overlooks a sandstone cliff face. Natural light streams in through the large window, and when she takes a break from her work to step outside, her eyes rest on the many layers of rock and the beauty of its natural lines and colours.

“I love that rock. Blue gums and rock are very much inspiring me these days,” she says of the lines of corrosion. “And if you look at a builder’s skip, there are incredible lines that happen in the rust. I photograph those and use those together with other elements in my work.”

Cohn has just returned to her Sydney base after a trip to Berlin and the Affordable Art Fair in Hong Kong where she gave a workshop in how to make encaustic rice paper screens. She exhibits work at a gallery there, and has sold work in Germany, the United Kingdom, Israel and South Africa. After a 30-year career teaching art to children which gave her a lot of joy, Cohn has since spent the last 15 years concentrating on her developing own work.

“It’s my bliss. It is what I look forward to doing when I get up in the morning and it’s a real privilege,” she says. “I get into this wonderful flow space and the whole morning just goes. It’s almost meditative.”

Her curiosity and fascination for the naturally occurring textures and lines she observes in rock faces, landscapes and the minute details of bark and leaves is expressed in her beautifully detailed artworks. She finds similar texture, patterns and lines everywhere and was amazed to see similarities in the sculptural work of Joseph Beuys exhibited at Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin.

“His cast animal fat sculptures reminded me of the sandstone I love,” she says. “He has the same textures and patterns in the cast animal fat as I see in the rock. It’s amazing to see these similarities in nature and these visual puns that happen in different places.”

Naturally formed textures and lines are elements that continuously find their way into Cohn’s work.  Her art practice and experimental approach to her multi-layered work is Cohn’s way of understanding reality.

Detail of Cohn’s encaustic rice paper screen.

Detail of Cohn’s encaustic rice paper screen.

Cohn’s encaustic rice paper screen is made of three layers infused with beeswax that gives it a stunning luminous quality. Screen size: 75cm x 50cm.

Cohn’s encaustic rice paper screen is made of three layers infused with beeswax that gives it a stunning luminous quality. Screen size: 75cm x 50cm.

Encaustic work is created using melted beeswax which Cohn says works best when many layers are applied. Her current approach to creating a work begins with applying the melted beeswax and then scraping through it to make lines. Cohn then adds bitumen and allows it to seep into the crevices and the lines that she has incised. Some pieces feature a stitched line of cotton thread, images or fabric; items which are revealed when she scrapes through a layer of beeswax. The addition of these man-made elements could be interpreted as a reference to the human intervention in nature. The layering “happens intuitively. It works for me,” Cohn says.

She works on several pieces at a time to make the best practical use of materials. This enables Cohn to step away, as she does when design issues and complex problems emerge, and then return to the studio with a fresh outlook and renewed concentration. Quite often she will look at a group of unfinished pieces and get “triggers and information about the work” that enable her to move forward or inspire another avenue of experimentation.

At times, images do emerge from her work but Cohn says this is unintended. She describes her work as abstract with a reference to real life and says her default position is a neutral colour palette.

“But every now and then I get so neutral that I have to do stuff in colour. It’s like my shadow side emerging,” she laughs of the two sides to her personality. “And then I use very strong colour and then I’m ready to return to neutral again.”

Cohn is in the midst of preparing work for Decor + Design in July and organising an event called Art Hop which is scheduled for early November. She initiated Art Hop together with a friend in 2013 as a way for her local community of artists to engage with each other and the broader community by opening up their studios and exhibiting their work across the weekend.

In the meantime, she will continue to be inspired by the sandstone cliff face that watches over her as she works.

gillcohn.com.au

Encaustic and bitumen on wooden panel by Gill Cohn.

Encaustic and bitumen on wooden panel by Gill Cohn.

Linear encaustic and mixed media on wooden panel. Size: 40xm x 40cm.

Linear encaustic and mixed media on wooden panel. Size: 40xm x 40cm.

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Illustrative art of Eddie Botha

This gallery contains 6 photos.

This story first appeared on Design Online in May 2015. EDDIE BOTHA sits at his desk in a large, shared artists’ studio surrounded by multiple artworks in various states of completion. Shelves and crates are stacked high with artists’ media, … Continue reading

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Illustrated porcelain by Ichimu

This story first appeared in Design Online in May.

Ichimu hand formed porcelain vessels.

Ichimu hand formed porcelain vessels.

FIONA MCDONALD rediscovered her childhood love of ceramics after connecting with a group of artists and makers in her home town of Torquay along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.

In the three and a half years since then, she has developed a stunning collection of hand formed fine porcelain vessels, bangles, wrist cuffs and tea sets. The fine porcelain pieces are quite translucent and very light which imbues them with a sense of fragility and transience. This idea is hinted at in her business name, Ichimu, a Japanese word meaning a dream or something fleeting.

“I have a great appreciation for Japanese art which is very much in the moment,” McDonald explains. “I aim to capture that kind of esoteric feeling in the illustration.” She will consider her work a success if it makes people “stop and have a think, even if they just pick up a piece and touch it. I find that quite exciting.”

One of the defining features of the Ichimu collection is the fine line work apparent across the range of products. McDonald says her experience as a graphic designer with a particular interest in pattern based design comes into play here. “I have such a collection of patterns that I have done over the years. A lot of them are very complex so for me to be able to strip them right back again for the ceramics is quite liberating,” she says of the designs she has filed away. Her design background gives her a strong feel for colour and confidence in the colour combinations applied to each piece.

Ichimu illustrated vessels.

Ichimu illustrated vessels.

Stained and illustrated porcelain bracelets.

Stained and illustrated porcelain bracelets.

White and pink porcelain bracelets.

White and pink porcelain bracelets.

The large illustrated vessels which were launched over six months ago after six months in design development, allow McDonald a larger canvas to add colour and texture. Each vessel is hand formed from a piece of clay which she dissects into various sizes. Each piece is then rolled into balls and wrapped in a wet cloth ready for shaping.

“It is kind of exciting and sometimes frustrating because what I image they are going to become sometimes doesn’t eventuate. But it is such a lovely process and there is always something at the end that I love,” she says. The formed piece is then air dried and fired in a kiln at 1000 degrees. “Then I usually sand them under water with wet sandpaper because the dust is not good to breathe in. Once they are dried I glaze them and once the glaze is dry I will illustrate them and they go back in the kiln.” The Ichimu logo is stamped into each piece to ensure its authenticity.

McDonald is excited to launch a range of lighting at Decor + Design which she hopes will capture the attention of interior designers. This range has been in development for almost 12 months and was inspired by McDonald’s love of light. Many times she has called for her seven children to race outside to see how the light is reflected in colour across the coastal sky at different times of the day. She hopes her porcelain light fittings will invite that same sense of wonder.

“Porcelain is so fine that when it is illuminated you can see all the marks and texture within the piece,” she says of the lighting range which will share the same characteristics of her other work. Due to the hand formed nature of McDonald’s work, all Ichimu designs are individual. “No two pieces are ever the same,” she says.

McDonald is a member of Craft Victoria and says she often receives commissions for tea sets and sets of three or five large vessels in particular colours to suit her clients’ home decor. Her work is in the permanent collection at Ceramics Victoria and has been exhibited at Boom Gallery in Geelong.

Visit Ichimu at Design Bazaar at booth DB8

Ichimu stained vessels.

Ichimu stained vessels.

DSCF4442

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ArtistaStyle comes to Wall Street at Décor + Design, Melbourne.

This gallery contains 6 photos.

This story first appeared on Design Online in April. AUSTRALIAN ARTIST Rebecca Coulter has great admiration for botanical and scientific illustrators who captured the flora and fauna of newly discovered lands long ago. Their meticulously detailed artworks were created for … Continue reading

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VIVID winner’s pathway to 3D design

This story first appeared in Design Online in March.

Yulia Holil’s ‘Sandwiched Shelf’ is a multi-award winning design.

Yulia Holil’s ‘Sandwiched Shelf’ is a multi-award winning design.

SOMETIMES IT TAKES A FALSE START or two before a young student discovers the right fit for their future career.

They may have a natural flair for the performing arts, a natural affinity for science related fields, or a preference for business, culture or engineering. A hint of their future career may be found in their interests outside school. But for some students, it’s a matter of discovering a course of study that sparks a curiosity in something not previously considered.

Yulia Holil has always been creative but is the first one in her family to pursue a career in design. “All throughout high school I was doing art but my family never expected me to pursue something like 3D design,” she says. “It’s always good to see their reaction when I bring home something new.”

Holil discovered three dimensional product and furniture design by accident and is about to complete her degree at Curtain University in Perth, Western Australia. She initially enrolled in Architecture after finishing school. “But I didn’t love it,” she says. Then fashion design caught her eye before she settled on an Advanced Diploma in Three Dimensional Design from Central Institute of Technology in Perth which she completed in 2013. This course set her up for further study at Curtain. “I was intrigued. I didn’t even know it existed,” she says of the profession.

With no prior experience in using tools and machinery, Holil has amassed skills across hands-on manufacturing for a range of materials, freehand sketching to quickly develop ideas and concepts, technical skills in computer aided design and understanding of time management for small batch production. She finds that being able to confidently use equipment to make components herself is very liberating and she can now go into the workshop with a block of timber and “turn it into something totally different that is functional and finished. I didn’t have that skill at all when I first came to TAFE because we didn’t have a workshop and materials at high school,” Holil says. “It was a big learning curve.”

“At TAFE we had a lot more focus on the production side of it in the workshop and getting the prototypes ready and at uni, we have to focus on the other side of it like time management and getting everything done according to schedules,” she explains. The prototypes may not necessarily be finished, finessed and ready for production but the essence of innovative designs for today’s architectural and interior projects across residential, commercial and hospitality projects is there.

“Designs always start off with lots and lots of hand sketching and then I’ll move on to computer modelling from there and see how it all fits in and whether it’s going to work. And from there on I’ll send out my designs to different manufacturers to see how much it will cost and then I’ll start making stuff in the workshop.”

The ‘Sandwich Shelf’ is adaptable to any sized room.

The ‘Sandwich Shelf’ is adaptable to any sized room.

Last year she was awarded the Green Award at VIVID (Vibrant Visions in Design), which is a key highlight of Decor + Design each year. The annual design competition provides emerging designers with an opportunity to get their work in front of interstate and international visitors.

The Sandwiched Shelf was Holil’s final TAFE project and impressed the judges for its adaptability to fit within different interiors, ease of assembly and disassembly and the environmental considerations inherent in the design. The timber components were made by Holil at the TAFE workshop while the manufacturing of metal components was outsourced.

“I wanted a freestanding shelf that could be very versatile for families and individuals who might be moving around quite a bit and upgrading from a small house to a bigger house, and encourage adaptability so the colours and the materials are modular to suit different sizes of rooms,” Holil says of the unit which was designed as a response to her own brief. The buyer can choose their own shelf colour from a range of standard powdercoat colours.  “I wanted something that is really functional and also fun to look at.”

Holil says that submitting projects in the VIVID design competition is almost a part of “TAFE ritual” and by second year, students are encouraged by lecturers “to get your stuff out there. It’s a good way for us to show our work out of Perth.”

The ‘Lucky 13′ coffee table has 13 glazed ceramic legs.

The ‘Lucky 13′ coffee table has 13 glazed ceramic legs.

The ‘Kayu Case’ features a hinged leather cover.

The ‘Kayu Case’ features a hinged leather cover.

Lucky 13 is a coffee table which Holil exhibited as a second year student finalist at VIVID 2012. The experimental project features a tinted glass top and 13 detachable glazed ceramic legs inspired by stalactites. She says she hasn’t yet found her preferred medium but is interested in using new materials.

“Looking at all my past projects there isn’t one material that I work with the most. Whenever I’m studying a project I never have one material in my mind that I have to use.”

The Kayu Case was designed in 2014 as a small batch production project. Holil says it was a fun project that combined her experience with timber and a material she hadn’t worked with before. The leather cover proved to be quite challenging but resulted in a beautifully crafted pencil case. “There was a lot of learning by doing and I actually sold a couple of them as well,” she says. “It’s always still really exciting for me because every time I do sell a piece it feels really thrilling because people are using it in their house or their daily activities.”

The A Stool completed in 2013, is a deceptively simple design cut from one piece of sheet metal and the Tyred Chair is made from rock maple timber and recycled bicycle tyre tubes.

Holil says she was overwhelmed by the response the Sandwiched Shelf received at the VIVID stand last year, with most visitors asking when it would be available to buy. She has since been in discussion with a Perth manufacturer who has shown interest in producing the piece. But for now her focus is on completing her last semester at Curtain in June, and then to find employment with design studios or designers that she admires.

Sometimes curiosity can lead to undreamed of satisfaction and success.

The ‘A Stool'  is cut from one piece of sheet metal.

The ‘A Stool’ is cut from one piece of sheet metal.

Yulia Holil’s Tyred Chair combines a Rock Mable frame and recycled bicycle tube seat.

Yulia Holil’s Tyred Chair combines a Rock Mable frame and recycled bicycle tube seat.

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Beeline Design: a hive of creativity

This story first appeared in Design Online in March 2015.

Adam Brislin at his Preston workshop in Melbourne’s inner north.

Adam Brislin at his Preston workshop in Melbourne’s inner north.

ADAM BRISLIN describes his Preston workshop as a busy hive of creation. It’s a place where designer makers with compatible skills and trades are part of a non-profit self-funded cooperative called Worco that has been operating since 1979.

There’s a blacksmith, a lute maker, homeware designers, wood turners, steam benders and other furniture designers and makers. It’s also where Brislin established his handcrafted furniture business, Beeline Design, in 2010.

“It was something that I had always wanted to do,” Brislin, says of establishing Beeline Design. He is originally from Bunbury, Western Australia, and established a passion for woodcraft as a teenager. “I just had to do some other things before I was ready to settle down into starting a small business.” Those other things included leaving his home early in his career to travel to London where he found work making high end bespoke timber flooring and where he met his partner Lucy, originally from Melbourne.

Together, they set about establishing the Beeline Design brand with the aim to create a unique and distinguishing mark that was immediately identifiable to clients. “I came up with the flying honey bee as it does a little dance when he finds honey and lets the others know where to come to,” Brislin explains of the image a friend designed for him. “I got a branding iron custom made so I can burn that onto timber.”

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As a teenager at school, he was offered the opportunity to train in woodwork twice a week in the evenings and this proved to be a pivotal moment in his young life. Students were able to make whatever they wanted out of any materials that were available which suited Brislin perfectly. He says that the idea of plodding along and building pencil boxes and then moving onto the next project wasn’t for him.  The flexibility and lack of set projects encouraged exploration of the medium and he was hooked. “I was so keen and eager that I used to just read woodwork magazines and books and I used to try to devour as much as I could about woodworking,” he says. He continued with the evening classes, adding to his tool collection until he completed school. He then completed a pre-apprenticeship and an apprenticeship and extra TAFE courses in wood turning to develop his skills even further.

Brislin was also fortunate to find work with John Ablett who was one of the only woodwork craftsmen in the area at the time and who taught him the craft of wood turning and wood carving. They would also sawmill their own timber to make furniture and sculptural pieces for Ablett’s gallery. The experience solidified Brislin’s training across the different genres of woodworking. It was also around this time that he was nominated for Young Australian of the Year for WA for his work in the creative arts.

Le:Six Trestle Table.

Le:Six Trestle Table.

Calypso Stools by Beeline Design.

Calypso Stools by Beeline Design.

Now settled in Melbourne with a young family, he finds himself working between his fulltime job with an architectural joinery company and working to develop Beeline Design. But the environment at Worco has become a home away from home which he says he was fortunate to have found at a time when there happened to be a space available. He describes it as “a community co-op that incubates a lot of small businesses that are generally of the trades.” It covers all the woodworking facets and is a tightly held group with many members who have been part of the organisation for more than 25 years.

“It’s quite hard to find a workspace where you have all these other tools on hand and we have facilities here to operate our business and a lot of members who are very experienced and knowledgeable in a lot of things who are there to guide you and mentor you as you are building and developing your business.”

He is busy prototyping ideas for Decor + Design where he will be exhibiting at Design Bazaar for the first time. After five years of building a client base of stockists for his range of Calypso Stools, Le:Six Trestle Table and taking on commissions for custom projects, now is the right time for Brislin to expand his core range of handcrafted furniture. He is open to meeting new stockists from around the country and aims to launch up to five new designs for the residential market which also lend themselves to commercial or hospitality projects. Brislen hopes this new range will capture the imagination of interior designers and generate more exposure for his business. He can customise designs for project work and has supplied custom pieces to existing stockists who want to try out new pieces for their store.

Since establishing Beeline Design in Melbourne, Brislin has also noticed a difference in preference for timber species between the west and eastern states of Australia. He did his apprenticeship using predominantly jarrah timber; a durable hardwood that varies from rich red to red browns and some lighter tones, and which he says is a big seller in the west. But on the eastern seaboard he has noticed a trend for blond, lighter toned timbers.

Beeline Design Calypso Stools with copper trims.

Beeline Design Calypso Stools with copper trims.

For small batch production pieces like the Calypso Stools, he mainly uses blond timbers such as Tasmanian oak, Stringybark, Mountain Ash and a host of similar native species including recycled timbers which he sources from the salvage yard conveniently located at the front of the Worco workshop. Imported species like American Walnut and American Oak are typically used for custom furniture.

As a designer maker, Brislin wants to develop designs that feed his soul and give him joy. His passion for creative woodwork and for designing and making his own furniture has been his motivation from an early age and is something that he will continue to do in this hugely competitive market.

His dream is to eventually focus on Beeline Design full time and to settle into a space large enough to house a gallery at the front with a workshop out the back. Working with Ablett all those years ago, he enjoyed the connection with gallery visitors and seeing their interest in works in progress. “You can spend that bit of extra time with them and explain the processes and currently what is getting made and they feel like they are getting to see something quite unique as well,” he explains. It would also mean that he could get to know his customers better by making direct sales.

The Beeline Design brand is inspired by the flying honey bee.

The Beeline Design brand is inspired by the flying honey bee.

 

 

 

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Peta Collett – Wallpaper and Pattern Designer

This story first appeared in Design Online in February 2015.

Peta Collett’s ‘Australica Tropical Delight’ celebrates the hibiscus flower and leaf.

Peta Collett’s ‘Australica Tropical Delight’ celebrates the hibiscus flower and leaf.

PETA COLLETT’S observation of human behaviour blends with her observation of the minute details of nature to form an innate understanding of what makes someone tick and what it is they need.

Design is at the core of her being, intertwined with resilience and a love of learning. Her career spans contemporary fashion and bridal couture when she started hand painting on fabric, to surface pattern design and millinery. She is one of the first rural women in Victoria, Australia to develop a fashion website and is a successful author with her first book, …And Flourish, available in 20 countries. The book, about Collett’s journey of overcoming personal challenges, first sold internationally three months after its launch in the USA.

Collett works from her rural home near Red Cliffs and Ouyen in north-west Victoria. She has lived in the region for more than 20 years and is used to the long drive to Melbourne which she does often. “I’d rather drive five-and-a half hours than get a plane,” she says. “My husband can’t understand that because he is always driving but I enjoy that thinking space. When you drive you see so much more. You see that little old stone church or that beautiful tree with purple flowers.” It’s these details which she files in her memory during the long drives and retrieves at a later date when developing sketch designs.

Collett has always been a “country girl”. After growing up in Gippsland in south-east Victoria, she moved to Melbourne in her early 20’s and then went to Perth to train in colour analysis and theory. This course laid the foundation for her career. But it’s the inspiration she gets from those long drives, the red desert sands near Red Cliffs and the lush underwater seascape and colour combinations of the Great Barrier Reef which Collett develops into wallpaper and textile patterns. Her detailed sketches of the environment and its natural colour combinations have resulted in an enviable collection of rolls of original drawings and a handy reference file. “I pull them out when I need them and when I’m ready to work on something else,” she says.

Collett then reviews the designs and colour combinations and refines the designs by hand. She then creates pattern repeats using a computer program. “In my head I have probably worked out three seasons ahead which sounds a lot but is not really.” Collett has always travelled for inspiration but it is only in the last couple of years that she has begun to finetune what she is best at. Her work is unique and intuitive and she strives to keep it that way.

Australica evolved out of a conversation with a friend who had lived in Australia,” Collett says of her new range of wallpapers and co-ordinating cushion collection which she will launch at Decor + Design in Melbourne this July. Vibrant and unique, the range encapsulates what she says she is best at. Her love of colour, pattern, print, textiles and paper is “rolled in together.” The artwork is defined by line work in “bold black texta” (felt-tip marker) and a blend of chalk pastels and colour pencils.

“I worked flat out there for a while just drawing up ideas,” she says. “I love getting my hands dirty on a big piece of paper and I’m not afraid to use colour or clash it.”

There are several colourways in the Australica range including vivid bold blues and softer pastels which will be revealed at the trade fair. Collett also looks to Pantone colours for inspiration while the mix of bold patterns are inspired by the vivid colours of the Great Barrier Reef and the wildlife throughout Port Douglas along the tropical north Queensland coast. As she travelled through the region, tourists often said that it was these things about the Australian environment that make it an exotic location.

“We are really quite exotic in colour and landscape so it’s really about how you put that together,” she explains. “If you go somewhere in the outback you are really looking at the exotic colour, that sunset and red dirt. And you see that cactus out in the middle of the desert which has that really vibrant yellow flower on it.”

The ‘Australica Lush’ leaf pattern looks great as a feature wall.

The ‘Australica Lush’ leaf pattern looks great as a feature wall.

Australica is inspired by the Australian lifestyle which, for Collett, represents freedom and independence and incorporates the landscape, particularly the exotic and the lush side of Australia. “It’s inspired by living in a green environment and inspired by listening to what people say,” she explains. When conversations turn to lifestyle, she has noticed that when people talk about what they need, it usually has something to do with getting back to nature. When she meets new people, the first thing they want to know is how large the farm is and if it’s green. It is. But the question is an automatic response following the worst of the recent Australian drought conditions.

“I listened to people say, ‘Yes one day we’ll have that piece of land with a house and a picket fence,’” she explains. “It’s all about green space and it symbolises that place of peace, that quiet place where you can go and click off.” She says Australica wallpapers can be used as feature walls in an apartment or restaurant as a reminder of where you want to go.

“I think people whether it’s conscious or unconscious, always look for those things to surround themselves with that motivate and inspire them. I know I do.”

Collett only recently framed up a panel of Australica Lush. Set in a black frame, she says the individual green leaf pattern looks vibrant on a black rustic wall. She is observant of minute details so the design picks up on the variation of colour and detail found in a hibiscus leaf and brings the flat plane to life. The hibiscus flower and leaf are the basis of the Australica collection while the graduation of colour in the Tropical Delight wallpaper is inspired by the sunset.

Tropical sunsets and hibiscus flowers are the inspiration for this design.

Tropical sunsets and hibiscus flowers are the inspiration for this design.

As a business woman, teacher and leader in her community, Collett has created pathways for young local women interested in fashion design through a short course scholarship she created and her relationship with the Whitehouse Institute in Melbourne. She also sat on the Sunraysia Student Excellence Awards for four years.

“I know what it is like for young people when they go to a city to study. They don’t know anybody and they’re not connected. I know what it’s like to have that lack of support and I hate seeing young people flounder because it is a waste of talent,” she says.

Collett’s life-long love of design has nurtured her creative independence and inspiration. With each desire to learn a new skill, she has either enrolled in courses or simply taught herself through trial and error. She calls these her ‘apprenticeships’ and she is not finished yet. In addition to her business, Peta Collett Designs and Styling, and her community involvement, she is also studying to be a qualified counsellor. She sees both disciplines as a drawing out process that requires working with people to find out what they need. They require resilience and forward thinking and the ability to move and adapt quickly – traits which Collett has in abundance.

“It’s not even a conscious thing,” she says. “It becomes so natural to build on and move forward and do something different.”

Australica Tribal makes a bold statement of colour and pattern.

Australica Tribal makes a bold statement of colour and pattern.

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Adam Markowitz – VIVID 2014 winner heads to Maine, USA

This story first appeared in Design Online in February 2015.

Adam Markowitz won the Concept Award at VIVID 2014 for his table Fred. Picture: Ben Clement.

Adam Markowitz won the Concept Award at VIVID 2014 for his table Fred. Picture: Ben Clement.

ADAM MARKOWITZ is in Maine, USA and it’s the week of the monster snow storm which hit the northeast coast when we chat via email.

He has spent the last two hours digging his car out from under a blanket of snow and has been in Maine for several months. He is there to take a number of fine furniture classes at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. It’s a well-earned creative sabbatical and the next stage of his career development since his Fred table won the Concept Award at VIVID 2014.

“I was quite surprised to win actually,” he says of his first attempt at submitting work to the design competition. “The standard at VIVID in the last few years has been high so I was looking at it more as an attempt to show my work in that forum.” He notes that VIVID is one of the few platforms where young designers have the opportunity to present their work to a wide audience of designers, specifiers and retailers who attend the event on an annual basis.

Markowitz says the amount of inquiries and orders he has received for Fred since last July when the winners were announced demonstrates how critical good exposure is to the success of his product and his brand. Fred is now sold through Modern Times in Fitzroy, Melbourne and is “handmade to order by a very talented local craftsman, Stephen Ziguras of Eco wood design.” This arrangement is the start of a business model which Markowitz hopes to develop further in the future.

“I can see though, that there is still a way to go in establishing both a suite of products and my personal brand as a designer,” he says. “The part of furniture design that I most enjoy is the conceptual and prototyping process. Once I have made the first few prototypes, I am eager to train other craftsmen who I respect to continue producing these items for sale, leaving me free to develop new designs.”

“I am attempting to structure a business model where I am supported by work selling already in the marketplace leaving me free to continue playing in the workshop. Whilst this aim is certainly a while off, I am slowly working towards establishing a recognised personal brand which will be associated with my products, so that people will recognise my products as having integrity in construction and honesty in design and materials.”

Fred was a clear winner at VIVID 2014. Picture: Ben Clement.

Fred was a clear winner at VIVID 2014. Picture: Ben Clement.

Markowitz trained as an architect and has had a love of woodcraft for many years. “I’ve always loved being creative and working with my hands,” he explains of his personal side projects. He has exhibited work in other forums and has taken classes at the Victorian Woodworking Association (VWA) workshop at the Meat Market Arts Centre in North Melbourne where he will soon become a tenant and develop his skills further. The VWA is the leading woodcraft guild in Victoria and was founded in 1979.

While architecture and woodcraft are both creative and practical professions, the tools of the trade, time frames and the scale of projects are markedly different. There is a different sense of responsibility too. Designing and documenting buildings is a long and “bureaucratic process” with many parties invested in the outcome. For a young architect who spends their time in an office environment and constantly connected to the computer, the “disjunction in architecture between design and the end product” can be a little frustrating and dissatisfying. On the other hand, the process of creating a piece of furniture from initial sketch designs to computer documentation and modelling, to realising successive prototypes and then the finished product is a much more condensed timeframe and a more intimate experience. It is this autonomy and more immediate process of creation which appeals to Markowitz.

“Furniture is at a scale where I can have an idea and within a matter of weeks of hard work, I can be looking at a prototype that I can then test, sit on, refine, and rework,” he explains. “I enjoy both the conceptual and craftsmanship phases of the process, finding them satisfying different needs I have in my life.”

After working for a few years in Melbourne architectural firms, Markowitz, who now works part-time so he can pursue furniture design, took a break to undertake postgraduate study in furniture design at the University of Tasmania in Hobart.

“The school there had a very open mind as a fine arts school and had a strong basis in fine craft due to an excellent workshop supervisor, Phillip Blacklow. MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) had just opened and Hobart was, and is, going through something of a renaissance,” he says. “I had a great life living above Salamanca, surfing in the mornings and working all night in their well-equipped shop.”

The Mobius chair designed and made by Markowitz, was realised under Nicolai de Gier at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Denmark. Picture: Adam Markowitz.

The Mobius chair designed and made by Markowitz, was realised under Nicolai de Gier at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Denmark. Picture: Adam Markowitz.

Markowitz used steel rods to form the Hyperbolic chair. Picture: supplied.

Markowitz used steel rods to form the Hyperbolic chair. Picture: supplied.

The university awarded him a travelling scholarship to complete his studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Denmark where he studied under Professor Nicolai de Gier who is “a specialist in chair design,” Markowitz says. It was here that he developed the Möbius chair and Hyperbolic chair.

Markowitz describes the Möbius chair as following in the vein of Alvar Aalto’s experiments with cantilever ply chairs. A single, narrow strip of plywood forms the backrest, armrest and support. This chair was made using a combination of laser cut digital technology and traditional cold-press lamination techniques. The Hyperbolic chair references the mathematical form of the hyperbolic parabola to create the appearance of a curve. The chair is lightweight, strong and comfortable to sit on.

“The Danish school very much attuned my eye to the Scandinavian sense of humanist modern – simple, honest, clear lines but still approachable, tactile and human,” Markowitz explains. “Fred was realised when I returned from Copenhagen and began renting a workshop in South Melbourne. It was really a combination of the handcrafted approach of Tasmania with the humanist modern of Copenhagen.” Fred is a reference to the children of Crown Prince Frederik and Tasmanian born Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, and the table is produced from locally sourced and managed eucalypt.

Many of Markowitz’ favourite designers, including Danish designers Børge Mogensen and Hans Wegner, started life as cabinet makers before becoming furniture designers. He admires their chair designs in particular as they clearly demonstrate a craftsman’s approach to form, materiality and structure.

“They understand just how thin you can make material before it will break,” Markowitz explains. “Their hands understand where to curve and where to keep straight. They also understand the practicalities of handwork versus machine built to make affordable, beautiful designs.”

This newly completed stool demonstrates a high level of craftsmanship. Picture: Dalton Paley.

This newly completed stool demonstrates a high level of craftsmanship. Picture: Dalton Paley.

Markowtiz says wood is an ideal match for contemporary design. Picture: Dalton Paley.

Markowtiz says wood is an ideal match for contemporary design. Picture: Dalton Paley.

At the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, Markowitz has been focusing on traditional methods of fine craft and has also studied different methods of bending, curving and shaping wood under the tutelage of several guest teachers from around the world. His aim is to develop his craftsmanship to a level where his furniture demonstrates a refinement that he sees in those world renowned designers.

The woodworking school grew out of the American Studio Furniture movement from 1940-1990 and which focused on furniture making as high art. Artisans typically produced one-off items taking thousands of hours to build at the highest level of craftsmanship and with exacting levels of perfection and precision. The school is associated with some of the folkloric names of that movement such as master craftsmen James Krenov and Sam Maloof.

“Whilst I tend to lean to the more democratised or affordable small-run production furniture rather than one-off masterpieces, I am trying to bring my craftsmanship to a far higher level at this school.”

“I love wood as a medium. I’m not opposed to using other materials at all and have worked with steel and plastics, but I definitely prefer wood as it is very pliable and forgiving in many ways. Some species have such a stunning natural beauty that they can completely stand alone as a material,” Markowitz says. “Wood gives you a sense of an organic medium that was once a beautiful, living tree. As the furniture maker George Nakashima says, ‘When working with wood there is a responsibility to return life to the tree with good work.’”

He also feels that wood is an ideal match for contemporary design which can be “sleek and minimal while remaining warm, approachable and tactile. Timber, if appropriately sourced, is also one of the most sustainable materials available to designers.”

“I am excited to get back to my workshop in Melbourne in February and get started on a number of projects.”

  markowitzdesign.com

A recently completed chair made by Adam Markowitz at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine, USA. Picture: Adam Markowitz.

A recently completed chair made by Adam Markowitz at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine, USA. Picture: Adam Markowitz.

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