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Alternate Plane Woodcrafts – Sunday Artist Interview

Sunday’s have never been the same again since I started these around 6 months ago! I have luckily had lots of very willing artists to interview and have a list of more as long as my arm – so here’s today with Rich at Alternate Plane Woodcrafts…

First of all, who are you?

Hello! I’m Rich and I live in Hitchin in Hertfordshire. I’m a self-employed woodworker and my business is Alternate Plane Woodcrafts. I make small home decor pieces utilising local and exotic hardwoods. I never use stain so everything you see is the natural colour of the wood itself. As well as creating these small items I also work sometimes with an arborist, a furniture maker and a landscape gardener. 

When you were asked (all those years ago!), “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  What did you answer?

Unlike some people who had a dream job in mind, I could never answer that question as I’ve never had a dream job. My background is actually in music so I followed that path for a while; college and University. Woodwork was always something in the back of my mind since experiencing it a small amount at school and I eventually decided to try it at about 30 years old so this is all quite new and I’m constantly learning. It’s OK to not know what you want to do. Just try things and see where it takes you. Don’t be pressured by society into doing what others think you should be doing. There are no rules to any of this! 

What is the funniest thing as an artist that has ever happened to you?

Craft fairs are amazing for the person who loves ‘people watching’. You meet a lot of strange and amusing people who come to your stall; all walks of life. I can’t pinpoint a single funny moment but it’s been quite amusing when on more than one occasion people have asked “Is this wood?” whilst holding one of my wooden items even though there is a banner behind me quite plainly stating it is indeed wood! It’s surprising (and worrying) how often that happens…

What is the hardest part of being creative?

The hardest part of being creative is, just that, being creative. I imagine for some disciplines it can be easier on occasion; lying in bed you suddenly have an idea so you jump up and start painting. I can’t do that so easily as the woodworking machines are noisy for instance, so a 3am idea has to wait. Materials aren’t as easy to come by either. You can’t just pop into town and buy some Tasmanian Myrtle as easily as you would some paint or clay from the art supplier. The other thing is trying to think of something others might like/find useful. I need to make things that have a practical use for the most part as opposed to a picture you hang on the wall. It needs to look nice, feel nice and be of some use. Sometimes you just don’t have any ideas. You can be looking at a piece of wood and no ideas come to you. That’s a crippling feeling and very disheartening.  What do you do then? You just make stock of items you’ve sold before but that’s not as exciting as trying something new. So the creative process can be extremely draining. Especially if your great idea doesn’t work out how you intended!

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?

One of the best things to keep in mind is “There are no mistakes, only changes in design”. Something my Dad says often. Very rarely have I fully given up on something I was making. A piece might go horribly wrong and glue just won’t fix the problem. Instead, you just change the original idea into something new. You adapt. It’s awful when something does go wrong, especially when you’re close to the finish line. Take a step back, don’t destroy the piece. Come back to it a day, a week, a month later, whatever works, but give yourself time to gain some perspective and try other things in the meantime. Even the greatest artists, creatives and craftspeople I know still mess up constantly. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing something, you will do it wrong occasionally. Just adapt.

What subjects inspire you?

All sorts of things inspire me. Everyday life. I might see a shape in nature and that will become a coaster or a bowl for instance. Going around friends houses and seeing their home decor items and furniture might spark an idea which grows over time to become something. I’m hugely inspired by other creative disciplines though. Not so much for my own work ideas; I actually don’t look a lot at other woodworkers. I love looking at things I have no idea about. Cosplay for instance, glass blowing, pyrography, knitting, drawing and painting etc. There are so many creative mediums out there and just seeing other people’s work inspires me the most. It gets the creative juices flowing; gets you excited to create. I’m in a great handmade group called Handcrafted Uniquely and there are so many creatives of all kinds of disciplines and they are truly inspiring people. My Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with artists and creatives, it’s wonderful seeing all this talent all the time. Like a mini art gallery in my hand! 

Who are the 3 greatest living artists in your opinion? (they don’t have to be famous!)

As mentioned above I follow lots of creative people so this is an almost impossible task but I think I’ll pick some non-famous artists:

Tom Roberts Illustration –
Tom’s detail is just astonishing and I’m very much drawn to the fantasy and myth subject matters he creates. Really vivid creations and I can imagine all the worlds these characters might inhabit. Brilliant. 

Jf Lemay Illustration –
This artist brings the art to life!! Watch his videos. The page literally moves and creates new images as segments come away from themselves. It’s so unique and I love all the sound effects which accompany the pieces. Plus there’s a big film and TV influence and I’m a huge film nerd so that very much appeals to me. 

Svpipesdesign –
I wanted to put a sculptor on the list and this also happens to be a woodworker as well but his work is phenomenal. He makes smoking pipes and sculpts famous faces and characters from film and TV onto them. The work is just incredible and so life-like. Check out his Gandalf. Wow!

Who are the 3 greatest dead artists in your opinion?

Dalí is probably my favourite dead-guy painter. His 100 piece commission for The Divine Comedy has always been something I’ve loved and the Dalí museum in Figueres is one of my favourite places. I’d urge everyone go there; I can spend hours there, it’s wonderful. 

This next choice is slightly more left-field but I’d like to choose Jim Henson. He might not be who you think of when the word ‘artist’ is thrown around but I’ll argue to the death with you about that. The man was a true creative and inspired millions. A storyteller who used several mediums; his art played a big part in our lives for most of us growing up and lives on today. 

Finally, Ray Harryhausen. Again, perhaps not the standard ‘artist’ but I don’t care. The man was a genius and his stop-motion creations hold a big place in my heart and are some of my favourite films and inspired other creatives who then went on to make more of my favourite films (looking at you, Phil Tippet/Aardman/Laika Studios). Stop-motion animation IS an art and a sorely underrepresented and underrated one at that. It’s had a bit of a Renaissance in the last few years but Ray really was such a brilliant mind that he allowed it to continue for longer than it might have.

What is your favourite work of art you have ever produced?

It’s not the most technically difficult or even the best piece I’ve made but favourite has to be the Book-shaped bookend I made for my Mum which started this whole thing off. It was the first thing I made which made me think I could give this whole woodwork thing a go. I had no real tools to speak but it worked and it inspired me. Plus I get to see it every time I go round so it’s a nice little reminder of why I’m doing this. 

What was the last piece of art you sold?

The last piece I sold was this Red Mallee Burl Carved Dish:

And finally… Because this is really important….

What’s the best type of cheese?  (haha)

I LOVE CHEESE! I can’t choose. Just give me all the cheese.

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