Design/Life: Profile of woodturner Hilary Hale By Aileen Lee

Aileen Lee speaks to woodturner, Hilary Hale.

Design/Life: Profile of woodturner Hilary Hale By Aileen Lee

Aileen Lee speaks to woodturner, Hilary Hale.

What’s your background?

I had always admired woodturning, but I only really started doing it when my sons were old enough that I could have machinery in the house without fear. I guess it was admiring other people’s work initially that got me started.

I collected wooden bowls made by other people — I didn’t necessarily know them, but I knew their work. I have been working as a woodturner for about 25 years now.

What’s a typical workday like for you?

My workday varies hugely. I tend to do my more challenging work in the morning, and then the afternoons are spent getting things prepared for the next morning. I would get the wood cut and maybe drilled for some of the cutlery I make. Nothing goes to a finish in the afternoon.

That’s partly because of light and partly because I think that everyone’s attention span is starting to dwindle in the afternoon. What I make varies hugely from day to day. If I am doing something really difficult, I want to make sure I am finished before I open the gallery, so some days I would start much earlier than others.

My gallery hours vary, because I work on my own. Normally I try to be out in the gallery between 11am to 5pm.

Tell us about a recent/favourite project or design you have worked on?

I don’t produce the same design all the time. I much prefer making bowls to anything else I make, but they’re not all the same bowls. It largely depends on the timber that comes in. I like to work with storm-felled timber, whenever I can, so my favourite really is what fell down two years before.

At the moment, I have got a lot of elm that I am finishing, but I started those bowls two years ago. I’ve got a lot of oak that’s in the drying process, so they’ll be finishing sometime next year.

The timber chooses me rather than me choosing the timber. They all require slightly different treatment.

What’s your design style?

I let the timber speak for itself. I like very strong simple shapes.

What inspires your work?

It would be the wood itself. The timber really is my master and not the other way around.

What’s your favourite trend (if you have any)?

They’re not for me — because my timber has to dry, I would be 12 months behind any trends.

Trends don’t really affect me and if the sort of work I liked to make became unfashionable, I wouldn’t make something else just to fit in. I have to be honest in my design principles.

What’s your most treasured possession?

I have this gorgeous lathe called a VB36. When I bought it, it was the best lathe on the market. I have had it years. I use it most days.

These tools almost become part and parcel of yourself, and you don’t realise it until you try to teach somebody else to use them and you have gone into automatic mode. You’ve forgotten that you had to learn to use them once upon a time.

Who is your favourite designer, or style inspiration?

There are a family of ceramicists that I find inspiring, Bernard and David and John Leach. Their work influences me hugely in terms of shape.

Also, the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh because of his championing of simplifying forms without making them totally bland.

What would be a dream project for you to work on?

I wouldn’t have one, to be honest. I think that things evolve as opposed to the feeling of “I’ve got to do that”. I am not just turning out the same old thing over and over again, nor am I looking for a radical change in direction.

Have you any design tips for us?

I would quote Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet on this one: “This above all: to thine own self be true.” Just do what you think is right and appropriate for you.

Twitter: @HHWoodturner

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