Blue River, British Columbia wood sculptor Jackie Chapman on design, nature and the challenges of working with foraged wood.
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Q & A with Jackie Chapman
How long have you been building furniture?
Since the summer of 2018.
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
I specialize in giving new life to salvaged wood through woodturning and woodcarving, with a large emphasis on the concept of wabi-sabi and finding beauty in imperfections.
Tell us a couple interesting things about your personal life:
I’m fluent in French, I love cooking and being creative in the kitchen, and my first creative love when I was younger was sewing.
If you weren’t a furniture maker what would you be?
A therapist, a professional snowboarder or a naturopath.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
Measuring tape, pencil, mini-speed square.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
There’s a place for both, but if I had to choose, I couldn’t get started on my pieces without power tools.
Solid wood or veneer?
Figured wood or straight grain?
Figured all the way.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
Tough choice but I’d have to go with the Veritas.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
Spalted birch or figured walnut.
Least favourite wood?
I’m not a big fan of cedar.
“Day & Night”
Because of the way the birch had air dried, and the location of the pith, one side of this blank had significant cracking. This gave Chapman the perfect opportunity to carve deeper into those cracks and burn them so they became even more pronounced, while at the same time softening the edges.
Birch and Epoxy Vase
Chapman filled the void in this heavily spalted and weathered piece of birch with epoxy. Because the wood reminded her of driftwood, she gave the epoxy a misty blue sea glass appearance.
Douglas Fir Vase
Foraged in the Blue River, B.C., area, this piece of fir had wide and straight grains that made it a perfect canvas for the Yakisugi burning technique Chapman employs so well. To add more character, she sculpted it using an angle grinder to emulate the mountain spines inspired by the landscape of the Blue River area.
Quotes from Jackie Chapman
My workshop is small but mighty! I’m fortunate to operate out of a rented space that’s attached to where I live. My lathe is the heart of my workshop, surrounded by my bandsaw, dust collector and wood rack filled with varying sizes of wood chunks, amongst my other tools. I regularly have at least five different works on the go. Organized chaos would be the best way to describe it.
My Laguna 12|16 lathe is a pivotal part of my business. I’ve outgrown my midi lathe but it’s been so good to me over the years. My Festool RO90 is probably the one tool I can’t do without. I’m a really big fan of the Yakisugi process. There’s something so satisfying and primal about the act of using fire to create a desired effect. And I love exploring different textures.
I’m quite inspired by the flowing shapes of ceramic work, sculptures and artists who use mixed media.
Living in a super small, remote mountain town, I’m constantly surrounded by nature. Since a lot of my wood is sourced locally, it’s important to me that the designs pay homage to their origins.
Often the most daunting parts of beginning a project is the uncertainty of not knowing how to do something and for me, fear of the failure that inevitably comes with trying something new. The sooner you start and dive in, the sooner you’ll become comfortable with processes. So much of success in woodworking comes from repetition as well as trial and error, and naturally as you learn more, the level of enjoyment just keeps rising. When in doubt, sharpen your tools.
I get most of my business through Instagram but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the amount of work I’ve gotten through word of mouth. This just goes to show how important it is to give every single customer the best product and service you can.
When I entered the woodworking world, I was really focused on making the items that I thought the general public wanted - bowls, serving boards and other utilitarian items. I’m now focused on ways to make pieces that not a lot of other creators are making.
When you’re able to learn by doing, instead of watching, you’re more likely to pick it up more quickly and find it more enjoyable.
Stephane Dumont from Arbol Cuisine in Quebec makes some of the most beautiful salt and pepper mills, Adam Bezzina from Pompous Fox Wood Co. does such clean work and Barter Design has a really cool style. Internationally, I’m a huge fan of Benoit Averly, Alison Crowther and Dan Nguyen.
The beauty and the challenge of working with salvaged and foraged wood is that you get what you get. My designs start with the material first and go from there.
I love how my business is the perfect combination of using creativity, doing physical labour and being a part of the business world.
In the coming decades I believe we’ll start to see a lot of woodworkers incorporating metals, stone and concrete into their designs. I’m also intrigued to see how technology will start to make its way into designs more and more.
I would like to challenge my comfort level by making works that aren’t necessarily crowd pleasing but that certain clients will be in love with.
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June July 2023