Mark Salusbury on design, when he works best and his enjoyment of finishing.
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Q & A with Mark Salusbury
How long have you been building furniture?
For my own enjoyment since 1973 with 15 years as a professional artistic woodturner (1990-2005).
Tell us a couple interesting things about your personal life.
I’ve lived closely to the Yogi Berra quote “When you get to the fork in the road, take it”. I like to try things; if they suit me I’ll keep at it, if not I move along until the next opportunity presents itself.
If you were not a furniture maker what would you be?
A hydroponic farmer.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
A sharp HB Pencil, a 24” Rabone Chesterman rule, a 6” double square.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
Whichever offers the greatest efficiency and best result.
Solid wood or veneer?
I value the benefits of both equally.
Figured wood or straight grain?
Depends entirely on the intended function and aesthetic.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
Whichever is the most friendly in my hand and holds the best edge.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
I actually prefer to include both in the same piece; geometry provides structure while curves and rounded surfaces offer a complimentary softness and flowing energy.
Quartersawn Figured Bigleaf Maple.
Least favourite wood?
Salusbury first made this style of bowl in the early 1990’s and has crafted many variations of the theme over the years since. 14” in diameter, the rim of this figured bigleaf maple bowl was dyed.
Number One Chair
This American whitewood chair prototype was finished with three coats of waterborne alkyd semi-gloss finish. Salusbury found the process so satisfying, and the prototype worked out so well, he completed it with waterborne alkyd semi-gloss finish and fabric upholstery for his den.
This is one of an ongoing series of pieces where Salusbury explored the application of colour, texture and disparate materials to enhance and harmonize his signature turned form. This piece was turned, carved, dyed and gilded, with leaf appliqués from hand cut veneers of maple, cherry, spalted maple, pau amarello, purpleheart, padauk and claro walnut.
Quotes from Mark Salusbury
My studio was purpose built 20 years ago. I designed it to offer me the optimum volume and workflow within the most efficient footprint and the most natural light to work by. A 400 sq. ft. shop space with an attached 200 sq. ft. tool/storage room connected via a breezeway to the rear of my garage and lumber storage rack.
I do my best thinking, designing and planning in the morning. After morning coffee I'm most productive until afternoon coffee, stopping for lunch and a rest in between. The rest of the day, and possible the evening, is time for completion and contemplation, nothing heavy mentally or physically.
My favourite tool is the one I’m using at the moment; I parted ways with those that have failed to satisfy me; I enjoy most the perfect union of well designed and executed joinery and while most woodworkers probably think it’s heresy, I really enjoy the finishing process, transforming the promise of raw wood into rich, glowing reality with a perfect application of varnish or paint.
Inspiration begins with necessity and is expressed through accumulated life experience and the resultant personal taste.
I’m orderly, exacting, and have a satisfying sense of taste and proportion.
I use paper and pencil sketches to conceptualize, scaled paper and pencil engineering drawings (front view, side view, top view) to plan out proportions and joinery and prototypes occasionally. Most often I can envision and correct my designs enough from my drawings and go straight to making.
I think new makers should remember this quote: “There is hope in honest error, none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist” – Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
A few of my mistakes have made excellent firewood. The root of my failures is always that I tried too hard, worked too hastily and thoughtlessly forced the outcome.
I'm tired of any furniture style that’s overtly ornate. Say no more!
Modern adhesives make exposed, complex joinery less necessary; unless it’s really necessary for structural reasons, “Keep it simple”. Prove your skill through original design and cleanliness rather than ornamentation.
I’m no longer working commercially but now, and when I did, I only found satisfaction in executing my own designs regardless of the incentive.
When I worked commercially almost all my work came through requests or referrals from galleries.
We can inspire young kids via media and clubs and associations that offer the mentorship and instruction the secondary school system has failed to provide since the 80’s.
Effective design is the most misunderstood part of building custom furniture.
We should do more to expose, promote, accredit and celebrate makers in Canada.
My father introduced me to the satisfaction of creating original work in wood. Later, my need to have furniture on a budget furthered my involvement. Educating myself on how to expand and improve my skills kind of took over!
Nothing satisfies me like making something that comes from my own mind and tastes.
Simplicity and the ability of a piece to instantly attract a viewer to engage with the piece comes from good design.
If you don’t have a clear concept of the works function, how can you possibly select appropriate materials?
I think a maker today has to be realistic about long-term stamina and the need to be energetically diverse. Every maker I’ve ever known has also had one or more supportive extensions to their “making” which greatly help to pay the bills.
Be thoughtful, energetic, enthusiastic, inspiring and unafraid to try new things and to make mistakes along the way.
While the technology makers will have at their disposal and the materials may change, I expect studio furniture output will remain the same rich counterpoint to our fast-paced world. Contemplative introversion will continue to exert the steadying influence it does today and has for the last 50 years.
Canada has for decades been a wonderful place to create work but a poor place to sell it, unless for export. I don’t see that changing. Canadians are too practical for their own good, reluctant to invest in enjoyment of their own spaces.
Creative Woodworking is so satisfying, so diverse and such a rich avenue for exploration and self development, especially if we allow ourselves to be relaxed, be imaginative and allow ourselves to go where the journey and our spirit takes us. And “When you get to the fork in the road, take it”.
October November 2019