Furniture maker and woodturner Wyatt Walkem on sanding all night, travelling and trying to turn stones.
Q & A with Wyatt Walkem
Excalibur Coffee Table
Walkem designed this table in his third year at Sheridan College in Furniture Craft and Design. The key elements he chose for this piece were to pierce and to fold. It’s constructed with solid black walnut and cold-rolled steel that was pickled and oiled. The legs pierce through the table and the skirt folds in to tie the piece together.
Burl and Root Coffee Table
The tabletop is a piece of 2,000-year-old redwood burl from California, balanced on top of a salvaged 300-year-old pine root base. These roots were originally used as fence lines when southern Ontario was first expanding its farming fields. The finish is sprayed polyurethane and buffed out to a high sheen.
Quotes from Wyatt Walkem
My studio is located on the second floor of a 1970s barn on my family farm. I have separate areas for each aspect of my work: wood storage; turning; sanding; assembly; and finishing.
My daily routine usually includes answering emails in the morning, and gardening and farm work during summer days. I save heavy machining until the early evening, then I will usually do light work like sanding until 2 a.m. The schedule will vary between the seasons. Woodturning in the winter months, as that is the correct time to harvest trees for my bowls. In late spring I make small items for my summer craft shows. During summer and fall I build furniture. I teach woodturning year-round.
My music is very important in the studio. Classic rock, but when I need to focus, I listen to some light coffee house music or traditional Japanese instrumental music.
I get design inspiration from many places, but when I really hit a wall I reach into a box of folded-up phrases and pull out two or three (tall, curved, light, steel, etc.) and will design from there.
I will continue to travel the world because every nation and culture has a design I can learn from.
When designing furniture, I usually start with five-minute sketches to pull up five to 20 ideas, moving a few into 1/8 scale mockups. Then I make a full-scale mockup before creating the final piece. There is more a full-scale mockup can tell you about proportion and assembly than any drawing can.
When I don’t like something in one of my pieces it’s usually the first piece to sell at a show. The buyer doesn’t look at the same things I do. Makers are too hard on themselves. There is always room to learn, grow and try again.
I prefer a compromise with a client. I like to build for them what I would want to build for myself. I don’t like to be pushed to create something that isn’t exciting and compromises the quality of the finished piece.
For serious pieces, I will create a photo album of each process so they can feel that they were right there with me.
Most of my business I find at art shows and local farmers’ markets. Word of mouth is a great way to grow a business, and social media is beginning to draw a large amount of attention as well.
It’s important to continue to be creative by trying to develop new ideas and new work, however, with 4000+ years of makers before me, originality can be difficult. Don’t be shy to make something that someone else has made if you like it, but always give credit where credit is due.
My work is a balancing act between one piece of material and a million possible ideas for the design.
To minimize complications, I prefer to have a design completed before starting a project. To work on the fly, constantly changing ideas, can become stressful and I lose the initial idea.
My life goal is to never stop learning. Being a woodworker has granted me a career that is full of potential to never stop learning.
What motivates my work is understanding that the trees I work with get a second life that may live on for years to come. I can also pass along the knowledge I’ve learned from my mentors by teaching others the skills of wood turning.
I’m most proud of a sculptural bowl I produced from the root of an apricot tree. It was the most challenging piece I’ve ever turned. It was both mentally and physically gruelling. It even included stones that had to be dealt with while turning.
Supporting local artisans versus overseas markets will keep our “Made in Canada” identity strong.