In Conversation with Designers and Woodturners Barnaby Ash and Dru Plumb
Dru Plumb and Barnaby Ash consider themselves ‘editors not creators of nature’s finest work’, a respect for the natural environment which is apparent in their sustainable sourcing and consideration for the individual physical qualities and patterns of the wood. With careers spanning fashion, interiors, styling, mechanics, trail building and even fermented foods, Dru and Barnaby bring a truly unique creative outlook to their studio, Ash & Plumb.
We at Artisans asked them whether their diverse experiences of the creative industry prepared them for running a wood turning workshop. “It’s definitely not easy but it’s been the most rewarding experience we’ve ever had. We have definitely benefited from our past careers, especially when it comes to having some understanding of how to launch and market our work but a lot of what we currently do has had to be learnt from scratch. You have to wear many hats to run a business like this!”
Whilst both are designers for the studio, Dru manages the marketing and branding for Ash & Plumb and Barnaby oversees the making process of the start to finish. The elegant and finely-crafted wooden vessels, artistically photographed for Instagram with great panache, showcase the diverse skills available to the dynamic team at Ash & Plumb.
Coming from such different creative backgrounds, what was it that drew the two designers to the material of wood?
“We have always been drawn to wood as a material and having both grown up in rural settings, we harbour a strong connection to the natural environment, something that has always been reflected in our living spaces and inspires our work. As a material, wood provides an unforgiving challenge through the making process and very much has a life of its own even after felling; a collaboration with the material is essential to get the desired results. Ultimately, it’s the magnificently beautiful, diverse and intricate characteristics that this material offers that make it so appealing.”
The designers take into consideration potential forms when deciding how to work with an un-sculpted piece of wood, but they don’t let initial design ideas restrict or dictate their final piece.
“We enjoy seeking out natural features and ‘imperfections’ within the timber that will often end up defining the final form. Beyond this it is important to consider the grain orientation and how this affects both the strength of a final piece but also the way it will expand or contract according to seasonal changes.”
Woodturning is an artform which can be dated back to 1300BC where a simple mechanism called a lathe was used between two people to sharpen wood. Since then, the tools and machinery used in woodturning have come a long way but still demand a lot of skill and even more precision is required to compete with the speed of tools such as a copy lathe. Dru and Barnaby are concerned about how the traditional forms of woodturning, with its slow and intricate process, are becoming a dying art. Despite this they have a hope that “the art of sculptural expression through woodturning will become more prevalent and people continue to push the boundaries of what is both technically and aesthetically possible”. The creative duo see their role as Artisans, and the ancestral craft of woodturning as a way to offer “an antidote to mass production.” To be an Artisan, they add, is to be a “a preserver of the intimate processes of traditional craft offered in a modern context. Artisans provide objects and experiences with meaning that are so often missing in our society.”
For Dru and Barnaby, the most fulfilling part of their work is researching and developing new concepts and making processes. “There’s something extremely satisfying about pushing the boundaries of what you can create. It always leads to failure along the way but when you finally get somewhere you are happy with it can be quite an emotional process!”
With concern about deforestation and biodiversity loss increasing rapidly, it’s brilliant that sustainability is a big part of Dru and Barnaby’s ethos. They note that there is always more to be done to reduce the environmental impact but nevertheless, they go to great lengths to ensure that their wood is sourced sustainably. Every Ash & Plumb vessel is made from “locally sourced native trees felled due to disease or decay or responsibly managed and certified British woodlands”. The shavings produced through the turning process are also composted and the packaging is sustainable and compostable. “On our more symbolic note we hope to honour the life of the tree through our work connecting those who experience it with the natural world”.