It takes time and skill to transform a rough, hard material such as wood into a smooth and elegant vessel. Jonathan Renton’s beautiful hand turned bowls and vases are the product of a wealth of self-taught experience and a deep respect for the material he works with.
“I was always encouraged to be as creative as possible from a particularly young age. I’d spend my holidays with a little watercolour kit, painting every scene I could find, up to about the age of 12 when I received a SLR camera. This was a pivotal moment for me creatively, learning the technical aspects of a traditional film camera and using it to capture unique ways of seeing something.”
Jonathan then began to find a particular joy in landscape photography which he used to create simple, abstract images of nature, a feature echoed in the minimalistic silhouettes of his woodwork.
Jonathan then went on to work in Graphic Design but still craved the strong connection with nature that he had developed as a child, from which he felt he had become disconnected at his computer.
“The more time I spent on a computer, the greater my desire to work with something tactile and create 3 dimensionally. My previous creative outlets were all 2 dimensional and often digital so I just had an impulse to reach for something at the opposite end of the creative spectrum.”
“I am a huge fan of the digital world and the endless ways in which it facilitates creativity. However, as an increasing proportion of our lives has moved onto screens, it’s even more important to remember how to not only create using our hands, but also to appreciate and derive pleasure from tactile objects.”
It was the uniqueness and challenges presented by working with this unforgiving material that drew Jonathan to wood turning, which, like many of his creative pursuits, he taught himself.
“No piece of wood is the same resulting in a different experience creating each piece. There is of course something inherently beautiful about bringing life back to a felled piece of wood-creative sustainable art is a valuable concept in itself.”
Looking at Jonathan’s work, it is clear to see that the natural qualities of the wood have been taken into careful consideration, with the grain often curving around a bowl almost as if it were a meticulously painted pattern. He explains that the grain of the wood acts as the starting point for his design.
“From an aesthetic point of view, grain direction is very important. I try my best to visualise the patterns before I start, making decisions about where in the wood the bowl will ‘start’ from and how the shape will reveal the grain. A more practical consideration is the stability of the piece, again affected by grain direction but other natural elements such as knots or splits too.”
Working with such an organic and varied material requires Jonathan to adapt his designs as he works and takes into account wood’s imperfections and idiosyncrasies.
“There will always be pieces which don’t work out as planned. I do my best to stick to my original vision each time but part of the joy (and sometimes frustration) of working with a natural material is it can throw all kinds of problems back at you, in particular, troublesome knots or hidden splits in the wood. This requires taking a step back, assessing the problem and redesigning the shape in my mind before continuing.”
“As with all of my creative outlets, I am a perfectionist; I enjoy the challenge of adapting a piece whilst on the lathe in order to show off a natural irregularity that revealed itself, but am extremely vigilant when it comes to the technicalities of turning. Anything bearing imperfections caused by poor technique is added to my private collection of ‘seconds’ and not offered for sale.”
Despite the challenges of working with wood, Jonathan finds the process of creating something so unique, by hand, to be extremely satisfying and fulfilling.
“It’s two-fold really, imagining and designing shapes, with specific attention to the subtle lines and curves is very enjoyable, but realising those designs in the finished piece is a very rewarding process. More practically, I really enjoy sanding. It’s something a lot of woodworkers despise, but it’s a very therapeutic part of the creating process, and a very vital one at that.”
Despite the hectic state of our modern, digital world, Jonathan feels encouraged by the positive attention the ancient craft of woodworking is receiving, and the curiosity of younger generations to learn and protect these ancestral skills.
“I’m proud to be using traditional methods to create handmade pieces of work from a natural material and it’s humbling to see more and more younger people reach out asking questions about woodworking. It’s something I see only increasing in popularity which is an exciting prospect!”