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Working With and Againt the Grain

With a past in careers involving creative elements, both Dru Plumb and Barnaby Ash took a leap of faith in the midst of an unforeseen global pandemic to start their own business as makers of something out of nothing. Ash & Plumb is the creative studio where they employ their creative minds – and hands – to shape unique and sculptural pieces out of wood.

With wood sourced locally, the duo enjoys working with natural materials and its inherent challenges. While not fully knowing beforehand what lurks behind the surface of a piece of wood, they both consider that a part of the drive behind total creative freedom and autonomy. We spoke with Barnaby about what drives them and how their stunning wood sculptures are created.

You both have careers in disciplines and functions in the creative industry. What triggered you to leave your careers to become independent craftsmen full time?

Whilst there were many creative elements to both of our previous careers, particularly in fashion, we have always had a desire to create something from nothing. There’s something so exciting about building from a raw concept and bringing an idea to life. It requires you to consider and intimately understand every part of the process, constantly challenging yourself along the way. Ultimately we were looking for something more personally fulfilling and desired the autonomy and creative freedom that Ash & Plumb allows us.

Your professional backgrounds both span over a vast area of different fields, what inspired you to choose wood in particular as the material of choice for your craft?

We have always been drawn to wood as a medium, having both grown up around woodlands we have a strong emotional connection to the material, it has such a wonderfully tactile nature and can add magnificent character to the spaces in which we live and work. When we renovated our home we designed and built some custom pieces for the house and completely fell in love with the making process along the way. We are passionate about using local materials, sourcing a mixture of fresh logs from local arborists taken from at-risk trees that are felled due to disease or other causes and kiln-dried boards sourced from responsibly managed British woodlands.

“It is this part of the process that is definitely my favourite, exploring the limitations of what is possible with the material is a wonderful challenge!”

Could you take us through the whole creative process from start to finish in making your turned wood objects?

Whilst we aim for a certain fluidity within the process it generally starts with a discussion around a specific concept. For example for our Halo tray; Dru and I sketched out some potential forms before deciding on a more tangible direction. At this point I prepared some blanks, opting for clean grained sections of a board allowing me to focus on refining the form itself without any distractions before taking the tray back to Dru to discuss and potentially further refine from there. Once we were happy with the final form we then explored our stock to see how we could take advantage of the natural features such as bark inclusions and natural voids and create a series of individual trays that while similar in form were completely unique in character. It is this part of the process that is definitely my favourite, exploring the limitations of what is possible with the material is a wonderful challenge! Once I had turned a series of these, Dru then took charge of the oiling and finishing before curating a selection for him to style and photograph, requesting a couple of additional pieces to make the series more cohesive. Aiming to carefully curate our work through this process ensures a clear aesthetic relationship that ties everything together. It’s important to us that each stage of the creative process maintains a relative fluidity allowing us to be open to new concepts along the way. It is through this way of working that we believe our best work is produced.

All your pieces are unique and original as the raw material always displays individual patterns, grains and blemishes. Is the nature of natural materials a blessing or a challenge?

The nature of natural materials is definitely both a blessing and a challenge! Working with wood is an inherently collaborative process, as you never know exactly what to expect when you cut into a log. That is of course part of the excitement, we enjoy the challenges presented by what most would consider an imperfection, seeing it as an opportunity to highlight the individual and characterful nature of the medium. This way of working means we can utilise our materials in a way that is simply not possible in a mass-produced context.

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