Published on 14 June 2020

We are nearly 3 months into lockdown…. and it already feels like an eternity. Still, it looks as if we are heading in the right direction and that the pandemic is slowly reducing its grip; particularly here in Scotland. So, let us hope this downward trend continues and we can all soon meet again at the White Fox Gallery.

In the meantime, we have been talking with a fabulous artist… or “artisan d’art”, I should say, (an expression which somehow has much higher connotations in French than the British equivalent of artist-craftsman), so “artisan d’art” he is to us.

The approach he takes to the conception and realisation of each and every one of his projects, whether it be a modest turned bowl or a major piece of furniture is indeed that of an artist. To quote this outstanding and passionate “artisan d’art”: “Designing and making furniture to me is not only about fulfilling a practical need, but is also about an artistic and aesthetic expression. I see bespoke furniture as useful, usable sculpture which enriches people’s homes and lives, with the added bonus of serving a function.”

So.. let me introduce you to Tom Cooper, and his passion for wood


A natural inclination
with Tom Cooper

Tom, Hi,  I’m starting to really missing seeing you and all of our artists, but hope you are well and keeping safe. Just to inform our friends out there, could you say a few words about yourself?

I originate from Northampton down in the Midlands,  but moved to Scotland in 1997 to study a degree in furniture design at Edinburgh college of art.  At first, I had the notion to study sculpture at London’s Goldsmiths College as, during my foundation course at Northampton Nene college,  l always enjoyed creating three dimensionally.  But with the words of my father ringing in my ears, “you’ll never make any money flapping around as a sculptor “, I decided to study furniture design,  so quite often see my work as ‘ useful sculpture ‘.

After graduating from college in 2001, I worked at a local timber merchants and then, in 2004, decided to take the leap and set up my own business,  establishing a workshop in an old world war II army camp in the beautiful grounds of Newbattle Abbey,  dalkeith,  just outside Edinburgh.  Sixteen years on my business has gone from strength to strength,  working on a varied range of projects,  mostly for domestic clients,  but also for more notable clients such as the Royal College of Surgeons,  Edinburgh’s Lord Provost and the daughter in law of Samuel Peploe. I have also just been working on a range of furniture for a large office down in London. Most of my work is commission-based, but I also make speculative work for exhibitions and art galleries.

Where do you work? Do you have a studio/workshop? Tell us a little about this special place.

As a furniture designer/maker you need quite a large space for all the machinery and equipment,  as well as all the timber, so affordable workshop space is quite difficult to come by.  I started off renting bench space from another maker, which makes it financially viable when starting out,  but then, after eight years once my business had become established, I took over the workshop when the other maker moved away.  It’s an old world war II army building with lots of character,  set in a beautiful rural location tucked away behind Newbattle Abbey College,  with a real connection to the natural environment.

From Top to bottom and Left to Right:
With one of his fantastic carver Fern chairs – sold by the White Fox Gallery
A man’s castle
“Working on the Fast Lathe”
Perfect dovetails and tools of the trade

Kettle flute writing desk and matching stool
Scottish oak with burr oak details
desk: 720mm height x 600mm depth x 1200mm length, £4,200
stool: 480mm height x 350mm depth x 500mm length, £650

How has the lockdown affected your time in the studio/workshop?

The lockdown hasn’t really affected my time in the workshop,  given that I work on my own in quite an isolated location. As I live locally, I’ve been able to walk down to the workshop through the beautiful woodlands surrounding the area,  quite an inspirational walk on a lovely sunny spring day. The only thing though, that has limited my creative time in the workshop, is home schooling my young children,  but it is really nice to spend more time with them as normally I quite often work 6 days a week,  10-12 hours a day.

A Tardis of a tree! , Dad’s time with Katie and Heidi , Dad’s time with Katie and Heidi

From top to bottom and left to right:
Following the wood’ natural lines – turned vessels and bowls
Winter meets summer – Burr birch, sold at the White Fox Gallery
Feathering Bloom – Yew sold at the White Fox Gallery
Crown of Burr – Burr Elm, sold at the White Fox Gallery

Bowls trio set – displayed on page 6 of our current Online Only Exhibition; to visit click here
(Recovery I
, Recovery II, Recovery III – Scottish Elm (each about230mm diam x 120mm H  approx., £125 each or £300 for the set of 3)

Some people have ‘studio pets’. Do you have one? What’s their ‘contribution’ to your creativity?

I don’t really have a workshop pet, apart from lots of spiders, which I sometimes talk to. I do however, at this time of year, have lots of tadpoles in the pond just outside the workshop, whom I do talk to and check in with most mornings,  calling them my little “tiddlers“. Maybe this contributes to my creativity with a connection to nature..?

What did you do at first to try and adjust to  this new ‘lockdown’ situation?

Washed my hands… a lot!!!

What is your favourite pastime? Has the pandemic impacted on your ability to enjoy this?

Field archery – Unfortunately all competitions have been cancelled,  but I still get the chance to practice from time to time down by the side of the workshop.  I also like to do a lot of swimming, which again I can’t do at the moment,  but try to keep fit by substituting this with chopping up firewood!

Can you while away the hours with a “good book”? or do you need to do something more active.  Any particular title you would recommend as a “must read once in a lifetime”?

Never really been a big reader of books.  Never seem to get the time. I do occasionally read a good adventure novel by Clive Cussler.

What about films? What is your favourite film of all?

I like a good action adventure film and science fiction.  So films like James Cameron‘s Avatar, Star Wars films and the Matrix…  but also something with a bit of comedy like Deadpool.  I do find my taste in popular culture quite a contrast to my creative inspiration,  but I quite like that contrast!  A Yin and Yang, or Jekyll and Hyde.  Though probably my favourite film would have to be Monty python‘s Life of Brian.

Deco Flow writing desk and chair
Scottish walnut with sycamore details
desk: 800mm height x 650mm depth x 1500mm length, £5,200
chair: 1100mm height x 600mm width x 600mm depth,  £1, 500

Tell us of one of the most beautiful or happy moments in your life?

When my youngest daughter, Heidi, told me she loved me for the first time.

What inspires you in life and in art?

The natural world and its simple beauty
Who is up there in your esteem in terms of artistic excellence? What is/are your favourite artist(s)?

My favourite artist would have to be Andy Goldsworthy for his beautiful land art sculptures, that embrace and reflect the elegance and beauty in nature.  

Any pet hate? – we all have one, it’s OK to say it.

Ahha,  the list is quite comprehensive but I’ll pick out the highlights.  People who don’t indicate when driving,  especially at roundabouts..grrrr..People who call me a joiner,  and say it’s only a bit of woodworking,  and then quibble over the price.  I usually send these people off to IKEA with a flea in their ear!! I could go on at great length but I’ll leave it there.

As a 3D artist, do you have a favourite form?

The spiral. I love it in my garden at this time of year when the ferns are growing into spirals before they unfurl.

Top and Bottom:
 – Ash and Scottish Walnut, £270

It has been said that creatives are often great cooks as they know how to balance food colours, flavours, texture to create that perfect tastebuds experience, do you like cooking? What is your signature dish?

Used to do a lot of cooking when at school,  but unfortunately now between running my own business,  housework and looking after kids,  I never get the time. Used to do a mean Pavlova!!!

What are you exploring at the moment, artistically speaking?

I’m trying to look at bending wood into complex, compound curves, but also trying to make my own paper from the waste shavings from the turned bowls,  to then use to draw on the natural forms and shapes that inspires my work. Then… I can maybe call myself an artist!!!  

What makes you laugh/cry?

Playing with my two girls always makes me laugh especially when we have farting competitions…oops (I always win!!). But when they tell me they love me, it always makes me well up.

 What is your favourite tipple?

Ooh!!! A nice new Zealand Sauvignon blanc..

What is your “naughty but nice” comfort?

Ice cream and a chilled glass of wine
If you could travel, where would you go?

Probably New Zealand

Finally, going forward, what would you hope we could learn as society/humans from this pandemic. What is your message to the world?

To see how this has benefited the natural world in which we live. The lockdown has given nature a chance to breathe.  Can we not continue to do this? It’s shown that many of us can work from home, and don’t need to commute so reducing traffic pollution.  But can we not also embrace alternatives such as walking or cycling to work. The benefits are plainly obvious. The world seems so much better, the bird song is louder, the sky is clearer, the flowers and air smell sweeter and fresher.
But can we not also go a step further by looking to source items closer to home,  rather than purchased at a click which is shipped from half way round the world. This reduces the pollution created by transporting products and benefits our local economy.  But also to buy quality,  and change the world’s throw away mentality.  It may be more expensive in the short term,  but long term quality products will reduce the consumption of natural resources and transportation pollution by lasting that much longer. Though I suppose it all comes down to greed and wealth and planned obsolescence.  So maybe we need to reassess this false happiness and short term satisfaction. Anyway enough of my ramblings,  I hope you have enjoyed this little insight into me and my work. Stay safe, take care and be happy.

THANK YOU so much TOM for sharing these thoughts with us. 
You’ve been most informative and fun!
I hope our readers would have enjoyed listening to you.

As for me, I am entirely captivated by your instinctive total understanding of, and love for, your medium.  In my eyes, your work represents the perfect 21st century embodiment of what the “Arts & Crafts” movement was seeking to achieve at the end of the XIXth and beginning of last century: a mastery of techniques in the creation of unique and beautiful artworks. “Have nothing in your house you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.William Morris is known to have said. In your case, Tom, we have both.

If you want to read more about TOM, please click here
see Tom’s latest bowls in our Spring online exhibition, please click here

And of course, feel free to send us any comments/questions at  CONTACT US

Thank you for reading and please do stay safe!

ps.: Our next episode of THE FULL PICTURE will be published on 20th June 2020

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