Woodturner Trent Watts on dreaming, building things and cow udders.
Q & A with Trent Watts
How long have you been building furniture?
I started making things when I was a boy. I grew up on a farm and don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making something.
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
Functional and sculptural objects.
Tell us a couple of interesting things about your personal life.
My early years growing up in rural Alberta enabled me to gain an appreciation for nature. Riding horses, watching the migration of birds and doing myriad farm chores all influenced my interest in making objects.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
A pencil, a small square and a 6” ruler.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
I use power tools more than hand tools but love it when I use hand tools.
Solid wood or veneer?
Many of the objects I make use local woods but I also love using veneer for a spectacular, outrageous grain pattern.
Figured wood or straight-grain?
Figured for when the design calls for it. Straightgrain for objects that will be textured and coloured.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
There is a real feeling of connection when your hand wraps the tang of a family heirloom chisel.
Flowing curve or geometric shapes?
I love the effect of an unmarred flowing curve as it sweeps its magic around the outline of a turned object.
I love turning tight-grained boxwood.
Least favourite wood?
One of my love–hate relationships is with Green Ash.
Small Bowl Set
Created for his daughter, Watts ebonized the bowls after he noticed the burning he was applying to the outside of the bowl was visible on the inside, as well.
Just an Udder Bowl
A former prairie veterinarian, Watts has seen many cows in his day. This bowl is inspired by many of his former clients, and gets a lot of laughs.
Manitoba Maple Vase
To allow easier hollowing Watts parted the top off this Manitoba maple vase, creating a mortise and tenon type union to reattach the top after hollowing. The flutes draw your eye away from the joint and add a design feature. “As I was doing the final turning of the top,” Watts explains, “a worm hole appeared that was not visible before and created a visual distraction. My solution was to pierce more holes in a random pattern around the top to hide the single hole.”
Manitoba Maple Vase detail
Quotes from Trent Watts
Michael Hosaluk stands alone as an important influence. His design aesthetic is unparalleled; imagination boundless and technical skills beyond human. Jamie Russell, Don Kondra and Arthur Perlett also stand out as local makers.
Internationally, Graeme Priddle and Lyonel Grant from New Zealand, along with Jean-François Escoulen and Allain Mailland from France. Their innovative use of materials and complex designs leave me shaking my head. Michael Cullen from California makes some of the most beautiful, colourful and thoughtful furniture I have seen.
CNC machines, 3D printers, smartphones and new-generation materials obtained from some passing asteroid will no doubt be the norm for makers of the future. The real novelty will come when someone picks up a plane and makes an 8' long thin curled shaving from the edge of a 2x4 they found in an old house.
The freedom to add textures and colours to wood has opened a whole world of design options.
Tell us a bit about your studio. I have two studio spaces. The twostory, single-car garage in my back yard is always waiting for me with a full array of woodworking tools. I have been developing my woodworking space for 30 years. I also have a photographic studio about a block away.
In my imagination I have a place for everything and everything in its place. In reality, I rarely get around to cleaning up until the end of a project. I can be driven to distraction when I set a tool down and it takes me 20 minutes to find it again.
It seems my brain is quite unidirectional and is capable of creating havoc with a project if too distracted.
The lathe is a constant source of joy for me.
I mostly get inspiration from the catalogue of forms floating around in my head that have been gleaned from nature.
My most successful pieces cause people to smile. I certainly obtain the most satisfaction when someone picks up something I have made and they experience joy.
Saskatchewan winters provide a time for quiet contemplation and a relatively monochromatic palette of whites and grays. I dream a lot. Ideas come from places and times when I least expect them.
Just get out and make stuff. You will improve your design aesthetic, your technical skills, your proficiency, and use less creative expletives when you are making your 100th item compared to your first.
There is rarely a project that I complete that I don’t see some areas that I could improve upon.
I am constantly amazed at projects I see that were made by craftsmen before electricity was common.
Seeing a walnut-stained coffee table made from MDF with rudimentary joinery leaves me feeling like there is hope for new makers who can tap into a market where people appreciate handcrafted work.
When my grandchildren request a specific piece of furniture I jump into action and work with them to create the piece. No requests are too outrageous and no colours are refused.
I have had the incredible good fortune to attend the EMMA International Collaboration many times, where artists from around the world gather in the northern boreal forest to collaborate.