Carlyn Lindsay

Monday 9 July 2018

Carlyn Lindsay has to be one of the most enthusiastic and charismatic people I have ever met; ask her about her work and her eyes light up. She is incredibly passionate, not only about her work, but also the importance of youth training in woodturning. I met her at her home in the Essex countryside.

“Working with wood is something I have enjoyed since I was quite young. I was about seven when I started to use wood and I remember being frustrated as I realised I wasn’t really big enough at the time,” recalls Carlyn. She was always making things and always working on a different project. “After school, I embarked upon a two-year Art Foundation course between 1980-82 and worked with many mediums and materials, but for some reason I kept coming back to wood. I also worked with ceramics whilst at Art College, and found it very difficult to choose between working with ceramics or wood,” she says. “I started experimenting with lamination during my second year.”

Carlyn then went on to graduate from Wolverhampton School of Art and Design with a degree in wood, metal and plastics: “With this under my belt, I was lucky enough to be awarded a grant from the Prince’s Youth Business Trust, which helped me to set up my workshop as a designer/maker in wood,” remembers Carlyn. “Over the years, these have been invaluable to my progress.”

In her early years of employment, Carlyn worked as both a cabinet and furniture maker, before deciding to become a professional woodturner: “During this time, I applied for a job in ship building as a fitter, but unfortunately the company went into liquidation. I attended a boat building course that year and as a result, built a 9ft sailing dingy by hand, made from elm and oak. I still have it stored at my mum’s house.”

Carlyn has been working with laminated wood for 24 years and this is her speciality. “I make a variety of contemporary and mainly functional objects, such as bowls, pots, boxes and walking sticks. I make cutlery and letter opener handles as well as other functional items, in small batches. My inspiration comes from architecture, linear structures and natural forms,” continues Carlyn.

Her early work started out as sticking vacuum-forming plastic and aircraft ply together, so the layers were alternating to give a strong colour: “I then experimented with sticking sugar paper in between layers of wood. I made blocks up into boxes and then had to find a way of producing something quickly. Woodturning was a solution to this problem, and was a vehicle for production,” she says.

“The lamination process I use now involves me having the initial boards all planed; I do all the planing by hand myself, there is no gapping allowed. The blocks are made in 330mm (13in) strips, which all have to be planed,” says Carlyn. “There has to be much consistency in putting it all together.”

Carlyn firstly starts with a block, which can take anything up to a day to get right. This then needs to be left for four weeks before it can be cross-laminated in another direction: “The wood is utilised so there is minimum waste material. A number of items can be made out of a piece, and off-cuts can be used for smaller items, such as earrings and buttons. The types of wood I use are mostly sycamore and boxwood. Sycamore in particular contrasts well with the veneers and ages nicely, and many of my walking sticks are made from maple,” she says.

In terms of inspiration, Carlyn is inspired by architecture, both ancient and modern: “I grew up in Scotland, and as my father was a naval architect I visited many ship yards as a result of his job. I recall many cranes, ship-yards and industrial scenes, such as lines and bridges, all of which are reflected in my work. Whilst all this fascinates me, I also enjoy ordinary turning.”

At present, Carlyn is experimenting with some carving on turning, something she has always wanted to do: “I have been wanting to do this for ages. I use plasticine to plan my pieces, which is a very important part of the planning process. I have boxes and boxes of unfinished pieces, but my sons won’t let me throw them away. I find that if I leave a piece – sometimes for up to two years – it will be a lot better when I return to it as it has had a chance to fully settle,” she says.

Carlyn works to the ethos of keeping it simple: “I am well-balanced and my work keeps evolving all the time. I recommend drawing and planning, as there are lots of elements involved in the processes I use. When you have to glue 140 pieces of wood together in 40 minutes you have to be very organised,” she says.

Carlyn regards her work as being very simple: “I could be doing more, but I am busy enough. Time is quite precious to me. I find mobile phones are a great device for helping people to get hold of me. They can contact me at any time, even when I’m in the workshop,” she adds.

Demonstrations and talks make up Carlyn’s extra income: “If I sell some items at an exhibition, it all adds up and makes enough for me to carry on. I also love the lifestyle that goes with woodturning.”

Carlyn shows her work at a variety of exhibitions and galleries and many collectors purchase her work: “My pieces are displayed on a national and international level and people even come from abroad to buy them,” says Carlyn.

As well as exhibiting, she also frequently attends art exhibitions: “It is important to view other artists’ work, regardless of the medium. I find viewing other peoples’ work very motivating.”

Carlyn is very particular about where her work goes: “I have to approve of the outlet and be sure to give my work exclusivity in order to keep it special. All my work is individual, and I find that people don’t always want to buy something that has been mass-produced,” she says. “It is nice when people want to buy something you have made – it is part of what keeps us going and what keeps us making.” The last show which Carlyn exhibited at was the Beautifully Crafted show at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, last year.

Although websites are good, Carlyn still finds that there are many other ways of promoting herself: “I regularly attend shows throughout the year and I send out lots of invitations. I am also a member of the Essex Craft Society, AWGB, RPT and I have also featured in a number of magazines.” Carlyn finds that people often approach her and word of mouth helps a lot too. “Because my work is unique, I find that people always look for something different, something they would like to own.”

“In terms of the highs and lows of my career so far, I don’t really have any lows – I am too much of an optimistic person.”

Carlyn remembers many good moments throughout her career, such as finding out that she had won various prizes and thus gaining recognition: “News that you’ve been awarded a bursary is also great, as this is something that will enable you to better what you are doing and this will help you to progress. I think there are many more high points to come in my career – you just have to place yourself in the right situations. Hard work definitely pays off. Things always happen, especially with a bit of exposure – you always get a result.”

Carlyn is very also passionate about youth training as well as her work and particularly advocates the AWGB’s youth training scheme.