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Eleanor Lakelin excavates a three-dimensional landscape within wood

Eleanor Lakelin excavates a three-dimensional landscape within wood

As designers, as makers, I believe, we have an overpowering urge to build-up. To create something from scratch, from the ground-up; to be the architects of never-seen-before form, textures, and hues.

Despite this almost intuitive inclination, artists and designers today are beginning to discover just how much potential lies in acts of excavation instead. Choosing to unwrap, carve into, dig down, and reveal the natural perfection and imperfection in materials, is becoming a quiet, but powerful movement today.

Within this context, London-based artist Eleanor Lakelin’s practice emerges as being representative and almost symbolic of this unnamed movement.

By torching, sandblasting, hollowing, and delicately carving local wood, felled in the British Isles, Eleanor creates beautifully gnarly, patterned, charred and bleached vessels and sculptural objects. There is nothing ordinary about the forms and textures of these works, and they are created with an excavator’s mindset, designed to reveal the natural character of the wood. 

 Eleanor, carving into a work from her  Time and Texture  series, in Cedar wood. Image courtesy Alun Callender and Cockpit Arts.

Eleanor, carving into a work from her Time and Texture series, in Cedar wood. Image courtesy Alun Callender and Cockpit Arts.

In most works, Eleanor executes a natural erosion of sorts, by peeling away at the bark, exposing the grain and thereby history of a tree (as in her Time and Texture series), showcasing the passage of time. In other instances, Eleanor’s creations are designed to celebrate the forms of natural burrs found on trees.

In such cases, unveiling what lies beneath the surface of a gnarly, deformed Burr (a growth found on trees, born as a result of stress, injury, or disease) becomes Eleanor’s goal. These knotted, seemingly unattractive forms are then carved into, revealing unexpected and beautiful surfaces, as seen in Eleanor’s Contours of Nature series.

 Hollow Form,  Time & Texture  Yew, Sandblasted & Carved by Eleanor Lakelin. Image courtesy: Stephen Brayne and Jeremy Johns Photography

Hollow Form, Time & Texture Yew, Sandblasted & Carved by Eleanor Lakelin. Image courtesy: Stephen Brayne and Jeremy Johns Photography

Such is the degree of transformation executed by Eleanor, simply by excavating and treating natural wood, that some of her works have the textural and visual appearance of smooth, chiseled stone or even bone.

Eleanor continues to turn, carve and pursue the material possibilities of wood, from her studio in Cockpit Arts, where she has been the recipient of The Cockpit Arts / Worshipful Company of Turners Award. Like many other Cockpit Arts residents interviewed by us before, Eleanor too has benefited immensely from the support and infrastructure of the Cockpit Arts incubator and community. Read our recent conversation with Eleanor below:


MD: Eleanor, your approach to wood as a material is focussed on drawing out its layers, textures, and its own history in a way. When did you realize that you wanted to excavate wood this way? How did your work transition from traditional cabinet-making (all about sharp, clean lines) to what you do now?

Eleanor: I’ve always been drawn to naturally sculptural forms–such as bones, gourds, pebbles and seedpods, perhaps influenced by my childhood in rural Wales and time spent in Africa. I initially started designing bowls in 1998 using off-cuts from large furniture projects. These were very simple in form, and I would pay someone to turn a shallow bowl shape as the top surface, using a lathe. 

I was fascinated by the turning process, and in 2008 I finally went attended a five-day workshop. This led to years of learning, honing, experimenting through trial and error–a process which continues to this day. These early pieces were strictly geometric, but I was drawn increasingly to exploring time and rhythm in nature; to texture and how we experience objects through touch.

 Eleanor sandblasting burred wood in her studio space. Image courtesy George Selwyn-Brace

Eleanor sandblasting burred wood in her studio space. Image courtesy George Selwyn-Brace

MD: Sandblasting, carving by hand, torching–What are the other methods you currently rely on to create your work? Are there other techniques you are keen to experiment with in the future?

Eleanor: My work is turned on a lathe initially. I use all kinds of tools from centuries-old chisels and gouges to those of my own devising. The tools and processes I use are naturally led by the material in many ways––for example, I find using dentistry tools is best for detailed work within the fine crevices of wood. Now, I’m starting to work on a larger scale and am interested in large form installation pieces, which may lead to exploring other new processes in the long term.

 Eleanor turning wood in her studio space. Image courtesy George Selwyn-Brace

Eleanor turning wood in her studio space. Image courtesy George Selwyn-Brace

Click here to watch a film about Eleanor's process,

MD: By bleaching and polishing them, some of your wood pieces are transformed to feel like stone or bone. Why bone? What about bone as a material, draws you to it?

Eleanor: There is something about this transformative process which reveals a truth within the wood. Bleaching pieces brings quietness, emphasizes their form and brings out their ethereal quality. I like the pureness of the color–like fossils or pebbles, bone has been bleached by the elements and its form softened by time. It is part of a natural, earthly palette, but it somehow feels other-worldly.

 Hollow Gourd Form, Contours of Nature, Horse Chestnut Burr, Bleached & Carved by Eleanor Lakelin. Image courtesy: Stephen Brayne and Jeremy Johns Photography

Hollow Gourd Form, Contours of Nature, Horse Chestnut Burr, Bleached & Carved by Eleanor Lakelin. Image courtesy: Stephen Brayne and Jeremy Johns Photography

MD: The Contours of Nature series is your most recent work, seen at Collect 2017. Could you tell us a little about it? And why burred wood, in particular, is at the heart of it?

Eleanor: I’m particularly inspired by the organic mayhem and creative possibilities of burred wood. This proliferation of cells, formed over decades or even centuries, as a reaction to stress or as a healing mechanism is a rare, mysterious and beautiful act of nature. The twisted configuration of the grain and the frequent bark inclusions and voids are challenging to work with, and the forms difficult to hollow, but the removal of the bark reveals a secret, ethereal landscape, unseen by anyone before.  

 Details of a hollow Vessel,  Contours of Nature,  Spalted Horse Chestnut Burr, Lathe-turned, hollowed and sandblasted by Eleanor Lakelin.  Image courtesy: Stephen Brayne and Jeremy Johns Photography.

Details of a hollow Vessel, Contours of Nature, Spalted Horse Chestnut Burr, Lathe-turned, hollowed and sandblasted by Eleanor Lakelin.  Image courtesy: Stephen Brayne and Jeremy Johns Photography.

 MD: What impact do you seek to create with your vessels and sculptural objects?

Eleanor: I want my pieces to be solid enough to touch–I think that by handling something we engage more with it, and are taken to a new level of experience. It draws us in to look more closely.

I’m fascinated by wood as a living, breathing substance, with its own history of growth and struggle, centuries beyond our own. I use the vessel form and its surface pattern to explore the layers and fissures between creation and decay, the erosion of nature and our relationship to the Earth. 

 Hollow Form (detail), Time & Texture Yew, Sandblasted & Carved by Eleanor Lakelin. Stephen Brayne and Jeremy Johns Photography.

Hollow Form (detail), Time & Texture Yew, Sandblasted & Carved by Eleanor Lakelin. Stephen Brayne and Jeremy Johns Photography.

MD: What are you working on at the moment, and what is next for you?

Eleanor: I have a busy year ahead. Earlier this year, I made a visit to Forde Abbey, where I’ll be creating a site-specific work for Landscape of Objects, curated by Flow Gallery this June. My first major solo show opens to the public next week and will be at Konsthantverkarna in Stockholm through May/June.

In addition to these works, I am now represented by the wonderful Sarah Myerscough Gallery, and I am producing new works for the gallery to showcase at a series of shows including Design Miami/Basel, PAD London, Design Miami and The Salon Art + Design in New York. 

MD: Thank you, Eleanor, for sharing your work and process with us! Readers, to learn more about Eleanor's work, click here.


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