The importance of being able to make a living doing what you love should never be underestimated. Blessed are those who love what they do. But, in the short term, at least, there probably will be sacrifices. When I started as an artist/maker I had to strip my existence right back to basics. Even now, 15 years later, we still live simply
Fifteen years ago spoon maker Huckleberry Young swapped the trappings of modernity and consumerism for a simple life as a full-time artist-maker. He moved to rural France and, surrounded by woodland, started working with the hardwood growing on his doorstep, learning the characteristics of each wood – how it twists and moves to “give wonderful, natural surprises”. Now back in Bath, he only works with fresh green hardwood, which is “much, much more poetic in its outcome” and lets the wood determine the spoon. We spoke to Huckleberry to find out more…
Can you introduce yourself?
So, I am Huckleberry Young. I am 37 and I’m beginning to go grey. I live in a falling-down 17th-century farmhouse with my wife and four young children, and I make spoons. Lots and lots of spoons. I’m from Bath, in Somerset, but I’ve spent a lot of time in rural Limousin, in Central France, surrounded by ancient and plentiful deciduous woodlands, the hardwood from which was the starting point for my interest in spoon making.
How long have you been making?
I’ve been a full-time artist/maker for almost 15 years, but not always with spoons. They started about 10 years ago, firstly just as a hobby. I’ve only started making them commercially in the last three or four years, and now, I’m pleased to say, it’s a full-time job.
What was the first thing you ever made?
I can’t even begin to remember, but I can tell you that the first thing someone actually bought that I’d made was a hand-painted wooden sign with the name of their house. At one time, you may have found me skip-diving, searching for decent wood, or salvaging old timber from council rubbish dumps, to turn into household signs. By 2006, I was supplying a reasonable number of shops and galleries with them.
What drew you to working with wood?
I started working with wood in 2001, but that was largely old, seasoned and mostly recycled timber. Working with fresh, green hardwood, as used in the creation of my spoons, came later. I now only use green wood because it twists and moves in the process of carving and seasoning, and it often gives wonderful natural surprises. It also allows great freedom and designs can evolve from the unique nature of every piece of wood chosen. It is much, much more poetic in its outcome than seasoned timber.
Can you describe the process involved in making a piece?
The wood is worked fresh and green, so I harvest it myself, weekly, from the local woodland – with permission, of course. Each log is roughly 5″ across, and is then split vertically down the centre, leaving two semi-circular halves. The internal surfaces are then worked flat, with an axe, and a rough spoon shape is sketched in pencil. This is where working green wood really comes into its own.
The shape of each spoon is not pre-determined and is dictated by the grain of each piece, and because the wood is wet and soft, it naturally and effortlessly splits, following this grain. The axe is then used to trim the wood into a rough spoon shape, after-which the chip knife and hook knife are used to refine the design. The spoon is then left to season for a couple of weeks, and then worked to a finish with sand and polishing paper.
Are there differences between woods?
Each wood really does behave very differently. Willow has a tendency to tear, green oak will stain with a steel knife, wild cherry can split along the sap/hardwood border, yew is poisonous, hazel and beech are lovely and buttery when green, but very hard and easy to polish when seasoned. The list goes on, and while it has taken a number years for me to understand the differences, I can now use that knowledge to my advantage.
Where do you work?
I work outside whenever I can. Sometimes in the woods, sometimes at the lake, but mostly just outside my studio, which is a old stone barn from 1690. I need very few tools, so I can really work anywhere.
Who are your design heroes?
There really are an amazing number of talented makers at the moment, both in galleries and on social media, but there are two, that, at the moment, stand out for me: Kirsty Elson, and her amazing driftwood houses; and Mister Finch with his incredible textile art. I’m not biased towards any particular material or technique, but originality, combined with humility and a well-thought out (and executed) PR presence, sets these two makers above the rest, for me.
A perfect day would be having some nice food and nice wine, with the family, in the woods, building wigwams, making swords and fighting monsters.
What’s your most treasured possession?
I’m not really big on possessions, but if you forced me to chose I’d probably have to say ‘time’, which I realise is a little cliché. I have four children under six, and the flexibility that comes with doing what I do allows me to see them growing up. I have friends who, because of their corporate lives, only see their children at weekends, and I really do struggle to understand that ideology.
How would you spend your perfect day?
Having some nice food and nice wine, with the family, in the woods, building wigwams, making swords and fighting monsters.
What’s the best thing about being a maker?
For me, it’s got to be the fact that I can’t wait to start work – it really is life-changingly satisfying. The flexibility that comes with self-employment gives so much freedom. It means that I never miss a school show, nor a kids party, nor the happy hour at my local bar! I can also eat as many crisps as I like.
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
The importance of being able to make a living doing what you love and are passionate about should never be underestimated. Blessed are those who love what they do. But, in the short term, at least, there probably will be sacrifices. When I started, in 2000 as a artist/maker, to be able to afford to even survive, I had to free myself from the rhythms of everyday life and strip my existence right back to basics. Gone were the mobile phones, the half-decent cars, the laptops and other trappings such as satellite TV and club memberships. To begin with, this was a bit of a shock to the system, but it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, and even now, 15 years later, we still live simply, even though perhaps we don’t have to.
I can’t wait to start work. Being a maker really is life-changingly satisfying
What does craft mean to you?
Craft is the sum of time, mistakes and experience, the product of which has some sort of artistic or practical value. The products that I make now, would not have existed, were it not for 15 years of practice and dedication, and, of course, failures. When I see a beautifully crafted product, I can’t help but think of it in terms of time, and the energy and passion that the maker has imbued on it. Each piece is a story, representing a personal journey.