I am a chemical engineer by training and worked all my career at Harwell, finishing in environmental consultancy as manager of international activities in support of UK Climate Change Programmes. I live in Oxford with my wife Katherine, who is a garden designer and painter.
I inherited a lathe in 1999 and had a few lessons, if only for safety reasons. My original intention was to concentrate on making furniture and use the lathe for a few chair legs, finials etc. However, very soon I caught the bug and realised that I wanted to be a woodturner – an aspiration given support in 2005 when I quit my job, three years before my due retirement date.
I make functional pieces such as salad bowls and fruit dishes, as well as purely art forms, but all with a sense of design and quality. Many of my pieces use my signature inlays. Each piece is different, unless it is one of a pair of candlesticks or a set of bowls! As I don't like wasting wood, I also make bottle stoppers (very useful if, like us, you can't manage a whole bottle of wine at one go), tealight holders and napkin rings out of wood which would otherwise be wasted.
Most of what I make is one-off pieces to my designs made speculatively, however, I can make pieces to commission. I do not undertake production turning, eg multiple copies of things like balusters for staircases, but I know a man who does.
RICHARD SHOCK WOODTURNER
60 SECONDS WITH RICHARD SHOCK
I use both British woods and those from around the world with increasing attention to ensuring that I use only sustainably managed sources, increasingly from the immediate surrounds
Not only does my raw material come from far and wide but my work also travels. To my knowledge, examples are currently in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Ecuador, Fiji, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Thailand, Turkey, Singapore, Switzerland, UAE and the USA; I would love to hear of other locations.
Following an interview, I was accepted as a Member of the Oxfordshire Craft Guild in 2003; and in 2007, following the standard assessment procedure, I became a Registered Professional Turner, under the scheme sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Turners
In 2010 I was selected as the winner of the Oxfordshire Artweeks Mary Moser Award and in 2012 as Britain's joint Favourite Designer Maker in an on-line poll organised by Seek and Adore.
In 2015 I was accepted as a member of the Society of Designer Makers, a UK-wide organisation for quality craftsmen, with origins dating back to the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century.
Q: What is your favourite wood?
A: Increasingly I'm using ash. It suits my designs and comes in a wide variety of colours from very pale to the dark of olive ash. I also use sycamore, beech, cherry and walnut from Britain plus bubinga, purpleheart and zebrano among sustainable non-native species, and the Australian burr eucalyptuses whenever I can get hold of them.
Q: What does being a maker mean to you?
A: The debate about craft versus art is endless (and pointless!) but I think of myself as a designer-maker ie with my characteristic style which mean that those who know it can spot my work in a gallery and know that I made it. Selling my work also gives a more indefinable buzz than I got from publishing reports or advising governments as in my previous life when I know that someone, a total stranger, has decided to buy my work for its own sake.
Q: Where and when do you most like to work?
A: As my lathe weights about a fifth of a ton, I am limited to working in my workshop. Katherine says that I am obsessive and, given the chance, would work 24 hours a day. She may be right!
Q: What are your likes regarding woodturning?
A: 1) Putting the oil on a piece - almost the final stage - and seeing the sudden change as the oil brings the figuring to life 2) Trying something new and finding that it works 3) Customers who say "That's just what I want".
Q: What are your dislikes regarding woodturning?
A: 1) Dust (all serious woodturners will say the same thing!) 2) Seeing poor quality work at exhibitions when it should be burned 3) Seeing good quality work which is underpriced - applies to all craft
Q: I've about to fell a tree in my garden, would you like to have some of it?
A: Maybe surprising, but not really. Nearly all of what I make is from dried timber - I make so much that I buy whole planks so that I can cut them up myself and have more flexibility in how I use the wood. I can work straight from the tree, and have done so, but it involves chainsawing and takes a lot more time. I work from trees (wet turning - and sometimes it's very wet) when it's special wood, or when the owners have a sentimental attachment to a tree and would like something when for example the children played on it years before, or when I supply bowls to the Oxford University Shop from trees felled in the University Arboretum.
Q: Whose work do you most admire?
A: Among woodturners, I really admire Richard Raffan for his beautiful designs, Gary Rance for his amazing spindle work and Les Thorne and Nick Agar for their design ideas - and infectious enthusiasm.
Q: How do you sign your work?
A: I use pyrography (writing by burning with a heated pointer) to write on the bottom of nearly all I make - on dark woods it's not always easy to see but it's there. As well as my name, I write the species of wood and a sequential serial number; I started from 1 about ten years ago and have recently passed 2600 - currently adding about 300 pieces per year.
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: I like reading history and have an extensive collection of books, mostly British history. Also we both like travelling both to places I knew in my international work and to new places.