Feature Mondays - In the Workshop with Kristin LeVier archive

Monday 17 August 2015

We go into the workshop with sculptural woodturner Kristin LeVier and find out more about her unique work


Kristin started working with wood over 20 years ago in order to make the furniture she wanted, but couldn't afford. She immediately loved the mixture of design freedom and precision involved in woodworking and has been building her creations ever since. Kristin began sculpting wood nine years ago, inspired by her two shopmates, Ben Carpenter and Jim Christiansen, and by the innovative and beautiful art coming out of the woodturning community. She works in Moscow, Idaho, where she is inspired by nature in all its forms, by snow and ice, and by the beautiful rolling hills that surround her.

How, why and when did you start turning?

About 22 years ago, in order to make legs for a stool I was building. Until 10 years ago, I only turned every few years when required for furniture projects. Now I am surrounded by woodturners in my studio and use the lathe as often as I can for elements of my sculptures. However, most of my sculpture requires much more time away from the lathe than on it and whenever I get back to turning, I am always re-surprised at how much fun it is.

What and who have been the greatest influences in your work?

I find inspiration everywhere, particularly in nature. I also follow all kinds of 3D creative work: sculpture, architecture, furniture and jewellery making, fashion and ceramic, installation, glass and fibre art. My greatest day-to-day influences are my extremely talented studio mates and mentors, Jim Christiansen and Ben Carpenter, whose beautiful work constantly inspires me. There are so many woodturners today who are making amazing creative art. Just a few of my favourites are Ron Layport, Bill Luce, Pascal Oudet, Louise Hibbert, Graeme Priddle, Janel Jacobson, Alain Mailland and Dixie Biggs.

If you were to offer one sage piece of advice to someone what would it be?

Work to find your individual style. It takes time and involves failure, but it is ultimately worth it in order to make truly authentic work. Copying the work of others is a good way to learn new techniques, but there is real joy in adding your own twists, refinements and embellishments. My favourite compliment is when someone says of my work: 'I've never seen anything like that before'.

What music and which book are you currently into?

Anything by The Decemberists. I listened to two of their excellent albums compulsively, while making my most ambitious piece to date - 'Undulata' - and have designed pieces in my head to illustrate scenes in some of their beautifully Brothers Grimm-esque narrative songs. I've recently finished one of the best books I've read in many years, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I love that the author is as easily distracted by the endless beauty found in nature as I am.

What is your silliest mistake?

I am a safety fanatic, so all of my failures have been aesthetic. I often sketch something in 2D that turns out to be a hot mess once I've made it in 3D. I've learned to mock things up, sometimes just with pipe cleaners and polymer clay, in order to get all the angles worked out before I commit to wood.

What has been your greatest challenge?

Finding the time to make art. My family is young and I only have school hours to reliably work in my studio. I have learned to become increasingly efficient with this limited time throughout the years.

Name one thing on your turning 'to do' list

To design and make something so compelling that someone wants to manufacture it. How great would that be? I've designed a teapot, the initial idea for which came during a bout of insomnia a few years ago, that I think has a lot of potential. I just need to work out some of the details.

Tell us about the piece you are currently working on

I am in the design stages of a piece that symbolises a sprout newly emerging into the world from a seed. This unfurling process is sort of where I see myself as an artist right now.

What is the one piece of equipment or tool you would not be without and why?

My micromotor carver. Carving is like drawing in three dimensions and I love doing it. I carve almost everything that I turn on the lathe at least a little bit.

If you could change one thing what would it be and why?

My requirement for sleep. If I could be fully mentally and physiologically refreshed by two hours of sleep a night, I could effectively double my productive hours. I could make so much more art and still be fully involved with my family.

What is your favourite type of turning?

I guess I have to say spindle turning, because that is what I do most, although I would like to become a competent bowl turner someday.

If you had one wish, what would you wish for?

I would wish for the time and health to continue making art for many, many years to come. I have so many ideas and sketches that I want to turn into art. And with time, I'd be able to teach more people - and children - art and woodworking techniques. I believe that people are much more creative than they think they are. I would also settle for magic elves to clean up my workbench and do finish sanding for me at night - that would certainly be handy!

If you could have one piece of equipment, what would it be and why?

A CNC router. I love technology and aspire to become good enough at 3D modelling to be able to programme a CNC router to rough out my sculptures and make furniture components in order to save my time for the turning and carving and finishing work that I prefer.

Briony Darnley

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Contact Details:

Email: kristin.levier@gmail.com

Likes And Dislikes

1. Inventive woodturners, who work outside the box with their art and continually develop new techniques and methods. A few examples are Gerrit Van Ness, Dewey Garret, Derek Weidman and Robert Lyon and the innovative Michael Hosaluk, with his brave and steadfast refusal to remain locked in one artistic style. His organic pieces - like his slug-shaped boxes and work with rawhide - are absolutely gorgeous
2. using compressed hardwood to create curved or twisted elements without having to deal with steam-bending. Tania radda’s lovely work with this great wood product was what first allowed me to know that there was a way to make the curvy designs that I had in my head
3. Reading articles in woodturning magazines. I recently created a non-round vessel using the 'Lost Wood technique', which I learned about in an article by Art Liestman in American Woodturner. I thought I was going to have to make a bunch of jigs and use a router to get the look that I wanted until I saw the article. the Lost Wood process was fast, easy and worked flawlessly
1. The sawdust. It would be so nice to have a dust-free place to work
2. Tool catches. they still scare me after all these years

Handy Hints

1. For saturated transparent colour that lets the wood grain show through, there is no substitute for an airbrush. I wasted years trying unsuccessfully to find alternate methods for doing this because I was scared of learning how to use an airbrush. It's easy and so much fun
2. Wear a respirator. Breathing wood dust is hazardous. I wear my respirator every day in the workshop, no matter how hot and sweaty I get
3. take a walk outside to get inspiration, or use Pinterest - uk.pinterest.com - and search sculpture, wood art, seed pods, jellyfish, etc. there are countless inspiring images that people have collected
4. Don't fear perfectionism. If you look at the work of the best lathe artists you know, most will be impeccable. It is worth the time to strive for flawlessness
5. Once you get a body of work that you are proud of, step out of the shop and put the time or money into making a great website to showcase it. It is a way to show what you have made to the world