Pascal Oudet archive

Thursday 11 February 2010

Tegan Foley speaks to French woodturner, Pascal Oudet


Although Pascal's work is relatively new to me, I am sure that I will be a lifelong fan of his pieces. Looking through his website, I am amazed by the complexity of the pieces he creates in wood as well as the depth and breadth of his talent. I spoke to Pascal to try and glean more information about him as a turner as well as finding out the inspiration behind the amazing pieces he creates.

I started by asking Pascal about his background, which turns out to be in electrical engineering and his first job was at Hewlett Packard designing computer motherboards: "Several activities were proposed outside of working hours, one of them was woodworking. I signed up and learnt to use flatwork machines such as saws, planers and spindle moulders," Pascal tells me.

Personal development

Pascal's journey into woodturning developed from here and he soon moved a lathe into his workshop, although for a while it was rarely used: "One of the first flatwork projects I made was a coat hanger, so I had to turn four pegs. I didn't know how to do it properly, and in retrospect I realised I did everything the wrong way round." In 2001, Pascal decided to take a two-day course with Joseph Deronzier, a turner who lived close by in Haute-Savoie, to learn the basics. He strongly recommends this method to all beginners: "It's a small investment but well worth it if you consider all the lost time and dangerous things and habits you can acquire when you learn on your own," he says. Pascal bought his first lathe, a Kity weighing 70kg, with aluminium bed ways, as he had seen it pictured in a woodturning magazine. However, the lathe was a vibration nightmare: if any piece was out of balance, the lathe started walking across the stable he used as a workshop. But this didn't put him off, as Pascal says: "I was hooked."

Pascal became a father in 2004, and soon found that his priorities started to change, especially on weekends. As a solution, he decided to start working part-time: "I dedicated one full day per week to the shop and luckily my boss was really supportive in accepting this." With his passion for turning developing constantly, in 2008, Pascal considered taking the jump into full-time turning: "My boss convinced me to switch to 50% instead. Considering the economy these days, I'm happy I made this decision. It leaves me two or three working days per week in the shop, and if I add all the evenings and nights, I can now say I'm a full-time turner, and part-time engineer," says Pascal.

I asked Pascal about the pieces he makes and he tells me that he creates mostly one-off, non-functional (decorative) pieces, using only local woods (chestnut, oak, ash, larch, etc.) "My work is primarily created on the lathe, but it often involves extra work afterwards. Most of the time, I have a precise idea of the piece I want to create, and then look for the wood that will render the effect I'm after," he continues.

Natural resources

At the beginning, Pascal worked with the resources he could find: “One day as I was walking in the mountains near my village, I saw a big pile of logs; one of them was full of burls. I didn't know what wood it was, but any burl is good for turning. I put a note on the log saying: "I am interested in this log, please call me." Several months later, someone called saying he found my message and we made the deal. It turned out that it was chestnut." Pascal began exploring the wood's properties, and discovered how well it reacted with ebonising and sandblasting: "I started making my planets from chestnut burls, and developing my sandblasting to transparency technique." It took him several years to solve the technical challenge and to achieve the effect he wanted: "It's a really fascinating technique, and all species react differently. I feel I still have a whole world of unknown territories here for years to come," he tells me.

Pascal is inspired by the effect nature (sun, rain, wind, frost) has on natural materials: "In the French mountains where I live, the elements create beautiful textures and colours on the old wood on barns and slate layers. I also enjoyed the weathered aspect of driftwood I saw during a journey in New Zealand in 2003. All these elements reveal and emphasise the inner structure of the material, and are a great source of inspiration for me," says Pascal.

In his pieces, Pascal tries to work with these characteristics, playing with the grain through various surface treatments, especially sandblasting which has a lot of potential and has become a key technique in his work.

Since he first started turning his work has changed considerably: "Like everybody, I started turning all kinds of things, exploring many different techniques. With time, I discovered what really inspired and attracted me, and I now have more focus in my work; working on a few selected themes; exploring the potential of fire (with an oxyacetylene blowtorch for deep scorching) or sandblasting (for selective erosion)." Pascal frequently writes for a French woodturning magazine and also often experiments with new things: "This frequently opens new paths I'm excited to explore, sometimes developing special tools or techniques to reach my goals. The tool is never a limit, only the imagination. It is all about playing with the natural textures in wood," he says.


In terms of inspiration, Pascal is not necessarily influenced by the work of other turners, but is inspired by meeting other people from around the world: “Before I started turning I met French turner Thierry Martenon, I then went on to meet Graeme Priddle, Mike Scott and Alain Mailland - all of whom were key players in my journey." Pascal is also continuously encouraged by the likes of Richard Raffan and Jacques Vesery, who he finds very motivating.

Pascal's workshop was built in 2003 in a 500sq.ft barn just beside his home: "I rented an excavator and dug a trench to provide power and central heating. I then had to reinforce the ceiling above to store wood, add good insulation and install a comfortable chestnut flooring.� He has two lathes: a Wivamac DB1200 and a Bezombes bowl lathe, as well as a bandsaw, planer, saw and spindle moulder. "I must admit it's not the tidiest place on earth, but I'm improving: spending more time in the workshop professionally means better organisation. The more I turn wood, the more I want to deeply understand the material. I know a great deal about the cellular structure of wood: how it shrinks when drying, how it reacts to fire or chemicals, etc. All this is necessary, in my opinion, to be able to use the material to its best," he says.

In terms of the future, Pascal is unsure where he sees his career heading: "I take my career year after year. I try to set objectives and then work to reach them. It helps me to stay focused and it has worked well so far," he tells me.

Pascal finds that each year brings new and better things: "2009 has been a good year: demonstrating at the AAW Symposium after various demonstrations around Europe and being accepted into a prestigious US gallery." Luckily, Pascal hasn't really had any 'lows' so far: “Something I really regret was not attending the World Turning Seminar in 2003 in Puy St Martin. I felt I'd better put my money in a tool than in a symposium registration. How stupid I was."

Pascal promotes himself through his own website, which although takes him hours to maintain, he believes is an absolute must for self-promotion: "I also try to take as much care in photographing my work as I do making the pieces; nothing is worse than bad photography. I also print photo books (portfolios) online, which look much more professional than a couple of loose pictures in a plastic folder," he says.

When it comes to turning, Pascal loves the good spirit that is common with turners all around the world; sharing really means something.

In terms of the future, Pascal hopes that the economy will improve, allowing him to increase his income from turning: "Ultimately, I really want to make a living by selling my creations. I also want to continue to meet people demonstrating, or visiting events worldwide," he finishes. For more examples of Pascal's work see his comprehensive website, which contains a breadth of unique work.

Tegan Foley

Tagged In:

Woodturner , Tegan Foley , French , Pascal Oudet

Handy Hints

1. Do not buy a lathe just because you have seen a photograph of it. Try it before you buy it, or ask someone who has one already
2. Do not let the tools limit your creativity
3. Do not hesitate to explore new techniques that are outside your comfort zone
4. Take good photographs of your work, or have someone do it for you if you can not do it yourself
5. Learn about the material you are working with
6. Choose wood species for their individual characteristics and specific traits

Likes & Dislikes

1. The bitter smell of green oak and chestnut shavings
2. Finding the right piece of wood I have been looking for after weeks of searching
3. Waking up at night with new ideas - I usually find these are the best ones
1. The rust on the lathe bed caused by green shavings
2. Thick plastic shiny finishes
3. Plagiarism, or people who do not give credit when the inspiration is obvious

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