At this year's Designjunction Alice Made This collaborated with Transport for London to produce the Johnston steel cufflinks, a precise and refined accessory for TfL's 'Transported by Design'. These clean, machined cufflinks are available online from this week and, to celebrate, we spoke to Camilla Barnard, the woodwork sculptor and illustrator behind the wooden underground station that housed our cufflinks during the London Design Festival. We talk about the value of experimenting with materials and process.
How did you first become interested in materials?
I knew that I wanted to make things, but had no idea how. When I was looking at universities, I saw that Brighton offered a course called ‘Wood, Metal, Ceramics and Plastics’. It seemed perfect. I could learn to make things in all kind of materials.
Did you enjoy your time in Brighton?
Brighton was great! Not only did it teach me how to make, but I also developed my own style of making there. We were really encouraged to experiment with the materials. I think the freedom of just being able to try things out and test an idea, without an outcome already decided, was really helpful.
How did you end up specialising in wood? What made you want to recreate everyday objects?
I first started recreating everyday objects in Brighton when we had a self-directed project to do. I was struggling with what sort of brief to give myself. There was a Hitachi drill in front of me on my workbench so I thought ‘I’m just going to make that out of wood’…and now somehow it’s escalated into a career!
Do you find it challenging to combine your sculpting and your illustrations?
I actually find it hard to make things that don’t look like my illustrations! I wasn’t the best at precise technical woodworking, so why not deliberately make things slightly off? A bit wobbly wobbly!
Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with Designersblock and the work you’ve done with them over the years?
The first exhibition I did out of university was with Designersblock. This was in 2012 in Birmingham at the interiors monthly show. They emailed me to say they liked my work and did I want to show with them. I only received the email a few days before the show though because of my spam settings! I had nothing to lose and accepted their invitation. Since then, I’ve done every Designersblock show, both in Milan and London, each year. Without them I don’t think my love of making things out of wood would have become a career. I’ve been involved with lots of projects with them now. I work out of their HQ in Hoxton, so they’re always around to give me advice when I need it.
The Designjunction project with TfL must have been a huge task. Can you talk us through the design process and how you tackled it?
I worked with my friend and colleague Gunter Luck on the project. He’s had over 30 years experience doing all kinds of crazy construction jobs. Working with him definitely made the whole process seem less daunting. We first began visiting loads of underground stations, measuring up, taking photos and matching colour swatches. Then, when we were told how big the space was, that really determined the design of the station. We wanted it to be quite open plan, but also have that feel of walking through a real station. We decided on making the entrance hall area with the platforms either side, so you could walk through the barriers and pretend you were going to catch a train, but you didn’t have to if you wanted to have more of an explore.
What was the most difficult detail of the tube station to get right?
The most challenging piece of the station was definitely the tube map. It took days to hand paint and to make sure I got every station and every line correct. There was a lot of room for error! When we set up the installation at Designjunction, it was the first time we’d actually set the whole thing up, so there was an element of ‘I hope it all fits!’
Are there any sculptors or artists who particularly inspire you?
I’m more inspired by objects than I am by artists. I admire the work of others, but it doesn’t inspire me to create new works based on them. I’d rather look at things like NASA control panels, JCB diggers or airplanes and make big lists of things like that which I’d like to recreate.
Do you believe that we should be proud to make things in Britain?
I think we should be proud to make things in Britain, but I think people should be proud to make things wherever they’re from. I don’t attach the ‘Made in Britain’ label to my work. I use a lot of sheet material in my sculptures, building up shapes in layers, so they aren’t necessarily from British materials. I’m up for making sculptures from wood that’s grown all over the world!
There is a category on your website called ‘fun and ridiculous’. Do you think it’s important for designers to be playful in their approach to their work?
I’m very serious about my work being fun and ridiculous. I think there’s so much seriousness in design. It’s good that people raise awareness about the big issues, but sometimes people want to escape that and look at a nice fun thing.