Nic Webb Artist - WoodCarver - London, UK

You initially trained in fine art at Brighton College from 1991 -1994, when did you move into your craft of spoon making?

I made my first spoon about four years ago from Lime that I collected in the woods of Suffolk. In a few months I had made several spoons and was invited to show them in a gallery in London. I imagine that I have made some 500 spoons…

Some ‘Woody’ questions.

Why do you prefer to work with green wood?

Green Wood is fresh living wood that has yet to begin to season. Green wood is much softer to carve and more malleable. As wood dries it can move and twist, giving unexpected form to each spoon made.

Why do you prefer deciduous woods?

The Conifers will commonly have a resin or sap that can impart a taste to food and Conifer wood is not readily used for food preparation. There are a wide variety of deciduous woods that are non-toxic and food safe. This has always been a consideration when making spoons. That said I am always happy to work any wood if only to experience the properties of the differing trees.

Can you explain where you get your wood from?

Green wood is a material that must be sourced as it is rarely for sale in shops. Tree Surgeons are a great starting point and are generally happy to see the wood going to be used. London parks have many interesting trees, allowing access to woods that would not commonly grow in England.
Much of the wood I receive comes from friends having pruned trees in their gardens.
When walking in Britain I am always on the lookout.
Always ask before taking…

How do you store and catalogue your wood?

I have a lot of wood stacked up at the studio. Some wood in the dry and some out in the wet.
I have a good selection to work with. There is no cataloguing. I like to recognize the different woods and remember from where the trees came.

You don’t only work with wood but combine materials, wood, ceramics and metal. Can you expand on this?

I have always been interested in all kinds of making and the combination of materials. When working with metal, clay, wood and stone you experience the similarities and differences in materials and can explore ways in which they can be successfully combined

You have a range of spoons that you made especially for Fortmun and Mason’s can you tell us about this commission?

I was asked to produce a range of Jam and Pickle spoons for the shop in 2011.

About your spoons and utensils…

What other wooden utensils do you make?

Tongs, slicers, ladles and bowls.

When starting a new piece of work I am keen to look at the grain and shape of the wood to suggest design possibilities.

Thin pieces may well become slices, large pieces might become bath spoons. The spoon is a versatile tool with many uses. It is fun to explore its function.

The bowls that I make are also a response to the natural features in wood and are rarely symmetrical. For examples of the work please see my website.

Can you explain what a birth spoon is?

Birth spoons are a take on the Christening spoon that would be given to a child at birth.
I was keen to have a name for these pieces that was non denominational and the birth spoon was born.

You only use traditional tools, many handed down to you from your grandfather. Are the tools you use all hand tools?

The majority of my tools are traditional woodworking tools and are the backbone of my work. My great-great Grandfather was a Journeyman in Devon in the late 1800’s and many of my tools have been handed down to me.

For larger pieces and the bigger bowls I do use modern tools to rough out shapes but very quickly in the making process I return to the hand tools for the most efficient aIs it harder to make a small or a large spoon?

Is it harder to make a small or a large spoon?

Both sizes have their difficulties but my experience is that the small spoons are harder on your hands and fingers.

Nic, you also take classes teaching others how to craft spoons, can you tell us about your classes?

My courses offer students a complete guide to the making of a wooden spoon using greenwood and traditional wood carving tools.

Through demonstration and tutoring, each step of the making process, from the selection and cleaving of green wood, the use of hand axes, chip knives,
gouges and cabinet scrapers, to the final finishing processes involved in spoon making.

The course also covers safe practice, sharpening and tool maintenance, suitability of woods and the reasons and potentials for the use of greenwood.

The course is tailored for those with no experience of making through to those with a high level of wood working skill.
Through out each step of the making process each student will receive one to one tuition to suit their level of ability.

On completion students will have a good understanding of green wood making and the knowledge to confidently continue making in an untutored environment.

I am currently teaching greenwood working skills at a number of London Colleges, at West Dean College, Chichester and run courses from my studio in Camberwell, London.

Can you please give us a brief history of the spoon?

Spoons have been found across the world from as early as the Neolithic period. They have had a place in many cultures as objects of function and ceremony and may well be one of Humanities earliest tools.
The word spoon stems from the Norse word ‘sponn’ meaning chip or splinter of wood. Perhaps any piece of wood or bone that acted as a utensil to aid eating would have in time been refined, and has led to the huge variety of objects that have been made through the ages.
The spoon is a wonderful object that exemplifies human making and our connection with materials we find in the natural world.

You have had many exhibitions in the UK and around the world. Can you give us some of the highlights?

It is a great privilege to exhibit your work and provides good focus to complete a show.
I have had shows in London and across Europe but a recent highlight was a five week trip to Japan and Seoul to have two shows with the Korean Ceramicist Hyejeong Kim. I was invited to hold workshops in Tokyo teaching spoon carving and met many other makers and wonderful people.
I will always take the opportunity to travel with my work.

Do you have any current exhibitions?

I currently have a show at West Dean College, Chichester and am working towards two shows in London next year.

As well as exhibitions, and sales from your site you have wonderful images of your spoons for sale. Can you tell us about this side of your business?

Many of the images on my site have been taken by Michael Harvey and
Tif Hunter, two London Based Photographers.

Please contact Nic should anyone wish to purchase works or photographic prints.

Nic Webb, London, UK,

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, October, 2012