Richard Kennedy Wood Artist - Argyll, Scotland

Your work is creative and ornamental can you take three pieces and discuss them and the techniques you have developed to create them?

Much of my work is created on a foundation of simple lines. Proportion is critical to a
successful piece and finding the right balance is essential. Although many of my pieces are now pierced and carved, everything I create is underpinned by the pursuance of good proportion.


Uneven wall thickness can lead to the wood splitting as the thicker wood loses moisture slower than the thinner areas. Wall thickness variation is a common fault in pieces that have splits and cracks in them. Creating even thin walled vessel takes a lot of practice. At 2mm thick wood is extremely flexible; it can be pushed out of shape with the gouge whilst cutting resulting in an uneven cut or even the piece
blowing apart on the lathe. Any flaws in the wood can result in a similar outcome.
Similarly wood that is not dried properly, or that contains tension due to the position
where it grew in the tree, can produce warp during turning all of which must be taken into consideration.
From this foundation I have been able to learn and develop techniques to allow me to make more and more enclosed forms. As the rim of a bowl is brought back
towards the centre, the opening through which to hollow the interior becomes smaller and smaller. The smaller the opening the more restricted the access to the wood that needs to be removed. Hollow form turning is done blind as the interior is hidden from view by the exterior of the form.

‘Under Greenwood Trees’


‘Under Greenwood Trees’ takes hollow form turning and adds a twist as I used a hollow form shape as a canvas to carve trees. In this instance I have developed techniques to be able to abandon the wall thickness rules enabling me to create more realistic trees. Using Pyrography (hot wire work) I burnt texture into the branches in an attempt to create the effect of bark. Using a variety of texturing and burning allows me to add depth to a piece. Cutting away the wood allows light to permeate through the piece casting shadows as would occur in nature.
I like the idea of representing trees in pieces, harkening back to the materials origins.

‘Anatir’ is an example of my most complex pieces, each of these takes several
weeks to create.
Combining the skills developed in thin walled turning and adding
painstaking precise piercing creates items that are inspired by ancient Islamic architecture. Working with light provides another dimension to these pieces as the shadows they cast add drama to the work. Piercing is done freehand using a tiny milling burr, care has to be taken to group the holes tightly together and because of this, the process takes the majority of the time. It is imperative that the original bowl isperfect in terms of its wall thickness and that the design is carefully plotted.

The finished piercing is then painted to accentuate the light that filters through. The paint also removes the distraction that is created by having both grain and the piercings visible which can confuse a viewer’s eye. The black centre provides a resting place from the complex design, another important factor in creating a balanced piece. The final stage is to cut through the rim to reveal the horseshoe openings; this is a very critical and delicate part of the process. Having spent up to 4 weeks piercing this final stage, before paint, is fraught with danger. Any damage at this point is irreparable and the piece would be scrapped. These artistic pieces, although fragile, provide an example of some of the amazing things that can be achieved using the fabulous medium of wood.

There is as much detail in what is missing. Can you discuss your use of cut work?

I am fascinated by light. From the science of photons to the beauty of shadows, light is a beguiling subject. The pierced work I make stems from a trip I took to Southern Spain, to the ancient Mesquite in Cordoba. An amazing example of Moorish Architecture, I was inspired by the patterns, in the architecture, the decoration and by the intricate windows, a myriad of stars and shapes that cast incredible shadows deep into the interior of the building. Returning home I was unaware of the significance this trip had made, in my mind until; I had finished “Comet” and “Harmattan”.



These piercings were very large but again I was struck with the way thelight interacted with the piece and the area around it. The shadows seemed to add another dimension to the work connecting it with the ground. This balance, the connection between earth and sky, still appeals to me now and whilst the holes havebecome more compact I still have excitement when I finish a piece and get to see the shadows it casts.

I love your black work, what type of wood do you use?

The pierced work is normally created using either Sycamore or Lime. Both woods are very good for carving. They have very straight grain and as a result cut cleanly which makes life much easier when trying to create a dense pattern of holes. In addition they can have very bland grain which I don’t mind concealing with paint. I love the patterns created by the grain found in wood, and whilst some of my work is
coloured with bright stains, or covered in black and white paint, I will always try and create a piece of work that showcases natural beauty. Nature is the planet’s greatest artist.

You are a member of the Association of Woodturners of Great Britain and the American Association of Woodturners. How important do you find being a member is to your work?

Being a member of an organisation is very important. Being a member of a network such as these provides a place to go for support and assistance and a platform to display work amongst knowledgeable interested people. The world of the woodturner
is a pretty small one, there are few recognised wood artist’s world-wide and so most interested turners have heard of their names and seen the types of work they make. Many of these top turners are also members of these organisations and as such offer advice, support and criticism of work. This is so important when finding your way. These organisations are built on the principals of sharing experience in a way that some may find unusual. The AAW is the largest network and offers great youth training in America as well as a superb symposium where collectors and turners can meet each other. In addition, the organisations do a lot of work promoting wood as an artistic medium, as an organisation with a large membership they have a much stronger voice. When I was a novice turner I received great support, asking other
members for help was essential in my development. Now I kind of know what I am doing I can share some of my knowledge with the next generation which is wonderful.

Recently you have been awarded, Silver in the 2013 Craft & Design Magazine can you elaborate on the award and it meaning to you?

Receiving the award was a great honour. Recognising skilled makers across a variety of disciplines, the awards provide great exposure to the general public and boost confidence in those awarded. Receiving a silver award in my group (wood and metal) is wonderful recognition that I am moving in the right direction with my work.
Being self-taught and having never seen the inside of an art school I have had to findmy way through mainly trial and error. This award has gone a long way to make me appreciate that my work is good enough to stand alongside more established makersin a wider world of art and craft. There is something of a paradox that I am trying to
promote wood as an art form but am more than happy to be recognised as a
craftsman in this way. For me I see a good artist as being someone who utilises a craft to express an idea. The old chestnut of art versus craft in my eyes has more to do with a balance between the two rathe than one over the other. Without the craft element no art would exist. This award means a lot to me it is something I will treasure and will use to promote the concept of wood art to a wider audience.

Acanto Metamorphic

You are passionate to raise the profile of woodturners and the principal that something made from wood can be seen as art, discuss?

The art craft debate has divided critics for many years. Here in the UK artists such as
the Turner Prize winning Grayson Perry have widened the debate by challenging
perceptions and blurring the boundaries between the two concepts. Historically
woodturning has been seen as a functional craft, the making of treen. Recent
developments in technology and practice have seen a paradigm shift in the attitudes
of some makers. Started in the USA a small group of woodturners started to make
items that were not just functional but had an intrinsic beauty. These makers refined
these pieces over many years until it became more accepted that wooden items
could be valued as objects of beauty rather than of practical use. Today the wood art
scene is vibrant across all corners of the globe however it is still a small network of
makers that produce this kind of work. As a result many galleries and museums have
not been exposed to this type of work as opposed to ceramics and glass, both of
which have a longer heritage in terms of being seen as pieces of art. To this end one
of my passions is to raise awareness of this new version of woodturning. I would love
to see wooden objects displayed alongside those of the other disciplines. In my
opinion wood has a huge potential to be shaped and cut, ways that are out of reach
of glass and clay. As a medium it is a fantastically malleable material which has, to
some degree, been overlooked due to its usefulness in making practical items. I
hope that my work and that of other talented people is able to find new niche in an
already crowded art marketplace.

“Working with nature rather than against it”. Can you comment on this statement?

Fires of Bel

I believe in balance. Gaining equilibrium in all areas of my life is something I try to
achieve. In my work this is demonstrated in a number of ways. The tree was a living
thing that in its life was in balance with its surroundings. It lived in harmony with its
fellow trees drinking enough water and nutrients to grow but not over consuming
nature’s resources. Trees act as giant filters absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing
oxygen trying to keep the atmosphere in balance with itself. When I work with a
piece of wood I maintain a respect for how it grew. I may have an idea to cut a
certain way or to create a particular shape. On attempting the cut I can find that the
wood doesn’t cut cleanly, the grain will tear or tensions in the wood will distort the
shape hampering my efforts. I have learnt to adapt my approach to change my
design to work with the piece of wood. I sometimes describe it as a conversation and
I have found that often the tree will demand the last word. The final shape of a piece
is often a result of the release of tension in the wood. Green wood that is freshly cut
timber is full of water. As it dries out the wood can shrink this can lead to cracking; it
can be seen on the end of cut logs but it is something that, as an artist, I want to
avoid however, with careful planning, this shrinkage can lead to the creation of
incredible shapes. As a child I remember being told the story of Michelangelo who
believed he was releasing his sculpture from within the block of marble. Whilst I
understand the scientific rationale underpinning movement and shrinkage in wood,
allowing the tree to express itself in this way and describing it as a conversation is
something that gives me great pleasure.

During the months of May to October each year you are in Kilberry, at Bole the Gallery. Can you expand on this part of your year?

Kilberry is the reason I became an Artist. The Gallery is created every year in what is
the garden room of my family’s holiday home. I built the house with them and it was
during this process that I realised my love of working with my hands. Situated in this
remote village, the gallery mainly relies on passing tourist trade who travel along the
single track road to see the amazing views of the islands of Jura and Islay. For me it
is the perfect place to work as there are few distractions save the incredible views,
wildlife and plant life that continue to inspire me. The gallery gives me the
opportunity to display work and to interact with members of the public who, in many
cases, may not have seen work such as mine. It is wonderful to be able to gauge
their opinions on pieces and to introduce them to the concept of wood art. I am also
able to contribute to the local area by displaying work by other talented local artists
and promoting an open studio event called Artmap Argyll. Through this network I
have met several other artists who again provide inspiration and support. Having the
gallery is a vital part of my life.

What lead you to woodturning?

As I mentioned, my work building our house in Argyll was the catalyst for my interest
in woodturning. I had always been practical – the chief fixer in the house but had
never considered a future as a woodturner, indeed I wasn’t really aware of the
existence of such a job. I was at University studying business when the family
decided to look for a holiday home. A search for a house to renovate became a
search for a plot of land. We had no real idea of the complexity of building our own
place but under the somewhat naive impression it couldn’t be too hard we embarked
on the build!

At the same time I began my work placement year for my degree. I
soon realised that office life was not for me and that I was loving the building
process. I finished my degree but knew that I was not going to follow that path.
During the build it was the joinery that really pleased me floors and stairs, door
frames and skirting I liked the way the wood could be manipulated and shaped to fit
all these different applications. I looked briefly into furniture making but recognised
that I would have to go back to college. In the meantime I started a night class in
basic furniture making the project was to make a wall unit with two drawers. Making
the drawer handles was my first experience of turning and I loved it. There was a
speed and excitement, an immediacy that interested me. It quickly consumed me, I
could think of nothing but turning, so my journey began.

Photographs of your work are done in the most artistic way can you tell me about how you achieve this?

From very early I recognised the importance of producing good photography. Being
self-taught, I learnt a lot from pictures of other peoples work either those found in
books or on the internet. It quickly became apparent that a good picture adds
another dimension to a piece. Often a photograph is all a potential customer has
from which to judge your work. Lighting is of the utmost importance as well as the
basics of a sharp shot and an uncluttered background. As a result I spent a long time
researching camera techniques and photography set ups. I couldn’t afford expensive
lighting and studio facilities so I looked for ways to achieve these results in a more
basic form. Having said that one of my best investments as an artist was in a good
quality digital SLR camera. Having a camera with full manual controls makes it much
easier to take photographs of objects using lens filters can reduce the glare of glossy
items and being able to extend to shutter speed means that I can achieve results
which would require much more expensive lighting at a fraction of the cost. My
current set up consists of a graduated background and two angle poise lamps fitted
with daylight bulbs all attached to a wooden frame I constructed myself. This very
basic setup combined with a lot of trial and error, and a steep learning curve,
enabled me to create the dramatic photographs you see.

The Tree

You must have an amazing workshop, take us inside and tell us about both the space and the equipment?

My workshop, my studio, my shed! It is all these things but mostly it is my haven
where I can do what I love. It is a tiny space only 3m x 3m which I share with a chest
freezer, but for me it’s almost perfect! All of my work starts on the lathe, the
workhorse of my creative life. Using the lathe is fast and exciting; the spinning wood
is shaped quickly using the variety of tools that line the wall. These need to be kept
razor sharp. I do this using the other vital piece of equipment, a grinder. Working in
such a small area requires a high degree of organisation in order to maintain a safe
working area, however, I am not a tidy person. The lathe produces massive amounts
of shavings that I have to regularly sweep up and dust which is dealt with using a
variety of extractors. I have divided my space into three main areas, the lathe space,
a sharpening area and, finally what I call ‘Carving Corner’ Here I keep my texturing,
carving and piercing tools. I probably spend 70-80% of my time working in this
space. My piercing tools have developed from very unwieldy multi tools to adapted
beauticians nail polishing tools to finally dedicated powerful carving micromotors.
Again dust is an issue and so dust masks and filters are essential. I do try to keep it
organised but when ideas are flowing cleaning is not a priority!

Carving corner

Is where you live the perfect place for accessing both wood and the right environment to be doing your art?

In many ways it is and in others it isn’t! If I could make a living just from making work
I would think it perfect but sadly, some of the time I need to be selling. The peace
tranquillity and beauty of the area is fabulous I can focus on the piece at hand with
minimal distraction except the odd dog walk! The dramatic scenery provides me with
food for thought and I am able to take the time I need to think about what to do and
how without distraction. However from a marketing point of view I am a long way
from other galleries and the buying public. The gallery has provided me with a
welcome venue to sell my work and is very successful, however there are times
when I need to visit other galleries and develop other markets for my work. The
internet is a great tool however the access is patchy due to my location and the slow
speed is frustrating making sending photographs a very difficult time consuming
task. Buying the raw material for my work is difficult as it is not always as simple as
popping out with a chainsaw to stock up. For many of my pieces I like to use kiln
dried wood that has been felled carefully and then cut and stored properly
sometimes for many years. This is a very important stage of the process. Done
incorrectly, this initial stage can produce cracked wood and staining of the timber.
Wood needs to be treated with respect and failure to do so will invariably lead to
issues during the making process. Whilst I am able to source some of my raw
material here in Argyll some has to be brought in from further afield.

Elm wrap

Contact details:


Richard Kennedy, Argyll, Scotland

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, July, 2013