We're delighted to bring you a new series of posts in which we will be talking to some of our past Woodland Woodcarving Workshop students about what the day meant to them and asking them to share their thoughts as to why spending time outdoors is important to both life and work. In our first interview, we talk to artist, teacher and small press publisher, Esther McManus. Esther came along to our first ever workshop back in 2013 and we're excited to be working with her on an entirely new workshop: 'Drawn to Nature' a creative exploration into nature journaling and drawing, coming n April 2017. Thank you so much to Esther for taking the time to answer our questions and reflect on her workshop experience! We look forward to sharing more interviews with you soon...
Workshop Words of Wisdom: Esther McManus
- Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you based and what do you do?
I live and work in London and enjoy the multivarious possibilities found here. Cities are amazing places, and London has so much to offer the people who live here and choose to explore it. The most important thing about living here (for me) is engaging with the people and things that take place around me, and I try and do this in both my work and daily life.
Mostly I work with books, small press and printed matter, collaborating with others or working on personal projects. I also teach others about printing and small press publishing, which I greatly enjoy.
- What was it that interested you in our woodland woodcarving workshop?
After living in London for a few years, my time spent in the outdoors was decreasing rapidly. I wanted to take the opportunity to learn some new skills, be outdoors and meet new people. I had done a little bit of carving in the past and found it really therapeutic, and I loved the idea of being able to become more competent with these skills - not to be intimidated by tools and able to make things from the materials that surround me outdoors.
- What were your expectations of the workshop before you arrived?
I hoped that I would leave with an increased confidence in using tools and a better understanding of using wood as a material. I was looking forward to having a day out of the city and enjoying the woodland environment with likeminded people.
- What did you learn from the day and did you take anything from it that you've used in your work or life since?
I loved learning more about the properties of wood, and the process of choosing a piece that will be appropriate for a carving project. I enjoyed learning techniques for using tools - best practice for using axes and knives, for example, which is hugely useful! I have enjoyed using these skills with greater confidence in daily life, and feel more empowered to be creative and practical with things I find around me. I think the greatest discovery for me was appreciating a better and more harmonious relationship with the natural environment - being considerate about what you choose to use from the forest, the way you behave and interact with the space, and the way that makes you feel. It has left me with a greater sense of respect for the natural environment, and a greater comfort to spend time in the outdoors.
- How important is nature and the outdoors to you in your life and work?
Time spent outdoors has always been important in my life, and I am often drawn to it as a subject in my work. I enjoy walking and exploring the countryside, and this has inspired a lot of small press publications that I have made over the years.
Getting a balance is necessary for me, and I can become very stifled and frustrated by the amount of time that I'm inside for work. Having hobbies like growing plants, walking and cycling keeps me sane and happy, for sure.
Recently I have been drawn to self-educating about species in the local area where I live, identifying the trees, shrubs, weeds and birds that I see every day. I think nature is important to me in that respect - in the city I can feel so removed from natural rhythms and non-human species, and taking some time to notice what is around me really alters my perspective and makes me appreciate my environment a lot more.
- What (if any) benefits do you think creative people can find from spending time outdoors and in nature?
I think that time spent outdoors definitely gives me quality time to think and reflect on things in my life…to analyse what is important and to let the mental detritus of work-life settle. I think everyone is stimulated by a change of scenery and being in an environment other than their usual city or town - getting a change of perspective is very restorative.
I think being outdoors, in nature can be something of a playground…it's possible to try things out, uninhibited by restrictions of space or urban land uses. It's possible to have fun in the outdoors - fun on your own terms, where you can imaginatively decide what you want to do, and create an activity for yourself. At the same time, it's more than enough to just be in the space, appreciating the natural environment and the way that can please all the senses.
- What are you working on at the moment and do you have any projects or events on the go that you’d like to share?
I am currently planning a series of enquiry-focused workshops with Nick Wood and Steven Hedley to examine everyday domestic traditions and rituals (called Reasons to Celebrate). Our first event will be taking place early June, followed by an event for the Antiuniversity Now Festival.
I am also about to embark on Good Press Gallery's Remote Residency project in collaboration with Mark Simmonds, which will run until the end of July and culminate in a print on demand publication.
In the autumn I am going to start an MA at Goldsmiths which explores the ways one can have an interconnected art and teaching practice, interrogating contemporary teaching methods.
- Finally, what's your favourite tree, animal or plant?
Horse Chestnut in leaf bud, Bay all year round.
Thank you, Esther! To book a place on an upcoming Woodland Workshop, click here!