What can you do with an old piece of wood left from your house-reno project, or a pear tree in your garden?
Simon Sunman turns them into exquisite fountain pens, key-fobs, keepsake boxes and many other Objet d’Art. With 25 years of experience in woodworking, Simon moved his family from the UK to France. For the past 5 years, his hobby of wood turning (www.sunmanturnings.com) has turned into another business venture. Simon now shares his art creation and offers quality turned items for sale and order.
1) Pink Leaf Designs: When did you first know you wanted to be a artist/ designer,and what are your inspirations?
Simon Sunman: I don’t think I ever wanted to be an artist but I knew I wanted to work with wood. I have a natural ability to see beauty in wood and create objects with it. My inspiration comes from trees, nature and music. Each tree is unique, a living self-made piece of art. Trees, I hope, will still be here on earth long after I am gone and so will the objects I create from them.
2) Pink Leaf Designs: If the sky’s the limit, what type of new design/ artwork would you create?
Simon Sunman: I would love to be able to create a forest full of sculpture. Living trees with living art. To take something already beautiful and give it extra life and a voice, to enhance not destroy.
3) PLD: You have the artist’s block today, what do you do to get unstuck?
SS: Artist block isn’t something I get often, that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. Most of my work I can visualise the end piece before I begin. My biggest ‘block’ is when the wood doesn’t behave as I predict. Being a living medium can pose problems, wood twists and turns and this can destroy what I intend to create. To answer your question, as to what I do, I turn to something I know will work and I understand, like tinkering with my 1967 series A landrover.
4) PLD: What LIVE celebrity would you like to send your creation for FREE and why?
SS: A difficult one to answer but music being one of my inspirations I would love to create a beautiful handcrafted fountain pen to give to Roy Harper. I am sure he would not appreciate the status of ‘celebrity’ but he is, in my opinion, a great singer/songwriter and I figure he could use one of my pens to create a song or two. ‘Hat’s off to Roy Harper’ In fact, now you’ve set the idea in my mind, I may even do it!
5) PLD: What obstacles did you face when starting up your business? Any new challenges when creating your product lines? What advice would you give to those who wants to start their business in this difficult economic climate?
SS: For me the biggest obstacle was setting up a business in France. Turning wood is the same wherever I am based but the legal process of registering and getting set up was a big deal, not being able to read, write or speak the language! Sourcing unusual woods is a challenge for my products. Trees here are mainly Oak and Chestnut. My advice to anyone wanting to start a business in this climate is to research your market. Do not rush in, researching is tedious but done well it will reward you in the end. Find out what and who is out there, what they are doing, know your competition, if any. Work and go and do what you now you do best. Don’t try to be something you’re not, it will show in your end product. You may never make millions but you will spend your life happier for it. Paperwork and all the horrible formalities and stress that go with running your own business should just fall into place, if you’re doing it right. Don’t let that side of business stop you following your heart and having a go.
6) PLD: If you want to branch out your business, which stores / venue would you like to carry your products?
SS: I have to confess to not being a fan of commercialism but it is a necessary evil I am aware I need for my business to work. I cannot think of a major outlet I would wish to see my products in. I do know, however, that I would like to see my work sold amongst other art that has a strong ethical and cultural grounding. I have several small independent shops who have agreed to stock my work, they are local and promote local artists, environment and culture.
7) PLD: What would you do differently for your products to stand apart from your competitions?
SS: To stand out from other pen makers and turners I chose a slightly different approach to my business. I turn pens and other objects but not just to make money. Each piece, like a tree, is unique. I use fallen wood, standing dead trees and anything I can source locally, usually within walking distance of my home. This has minimal impact on the environment and leaves trees to be enjoyed. Obviously the trees native to France, Oak and chestnut are in abundance so I sometimes source wood from memorable places or those sites of interest to visitors. Based on this, my pens and turned pieces hold much more than just beauty, they have a story to tell, be it sentimental or historical. Wood comes from old houses, a piece of broken furniture, or a village. Commissioned pieces carry something extra special for that person. My pens are not mass produced, they are as unique as the trees they came from.
8) PLD: Which music CD are you listening now?
SS: I am currently listening to The Cowboy Junkies – Trinity sessions CD.
9) PLD: What’s in your tool box?
SS: I have an old 1960’s wood turning lathe and a 1890’s treadle lathe that I use to create my work. These together with my favorite skew chisel and some polishes – I don’t need much more.
10) PDL: What else would you like the readers know about your work and future business plans?
SS: Future plans………..good question. I am constantly looking for wood that gives me something special. I have a dedicated site for my turnings and pens at http://simonsunman.jimdo.com/ Alongside this I have a professional network building between forums, twitter, Linkedin and facebook. These help me build contacts, gain knowledge and business. I intend to show at events and fairs but as yet have not had the time! I will be attending local fairs for artisans around Christmas in France ( dept 87) but nothing more just yet. Right now I intend to continue enjoying the here and now, hoping that people will appreciate my pens and turnings for what they are.