Andrew Potocnik ‘arrived’ on the Australian woodworking scene in 1983 when he won outright first prize in the State-wide Woodturning Competition in Victoria. Since then his work has developed into areas of sculpture, furniture making and the odd bit of cabinet work—but always with a twist. During this time he has continued to work as a full-time secondary school teacher, sharing knowledge and discoveries with students and the wider public via his writings. His work is now held in various private and public collections throughout the world. Andrew has been writing for AWR since Issue #8, September 1995.
Q: Okay we know you like it, but how did you get into woodworking?
A: I had always played around with wood when I was a little tacker.
Q: Who are your woodworking heroes/gods/gurus?
A: At school I was guided by books that featured work quite different to the standard. The biennial Design Book by Taunton Press, then Design Book Two. These books contained images of the most innovative work being made in wood at that time. My teacher was attracted to this stuff and shared that inspiration with his students. Incidentally, he gave me a copy of the first biennial book as a gift when I left Macleod High. Little did I know that my work would appear in the seventh version of the same book.
At that same time my teacher drew my attention to a guy with a funny Japanese name, Nakashima… One of the first ‘wood’ books I owned was The Soul of a Tree about the work of George Nakashima—some of the most beautiful work you could imagine. So innovative and pure. In 2004, whilst in Philadelphia on a scholarship I was able to visit the Nakashima Estate. It was my version of a pilgrimage!
Q: What do you mainly make?
A: Mainly turned work but I love to experiment. I feel my early work was quite calculated and balanced—it had an almost mathematical aspect to it. For many years I’ve tried to loosen up and break free of the circular nature of the lathe. I love the loose nature of African works.
Q: Your thoughts on traditional vs ‘new’ and digital?
A: To me ‘traditional’ is about work from cultures with a long established history, hence I love to learn about what has contributed to this style. Is it based on religion, environment, materials available in that particular part of the world, or anything else? I believe ‘tradition’ is fundamental, as it gives us a foundation to build upon, but we need to challenge it to push the boundaries. We must not, however, insult the past when we work toward the future!
Q: What are you pet woodworking hates?
A: Hand sanding!!
Q: What is your desert island hand tool/ machine/ timber/ woodie book?
A: A camera because I find endless forms of inspiration in situations that are new to me. Most often they provide me with imagery that I use in new works, or imagery I can use with students.
Q: The best thing you’ve ever made?
A: I’m still hoping to make it.
Q: Your best excuse for not getting something quite right?
A: I once read a business card that said ‘I meant to do that’. Maybe that’s the best way to explain a mistake that went right.
Q: Your most often-made mistake?
A: Taking on that extra job just because I don’t want to die wondering.
Q: Your biggest woodworking disaster!!?
A: Don’t have a major disaster, but how often do we take on something, or make something that seemed to be a good idea at the time?
Q: The thing I would most like to change about wood is…
A: Not my desire but that of the cleaner who looks after my room at school. He’d love to find dust-free wood or a laser saw that would make his job easier. Mind you he’s also told me that if my students didn’t make a mess, he’d be out of a job!! Another idea he had was to take students to the local IKEA shop where they could buy anything they like, assemble it and take home a fully resolved product that did not require him to clean anything up. He figures it would also make my job easier. We just have to figure out how to fit it into the syllabus!
Q: The thing I would most like to change about woodworkers is…
A: Those people who price their work on a hobby basis and don’t value their skill and time correctly.
Q: The thing I would most like to change about my own woodworking is…
A: To think outside the circle, break free of my natural desire to make things neat and balanced. It still needs to be free and loose.
Q: My final word on woodwork is…
A: Find something that you enjoy doing, and then do it! Don’t do it if it doesn’t lead to personal satisfaction. That’s most probably the same for all things in life.
Email Andrew Potocnik