Meet the AWR L!VE Speakers: Melissa Allen
AWR L!VE is a half day conference event for aspiring, emerging and professional woodworkers that takes place on August 21 in Sydney. Melissa Allen, pictured above, came into the public spotlight last year when she was invited to create work for in Treecycle 2017, an exhibition which took place last August at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. Her marquetry leaf chandelier literally lit up the room and led to not only sales but also requests for other work. As an emerging maker, ie one who has not yet left her day job to pursue her dream as a professional woodworker, Melissa will participate in panel discussions at AWR L!VE and represent others like her. Recently we interviewed her Mel to find out more about the sort of issues that new makers face.
For more information about AWR L!VE and to purchase tickets see here. Hope to see you there!
AWR: What attracted you to woodworking? When did you start?
MA: It all started at high school. I had great teachers who were really into supporting girls doing woodwork. Then I ventured away from it for a while but later I got involved with the (Shoalhaven) woodcraft society on the south coast. They were a nice inclusive bunch of people – I joined a big group of grandfathers, basically! I’ve been at it now for five years or so.
AWR: When did it occur to you that you wanted to take it further, that you could have a career as a maker?
MA: It was actually Leon Sadubin (Treecycle exhibition co-organiser) that did it. I was happy creating for myself but last year Leon put a bee in my bonnet and said, ‘Hey, I need you to make something for me for this exhibition’. And after that, I got such good response from the Treecycle exhibition that I saw that people were loving marquetry and simple things and I thought maybe this is something I could do.
AWR: What is your aim with the things you design and make?
MA: My forte is interior design and colour, composition of materials and working with people’s style, and that’s what I try to bring into my woodwork. I like looking at the market, at what the trend forecasts are. There is a real push toward ‘organic’ at the moment, which is where my leaves come into it. Working with people in interior design really guides my designs. I’d love to encourage people my age into get involved with woodwork, there are some incredibly skilled craftspeople out there happy to pass on their skills.
AWR: What’s the hardest thing about starting out as a maker?
MA: The hardest thing is when to stop your real world ‘I’m a grown-up and I have a mortgage to pay income’, versus ‘I have something I could make a good income out of, but I need to allocate time to that’. As a single mum I don’t have the safety net of a partner, so for me the hard part is the balance of how to get enough stock made so I can sell enough stock to still have the comfort of knowing I can pay my mortgage rain, hail or shine.
AWR: Have you found any differences in attitude to you in regards to you being a woman?
MA: Certainly never from makers in themselves, but sometimes from the general public. I guess it’s a profession where woman are still smaller in number. I actually think this is one field where the difference is embraced and appreciated – and I like that. Women have a different way of thinking to men, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with acknowledging that. In the realm of woodworking I’ve found people are all inspired and supportive, and I’ve never run into anyone who’s not happy to share knowledge.
I’ve been invited to fantastic exhibitions and been fortunate the whole way along in getting to know some of the best in this field. I’d like to think it wasn’t because I was a woman but maybe because the work is different, the designs. Sometimes we can get so bogged down in how to do things: I’ve been told ‘You can’t do that! That hasn’t been done! Oooh! – don’t know if we can do that!’ But my response is usually firm: ‘ I like how it looks, I want to make it, can we figure out how?’. I’m style and form first, then I’ll raid more experienced minds on how I’m going to achieve that, applying the rules of sound making.
AWR: How much time do you spend on making each week? Are you aim to be a full time maker?
MA: I’m still working full time in design over four days and doing woodwork for two days a week but I’d like to reverse that. I’d still like to do the consultancy because I like the variation. If I completely dropped out of my field I would lose the design aspect and I would still like to be out and see what’s happening and generate ideas. I still want to be in the design world though because I like the variety and what my design work brings to my woodwork.
AWR: What’s your business plan from here?
MA: I currently work with Mark Boxall (pictured below). We both worked with and learned from Thirston Morris. We have a similar design aesthetic. We pump out work together because it’s a lot more motivating to work as a team. We each have our own workshops and each come up with ideas all the time.
We’ve applied to be a Handmade Canberra in September, that’s a massive quarterly event, 22,000 people roll through. We’ll be demonstrating on a stall at the Illawarra Wood Festival. We’ve have had invitations to put our work in a few place but mostly we’ll have an online presence.
AWR: How are you marketing yourselves?
MA: Because I’ve had such a great experience with working with other makers, I’d love to continue in the spirit of collaboration. That's what Meraki Makers is all about. Mark and I are the principle designers, but other people can float in and out at their leisure. We want to take the skills that other people have mastered and work together using a diversity of styles and mediums. Want to make a table with inlay? Great, I can supply you the piece. Want to make a chair but can’t sew leather? Fantastic, we can team you up with a leather worker to finish that off. Need CNC work to complete your project? We have that covered too, let’s make something together!
AWR: What thoughts would you like to share with other emerging makers?
MA: It doesn’t have to be all you, all the time. You can take on other people’s ideas, blend them together with your own and come up with genuinely unique and interesting pieces while developing great working relationships. There is a wealth of knowledge out there with great people happy to share it with you.
Learn more about Mel Allen and Meraki Makers at merakimakers.com.au
AWR L!VE is proudly sponsored by: