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Directory Maker of the Week: Tom Philipson

Tom Philipson is about to start a residency in Japan through Grizedale Arts 

Who or what got me into making?

I don’t know, it’s probably a genetic or nurture thing. I was brought up in a house where making was all anyone did.

My mother was a dressmaker and fashion designer and my father is a silversmith and printmaker. They met at the Royal College in the 1960s. If I shut my eyes I can still hear the “tap,ta,t,tap” of the planishing hammer ringing out across the village and the gentle hum of the Singer flowing down from upstairs.

At school I despised woodwork, too many rules and boring replication. So it’s strange to have ended up where I am today. In my 20s I did my level best to do everything in my power to avoid ending up like my parents, but it seems that this was all just a waste of time. And today I am more than happy with the inevitability of it all, and extremely proud of the way my parents brought me up.

Tell us a bit about your work

Basically I make furniture and products (stuff and things) from wood.

My work is increasingly becoming centred around experimentation and the process of product development, rather than the producing of commercial products. My aim is to make new things that work, that last, and that hopefully entertain.

What are your inspirations?

Arrrgh! I always find this question really hard to answer seriously… Usually when asked this I would jokingly reply, (in a west country accent… don’t know why) “I iz inspired by d shit wha I sees wiv mi eyes en  nat.” It’s a little simplistic, but it’s probably true to some extent.

Thousands of things inspire me, and an equally large number of things totally uninspire me. I am more “driven” than actually inspired to make the things I do. Once an idea takes hold of me I become obsessed with it and it doesn’t let go of me until I have what I believe to be a better idea. So I suppose it’s my own obsessional nature which inspires or drives my making.

What is your favourite part of the making process?

I imagine that the majority of people would think that the best part of making is when a work is completed, but for me this is never the case. The most enjoyable part for me is usually mid-way through a project when the processes I am testing out, actually work out.

On the whole it is only shortly after this point that the other equally enjoyable part of making a piece of work happens. As my practice is centred around experimentation and testing, I find that the new processes which I undertake always seem to lead to a new idea for employable techniques in the next product, or for a totally new project.

Finishing works can often be slightly anti-climactic when so much of my mind, body and time has been invested in its conception, and when a test works and I have an idea for a new test, I am simply finishing things off in order to get to the next thing (without “rushing” and doing a crap job, obviously). So for me enjoyment comes through ideas and their realisation.

What are you working on right now?

Currently I am working on a project with Grizedale Arts, where I am turning the basket/tray/stools I have developed into a free-standing exhibition system . This will be used for “Against Landscape”, an exhibition which will show at Coniston Institute in June and  then on to The Glasgow School of Art for the summer.

Next week I am going to Japan on a residency/research trip with Grizedale Arts and the artist group Fairland Collective. I will be living and working in a bamboo forest, working with local groups and artists to develop a variety of bamboo products, which will be produced to in some way benefit the local community. I am currently testing out a variety of these products, including printing block pots, a new jointing process for bamboo and plywood for creating furniture and structures, and decorative chopsticks which can be made by anyone.

I am also working on new structures made from wood shavings for lighting, one of which I will be taking to Japan to give as a gift to the community in which I am staying.


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