Ewan Craig is one of the five New Makers that TOAST will be supporting and nurturing throughout 2023. Based in St Albans, Ewan hand-carves wood and stone to create serene objects.
Waking at 7am, marmalade on toast and a large coffee are the starting whistle for the mornings of 25-year-old wood carver and self-confessed bricoleur Ewan Craig. He works in his home studio in St Albans, Hertfordshire: a peaceful, shelf-lined space with floor-to-ceiling windows, garden views and, at its heart, a vintage Swiss workbench.
His studio has evolved to chime with his passions and is part stonemason yard, part woodshop, with a hefty side dose of ceramics studio (a kiln and wheel sit in the corner). The general effect is an Aladdin’s cave of precious creations mid-way through their journey.
“Things come slowly, and are nurtured slowly,” explains Ewan, looking out to the greenery outside. “I like tending to various creations at once, like a gardener pruning, watering and grafting different plants, nurturing growth. I see the creative act like planting seeds of beauty that ever so gradually grow.”
An almost-completed relief carving of The Trinity (after 14th century icon painter Andrei Rublev), looks like a museum piece and sits alongside a black wooden bowl – one of the pieces now available at TOAST – also in the final stages of completion. The bowl will be sealed with a beeswax and mineral oil mix before it's packaged and sent to its new home. Rows of mugs, speckled with green ash glaze, sit in a tidy line ready to be fired, while neat piles of sketchbooks rest on the window sill, containing the seeds of plans for new work. Overseeing it all is a wooden carving of Albrecht Dürer's Praying Hands – a vintage keepsake from a German workshop.
“I mostly make using discarded materials,” Ewan explains, “so the wood hasn't come far from where I live. I only use green wood as it has a buttery softness which makes it ideal for carving. My favourite wood is cherry – it has a lovely dense, tight grain that holds the chisel beautifully.”
The majority of his stone comes from a field of unwanted remnants at his local stonemasons. “It has lots of scraps from buildings that have been dismantled, all scattered around a field,” he explains. “I'm a bit like a child in a sweet shop, searching out a piece of Bath stone or a slab of Purbeck. I mostly like to carve with Portland stone though, which is a light limestone. You get a very crisp finish.”
Even Ewan’s ceramics have a repurposed element, as he forgoes factory-made glazes, opting instead to use wood ash, giving his vessels a terrestrial, rustic aesthetic laced with flashes of softest green. The discarded whirls of wood created during making are also used to pack his pieces safely before sending them out to customers.
“Sometimes I work in silence when concentration is really needed, but when doing a number of pieces I often listen to music, from Scottish folk – I adore this band called Lau – to Byzantine chants, to Neil Diamond. I’ve also been listening to a fair few podcasts related to Orthodox Christianity, which I never ever thought I would be saying! I find it deeply important and it's been foundational in my understanding of truth, beauty and, well, life I suppose.”
Having studied illustration at Winchester School of Art, Ewan went on to do a Higher Education Diploma in Carving at City & Guilds, instantly feeling he’d found his calling. “Not to get too poetic, but I see carving as a nice metaphor for life,” he says. “You have this massive stone or piece of wood and you begin roughing it out, then it’s a gradual process of refinement. It takes time and consideration – how much to take away and which way to go – because once you have removed it, you can't go back on yourself. ”
Ewan spends one day a week working in his local coffee shop Nkora, which uses his ceramics as serviceware. He's a familiar face behind the counter, making perfect, circle-topped flat whites from its mammoth La Marzocco machine and chatting to customers. “Going there is the perfect contrast to the solitary life of the studio.”
Living in a Cathedral city offers the perfect muse. “I am really drawn to the past – very old Cathedrals and churches – I just find breathtaking. They radiate with a creative and spiritual zeal that a collected group of people guided by the same path could only create.” But his list of inspirations runs far beyond. “Andrei Rublev I find astonishing, and J. M. W. Turner has made me weep,” he says. “The colours he finds in landscapes and his love and devotion to the sky and the sun is just exceptional.”
It’s hard to say how long it takes to make each piece. As Ewan is so apt and comfortable flitting between projects, he never keeps track. But the process for each is laboured with care and love. A wooden spoon, for example, starts with splitting a fragrant, fresh green log with a froe. “Then I use axe and adze to remove big slices of wood to bring out the rough shape of the carving.” The rest is done with a simple knife: “It becomes a very intuitive and responsive process, being aware of the actions of the hand. I do like to play a little with each spoon or piece, mainly differing the pattern of chisel marks or slightly altering the bowl shape each time.”
A unique colour and patina is given to each piece using steel wool vinegar. “For some woods it makes them look dark black like ebony, or you can apply it in a way that creates more muted brown tones – over time it will fade like a pair of jeans you wear for years. It ages naturally. It's part of the character of the piece.”
Ewan muses aloud as to whether his work is decorative or functional. “Someone might buy one of my lemon juicers and it may never touch a lemon in its lifetime, but it is a beautiful object in itself, or it may be something which is used everyday,” he says. “Either way, I'm glad it can be enjoyed.”
Interview by Vishaka Robinson.
Photographs by Suzie Howell.
Ewan wears our Donegal Roll Neck Sweater.
Shop our 2023 New Makers collection.