Meet the Maker, Episode 1: Driftmoods

Hello there friends,

I'm pleased to finally be introducing a new series to the blog that has been a long time coming.  "Meet the Maker" will introduce you to some of the faces and talent behind wonderful small independent crafty businesses, and open up your eyes to some truly awesome crafts.

For those of you who read last week's post about Cockington, you'll know already that our first episode of this series sees me chatting to Craig Daniels, who is the master craftsman behind "Driftmoods".  I wandered into his studio in Cockington and, being super brave for me, struck up a conversation.  He was kind enough to say that he was happy for me to write about him without further ado!

Driftmoods has a little studio in Cockington Court - in what I believe to have been the stable yard at one point, judging by the buildings.  It's relatively new to the court, having only been there for 2 years, but there's almost a decade of hard work and talent behind the business.

Walking into the studio, your eye is immediately drawn to the fused slate clocks hanging on the display walls.  Fused slate is Craig's term for his unique method of using paints to bring the recycled slate to life, creating a beautiful illusion of metal within the rock in such a way that the paint captures and enhances the natural fault-lines, the waves and laminations that the slate is formed of.  It's his own creation so I shan't give too much away: there's nothing like it anywhere else and because each piece of slate is unique, the way in which the paints interact are unique as well.  Far from masking the natural beauty of the slate, the paint enhances it by highlighting all the intricacies of the form.   The iridescent metallic sheen of each clock catches the light and sends it shimmering and sparkling over their surface.  There appear to be so many colours present in each one: silver, aquamarine, turquoise, a deep azure blue, a green that is almost evergreen in hue yet has a sparkle to it that cannot help but remind you of damp seaweed on a sunny day.  It truly is breathtaking, and perhaps is no surprise that "ocean wave" is Craig's favourite piece.

"It reminds me of the sea," he says, looking at it fondly after I ask the question.  "But I like a lot of my other pieces too."

At this, I grin - it's always a good sign when someone is proud of their work and likes it not just as a piece that can earn an income, but in its own right.  I listen as he gestures towards a clock on the adjoining wall.  It's perfectly plain, and rectangular, with a curious shading to it.  At first glance, it seems a shy neighbour to the glimmering glory of the fused slate, but its quiet unassuming beauty tells its own story. 

"You see the line, where it's darker at the bottom?"  he asks, reaching across to show me the line.

"Yes,"  I say, curiosity piqued.

"That's where it was on the roof.  These tiles are recycled Cornish slate and they've been on a roof for perhaps 100, 150 years, so they've got these beautiful lines where the sun has bleached part of them, and the other part has sat under the overlapping tile."

It may not seem like much, talking about old roof-tiles, but something in the cadence of Craig's voice, the enthusiasm he feels for this plain, utilitarian stone that's been used for floors and tiles captures the romance and sense of history.  Suddenly I understand what is so special about this rectangular clock, and there's a certain poetry to something that's provided shelter for so many years, keeping time for many more.

"The fish are the same," he continues, turning now to the wall on the opposite side,  "recycled roof tiles.  See the markings?"

The fish again are plain, untreated slate.  But don't let the word "plain" fool you; the fish have a beautiful blotchy pale pattern over them, reminiscent of scales, and suddenly it's obvious why these tiles had to become fish.

"Ah,"  I say, understanding dawning, "is that where the tiles were covered in lichen?"

Staring at the fish, I didn't see his grin, but I heard it in his voice as he said: "Yep, and the bird poo!"

I laughed aloud then, sharing in the joy of his work, and the humble, slightly battered beginnings of his pieces.

I picked up a coaster - it was shaped like a heart, and the way in which the slate had been cut revealed the laminated layers.  I didn't want to take up too much of his time - this wasn't a planned interview and I'd kind of put him on the spot.  Replacing the coaster, I thanked him and left, but somehow I knew I'd be going back.

Sure enough, not an hour later, my husband and I re-entered.

"Back again?"  Craig asked.  But it was friendly, I didn't feel self-conscious or embarrassed.

"I had coaster envy."  I explained.  My husband had bought a coaster with a map of Torquay on for his desk at work, and now I wondered why  I hadn't chosen something for me.  I moved to the side of the studio and selected a heart coaster.  If I'd been unsure which of the 9 colours of fused slate to choose before, there was now no question.  Craig's explanation of "ocean wave" had me enthralled and so that was the colour for me. 

Craig grinned as he packed it up for me, popping it into an organza drawstring bag that made it feel even more special.  It would be ideal to give as a gift.

Truth be told, it was more than just the coaster that brought me back.  I wanted to hear more of the story of Driftmoods, of how it came about.  Craig's obvious love for what he does had me hooked.  He'd already agreed to let me write about him in this blog, so I thought, why not see if we can chat further.  He was more than willing.

"I like it here because I can talk to people and meet people," he explained later.  "I'm not just a making machine."  It makes sense to me.  One of the things I love about The Project Bag is that we've a sense of community here.  I love seeing you drop by the page, and saying "hello".  If I didn't have that, it would be very lonely indeed!

Craig had placed an "about us" sign on one wall, which told the story of Driftmoods, but I wanted to know more, to hear it from him.  How he got started, why he likes what he does, how he does what he does, what a journey he's been on. He was more than happy to oblige.

Driftmoods has been going for nearly a decade.  "I actually started before that with driftwood,"  Craig explained.  I made things with driftwood I collected.  It was nice to come home from work, and just get out there and do something for me. My friend had a shop so I thought, why not?  and he agreed to sell a few bits for me.  They actually sold really quickly"  the note of surprise in his voice as he recalled the memory showed how meaningful those first sales had been to him,  "But it wasn't really practical - I couldn't keep up as I had to go and collect the driftwood as well."

"So how did you get into slate?"

"I actually found some in a skip.  Yeah, I was walking by and saw some and thought, I'll give that a go.  And I really liked the results."

The slate sold well, and was picked up in other retail spaces too.  Then, a while later, he did a trade show that was just for craftspeople and that, readers, is where he got his big break.  "I was picked up by about 20 retailers and galleries, ended up doing wholesale all around the country, Scotland, Wales..."  He wasn't bragging, dear readers, honestly.  There was a genuine look of amazement on his face at the memory: that first moment when you realise that actually people think what you create is something special, something to be celebrated.  It's a moment that can either humble you or make you arrogant, and I would put money on Craig being the former.  The pride in what he has achieved is obvious, and well deserved.

Driftmoods had well and truly taken off after this, and he told us how he found himself spending all the hours he could making and making.  He had a studio elsewhere before moving to Cockington, but it lacked the human interaction.  "I'd just turned into a making machine,"  he explained, looking serious for a moment, "it was great, but keeping up with wholesale for some bigger stores... I wanted a change."  So Craig made the decision to take the studio at Cockington.  He still does some wholesale, after all - Cockington's trade is seasonal, and you need to put bread on the table all year round, but he much prefers the interpersonal side that having a working studio / gallery brings. "I love the interaction and meeting people" he enthuses.  I get it.  His passion is clear and what's better than sharing something you're passionate about?

Driftmoods, a few years after he started it, became his full time occupation.  He was able to leave his office job, and all the trials and stresses that come with it, and work on what he loves full time, which he finds really fulfilling.  "It's still stressful," he nods, when I pose this question, "but it's stress you put on your own shoulders, when you work for yourself."  The satisfaction is obvious, and pleasing.

We chat for a while longer, and my husband is part of the conversation, which I felt was lovely.  It really was more of an informal chat between three people interested in crafts.  He showed us his work-station and I was surprised at the simplicity of it.

"I just use two tools, really." He said, leaning over the chest-height partition wall and touching the two tools in question.  "Two hand tools - the guillotine and the chisel.  Oh, and water.  Water makes the slate easier to work with. It also helps to keep the dust down," he gestures towards the walls of his workspace, which I now see have an almost graffiti-esque, very artistic splatter paint job of pale grey - clearly the dust in question.  "And obviously I use a drill to create the holes for the bits that hang," he continued, his fingers drifting over hanging hearts that lie on the sill of the partition wall.

How incredible is that, readers?  Two hand tools and some water to create these beautiful pieces.  It's testament to his craftsmanship and skill.

Driftmoods is the result of hard work, passion, determination and a bit of good old maternal support.  It's not easy working for yourself, and a craft like this is physical.  Craig's been doing this since his twenties and has actually hurt his side through the repetitive strain of the physical movements working with first driftwood, and now slate.

If you can get to Cockington, I highly recommend dropping in and having a chat, perhaps even picking yourself up a piece of unique practical art.  There are some beautiful hand-paintings on slate too - I meant to ask him if he paints these himself but forgot as I was lost in the story of Driftmoods.  I'll drop him an e-mail sometime and ask him and let you know.  If, however, you live further afield and a trip to the West Country isn't on the cards, Driftmoods is on Etsy.  He didn't tell me the names of any of the wholesale gigs he has, or the galleries for that matter.  A humble man working with a humble material and elevating it to new glory, sharing the beauty of this natural phenomenon with a wider audience.  I found him absolutely fascinating to talk to, and he was welcoming too, which for natural introvert me was brilliant.

My heart coaster is shimmering softly beside me, catching the sunlight through my window, and reminding me of the sea in Devon, which, after all, is kind of the point.

Thank you to Craig Daniels for welcoming us into his studio, as he does all visitors, and being so willing to chat.


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