Sophie Sellu: Carving a Sustainable Path to Creativity

Sophie Sellu, a London-based artist, has carved her way into the hearts of thousands with her unique approach to woodworking and her commitment to sustainability. Having always been a creative person, she gave herself 6 months to see if she could make a living out of her craft. 12 years, several awards, and a feature in British Vogue later, it’s clear to see she made a winning bet.

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Getting Started with Carving

Her formal introduction came from school where she took woodworking classes from the age of 11, but even as a young child, Sophie was drawn to creating with her hands. Whether it was painting or making collages, crafting was her thing. After completing studies in interior design at university, she found herself navigating a challenging job market during the recession. That’s when she stumbled across a spoon carving course, and the rest, as they say, is history:

– I drove down at like six in the morning in some woodlands outside of London and had the best day. Being out of the city, working with the material… It was just really freeing. I made something from start to finish that day. We did it so quickly and it was so tactile. I was completely taken with it straight away. I ended up buying all the tools and was doing it as much as possible. It kind of took over my life, but in a good way.

Commitment to Sustainable Materials

For Sophie, the choice to work exclusively with salvaged wood was a natural one. From the beginning, she was drawn to the idea of repurposing materials rather than contributing to deforestation. Her work is a testament to the beauty of found materials and the endless possibilities they offer. From storm-damaged trees sourced in local woodlands to reclaimed timber from salvage yards, she sees potential where others see waste:

– Found materials have always been fascinating to me. I did my whole art A level on found materials. I just didn’t understand why I would go and chop a tree down to make something when there’s so much beauty in waste.

Embracing Spalted Timber

She finds the allure of salvaged wood to lie in its inherent beauty and history. Each piece carries a sense of authenticity and character that can’t be replicated. One aspect of woodworking that fascinates her is working with spalted timber, a material characterized by intricate patterns formed through decay. By salvaging and repurposing spalted timber, Sophie not only creates unique pieces but also contributes to sustainable forestry practices:

– I just love that it’s a form of decay, but I get to give it new life. And being able to find people that have access to woodlands where I’m actually helping by buying this wood from them is a win-win for everyone.

The process of obtaining the spalted timber is a lengthy one. Once the tree comes down, it’s cut into sections and left in the woods for anywhere between six months to two years, or even longer before the patterns start to develop. If the timber decays too much, it goes back into the earth, but the bits that aren’t too rotten can be used:

– In the UK we’ve got ash dieback infesting ash trees. I think within the next 10 years, we’ll lose about 80 percent of all ash trees in the UK. A lot of them have to be taken down because they’re too dangerous to stay standing. It’s really devastating to these patches of woodlands, but at the same time, we’re able to use what we can from these trees before they’re gone forever.

The Joy of Creativity

Sophie’s creative process is deeply rooted in play and exploration. She finds inspiration in the natural world and often takes cues from downtime spent in nature. Whether it’s sketching shapes in her notebook or simply allowing herself to play with materials, inspiration often comes when she steps away from work. For Sophie, the joy of creativity lies in the ability to bring imagination to fruition. Holding something tangible that originated from her mind is a source of endless fascination and fulfillment. Whether it’s visiting other artists’ workshops or reflecting on her own process, she finds inspiration in the journey from idea to realization.

– I’m always fascinated by how people go from an idea to the finished thing. By the fact that it’s come from your brain and I’m interacting with it now. That it’s something you made, and I get to enjoy it. That’s so cool! I think I see it more in others. When I go to someone else’s studio I’m always fascinated by their process. Holding something that you’ve made takes me back to that first workshop where I was like “I can’t believe I’ve done this”, and it’s just really satisfying.

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