Interview with artist and designer Rob Braybrooks

Rob Braybrooks' birch relief artworks depict Cornish scenes I've walked past a hundred times, so they have the reassurance of familiarity. At the same time, they are refreshingly different from much of the artwork depicting those same scenes, so they have the thrill of the new. Thrillingly reassuring, newly familiar... I love them. Rob Braybrooks portrait

What’s the most important thing to know about you?

When I was a design engineer, I learnt a lot, but I felt at times a bit like a frustrated artist.

When I was a technology teacher, I taught a lot, but sometimes I felt like a frustrated designer.

Now that I am an artist and designer I no longer feel defined by my career choice… just creatively liberated!

Describe a really good day and a really bad day in the life of the Rob Braybrooks.

A really good day could include any of the following...

Time to sit in my studio with a cup of coffee, looking out to sea and asking: "What if?". West Cornwall is such a beautiful place to live. It provides you with creative ideas on a daily basis. I also really enjoy those times in between the busy spells when you are able to just get lost in the ritual and process of making art pieces. Repetition develops your confidence and developing new ideas keeps you on your toes.

Wet suit on, running along coast path, jumping off rocks, swimming home.

Cooking a decent lamb tagine for our supper.

Seeing nightjars on the moor at dusk.

A really bad day would involve receiving that phone call from the garage on car MOT day!

Rob Braybrooks Oystercatchers St Agnes

What inspires your ideas?

The image subject matter usually reflects what I see in the natural and urban environments around my home. As a child my Mum, an artist and botanist, shared with me her love of local fauna and flora and also that fantastic ‘Cornish light’. Her twin brother, my Uncle, was a poet. He helped me to understand, get to know and indeed love the landscape; both its history and topography.

Once I have an image in my head, the ideas evolve by playing with materials. I’m currently working with 1.5 mm thick ‘aircraft’ ply. It’s fantastic stuff with interesting physical and optical properties… sustainable too!

Rob Braybrooks Three Alexanders

Describe the process you go though to turn your ideas into products.

I remember teaching the ‘design process’ in its linear form to students when I taught in school. Most of the students would groan when I asked them to make a mock-up to model their design ideas before they started cutting up the ‘expensive' materials. I used to smile to myself because I sympathised with their impatience at being held back. When teenagers come up with designs that excite them, naturally they want to get ‘making’ - clearly upholding the National Curriculum’s disciplined, methodical approach to design was not a priority! Perhaps I learnt a lot from those students. I am good at visualising ideas in my head and so having roughed out some sketches, I like to get straight on with the making too.

From time to time I do make models as visual and mechanical ‘testers’. These are useful when having a developmental dialogue with a client, they also have their place if the materials bill for the commission in question has a four figure price tag!

With the birch relief art pieces, I take photographs of silhouettes, shapes and line details that interest me. I then create a working composition using PhotoShop, as I try to arrange the visual elements of line, shape and form into something engaging to the viewer. Having transferred the lines onto the birch plywood, I carefully cut out the negative space and line work by hand on a Hegner saw. People often ask if I use a laser cutter to cut out my images... for me, the work has to have some ‘soul’, so it’s hand cut, besides I want my work to just look good without the distracting wafts of laser burnt wood filling the room. Don’t get me wrong, laser cutters are fantastic pieces of manufacturing technology. Maybe I’ll pop to the shops and get one when my Hegner saw gives up the ghost, though in reality that’s not likely to happen for twenty years! I’m happy to let fellow designers embrace the new technology while addressing that old chestnut of designing products to be made by a laser cutter, that don’t look like they have been made by a laser cutter!

Rob Braybrooks Velo

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer?

I suggest when discussing designs with clients, promise small and deliver big.

Give your friends permission to critique your work honestly.

Put the hours into refining your skills.

Learn as much as you can from the clever people around you.

Spend as much time as possible creating work that makes your heart sing!

Which three designed items could you not live without?

My trusty Hegner saw; a robust, well engineered piece of kit that enables you to cut out incredibly fine detail.

An old Nikon D70 digital SLR, my main recording device...

...and the dog’s lead, I love being out on the coast path, rain or shine. Ideas come when you go for a walk.

What are you most proud of?

Teaching design to teenagers for 15 years. Especially the really naughty ones who ended up with a GCSE grade that they were proud of.

Rob Braybrooks Oystercatcher Mounts Bay

What’s next for you?

Some sculptural sycamore inspired lighting for Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens restaurant / visitor centre. Then I’m off to London where I’ll be exhibiting at London Design Festival, Craft Central, Clerkenwell.

And, finally, what’s your favourite colour?!

Green... all the shades.

Rob Braybrooks is showing at the Cornwall Design Fair, August 17-19 2012.