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Introducing Orkney's Makers - Michael Sinclair

We're focusing on members of Orkney's talented creative community and finding out what it is about the islands that inspires them.

Our first 'Introducing Orkney's Makers' feature takes a look at the work of Michael Sinclair, our resident woodturner.

How did you first get started in woodturning?

It started as a hobby, really. I had always seen my father use a metal-turning lathe but I couldn’t get on with that, so I decided to try a wood-turning lathe instead.

Is it something you immediately took to, or would you be embarrassed now looking back at your earliest attempts?

There was a lot of firewood produced to begin with, believe me! I had a woodturning video by a turner I admired and he said: “If you aren’t breaking any pieces, you aren’t trying hard enough.” That quote saw me through the early days, and quite often, nowadays!

Your pieces are very individual - how important is it to you to respond to each piece of wood and its characteristics?

I usually have a design in mind and pick a piece of timber to suit. It’s best not to put a lump of wood on the lathe and hope for the best.

How important is Orkney's history to the work you create?

It is a great influence and inspiration. A lot of my work is inspired by Orkney's Neolithic pottery and craftsmanship. These people were incredibly talented and artistic. The petrospheres - or carved stone balls - are an amazing example. The detail and the symmetry are extraordinary, and that's something that I've really enjoyed transferring from stone to wood. They're so tactile, folk just love holding them in their hands.

You live just on the edge of our Neolithic World Heritage Site - do you feel a connection to those people, and the works they created?

I have always liked the Neolithic pottery from when I was a schoolboy, and being a born and bred Orcadian it’s quite easy to feel an ongoing connection. There's nothing quite like taking a walk around these sites on a quiet evening - I definitely get the sense of being very much at home in that landscape.

What's your favourite piece to make?

I don’t really have one. Each new piece is a challenge and a chance to improve on the last one. So I would have to say the newest one would be the favourite.

Orkney has so many great craftspeople working in a wide range of disciplines - what's it like to be part of that?

It has always been an ambition to be a professional woodturner and it is great to be part of the Creative Trail. It is still quite exciting to open the brochure and see our page listed along with all the other professionals.

These are such uncertain times, how are you coping at the moment - as an individual, and as a business?

Now would normally be the start of the season and it's an odd feeling not to have to be ready to meet the first visitors. However, the workshop is at our home so I am able to continue producing pieces. I don’t believe there will be a 2020 tourist season and it will be quite a haul until this time next year. Hopefully things will be back to normal by then. On a personal note, we miss seeing our grand-daughter, but we have plenty to keep us occupied, either in the garden or continuing to produce stock for the brighter times ahead.


Find out more about Michael Sinclair Woodturner via the official website.

The Promoting Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020

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