Takahashi McGil are one of the five New Makers that TOAST will be supporting and nurturing throughout the year. Their hand carved spoons and bud vases are crafted using traditional techniques. Andie Cusick met with the pair to discuss their route into wood working.
Mark McGil and Kaori Takahashi are explaining the process of lacquering, a technique they've recently adopted into their own designs since studying the art last summer in Japan.
It's quite a difficult process and we are still playing with that, says Mark. The lacquer is actually from the sap of a tree it's called Urushi, adds Kaori, animatedly. That's what has been used traditionally in Japan for over 1,000 years.
The process is a slow one, involving hours spent adding layers of lacquer and wiping it down, because, as Kaori notes, we like to show the grain of everything we make.
This meticulous technique results in an impressive sheen to their work, designed under both their names, Takahashi McGil. The husband and wife team create wooden furniture, along with tableware, including bowls, pouring bowls, sake jugs and rice spoons.
Together they plane, chisel, turn, wax and lacquer their designs with the precision and attention to detail that comes with true craftsmanship.
We started making slightly more whimsical spoons and that style seems to be the most popular, says Mark. Sometimes we don't have a specific use in mind for the utensils the more abstracted from function they appear, the more they seem to sell!
Based in Torquay, Devon, Kaori and Mark feel fortunate to live in a supportive community, one where the local development council encouraged them to partake in a pop-up shop of their wares, opening them up to a new, local audience and giving them the impetus to move from a small shed in their garden to a fully fledged studio where they can both work side by side.
We have a studio in a country park so it's surrounded by trees, enthuses Mark.
The pair met while studying for a fine arts degree at the Wimbledon School of Art, Mark specialising in sculpture and Kaori in painting. However, both had grown up with woodwork as a hobby and wanted to pursue the craft after graduating.
My high school was very arts-focused, says Kaori. They provided classes in woodworking and other crafts so I've been doing it since I was little. Mark, too, grew up with wood as his father was a cabinet-maker, instilling in him the beauty and finish that can be achieved with that material: In my formative years my dad would give me bits of scrap wood to play around with. It's a nice, nostalgic medium to now be working in and he's given us a lot of advice.
Takahashi McGil also make a point of learning new skills each year, constantly refining their technique and style. Prior to the lacquer course, they met with a traditional Japanese sculptor to make some carvings and they also took a tool sharpening course to keep their planes and chisels in pristine condition.
It's so important to maintain and respect our tools, insists Kaori, especially the Japanese small plane, which allows you to micro-shave, so you don't have to use sandpaper.
Their finished pieces balance silky wood finishes in the palest sycamore through to the dark, scorched Douglas fir with a Urushi finish. Many of their bowls and spoons make a feature of the chisel marks, with a patterned, geometric texture.
As everything is handmade, each piece is slightly different but we think that makes it special, says Mark. Balancing each part of the process between them also adds to the unique quality of their work and, as they're both quick to admit, ensures they honestly challenge each other all the time.
I might think one way is the best way of doing something and then Kaori will disagree, says Mark with a laugh. It might not be exactly how I originally wanted it but that's the beginning of something and part of our process.
Words by Andie Cusick. Images by Kendal Noctor.