We chatted with Ross to learn more about his background and all of the things that make him the craftsman he is today.
When it comes to evoking emotion and feeling, Ross Thompson’s ethos as a maker is not dissimilar to that of a musician. Having produced work described as progressive, intrinsically elegant, and thoughtful, Ross embodies the rare talent of being able to elicit experiences through his pieces that complement our own sense of humanity.
Growing up in a family of “makers, creatives and doers” you could normally find Ross helping his dad repair and build things in their family garage in Ballarat. Always knowing he was good at using his hands, it was his mother’s influence that helped him unleash his potential as a maker and find the balance between practicality and creativity in his work.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to furniture making
I’m 30 years old and have operated my business since 2017. I grew up with a family that was both practical and creative, with my dad a mechanical engineer and my mum a seamstress and quilter. I was always with my dad renovating the house or fixing/restoring cars, whilst always being encouraged by my mum towards more creative endeavours via music and books. I completed a VET pre apprenticeship in furniture making whilst at school. An opportune job advertisement led me to an apprenticeship in Daylesford once I finished year 12 in 2010. I completed 2.5 years, but for a number of reasons, both personal and environmental, I decided to pursue music. I completed a Bachelor of Music (Performance) in 2015, but dearly missed working with my hands. In those years between 2012 and 2016, I was lucky enough to travel to America and Europe, the former having a pronounced impact on my life and career. I realised the impact the decorative arts can have on shaping people’s lives and environments, and that there is an incredible need for people to be able to relate to what is around them.
I coupled the technical aspect of my apprenticeship, the renewed confidence in my creative ability via my degree & the inspiration that my travels had given me and decided, despite zero hands-on business experience, to start a furniture-making business.
You were born into a family of “makers, creatives and doers”. Has design and woodwork always been a passion of yours?
Building things has always been a part of me. I remember from a young age always playing with lego or Mechano, and a little building set I had where you could build your own tiny house with tiny bricks and real mortar. It has just always been there. Now, as I gain more confidence in my work, it just seems that the practical mindset required for my work isn’t something I need to actively think about anymore, rather it feels like an inherent knowledge within hands. Both sides of my grandparents were practical people too, so I feel it is just in my blood and a huge part of my identity.
The design element was something I had to work on and develop over time, with many points of education. My music degree namely, but also travel, books, and just analysing why certain thing works in their environment. Pulling those successful elements out, you build a rounded knowledge of things, and consequently, are more able to approach the objects you want to design in a well resolved and creative way.
What was one of the greatest things you learned during your apprenticeship in furniture making?
Firstly, my basic hand skills, without which I would not be doing the job I love.
Secondly, and maybe more importantly on a big picture scale, are more general lessons on life … What kind of a person do you want to be? What is your work ethic? How/what do you want to learn? How do you want to be treated? How do you want to treat others that you work with? How to teach people, or perhaps more importantly, how not to teach people? We are all vulnerable about certain things in our lives, we are all learning all the time. Be patient, be kind.
My apprenticeship was difficult, but a very formative part of my life that I don’t think I would do differently looking back, even though it did really take me some time to regain my confidence in my ability and myself in general.
You’ve spent a lot of time travelling and have a degree in Contemporary Music. Do your other loves for travel and music come into play in your creative process?
I draw upon those experiences all the time. A chaise lounge in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris captivated me for the best part of half an hour – how can something as inert as a lounge chair do that? But that is what I think about the most when designing and building, maybe one day one of my works might give a young person the courage to explore their passions too.
Music for sure, while at first it seems to be a very different creative medium to furniture making, there are many similarities too. Texture, dissonance, space, harmony, rhythm, tone – they are all qualities that you could just as easily describe a physical object. Music can utilise these elements to convey emotion extremely viscerally, why can’t furniture do the same?
What’s your furniture philosophy?
To create works that offer something more than practicality. We all need a cabinet to store things, but why would we subjugate ourselves to practicality? Live strongly in creative intent and have the courage to choose something that isn’t grey. I would like to think that my work follows that ideal, working with the diverse and rare medium of timber to bring to life creativity intent and make something that makes people think about, observe, question, use & engage with.
What materials do you enjoy working with most?
I do enjoy working with exotic veneers. The timbers have a magical quantity that makes you think, how could something as precious as this be in my hands? You can work with the timber to enhance both the man-made controls (patterns, curves, shapes, colours) but also the natural characteristics of the veneer. I have a deep soft spot for Huon pine. The provenance of it always humbles me.
Do you draw on particular styles and inspirations when designing your pieces?
I used to in the past, however I am now consciously trying to broaden my knowledge of all eras and styles, from Baroque to Art Nouveau, Art Deco, postmodernism, etc. Trying to pull techniques or styles/ patterns that I can create my own voice with, and hopefully new styles. A bit esoteric, but I like to think of design as energy – it can never be created brand new, but always in a constant state of flux and form.
Fine art is prevalent in your designs. How do you bridge the gap between art and functionality in your work?
I think I start with the basic form of what I want the piece to be, for example is it a cabinet, table, chair, etc … and once the basic form has been established I then think about how to incorporate the artistic elements into my work without compromising the basic function of the work.
What, to you, is the beauty of handcrafted, bespoke furniture?
Being able to own something that someone has invested their life into is pretty special. Musicians spend their time practicing over and over to ensure that when you turn up to their gig, you can make them feel something that ordinary day-to-day life doesn’t necessarily allow. Furniture is the same. I invest so much of myself into my craft and business, I think that shows and is so much part of its beauty. Creating connection, I believe, is the essence of it.
What advice would you give to other furniture makers just starting out?
Just to be patient. Start small and trust where you want to go, no matter what other people’s opinions are. If you plan correctly, and don’t overstretch, you can commit yourself to the pieces you do work on and build from there. Everyone is always in a rush. There is more time than you think if you dedicate yourself and drive your passion in an intelligent way.
Also, surround yourself with the best, both in their professions and as people. Help others and they will want to help you. Make the effort to talk to people face-to-face. Reach out if you need help and reach out if you think you can help. Be confident in your work and the work will follow.
Photography Credit: Tess Kelly
Visit Ross’ Handkrafted profile to see more from his portfolio or to get in touch with him directly.
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