Taking inspiration from nature - wood carving with Grain & Knot
By Isabelle Wilkinson
Grain & Knot is the creative home of artist, Sophie Sellu. Born from a love of nature, exploration and the need for purpose in creation, Grain & Knot took shape after Sophie attended a spoon carving and bushcraft workshop in summer 2013. A graduate of the Manchester School of Art, Sophie also works with other mediums such as paint but makes her living from her work with reclaimed timber, which she crafts so beautifully into tactile, fully functional wooden kitchenware.
I arrived at Sophie’s house and studio on the first day of rain in what felt like the longest heat wave the UK has ever seen. The temperature had melted away my inspiration; a reminder that summer in the city should be avoided at all costs. The rain then, was greatly appreciated. On arrival I was greeted by Stanley, a 10 month old, frisky, silky smooth, black whippet, a pot of tea and a homemade courgette and clove cake that Sophie had whipped up in advance of my arrival.
This is not my first time sitting down for a cup of tea with Sophie, and I remember that she is a loyal Earl Grey drinker. This morning however, we’re drinking Brockley Breakfast tea and coffee whilst the rain drizzles outside the glass door and Sophie tells me all about the vegetable patch that we can see through the panes. Her tomato plants didn’t fare so well in London’s 30 degree heat, but a little pumpkin, some baby aubergines, and more of the courgettes that were picked and used to make the cake we’re enjoying are visible and enjoying the rain.
For those of you who follow Grain & Knot on Instagram, you will not be disappointed to hear that Sophie’s home is every bit as aesthetically pleasing as her posts. White wooden shelving, lined with pots and ceramics, frame the walls of her kitchen, spoons hang on the walls, woven plant pots are filled with succulents and interspersed with minimalist prints.
We sit down to catch up at her handcrafted kitchen table - a spalted beech top held up with slightly wobbly copper leg frames, which Sophie told me her uncle had recently salvaged from a local house he was renovating. Having only bought her south east London home recently, Sophie has been quick to apply her inspirations to the space and mark it as her own, creating a home studio, growing a thriving vegetable patch, customising a woodworking shed and even making a hard carved walnut headboard for her bedroom.
We chat about Sophie’s escape from the city to the Peak District for the weekend and how much more connected she feels out of the city, her upcoming workshop at Good & Proper Tea, and her recent struggles navigating social media. Sophie has been particularly vocal on her Instagram account about the ever-changing algorithms the platform has implemented to dictate when and why certain content gets featured, and how damaging that can be to creators who make their living through the app. Not one to buy followers, spam them or diverge from her mission to share her art, her work and her mission to leave others with even a little of her passion for making - Sophie is authentic, and rightly frustrated by the ever-changing rules that content creators have to abide by. The importance of supporting living artists, through not only buying their work, but also through sharing and celebrating them online, has never been more important.
Led by Stanley, we head upstairs to her studio which is packed full of spoons, plants and tools and a vast wall display of Sophie’s work, past and present. She sits down in her chair and instinctively picks up a spoon from the bench and starts whittling. Beautiful curls of wood begin to pile up in her lap as she tells me about her work.
On her creative inspiration, Sophie says that she gains the most from being around other people’s well-crafted work, and nature. Her studio mirrors this sentiment, packed full of beautiful ceramics, and woven ornaments: supporting other makers work is important to Sophie. The earthy, authentic colours and materials she works with naturally lend themselves to sitting among plants, and the combination of the wood and the leaves create an overwhelming calmness.
I ask her about her personal collection of pieces - namely her wall of spoons, and how she makes the decision to sell or keep a piece. She says, in part it is down to a feeling - when someone picks up a knife at a farmer’s market and she feels disappointed, if it doesn’t get bought that day, she might not take it to another. As she talks about the pieces, it is clear that Sophie is deeply connected to everything she makes. As she takes spoons of the wall, one by one, and tells me how she will soon finish this one, whether it still needs oiling, or perhaps sanding, her eyes light up with a sense of pride. She lifts a particularly dark, beautiful spoon off the wall which is made of mahogany, a wood that is illegal to buy and sell in the UK because, as Sophie tells me, mahogany trees are an endangered, exotic species. The piece of wood she made this spoon out of was something she found in a skip locally, before she rescued it from being burnt or sent to landfill. The result: something incredibly special and a piece she understandably keeps safe in her studio.
Whilst we sip tea and talk shop, Sophie has a minor milk spillage, and bustles out of the room whilst telling me how clumsy she is - an amusing trait for someone who creates such intricate and delicate moments in her work.
We stand at the ajar window of the second story studio, overlooking Sophie’s garden, where a tall sycamore tree used to stand before it was cut down to make way for her vegetable patch, and to more readily access the beautiful shed that sits at the end of the garden. Of course, the wood was put to great use. The idea of using things from the local environment for reclamation, renovation and bringing nature full circle is essential to Sophie’s way of living and working.
Back down the stairs and out of the back door, we brush past the rain-speckled plants and head to the woodshed, which smells just like the technology classroom at school. Every counter is covered in sawdust and branches are strewn on the floor. Sophie thinks of the space as more of storage centre and chopping zone than a studio but there is something beautifully calming about the space all the same.
A particularly beautiful chopping board sits on the worktop, and I marvel over the extended handle, whilst she tells me that it is no good because it has a nail hole in the side. A hole I struggle to see when she shows me - Sophie is a perfectionist, a wood crafter who knows her material so intimately and won’t be satisfied until something is finished properly. Sophie plonks the wood down on the surface and a cloud of sawdust shoots out, indignantly rejected.
We walk back to the house and marvel over the wonderful produce growing in the vegetable patch. As proud of the delicious edibles as the work she crafts in her studio, Sophie and her south east London home are refreshing and calm in a city where things move increasingly ever faster and originality is hard to come by.
I’m sent back to the office with three beautiful spoons - the start of my own Grain & Knot collection, a promise of the recipe for the courgette and clove cake, and a renewed inspiration. Sophie’s welcoming, wood-filled living space is reminiscent of the countryside that she makes no secret of wanting to live in soon. A haven of nature and craft, in a city so often overrun with tired copies and cookie-cutter creativity.
You can see more of Sophie's work on her website here, on follow her on Instagram here. And join us for a wood carving workshop at Good & Proper Tea on 13th September.