From wood furniture to jewelry, Julie Jackson of Surcle Wood does it all. After achieving a degree in Environmental Health and Science from IUPUI, she pursued a career outside of the creative-realm, but soon felt as though something was missing. With a life-long goal of becoming an artist, Julie reignited her passion and pursued an apprenticeship with a furniture maker in Los Angeles, and has been woodworking ever since! We chatted with Julie to learn more about her business and craft.
How long have you been woodworking?
I began woodworking in 2014 and started Surcle the following year.
Retail locations where people can find your product:
We are not currently in retail locations, our products can be found on our website, on our Etsy, and in-person at art shows. For inquiries about custom furniture, lighting, etc., people can email us at email@example.com.
What piqued your initial interest in designing your product(s)?
My initial interest was a love for making art and a desire to make functional art as well as bringing a piece of the woods indoors.
What principles do you use when designing?
When designing an object I think about positive and negative space, both in terms of the object itself, as well as the space that object will live in; whether it’s on an ear (earring) or hanging from a ceiling (pendant light). With an environmental background, I am very thoughtful about the processes and materials I choose. When approaching a design, I think not only about aesthetics but the process. You have to be able to build what you design and sometimes you find aesthetics in those limitations. Good design marries aesthetic and process.
Who and/or what influences your design style? How would you describe your design aesthetics and values?
My design style is influenced by techniques learned from other woodworkers, like Marc Spagnuolo and Ashley Harwood. I have always been drawn to work that features the natural world or an abstraction of that, like Franz Marc and Georgia O’Keeffe. I like the idea of making ordinary things beautiful. I did a lot of traveling before starting woodworking and was often struck by the beauty of things that didn’t have to be beautiful. Like statues at the top of buildings in Prague or colorful fabric flags hung in the alleyways of makeshift homes in Bangkok. Making functional items beautiful or even an ornamental item, brings so much joy. I also value little waste, creating things that are made to last and to be a good steward of the trees that have been given to me.
What comes first for you, the design materials, or the design concept? Both. Wood is such a rewarding medium to work with because it has so much beauty on its own. When I first started learning woodworking, I did not realize how different wood could look, even within each species. The wood varies a lot by color, grain, density, and movement. I design a piece based on features in the wood and the overall structure.
Could you describe the process of creating a piece – from conception to finish? The creative process as well as material selection and labor process, too?
The initial process involves a lot of sketching and research. I started only sketching by hand, but in the last year, Surcle added a partner, Jon Meador, who draws 3D models using a program called SketchUp. We source our wood locally either through downed trees, old buildings, or sustainable mills. The wood is made operable through a process of machine work and then joined using a combination of traditional and cutting-edge techniques. Turning involves rounding either a solid piece of wood or joined pieces on a bandsaw before turning on the lathe. Each piece gets lots of sanding and a coating of an eco-friendly durable finish.
What is your favorite tool, and why?
My favorite tool is the lathe. The lathe allows for a possibility in shapes that are curvy and rounded and a softness that is often not a part of squared furniture. The way the grain is seen in the curves is so beautiful to me.
Describe a piece you’ve created that you are most proud of. What was special about it?
I am most proud of my first large bowl. It was made out of a chunk of a maple tree that was downed in Broad Ripple. The wood was burled, spalted, and so colorful. I did not own all of the tools that I have now, so it was quite a feat to be able to make a large bowl. I wish I had kept it.
Describe the commissioning process. What are the best and worst aspects of doing commissions?
In the commissioning process, a person contacts us with what they want, we design the idea on SketchUp, send them images, including wood species options, pricing, and timelines. The best part about commissions is that we can make a piece with a particular space and person in mind. The worst part is that it can be hard to price out because it is a new project.
What advice would you give to aspiring designers like yourself?
My advice is to not be afraid to ask for help and advice from others that are more experienced than you! There is plenty that you’ll figure out from your own mistakes, but there is a lot to learn from others who have already made those mistakes. This is hard work to do alone. Take the help from others, most makers love giving advice!
What is one thing that the creative/design community can do in Indianapolis to help grow an audience for custom or hand-crafted work?
The creative/design community can keep creating! Keep showing others how important art and design are to everyday life and well-being. Creativity is cultivated when people are thinking and seeing creativity.
My dream commission/client is someone with an idea in mind, but a lot of flexibility in the design. I love getting an idea of what a person wants and then running with it.
What makes your work different from anyone else’s?
My work is different because it is a combination of woodturning and woodworking. Turning wood allows for more options when creating wooden structures.
What’s your most rewarding memory in your business?
When I see people enjoying something I made, whether they are having a drink on a table I made, reading by the light of a lamp I made or wearing their favorite earrings. It brings me so much joy!
How has the pandemic affected the way your business functions?
A lot of our projects have been put on hold. We do a lot of work for restaurants and with those being shut down, that affects us as well. We are figuring out how to navigate in this new season, running small product sales, and planning for future events.
How can the community support you and other small businesses during this time?
If your income hasn’t been affected and you have been thinking about having something made for you, do it now! If you don’t have the means, write reviews for small businesses that you have made purchases from, engage with their social media posts, and share their sales with others.