Like many businesses, I began the year with exciting plans. I had some great shows booked, my chair making courses were well-subscribed towards the middle of the year and tool sales were coming in steadily. I thought I could identify the main threats to my business. Number one on the list was my health. I could improve my fitness, but otherwise there was not much to do about it. Being a one-man-band has many advantages, but one is totally dependent on oneself! The treat of a pandemic virus was not, and never had been, on my radar.

Everything changed so fast. Decisions made on one day, seemed totally unrealistic the next, due to the fast changing nature of the perceived threat. I think it was the day before the lockdown that I decided to cancel all my courses until the end of August. Whether this proves to be realistic, only time will tell.

Once this decision was taken, my creative life changed completely.

For the last ten years, creativity has had to be squeezed into the small gaps between running courses and making tools to sell. I have been able to keep developing new chairs, mainly to keep my courses fresh, but I would have been pleased to produce two new designs in a year. My most creative time was usually during quiet periods of shows when I would doodle in a notebook and come up with new ideas. These were the only times when I had nothing else to do and could let my mind roam.

Over the past five weeks of lockdown I have produced prototypes for two new chairs and concentrated on improving my Instagram performance.

I found the ideas for my new chairs as doodles in my 2002 notebooks (before I joined the Guild!). The ideas still resonated with me, so I set to work. I have been able to take my time to work out the problems of construction, develop the necessary jigs and post a record of it on Instagram. I decided to take the risk of posting about things that might not work at all and this has proved popular with my followers. I think it’s good for people to understand the ‘risk’ of trying something new and to understand some of the ups and downs of the process.

Neither of the two chairs came out ‘right’ first time. First time success has happened to me just twice in the last 24 years, but it usually takes three goes to produce a satisfactory outcome and one time it was the sixth version that I was happy with!

For both of these chairs, I am now working on the second versions and I am optimistic that both will be big improvements. The ‘ball chair’ may never become one of my standard chairs, but I like the concept and will try to take it as far as possible while I have the time.

Instagram has kept me in touch with makers all around the world and this has kept my horizons wide. Also, when one gets a good response, it is a huge mental boost that keeps one going and striving continually to improve.

Since lockdown I have discovered IGTV (Instagram TV) which will take videos of over 1 minute. On 27 March, I posted a video of steam bending.  Steam bending videos are always popular, but this one was exceptional and became truly viral. Today (26/4) it has been seen 347,720 times, been liked 4,052 times and shared 433 times. You can watch the video here:

I have posted a number of other IGTV videos since then and gained about 1,400 followers (currently 17,174) since lockdown. Of my ‘most-liked’ posts in the past 2 years, 6 out of 14 have been from the last month.

In conclusion, the past few weeks have been very productive. My income is way, way down, but as an investment in the future this recent work should eventually prove rewarding. It has been exciting to be in the workshop, doing what I love and I can’t wait to get back there tomorrow morning to do more! For now, my teaching is limited to helping my daughter to make her first chair!

Lockdown and Windsor chairs

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