The closest thing I’ve got to using sticks for anything other than throwing them to my dog, is a Christmas tree I made with my daughters once from driftwood collected from the beach. It was pretty fun to make and didn’t look too bad in a very rustic kind of a way. It’s a great Christmas holiday activity for kids, I might add, and even if you live in the Northern Hemisphere you could make one in Summer and bring out with aplomb for everyone to decorate in December!
But I digress. What furniture-maker Joe Vinks creates is another story entirely. He crafts unique bespoke chairs, tables, stools, hats racks and works of art from fallen timber, branches, twigs, trees. You name it, he collects and he can make it. After years working in data processing, Joe ‘upped sticks’ (sorry, couldn’t resist) and left city life for a new, calmer, back-to-nature existence in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. His furniture-making came about by chance and reflects his love of the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi – where imperfection and uniqueness is to be celebrated.
Please introduce yourself: What’s your background and how have you ended up where you are today?
Name: Joe Vinks. I’m at the tail end of my working career. I opted out to the rural scene several years ago after shaking hands goodbye to a city life and work, pottering around on a small acreage parcel of land in the Southern Highlands. This gave me the opportunity to do all the things you can’t do on a postage stamp block in the city, like stuffing your shed full with things you don’t want to throw out to use later, creating various garden beds and getting your hands, skin and clothes dirty every day. Also, getting up in the morning and deciding over a late breakfast what I might do for the day. And most importantly, spending time for me, and not for my bank, boss or being in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Can you share a bit about the creative process and materials you use? For example, what comes first the found piece of timber or the piece of furniture?
I think everyone has a creative side, they just don’t know it. If you give yourself time and opportunity, you can write poems, music, make clothes, help people, or even make a chair out of sticks! I must admit with “my thing”, it was kicked off by chance when an acquaintance asked me to replicate a little table of hers that was made during the Great Depression, when people had no money and made things out of what they could find. I pieced together sticks and made a little gypsy table. It sold swiftly in her shop. The light bulb in my mind illuminated quickly and one thing led to another. Natural items such as tree branches, driftwood, gum nuts even tree roots, were seen in a different light overnight.
Tell me about the importance of upcycling and sustainability in your work, work practices and home life?
I never used to be big on recycling as I guess I was just another lazy consumer and disposed refuse in the city. Put your garbage in the bin and it becomes someone else’s problem. It’s amazing how your attitude changes when necessity insists it does. Sadly, we are all caught up in an unrelenting disposable society. Packaging alone astounds me. The waste involved is astounding. Yet it keeps people in jobs so it’s a vicious cycle.
How easy/difficult was it to go out on your own? What, if any, challenges did you face along the way?
The deal is finding an income from something you like. Sometimes an opportunity opens up and you can go out on your own as it evolves. To make an instant change like that is fairly difficult. If you’re doing something you like then that’s your job period. If you’re not, then you need to allocate a small portion of your free time to foster what you like doing as well as maintaining your main source of income. If you’re good at what you like doing – and let’s face it , most people are – then inevitably it will gain its own momentum and soon overtake your main source of income. It’s the old saying: it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give others wanting to do the same?
You have to STICK with it! Ha ha.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on new ideas all the time. There is no end to what you can do with any medium.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Beaching it, bush walks collecting material, visiting old country towns with lots of history and speaking with the locals. Everyone has a story. I love it.
The best thing about living in the Southern Highlands is …?
Living in the Southern Highlands is a tonic. You have the luxury of a rural life, yet an easy drive to the city to keep in touch with family and old friends. And it’s a convenient launch pad to exploring greater New South Wales.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
Yes, I have that thought often. But then again, I’ve always believed I’d end up in my situation. Strange but true.
Thanks Joe! You can find out more about Joe’s work on his website.
PLUS: As I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve made some changes to the design and layout of this blog to give it more of a magazine feel. I hope you like it! If you want to go back to the traditional blog layout, you can click on the ‘Blog’ link on the top left header, or find articles under topics you may be interested in by clicking on the categories in the main header. Otherwise, everything else is pretty much the same.
Thanks for staying with me and happy reading!