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Friday, 27 July 2012

Woodturner & Artist Robbie Graham

Wood Turner Robbie Graham 

Our latest artist Robbie Graham shares his creations from the Wildwood Art Gallery, Lake Taupo, New Zealand. In his own words:

In 1981 I was fascinated with some turned wooden wine goblets we received as a wedding gift and I thought I would love to have a go at making some. So I built a lathe and taught myself to turn using library books about basic turning. My background as a fitter and turner has been a fantastic basis for building lathes, tools and for understanding 3D form. I registered my business "Anyturn” in Perth in 1982 and for thirteen years I did fulltime production turning, making furniture components plus colonial style items such as verandah posts and finials for the beautiful old houses in Perth and Fremantle. So I got bloody good at spindle turning and handling gouges and skew chisels!

In the early ‘90’s I had a Valeri copy lathe, a large useful beast that made mass production much easier and faster. While I lived in Western Australia I loved working with sheoak, jarrah and huon pine. Once we had decided to return to live in beautiful NZ and sell our own artworks, we combined my wife Sue’s wildflower paintings with my woodturning to name our studio gallery “Wildwood.” After having re-settled back here, and building a large, versatile lathe to suit my turning style, I find I especially enjoy using pohutukawa, black maire, matai, spalted tawa and some exotic timbers such as cherry.

Texturing tripod 14

I aspire to promote woodturning as an art form, rather than to produce functional items. Multi-axis and off-set turning techniques really appeal to me so I can create forms in wood that give an illusion of “the nearly impossible.” Living near scenic Lake Taupo, I am inspired by the patterns and shapes I see in the natural world. For instance, a surface embellishment process I often use is to draw up a geometrical design based on a leaf motif, which I then outline and fill with lines and dots using pyrography. I enhance the repeating pattern using mainly iridescent paints.

Black and Blue 1

My own favourite pieces of work include the “Mutant” series because they were so challenging and so quirky. 

Mutant 1

Mutant 2

My wife Sue’s favourites are often my more organic designs, for instance the “Ragged” and “Releaf” series and natural edge forms, plus my sculptural works and also the elegant, classic “Amphora” created for a Greek theme.

Ragged 2

Ragged 3

Amphora (Walnut)

I sell my work at Wildwood Gallery in Waitahanui, Te Papa Store in Wellington, Real Aotearoa in Auckland and Zea-You Gallery in Taupo. My wife Sue is also an artist so she completely understands the ups and downs of the creative process, frequently motivating me to “get going and do some turning” whenever she notices me in a “wafting” phase (which I think of as my “creative designing phase!”). She is my keenest supporter but also totally honest in her appraisals, describing my worst attempts as, “That doesn’t work for me” and jinxing my best efforts by saying, “I hope this doesn’t sell straight away until I have had time to enjoy looking at it!”

Kohuhu 1

Kohuhu 2

Kohuhu 3

Kohuhu 4 

A tool I really can’t live without is my mini-rolly hollowing tool, which is a pleasure to use because it makes hollowing so easy. Also, because pyrography features so strongly in my current style, my heavy-duty pyrography machine and my “famous” air-cooled pen are top favourites. (See my article in Woodturning Design Magazine, February 2012.)

Lost Voyager on the Lathe

Lost Voyager in the landscape 

Voyager 5 - Commission

The Crossing

I am a member and past secretary of the Lake Taupo Woodworkers’ Guild and member of the National Association of Woodworkers and spend copious amounts of time interacting with woodies on the computer, eg. on World of Woodturners, Facebook, etc. Being frequently asked to demonstrate around New Zealand and in Australia has allowed me to share my passion and the knowledge gained over many years and plenty of “learning experiences.” (some people call these mistakes!)

Being highly competitive, keeps me pushing my own boundaries and challenging myself creatively and technically. Highlights in my competition awards include winning Franklin Arts Festival Supreme Award three years in a row, gaining the Supreme Art Award at South Waikato Artfest and Turnz Exhibition Putaruru twice in a row. I particularly like to win awards in the more artistic categories of woodturning competitions.

Horoeka Releaf 10

What's Eating You?

Sculpture has been a big part of my work in the last few years. A most enjoyable commission I completed recently was Voyager II, which was for a client in Seattle, Washington State. Another satisfying major achievement for 2011 was designing and managing the completion of a large-scale interactive public sculpture on the lakefront in Taupo. “The Crossing” represents the awe-inspiring volcanic peaks of the Tongariro Crossing and was created from pine poles five metres high, local Tauhara stone, and embellished by pyrography designs depicting cultural aspects of the lake and mountains.

Tripod 14

Autumn 2

Black and Blue 2

Toru 4 

Thank you to Robbie for letting us share his work. Please pay him a visit at his own website here Wildwood Art Gallery.

Matai - blue and green top (small)


  1. Robbie is obviously a great turner and produces some wonderfull work

  2. Thanks George, I try.

  3. Thanks George for taking the time to comment.
    I hope this blog is helping to push woodturning as an art form and inspire people to try and push their own idea of what wood turning is i know it has led me to try new things myself.

  4. Robbie is obviously a great turner and produces some wonderfull work....
    wooden floorings


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