Meet the carver - Tim Steel
Tim grew up in Pukerua Bay where he collected beach stones from a young age. His affinity with searching out and finding special stones has always been with him. With his sights set on a soulful career, Tim started art school and was later taken under the wing of carving mentor Ric Moor.
Having developed his own style inspired by his ancestors and the natural and urban aesthetics that surround him, his pieces stand out for their sense of depth and energy which make them feel alive.
How did your journey as a carver begin?
I think I was about 26 when I started carving. I was looking for something a bit different, something more soulful, as I’d been doing the same job for a long time. So, I decided to go to art school at Learning Connexions in Lower Hutt as it had a little stone carving studio. It was a place I could be creative, there was no theory work, it was all practical, and what mattered was the number of hours you put into your work and the amount of work you produced. So I played away in that studio for a long time!
From there, I met Ric Moor who took me under his wing and I travelled down South to Greymouth to join Tai Poutini Polytechnic where he taught students how to carve greenstone. After Polytec, I returned to Paekakariki to set up my own studio, and I now carve from my home studio in Hastings.
I wasn't really nervous to start carving as I've always thought there is an underlying presence when you work with stone - something that guides you.
What was the first piece you ever carved?
The first piece of jade I ever carved was a disc. I used a rather unconventional method to carve that disc as I glued the stone to the shank of a burr, which I then attached to the collet of a points carver, so the whole disc itself was spinning. I then used a handpiece to carve the stone as it was rotating! When I told my tutors, they told me not to use that method again as it was really dangerous!
I gifted the first-ever piece I carved to my father, and he still has it today.
Where does your passion for stone and carving come from?
Ever since I’ve been able to pick things up, I’ve collected beach materials and stones everywhere I go. Maybe it was this passion that eventually led me to jade. There is something really cool about a piece of jade compared to other materials, it holds a translucency even when the light doesn’t go through it –a warm glow that draws you in. It’s hard to explain my passion for the stone, but that makes the connection special in itself.
It's a feeling that I cannot put into words, but that's what jade is all about.
I also think there is the lesson of impermanence that draws me to stone carving. As human beings, we’re not around for very long, whereas stone has taken much longer to form and will remain here much longer than us – but not forever. As a carver, I feel like I am attached to this moment in the stone’s life.
Where does the inspiration for your designs come from?
I guess I look at everything that surrounds me, both nature and the urban constructs that are part of my everyday life. Part of my ancestry is Ngāi Tahu, so I often think about what surrounded my ancestors, and what would have influenced the taonga they made back then. By reflecting on my past, drawing on the present and contemplating the future and the impact that we’re having on the planet, is what drives my designs.
I also often work with thicker pieces of stone as you can create more depth to your design, which means more shadows, surfaces and sharp lines. There’s something about carving a piece which has a sense of depth, it has a certain energy which makes it feel more alive.
How do you continue to grow as an artist?
My work naturally progresses with every piece that I make, whether that’s improving my techniques or developing aspects of my designs. I do really enjoy making custom pieces and definitely see myself doing more of these in the future. The challenge with custom pieces is being able to incorporate the meanings or design aspects a customer wants their piece to convey, while maintaining my own aesthetic and flavour.
Carving custom pieces is definitely a balancing act, but a client will have chosen me because they like my artistic style.
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