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Playing with fire

London's vibrant creative scene includes a thriving community of makers located in workshops across the city, practising crafts that have changed very little over hundreds, if not thousands of years. Reliant on heat to shape and mould their work, we caught up with four of London's most revered craftsmen to find out what it is like to make a living playing with fire.

Photography Jens Marott

Words Claire Walsh

Conan Sturdy

Conan Sturdy is a Camden-bred blacksmith with a rather no-nonsense approach to his craft. "I learnt as I went along. I was always practical, and most of it is fairly simple. You take hot metal and bang it into shape," he says.

Sturdy's favourite project so far has been his self-built workshop. All powered by renewable energy, bought from green sources, when the south London sun shines the 4 KW solar panels installed on the roof kick into action. The 800sq ft space is complete with a red-hot forge, and the blacksmith works with a hammer and anvil to shape the minimalist furniture he designs.

He says hot steel can be wilful, so a lot of pieces are finished by chance - the metal sometimes dictates the end shape: "I suppose there is a fair bit of trial and error." "About 1999-ish: last century! After University I worked in a campervan garage in Ladbroke Grove. I heard there were blacksmiths making furniture in the arches nearby, so I went up, had a chat, and starting working there."

Stuart Carey

Originally from the north-east Stuart Carey has always been a potter. Studying at school, then a BA at Glasgow's famous art school and finally a Masters at London's RCA, where his final project The Intimacy of Functional Objects struck a chord. Now known as Stuart Carey Tableware he says (with modesty) that the range "has done incredibly well. Although I know it is from my own hard work I am still surprised where people are buying it." The hand-thrown porcelain stoneware is stocked in London's Conran Shop and the potter is in talks with Calvin Klein.

Success means he is constantly at the wheel, so it is lucky he is passionate about throwing (a process in which a ball of clay is placed in the centre of the turntable on the potter's wheel). "That capability to make something physical was astounding to me," he says of his first making experiences.

Maya Selway

With creative lineage - her father is a painter and grandmother was a jeweller - Maya Selway's career as a silversmith was a pre-mapped destiny. "I have always made things", she says. "I have been in workshops since I can remember."

After art school she moved into theatre to make props, including huge steel trees for the National Theatre's Cherry Orchard production. "That gave me another level of confidence, to know how to achieve what I imagined in mind."

She then moved into jewellery and objects, briefly working in a cellar space before relocating to London's creative making hub, the Cockpit Arts. Here like-minded people surround her; "it is really inspiring and motivating to be around all the makers here."

Michael Ruh

Michael Ruh began glassblowing in 1999. A trained sculptor, Ruh has cheffed and baked pizza along the way. "I think the arts often require you to work elsewhere. It is not often that you graduate from college and suddenly become an artist."

An American by birth, the glassblower has lived all over Europe before settling in London; "I have got a mixed up, rolling stone kind of history." He is attracted to the heat of his process, "if you talk to any glass maker they will say the same."

Physically demanding, one of his pieces can take anything from 15 minutes to two hours to make and the 30 seconds window you have to shape the glass, means you are back and forth to the forge. "You have to commit to the piece," he says, "you can't stop to think about it. You are stuck with it till you finish... or till it breaks!"


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