I am regularly asked to make a special piece for a client. I would expect most of these requests to come in September or October as Christmas gifts but strangely this is not the case. The most popular time for people to commission something appears to be in the first few months of the year. As this is my quietest time as far as other sales go, this is a welcome trend. However, I also like to focus on developing new designs, building up stock for the busier season and dedicating some time to my other passion – writing. Invariably I fall behind on making new work so that as the first selling events approach I begin to panic as I realise that I may not have enough stock.

I enjoy the challenge of making a unique one-off piece to the customer’s requirements and also coming up with a design that they are happy with. Nevertheless I often worry that the customer may not like the finished product. In most cases the recipient is extremely pleased with their jewellery and I have been sent many lovely and moving messages of thanks, such as this:

“As I opened the box and peeked in – not knowing really what to expect – I stand in awe of the animal within. I cannot find the written words to express the beauty of the hare –  all I can say is the outpouring of tears, emotions and vibrations within my being on lifting my hare from his box.You are blessed and graced with such a special creative talent.Thank you and may the Divine Spirit bless you.”

Hare pendant

There has only been one occasion in the thirteen years I have been doing this that a client was unhappy with what I had done. It was a snow leopard bangle carved in maple and although I had sent scaled drawings, when the piece arrived it was considered too chunky and returned to me unwanted. I believe this was due to a communication problem so I now do all I can to make sure everything is clear. I tried and failed to sell the bangle so in the end I offered it as a prize in a competition on my Facebook page. The winner was extremely pleased.

snow leopard bangle 2snow leopard bangle

It was after this that I began asking for a non-returnable deposit to confirm each commission. I had already been thinking of it after having spent two days designing some intricately carved knife handles only to have the client change his mind after receiving my drawings. I never knew if he just didn’t like my designs or if he took them to another maker…

Mostly, it is a pleasurable experience and I get to carve some wonderful pieces. My most frequent requests come from the “dragon lady” who has now ordered eight different dragon designs, including my favourite commission so far this year, a pendant in bog oak set with an opal she sent to me.

Dragon pendant bog oak opal

My favourite commission last year was a large badger pendant of seven different woods. I can’t post a photo though because the client has asked me not to, as it is a very personal piece. Instead I will show you my favourite commission from 2014, two love spoon pendants carved in bog oak.

Love spoon 2 love spoon 1

Of Gorse Flowers and Skylarks

I often begin the day with a walk from my home to the beach. I generally follow the same route, with occasional slight variations. The fresh air wakes me up and the exercise is beneficial. It is also an opportunity to think; often I contemplate my writing. Sometimes it is more like a form of meditation. Being close to nature is uplifting and good for the soul. It inspires the creative spirit and nurtures the imagination.

I usually start by walking through the garden, noticing the bursting buds on the many trees we have planted and pop into the polytunnel to check on the progress of seedlings or the size of the over-wintered cauliflower. Then I hop over the fence, cross a field cropped short by sheep and climb the small hill. From the top I can see the hills of Sutherland beyond the Dornoch Firth, an ever changing view of sky and sea and land, where the incongruous bulk of Dunrobin Castle’s French renaissance style backside throbs like a thorn in the side of the cruel history of its infamous erstwhile Duke.

View from the hill

More pleasing at this time of year are the signs of the slow northern spring. Below the hill a swathe of gorse, fulfilling its role as a pioneer plant, is enabling a gradually establishing woodland to emerge above its prickly canopy. Dozens of elder have colonised the area with a few hawthorn, willow and a solitary ash. The display of gorse flowers, as more and more blossom appears daily on each bush, matches the colour of yellowhammers’ heads. Birdsong fills the air and hundreds of little winged things flit back and forth busily preparing nests and establishing territories.


The beach, where yesterday I saw a fishing osprey, is a sandy inlet with areas of weedy rocks where I occasionally see otters. I squat on the dunes to rest and observe the bird life. Depending on the time of year this can include various waders and ducks, terns, sand martins and the ubiquitous oyster-catchers, the raucous pied pipers of the shore.


Strolling back over the fields the skylarks’ mad yet beautiful twittering reminds me of Ireland where I first heard them on holiday many years ago. It was that rural respite that first inspired us to move from the South of England to somewhere with more space, where we could grow trees and fruit and vegetables and live a home based lifestyle of craft and sustainability more in harmony with nature. We have renovated an unloved and abandoned croft house and created a woodland garden from neglected and abused land. We are still here 22 years later; we have put down roots, literally, and have no intention of moving.

Geoff’s moved in!

At last! After 30 years of self-employed woodwork I finally have my first ever warm, dry workshop/studio. Over the winter I gradually fitted out the inside with benches, cupboards and shelves. By mid-February I had started carving in there. Since then I have been  moving more in my “spare time”: tools, machinery and timber stock, sorting as I go.

Dusty machine room at end Storage upstairs Hand work benches Geoff carving