17th July 2017

Darren Appiagyei looks set to be the face of a new generation of woodturners. Despite graduating only last year, his beautifully hand crafted pieces caught the eye of The Worshipful Company of Turners, which has pledged to support him during his first year at Cockpit Arts’ Deptford incubator. Darren now enjoys free studio space, a dedicated workshop complete with tools and machinery and one-to-one training in his craft and business support. He plans to launch his design studio, ‘In The Grain 93’, at the London Design Festival later this year.

It’s hard to believe then that, until very recently, Darren had never touched a lathe. “When I was at college, we had to take a unit in our second year to develop a new skill. I saw that the lathe was free – no one was really using it, so I decided to have a go at woodturning,” he smiles. “I taught myself how to use it – I even watched YouTube videos! It was all very trial and error. But I fell in love with it. It’s very therapeutic and gradually I got better.”

This is evident when you see Darren’s graduation pieces, which include a beautiful modern interpretation of an Ashanti Stool, the royal and divine throne of the Ashanti people of Ghana, where Darren’s family are originally from. He also created a series of Banksia Jars, extraordinary vessels with crenelated surfaces carved from the nut of the exotic banksia plant.

As with the woodturning, Darren came across Cockpit Arts by chance. He spotted the large Cockpit Arts banner outside the Deptford studios late one evening when he was returning home from a night out (he lives in the area). He decided to research it the very next day. “I set in my mind that once I’d graduated I would apply for a studio,” says Darren.

Darren graduated from his 3D Design degree at Camberwell College of Arts in 2016 and immediately applied for a space at Cockpit Arts. “Initially I applied for the Radcliffe Award, but having seen my work, Cockpit advised me to apply for the Turners’ Award instead,” he explains. “At the time I was doing a variety of different things, so I hadn’t really considered it but when I saw the Turners’ Award I realised that was what I was looking for. The Radcliffe Award was quite broad and I felt it was the right time for me to focus my skills.”

It was clear to The Turners’ Company that Darren has lots of potential and is in the initial stages of achievement. During the interview process, it was wholeheartedly agreed that the Award would provide a bridge between his university training and the realities of setting up his own independent practice with crafts skill training and business support provided jointly by the Turners’ Company and Cockpit Arts.

Darren moved into his own dedicated workspace in Deptford in March 2017. “I wasn’t expecting to get in so quickly,” he admits. But when you speak to Christopher Scott, Chair of the Howe Committee at the Worshipful Company of Turners, he is clear that Darren was already showing real potential as a woodturner. “We chose Darren for the award because he is an aspiring woodturner who’d shown real enthusiasm for it at college,” Christopher explains. “He had already demonstrated his passion for the craft before he even applied.” Christopher continues: “We were also inspired by Darren’s heritage that he expresses through his work. This was something that we really wanted to support.” Darren nods in agreement: “Narrative is important to me in my work. It’s not just about the aesthetic.”

Darren is clear that his first year at Cockpit is all about developing this narrative and style in his work. “I’m still very new at this,” he admits. “I like to work with exotic materials in a very organic way, embracing the textures and qualities of the wood. But in order to do this I also need the basics.” Funded by the Turners’ Company, Darren now has access to individual training sessions with renowned woodturners Ed Oliver and Stuart Mortimer.

Further support has come from Darren’s business coach at Cockpit Arts, Madeleine Furness. “Madeleine introduced me to Cockpit and helped me get ready for my first Open Studios event, advising me on my pricing,” says Darren. Open Studios took place in June, and Darren says it went really well. “It was the first time anyone had seen my work, so I spent time informing people of my materials and my practice. I sold a couple of pieces and the whole experience really helped develop my confidence.”

Next up is the London Design Festival in September, where he will be exhibiting as part of the Shoreditch Design Triangle – not bad for a self-confessed newcomer to the woodturning scene!

Despite still having a full time job, Darren goes into his studio every day. “This whole experience has been very good for me so far,” he enthuses. “I’ve got time to make mistakes and I’m developing myself and my techniques.”

“I’d like to become known for a particular style, so for now I’m concentrating on developing my craft and creating a legacy, something to pass on to someone else and inspire other people,” Darren says. “I came to woodturning by accident but I now know that I want to be part of the new generation of woodturners.”