Thomas Forsyth

Thomas Forsyth pencil hooks by Thomas Forsyth
Chair by Thomas Forsyth
Chess? by Thomas Forsyth

Thomas Forsyth is an artist with an impressive ability to think outside the box. Many of his pieces are imaginative re-workings of traditional forms to which he gives new functions and meanings, some incorporating reclaimed or re-cycled elements. Recent pieces include a chess set with extra, moveable squares, wooden spinning tops that are spun with a pencil so creating artworks in the process, and a chest of drawers which is in fact a series of secret compartments and a coffee table. 


How do you define your practice?

I’m still not entirely sure what exactly it is I do or how I would define myself. There are elements of both craft and design in my work, and many of the projects I do have a conceptual base. But I also love creating short films, illustrations, working on building and restoration projects, running drawing and idea workshops etc. All these areas have links through designing, making and ideas, and all these parts of my life influence each other. I’m constantly trying to move things forward creatively as a whole.

How did your interest in making start and how important is it to your work?

I started making things when I was quite young – creating models and building dens – and that love of making really stuck. I love developing ideas through making tangible things rather than being stuck behind a computer doing CAD drawings. I really like the imperfections or happy mistakes that result through the process of working by hand, I think it adds a beautiful humanistic element to objects.

How important are materials to you work?

I did a degree in materials at Brighton University and I am still absolutely passionate about them. I try and keep track with what’s happening in the world of materials and am always keen to experiment with new materials. That said there are some fascinating properties to many very old materials that seem to get forgotten through time.


I love the publications Material Connections and Transmaterial, which are all about wonderful new materials such as concretes which can absorb atmospheric pollution or shape memory alloys that respond to slight changes in temperature (pretty bad examples as they've both been around for quite a while, but they help create the picture).

Which is your favourite material to work with?

I ended up specialising in wood and metal at Brighton and have done a lot of things in wood recently. It’s definitely one of my favourite materials, but I’ve also worked a lot with it recently for more practical reasons. I’m currently skint and you can be very resourceful with wood – using old or found or reclaimed wood to make new objects. You can also work it using low-tech production methods which are all I’ve got at the moment as I don’t currently have a proper studio/workshop.

Do you work with found/re-cycled objects because they are cheaply available or because you actually want to?

I love using old materials. I love the fact that they already have a story and a function and that I can then transform them into something that adds a new chapter to their life. I guess it’s a form of up-cycling; giving old, discarded materials a second life and an extra value (whether in terms of ideas or money). For example I recently collaborated with Owen Gildersleeve on our project 'Aschenputtel' for Designersblock [Aschenputtel is the Brothers Grimm’s darker, more gothic version of the classic fairy tale Cinderella, a story about neglect and transformation].


For the project we worked with Emmaus, a fantastic organisation that create work and community for people who have become homeless, by recycling furniture and homewares. We used an old chest of drawers, along with other materials that Emmaus were finding it difficult to sell and set about internally up-cycling them. We transformed each of the four drawers, to play with what you expect from a knackered old chest of drawers. By interacting with 'Aschenputtel', you start to discover intricate illustrations, unexpected mechanisms, secret compartments and even a drawer which when removed completely transforms into a small table.

Where do you get your ideas for your work from?

I’m often not directly inspired by the world of art and design. I think ideas often come from the 'crossing points' of all the seemingly random/unrelated sources of interest in your life, combined with trying to be open to everything in your environment. Ideas are also often born through necessity, needs or problem solving (whether personal or brief/deadline related). I just try to be open to all the odd areas of life that catch my curiosity and follow them, whether it's science, sociology, meeting with random and interesting people, fairy tales, materials etc. I believe it all filters into work. It's often only after a project that I can see the finer details of what influenced me.

How do you design your pieces?

It's often a process that is very close to play. A couple of examples would be a shaped wooden vessel, which months after finishing I realised was basically a result of me sorting through my first big relationship break up, and which I ended up fondly naming The Ex., and a recent series of coat hooks that use pencils as a hanging system, which came from being too broke to even buy basic hooks after moving into my new place in London. I scrapped about, playing with any materials I had to hand until I developed a design, thinking shortly after, ‘I wonder if these could help pay the rent?’ It's all positive in the end.

Interview by Diana Woolf