Local Business

Building a Dream

Local man follows his vision and winds up creating a successful and sustainable career

“I believe everything has a spirit, <a href=

especially wood, and I find the better treated the wood is before it comes into my hands, the more magic the wood is willing to share,” says Andy Smith with some of his decorative pieces. Photo by Boomer Jerritt” src=”https://www.infocusmagazine.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/garden-elf-602×903.jpg” width=”602″ height=”903″ /> “I believe everything has a spirit, especially wood, and I find the better treated the wood is before it comes into my hands, the more magic the wood is willing to share,” says Andy Smith with some of his decorative pieces. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

On a cool winter night this past February, more than 400 people showed up to see a unique display of wood art at the Sew Sisters Guild Society in Cumberland. Crowds of happy people came and went throughout the evening and into the early morning hours, enjoying live music, local food and beer inside and around the bonfire, discussing and purchasing unique art made with wood. It was the most successful event the guild had ever hosted.

One of the featured artists was Andy Smith, and it was his first ever art show. Most impressive—he’d only started working with wood nine months before.

Smith’s journey toward creating wood art started in 2011 when his father passed away. “When my dad died he left all his woodworking tools to me. I wasn’t really interested in the tools, as wood working never really interested me,” Smith says. “But I organized a trip to pick up the tools. I had no plans or ideas on what I would actually use them for. I just knew I wanted them here.”

After Smith picked up his father’s tools they sat in his woodshed, untouched, for more than two years. Exactly one year before his momentous art show, Smith was becoming restless with his day job. “I was a salesman and I was really unhappy.   I couldn’t justify the work I was doing anymore. It didn’t line up with my core values. I was trying to find ‘that thing’—something I could really dive into. It was difficult because I have many passions in my life. My challenge was trying to pick one.”

Smith was also a new father and so he worried about continuing to work at a job that didn’t suit him. He wondered what message that would send to his daughter. “As a father and a role model to my child, I felt a responsibility to pursue my passions. That would be the best gift I could give my family—a man who was thriving, rather than just surviving,” says Smith. “I was adamant that I wasn’t going to tell our new daughter that she could be and do anything she wants while I was doing something I didn’t want.”

So Smith did some soul searching and attended an indigenous vision ceremony in order to find his way toward a career choice that was appropriate to his personality.

“During the ceremony I had a vision of myself working with wood. It also showed my closest friends and community members all committed to their craft. Everyone was happy and fulfilled. The vision was showing me a way in which we could choose to live our lives. That’s what I took from the vision. I had no experience in woodworking and even months after this vision, I had no intention of taking up woodworking. However, the day after my ceremony I quit my job of eight years.”

One day, not long after his vision ceremony, Smith decided to create some privacy in his yard by building some bean trellises. He had his father’s tools in the woodshed, and he had scrap wood lying around, so it seemed like a good idea. But instead of a normal trellis design Smith decided to make them different—he made them curvy with flowing lines and circles. “I’ve always had a mind that looks at something and instantly imagines ways I could make it look cooler,” says Smith. “Especially the generic things in life—like trellises for example. So I made them asymmetrical and added some flair to make them more interesting.”

After Smith finished the trellises he was happy with them so he posted a picture on Facebook. “I got a huge response to the posting. People loved them and asked me to make one or two for their gardens. Then my friend who runs the local artist guild talked me into entering the market with my first trellises.” Smith laughs. “I’ve been in the wood shop ever since!”

Smith wouldn’t have called himself a woodworker before that day. “I had maybe 30 hours of lifetime experience working with wood when I started,” he says. “I’ve had to teach myself. I’ve also had friends come by and give me advice.”

It also helped that he had his dad’s tools. “Using my father’s tools is kind of a way that I keep him with me. They are the only thing I really kept of his.”

Though he was new to woodworking he progressed quickly and started a company called Garden Elf Creations. He was willing to use scrap wood for his own garden pieces, but when friends started ordering them, he knew he needed to bump things up a few notches.

“It’s amazing how fast you develop when you are always trying to one-up yourself,” says Smith. “I feel like I’ve been stretching my brain to come up with the pieces I’ve been building. However I’ve always been a believer in limitless potential. I finally feel like I’m tapping into that myself.”

Smith soon progressed from garden trellises to making more complicated wooden pieces. He now specializes in creating wall art and hanging mandalas that depict symbols such as the flower of life and the lotus flower. “Symbols have become very important to me,” explains Smith. “I want to resurrect positive symbolism that counterbalances the corporate symbolism that has become so prevalent in our culture. We have forgotten about the positive symbols we used to have. The basis of my work is functional art that is rooted in symbolism and human potential.”

Smith’s art is environmentally responsible—he only uses wood that is ethically harvested, meaning it’s blow down or clean up wood. “I prefer to use only old growth wood that has been harvested with good intention. I believe everything has a spirit, especially wood, and I find the better treated the wood is before it comes into my hands, the more magic the wood is willing to share. Many hundreds of years of growth are incorporated into my pieces, which I find brings a life of its own to the finished piece.”

Though Smith’s wall hangings are multi-colored, he doesn’t use any stains. Instead he uses the natural shade gradients that are found in different parts of the tree to create his colors. For example, one of his original pieces was created by arranging shapes that include at least four different colors. Yet remarkably, the design was created from the wood of one tree and without the help of stain. “With old growth wood you get a whole range of shades and grains,” Smith explains. “It’s beautiful wood to work with.”

Smith’s art is quite intricate—some of his more complicated pieces take more than 100 hours to create. “I haven’t developed my talent for drawing yet but I am pretty savvy with graphic design, so first I create an image on the computer. Then I use printed templates to start my process, cutting the image into many pieces before I trace them onto wood. I observe the image for some time next to a pile of different colored woods to listen to how the woods want to be arranged. I love working with many different shades and colors of wood as it brings contrast to certain aspects of the image I’m working with.”

Some of Smith’s intricate pieces can take more than 100 hours to create.  The designs are created using the natural shadings of the wood, not stain.  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Some of Smith’s intricate pieces can take more than 100 hours to create. The designs are created using the natural shadings of the wood, not stain. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

In addition to his garden pieces and wall hangings, Smith has begun to make puzzles and coasters that double as fridge magnets. “I’m in the process of developing a few products, so people who don’t have the resources to spend several hundred to several thousand [dollars] on an original wood piece can take home a piece of my art for an affordable price.”

Smith has also begun doing custom pieces that depict logos or significant imagery. Recently, Smith was commissioned to do a large piece for Hinterland Studios in Cumberland. “The owner, Ralph, really wanted to create a place of inspiration for all who pass through his studio. So I translated his logo into a wooden art piece,” he says. “I really want to keep building pieces for businesses or homes that are personal to them, and offer inspiration to that space specifically—using symbolism or imagery that speak to them and to what their mission is.”

It seems that Smith is getting his wish, as orders for Smith’s art are coming in at a rapid pace—in fact, he can barely keep up. “I’m happy to say that I am working harder than ever before, solely supporting my family through the arts,” Smith says. “I need to duplicate myself, perhaps even triple. At the present I am nearly ready to take on an apprentice.”

Though he is enjoying his bustling new business, Smith is looking at ways to help other artists to share in his success. “Myself and two other wood artists—wood wizards—have started a support network for wood artists called the Wood Vibe Tribe,” Smith says. “It will provide a shared website and shared vending opportunities for festivals and artisan shows. The Wood Vibe Tribe will also act as a resource for other businesses involved with wood, such as builders, craftsmen, ethical wood suppliers and teachers.” Since its inception, the Wood Vibe Tribe has already been featured in two festivals.

According to Smith, he believes he owes his success to allowing things to transpire naturally. “My future is unknown to me. What I do know is that I will be successful. That I know for sure. I’m realizing that a major component to my success and fast growth has been due to the fact that I have taken the passenger seat when necessary. I do not have, nor do I want, full control over the outcome and the future. I would never choose to limit myself.  All I know is I will succeed.  I’ll show up to do the work. Where this path will lead me… well that’s the mystery, and it’s going to be awesome!”

You can find Garden Elf Creations at the following events this summer: Atmosphere Gathering, The Vancouver Island Herb Gathering, Diversity Festival and the Kitty Coleman Artisan’s Festival. For more information visit facebook.com/thegardenelf