In a quaint little woodworking shop in the back streets of Wollongong, NSW, you’ll find Elise Cameron-Smith crafting handmade treasures. Not your typical woodworker, Elise is a chirpy young surfie chick. The Captain dropped anchor to check out her fleet of exquisite miniature wooden boats.
THE CAPTAIN: What got you started making these incredible miniatures?
Elise Cameron-Smith: Living on the coast and surfing all the time, I always see [yachts] out on the horizon. Not only do they have a beautiful shape, but they represent a voyage into the unknown. With my work, they’re a metaphor for an adventure or something new – I think people really relate to that. The first boats I made were just little toys; they were simple, with little copper sails. I’d make them for friends as gifts. I found when I was plugging away in the workshop on tables and chairs, I’d be drawn back to the idea of boats. The style continually evolved; the boats became bigger and they had an open frame. That’s when people started wanting to buy them!
You’re handy with the tools. Were you top of your woodworking class at school?
Ha! I wasn’t interested in woodwork at all. I loved drawing; I thought I was going to be some cool graphic designer, but I didn’t like it. I then decided to be a guru Ikea furniture designer, so I studied industrial design for two and a half years – I didn’t like the computer side of it, though. I’m really hands-on, my brain couldn’t reconcile the idea of creating something on a screen. So off I went to study again. I blew my life savings and enrolled in furniture-making on a whim. I freaked out when I got this huge list of tools I needed to buy, but luckily my dad and his mates let me raid their garages for bits and pieces. I had to label all the tools so that I knew what they were called!
What sort of materials do need to build these beauties?
For the frames, I use white beech timber. It’s soft and light, which makes it much easier to work with and shape. I also like the whiteness of the timber – I hated putting finish on them because it made them yellow, so now I just leave them raw. The sail is made from goat hide, which is like drum-skin leather. I like to leave the imperfections in the leather – bullet holes and all – it gives each sail a really unique element (sorry vegans). The other materials I use are copper (for the mast) and cotton cord for wrapping around the frame. Is every boat unique? Yeah! Each shape is hand-drawn then cut – I don’t have a template. Although they all have the same feeling or style, they’re still all unique. The size and shape often depend on how I’m feeling on the day. They all also have their own individual names and spirits.
Why are your boats so popular?
It’s a fun sculpture that people find really easy to connect with. The art world is quite different to the real world. You go to an exhibition and read a flowery paragraph explaining what this conceptual piece is about, whereas with my work, it’s just a bit of fun, you don’t need an explanatory thesis. I’m not trying to make a statement about the world.
How much does a handmade miniature wooden boat cost?
The small ones [around about the size of your palm] start from $120 and they go up to about $350 for a big one. The Captain wouldn’t mind sailing out to sea in a scaled-up version of your boats. How would he go?
Not too well. They’re made for dry land. I tell people you can hang them up and they float on your dreams. I did once build an awesome raft that actually floated, but I’ll have to go back to the drawing board if The Cap’n wants to sail one around the Seven Seas!
See the range of miniature wooden boats in stock or contact Elise Cameron-Smith at www.elisecameron-smith.com.au
You can also follow her on Instagram @elisecameronsmith