I don’t recall when I first saw Valerie Berlage’s (lauraine lillie studios) work, but I do recall that I instantly liked it. What’s not to like? Her use of color, shape, texture, and pattern is creative and beautiful. Great skill combined with genuine artistic ability is always appealing! Valerie has an interesting story, and a refreshing perspective on the craft.
How long have you been woodworking?
All my life, in some way or another. But, it was only about ten years ago that I decided to focus solely on wood.
What got you started?
My grandfather is a woodworker, and he introduced me to that intoxicating smell of sawdust at an early age. He's definitely an outside the box kind of thinker, and I learned a lot from him (and still do). Then, after assisting a local woodworker by the name of Chris Kamm for a number of years, I decided to enroll in the Professional Crafts Program at Haywood Community College in Clyde, NC. (It's a great program if anyone is interested!) I needed to get some more credits to renew the teaching license I had never used, and I wanted to more fully explore the possibilities of creating with wood. You have to know the rules to break them, right? Not that you can't be self-taught and learn on your own, but I enjoy the structure of a formal educational setting.
What are the 3 most important things you’ve learned in woodworking?
Never underestimate the importance of clamping your piece down while chiseling (that's why I had to have four stitches in my left thumb). There is no such thing as a wood-stretcher, measure five times. Wood is the most amazing, rewarding, beautiful, frustrating, mind-boggling medium to work with on the planet.
Why woodworking? What does it give you that other activities, crafts, etc. don’t?
It brings me joy. Not that other things don't, but if I am going to put in the time, the blood, sweat, and tears doing something to try to make a living, this is what I want to be doing. There's something about the smells of the shop, the tactile quality of wood, the way one can manipulate this medium, that is just really appealing to me.
What’s something everyone should know?
Happiness cannot be overrated.
Why do you make the specific things that you make?
It's really as simple: I make the things that I want to make. Some things are big and take a long time, like the functional wall sculptures and large mirrors, and other things are small and provide more immediate gratification. Although, practically speaking, these small things like boxes, jewelry, and ornaments also sell well. I confess to having a deep aversion to putting any scrap in the burn pile, and I am able to use these tiny bits in my jewelry and in some of my pieced surfaces on the larger work. I enjoy the puzzle work of making something come together, in terms of both design and creation, and I don't mind reinventing the wheel a good bit. There are certain processes I use over and over, but I don't do a lot of production work. In terms of aesthetics, inspired by my childhood and the joy and memories of home, I express that through use of color, pattern, and texture mixed with simple geometric shapes.
Who has had the greatest impact on your woodworking?
My family. In addition to my grandfather showing me the joys of woodworking as a child, I am influenced greatly by the traditional Southern handcrafts I learned growing up. Everything I paint has a slight cross-hatch texture that is similar to the weave of fabric, achieved by alternating the direction of my brushstrokes and then sanding to reveal the pattern. And, pieced surfaces that I liken to quilting with wood feature prominently in some of my work. I learned my love of color from the strong women in my life: my mom and my two grandmothers. My paternal grandmother especially, who would advise as we were coloring to use all the crayons in the box.
Have you incorporated lessons learned in other parts of your life in your woodworking?
I think the time I spent pursuing my BFA at the UNC Asheville was especially beneficial. Color theory, painting techniques, that push to look at everything from ten different angles, exposure to diverse art history, mediums, and methods of making. It's probably a good part of why I consider what I do to be "woodworking outside the lines."
What’s one thing you’d teach another woodworking to help them improve their skills, understanding or design?
I don't believe talent can be a substitute for hard work. We are all born with certain talents, but we have to practice them to perfect them. If you want better dovetail cutting skills, you're going to cut thousands of dovetails to achieve that mastery. You want a better understanding of woodworking? Get to reading, watch Matt Kenney's YouTube channel, take a class, talk with an expert at whatever skill you want to conquer. If you want to improve your designs, you're probably going to rework, reimagine, redraw them dozens of times. And inspiration for designs can be found everywhere, not just your favorite woodworker. Nature, geometry, architecture, science: It's all fodder for good design. The point is you have to put in the time to reap the rewards.
I love furniture design, and smart techniques. This blog is about both.