For John Jepson of Kanuka Glen, using upcycled timber as the canvas for his beautiful native bird art meets an urgent need to reduce our waste as a society. “For every full rubbish bin that goes to landfill, seventy full rubbish bins were made upstream to make the junk in that one rubbish bin you got rid of. So it’s no surprise that in the past three decades one third of the world’s natural resources have been consumed. Buying locally produced goods and reusing items that can serve a different use is a great way to contribute towards returning the balance.”
What do you make?
I create rustic renditions of New Zealand’s beautiful native birds.
How did you get into your craft?
Well to be totally honest, one evening last year I just had a sudden urge to sit down and draw. The feeling had been building up in me over some time and I just had to let it out! I’ve not really stopped since and it feels good.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I don’t have any formal qualifications, but art has always been a big part of my life. My parents must have noticed it was something I enjoyed early on as they sent me off to Saturday morning art classes from quite a young age. This helped me greatly with keeping up with my art studies at school.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I recycle pieces of timber that are well past it for their intended purpose by using them as a unique canvas on which to base my art. The wood comes from a number of sources. Some of the wood is left over from old apple bins that are past it, some of it is from old floorboards that have cracked, and other pieces even come from old farm fences that some beast or other has leant on too many times! Chalk and charcoal or high quality coloured pencils are currently my favourite media. I love taking a piece of wood that others might simply burn or leave to rot away and then turning it in to a piece of art for people to enjoy in their home.
What inspires you?
I find inspiration in lots of different places, but mostly in the natural world. I’m lucky enough to live in a beautiful part of New Zealand’s countryside where I can find inspiration around every corner.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Absolutely! The world’s resources are finite, yet somehow we as a species keep mass producing more and more stuff cheaper and cheaper. Everything’s designed to either go out of fashion quickly or break at a pre determined moment. It’s all madness and it bothers me greatly. My art work is a reflection of the way I choose to reject the norm. If something is broken I’ll try my best to fix it, if it can’t be fixed then I’ll think of something else it could be used for. My canvases are all made from wood that can no longer be used for anything else, and I take pride in breathing new life into each one.
Describe your workspace:
Haha, my workspace is currently a small space on the floor in front of my couch. I haven’t yet got to the stage where I feel the need to create a separate space. Luckily my materials don’t take up too much room!
Five words that describe your mind:
Open. Searching. Loving. Striving. Grateful.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I had my first ever market experience as a seller at the Mapua Easter Fair recently. Towards the end of the day a chap came up and said ‘I just wanted you to know that out of all the stalls, your stall has been the stand out for me today. I love what you do!’ I was so stoked to have someone just ‘feel the need’ to say this to me.
What are you currently listening to?
Right this very moment I am listening to the theatrical soundtrack to Disney’s ‘Up’ via Spotify. I have an incredibly eclectic taste in music and when I’m creating I like to listen to music that takes me to a different place. As movie scores tend not to have words and can be quite dramatic they’re great for freeing the mind!
Recommend an album:
One Hot Minute by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This album and I have a lot of history together. It’s super funky, it’s sad, it’s funny, and I think I know just about every word to every song.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. It created an amazing sense of adventure in my mind. Everything that happened in the book seemed like something I could find myself doing with my mates during the holidays.
What are you reading now?
Right now I am reading The Burning Shore by Wilbur Smith. I like to find cool old books in the ‘Free Book Box’ outside the second hand bookshop in town. It’s a great way to find a good read as you never know what you will find!
Who is your hero/heroine?
My Dad. Over the years I have seen him repurpose all sorts of timber in to all sorts of things. I was with him when he rescued piles of timber off a beach after a boat went down, and I’ve watched him turn a stack of old wooden telegraph poles and ladders in to one of the most beautiful pergolas I’ve ever seen. He would often be trawling through demolition yards trying to find treasures. At one point he had most of the timber from an old church sitting under cover at the end of our garden. He has a quiet persistence about him as well as an amazing eye for detail. I definitely wouldn’t be as interested in repurposing pieces of wood had it not been for my Dad.
A favourite quote:
‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’ This comes straight from the 1987 movie The Princess Bride, pure old school awesomeness! I also like ‘Minds are like parachutes, they work best when they’re open’, but I don’t know who said that first.
Do you have any pets?
As far as actual pets go, we have a dog called Mosko who’s a loveable rogue. But then we also have our chooks, two ducks called Quackers and Ducky, and four goats called Simon, Penny, Stella and Gabby. We’re very fond of our animals and they almost all seem like pets sometimes.
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
I would be ‘The Glimpse!’ My superpower would be to have the ability to show someone in an instant the amount of good they do for the world and it’s inhabitants by purchasing something handmade over something mass produced.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
I don’t quite feel like I’m in the position to be giving advice, but if you’ve found something you can feel passionate about, and it puts a smile on your face, then there can be no harm in giving it a crack.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
My wife and I bought a handmade mounted fox’s head. It’s not a real fox head, but a cool cartoony replica made from felt. It sits happily in our lounge.
What’s in store for 2015?
My New Year’s resolution this year was to pursue my art work further and have a go at selling it. I’m now entering what I call ‘Phase 2′. I’ve sold a lot of my original work and it’s now time to look at how I can share my work with people in different ways. I am currently experimenting with printing my work and I’m really pleased with the results. Over the next few months I will start selling some limited edition prints of select works. I also have my first exhibition coming up at The Little Beehive Co-op in Nelson.
To see more of John’s unique artworks on upcycled timber, visit his Felt shop.
John has generously offered a prize for one lucky Felt blog reader: a beautiful giclée print of one of his works on timber, pictured below. This print features a detailed portrait of a tui and is one of John’s favourite creations so far. John tells us the original was on a very rough piece of timber from an old apple bin, from one of the orchards just down the road from his home. To win this print, leave a comment telling us what you like about John’s story and his art. The draw will be made on Friday 8 May and is open to New Zealand residents only.