We’ve been big fans of Sean Woolsey’s extremely technical woodwork and free spirited artwork for some time now. Everything is constructed by his own two hands and you can see in his face the joy it brings him.
He was kind enough to let us spend the day in his Costa Mesa, California studio and talk about his process as an artist and creative.
We’re really big fans of your artwork and woodworking at Trumaker. Could you tell us how you got your start with both?
Yeah! So, art wise, I’ve been doing art pretty much for as long as I can remember. I grew up making art, my mom made art, and my dad made stain glass lamps for years. He’s been one of, if not the biggest, influences on my life creatively. So, I grew up making things like skateboard ramps, toys, and all kinds of different things. Creativity has always been the through line to what I’m doing as a profession.
So, I had my own apparel company for four years, then I worked for an action sports company for two years, and then I left the action sports world about six years ago. The reason behind leaving was mostly to make things with my hands again. When I was working there, for the last couple of years I felt very detached from the physical product I was making and I wanted to get back to actually making things with my hands like I was doing when I was sewing and seeing the tangible results of your work.
So I left there six years ago and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do, but I just went for it and had a studio space that I shared with five friends. I was really the only one that was working full-time in there; the others were more midnight projects. I was mostly painting at the time and then slowly transitioned into wood working out of necessity, but also just as giving gifts to people…and I guess it still kind of is that.
All the designs I make now are things I would want in my own house, so there all projects I want to be doing. And that’s really the backbone of what I do, it’s very human. So, that’s the short answer.
As far as your process with art and woodworking, is there a difference in how you work on both?
Yes. Woodworking is very calculated and very precise. There are steps involved that you can’t stray away from. It’s just a more rigid framework of how things are once you physically begin working on something. D
esign wise, you can make something look really crazy on a computer, but trying to figure that out in 3D real world scenarios is kind of tricky, especially with a lot of the bases we do since they’re some of the most complex things out there.
Basically, what I’m getting at is the woodworking fulfills a desire to see something go from start to finish in its entirety. Everything is done within a 20 mile radius from my workshop. I personally do all the woodwork and the metal fabrication and powder coating is all done very close to here. And I’m really close friends with everyone we interact with, so I get to be apart of each step.
The furniture is fun and evolved into a line of products that we design and sell, while the other portion is a little more one off stuff like building out retail stores.
The artwork is what I call “Problem Creation.” Furniture design is “problem solving,” you’re always trying to figure out how to tackle different problems. Art for me is just asking myself, “How do I let it all go?” It’s letting whatever is naturally going through my brain out on whatever medium I choose to work on.
One series I worked on was all on sheet metal and was inspired by the land. My wife and I traveled through America three summers ago in a van and I started taking a bunch of photos. So the sheet metal are all inspired by nature on land. The copper series is the latest one and that’s all inspired by the ocean. So, I did another trip that fueled that series.
So would you say nature is a heavy influence on all your work?
Definitely, but it’s more than nature itself. It’s more like the romance I have with the ocean. It holds so much power, like, it could literally kill you, but it’s so peaceful at the same time. So, it’s these emotional qualities that simply sums up what these things mean to me, but in a tactile thing.
Did you teach yourself how to make furniture?
No, not at the beginning. I apprenticed for a woodworker for a bit and then took a few classes. After learning the essentials, I taught myself a lot of things too.
What has been the most fulfilling project you’ve done?
You know, my gut is to say that I haven’t done it yet. There’s nothing that comes immediately to mind. Right now, I love the interaction with my customers. I make furniture that I sell directly to the consumer, so there’s no middleman. For the most part, I get to talk and communicate and often become friends with the people who actually buy my stuff. So that’s something that has meant a lot to me and something that I love about what I do.
But someday I want to build my own house, so that will probably be the most fulfilling once I’ve done that. There are smaller things that I had a lot of fun doing, like building a pizza oven in my backyard. It’s an earth oven made from the over with firebricks.
What was the best advice you were ever given?
When I left my last job six years ago, I had no idea what I was going to do. I had this idea that I wanted to make a coffee table book. I was hugely inspired by creative that forged their own path, whether it was fine art, or architecture, or fashion design, or woodworking. So I began to travel around and interview these people, because I also secretly really wanted to know, “how do I make this possible?”
So I went out and interviewed a lot of people and one of them was Alex Beard, Peter Beard’s nephew. So I sat with him and asked, “What does it take to be a successful artist?” And without hesitation, he said, “No Plan B. You cannot have a Plan B.” That literally sent chills through my whole body. And it really is true.
We live in a time where people want things instantly. We want success and instant gratification, but what I’ve learned is that through everything you need to be super dedicated because it’s really hard. It’s hard doing your own thing. Sometimes you crave the 9-5, but at the end of the day, nothing is more rewarding.
What was the worst advice ever given to you?
You know, I was lucky enough not to get too much bad advice. Nothing really comes to mind because I don’t think I ever took advice, haha.
What advice would you give to people?
The advice that I live by was said by Mark Twain:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Favorite thing to do in Costa Mesa?
Surfing, for sure. I grew up surfing, it’s a huge joy to me.
Favorite places to travel?
Japan, Bali, Vietnam, Nicaragua, eastern Sierras.
Besides your professional work, what do you have a passion for?
The outdoors, photography, surfing, and of course table tennis.
All photos taken by Cara Robbins