Next up on our Contemporary Dorset Makers series we speak with Bournemouth based calligraphy pen maker and designer Tom Gyr

Tom, we recently saw you exhibiting at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show as part of the artist studios showcase. What an achievement to be exhibiting at the London Design last year and now at RHS Chelsea Flower show. Did you envisage this when you first started?

In short, no! It’s been a bonkers 2 years.  I feel very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time and to have been offered a spot at these amazing shows.

All your pens are created from re-purposed or sustainably sourced products such as surfboards, wild flowers and even coffee cups. Tell us a bit more.

Recently, I have made a lot of pens from the beautiful native timbers that grow in and around Dorset.  I’m lucky enough to know an amazing woodsman who mills all his own timber from wood that’s been felled because it had to be, not just for commercial gain.

A selection of pens hand crafted using Dorset timber and resin

A selection of pens hand crafted using Dorset timber and resin

I also make my own – the latest is made from disposable coffee cups. The paper company GF Smith have found a way of separating the plastic from the paper and use the pulp to make a range of amazing paper.  I’ve found a way to cast the individual layers of paper, using an eco-resin to make solid block (which resembles wood) and then turn it on the lathe.

Studio pen created using resin and re-purposed coffee cups

Studio pen created using resin and re-purposed coffee cups

It is important to me promote sustainability and ethical design through my work, with the hope that larger companies will take note and minimise their use of plastics and think more long-term.

As well as creating your own designs, you are also commissioned to make bespoke pens for your customers – what is the most interesting piece you have made so far?

I was really pleased to be asked to make a pen with ‘will you marry me?’ etched onto the body.   It’s a fairly recent commission so I’m hoping the answer was yes!

As you mention in your film, your craft is driven by your wife Gemma’s professional calligraphy business gemmamilly.com.  It is fantastic to see you both thriving using such an old artform.

Gemma tell us more about your work:

I’ve been using calligraphy as my practice since I was 8 and feel really lucky to not only do it as my profession but also teach others this beautiful artform. I hold regular workshops throughout the year in Dorset  – find out more here.

Gemma instructing students at her calligraphy workshop

Gemma instructing students at her calligraphy workshop

Calligraphy has seen a massive resurgence, I think people are missing using their hands to make something tangible.  It also has the benefit of being a really mindful practice, you have to concentrate to make all the letterforms just so, and before you know it hours have passed!

Tom, what do you think of the contemporary craft scene across the UK?

The contemporary craft scene is thriving and I think conversely modern technology like smartphones and Instagram are responsible.  When I left university in 2008 after studying Furniture and Product Design, I started a business but had no way of showing off my products to a larger audience.  Thanks to Instagram I now have customers all over world and am able to show the day-to-day running of the studio.

A selection of calligraphy pens designed by Tom Gyr

A selection of calligraphy pens designed by Tom Gyr

Do you face any challenges as an emerging maker/artist either within the region or wider afield so far?

It’s a common problem but the sheer volume of work can be quite overwhelming, when I spend most of my time in the workshop it’s quite easy to let all of the day-to-day admin slip.  I’m now working with someone who is amazing at all the stuff that I’m useless at. It is an investment but I’m hoping it will free up my time to concentrate on what I’m good at.

A studio pen designed in collaboration with Tom Pigeon

A studio pen designed in collaboration with Tom Pigeon

Collaboration with my work is really important to building the business and pushing my design process. I have previously worked with Tom Pigeon to make a special edition pen (above) and Lily Kamper, who creates beautiful handmade jewellery, and I are working on a special edition range of pens based on her signature styles, which I’m really excited to launch soon.

So what’s next for Tom’s Studio?

I’d love to have a studio and shop which is similar to a restaurant setup. The idea being that customers could visit and sit at the ‘chefs table’ and choose their materials and see it being made in front of their eyes.

Thanks Tom! Find out more from Tom at tomsstudio.co.uk  and Gemma at gemmamilly.com

See more from our Contemporary Dorset Makers series with printmaker and illustrator Robin Mackenzie