‘Did you know that the French for “bears” is “ours”?’
Daniel Cowlam, Founder of studio Black Bear/White Bear is full of beautiful little insights. As well as charming petite observations, he’s also the maker of delightfully unique products, including: Jackalope Thaumatropes, Arbitrary Rulers, Crow Masks and Baboon Busts. With a true handmade spirit at its heart, Black Bear/White Bear is the kind of studio that makes objects people will treasure for a lifetime.
Daniel graduated from De Montfort University in 2005 with a B.A. in Fine Art, and formed Leicestershire-based Black Bear/White Bear in 2011. He works mainly with wood (all of which is recycled from industry offcuts), leather, clay and in print. Everything he makes is made by hand, even down to the polish on the jewellery, and with as little use of machinery as possible. Almost everything is made to order or in produced in very limited numbers.
We spoke to Daniel about how he came to set up his own studio, and why they strive to make all their products ‘by hand as simply and honestly as possible’.
You make all your products to order, is this an important part of the business?
Very much so. Everything I make for Ohh Deer comes with a “birthday card” so you know on which day it was made and that it was made just for you. I just find this a much more satisfying way to work. Some of my other products are made in limited editions, and some are complete one-off sculptures. When I first started BBWB my aim was to make unique objects, and to find some kind of link between the customer and maker. It’s nice to hold something and feel you can see the maker’s hand at work.
You make a huge variety of products, how do you come up with new ideas?
I’m quite interested in materials, and finding out how to work with them. Other than that, I really just cater to my own whims, which can be a little scattered. There’s very little method to it, I just generally become fixated on something and work on making it real. But I find that if you make things that you love then someone out there will understand what you’re doing and love them too.
What influences your work?
I’m really interested in history and the simple objects people make for their own use, so I visit a lot of museums. It’s nice to have a history of objects to borrow from but it’s usually the humble little objects that fascinate me. Probably everything I make is drawn from something that has been done before. I sometimes feel like I’m just trying to revive old ideas; I always feel satisfied if something I make has a timeless feel to it.
What’s your favourite Black Bear/White Bear product?
I carry the first whale pendant I ever made around with me always. I made it as a kind of lucky talisman and it’s been half way around the world with me since. It’s one of the simplest things I make but also the most charming. Also I make some slightly quirky Eskimo-style snow goggles which are always fun.
Who is your ideal customer?
I’m always quite touched that someone has chosen to own something I’ve made. There’s lots of stuff in the world, so it’s nice when someone chooses something you’ve put time into crafting. So my ideal customer is just anyone who will really treasure one of my objects.
What are your hopes for the future?
To keep making and finding new things to make.