Studio Tour: Sean Woolsey

by Maxwell Tielman

Photographs by Bethany Nauert

I always get excited when we run a studio tour—it’s wonderful to be able to take a look into the creative process behind some of our favorite artists, designers, and craftsmen. Today’s tour of California-based artist Sean Woolsey’s workspace is a little bit special, because his work spans across both sides of the art/design spectrum. On one hand, Woolsey’s beautiful multi-media pieces display an eagerness to experiment, a willingness to lose control, and a kinship with the unpredictability of nature. His furniture designs on the other hand, seem to enrich an altogether different side of his mind—they are still celebrations of nature and material, but in a much more straightforward, oftentimes exacting way. “Furniture is problem solving,” Woolsey notes. “It is very precise, mathematical and involved. Art is problem creation. It is free flowing, organic, messy, emotional, and enigmatic. I like both of them for different reasons at different times.” Whether solving problems or creating them, Woolsey seems to have struck a wonderful balance in his creative life and his workspace is a lovely illustration of this. Check out all of the photos plus a special interview with Sean Woolsey after the jump! —Max


Above image: One of Sean’s paintings.


Your work, while rooted in more traditional types of art, seems extremely unique. It relies heavily on chance, external forces, and what appears to be the “will” of your chosen media. Please describe your art and your process. What has drawn you to this form of production?

Thanks. It has taken me years to develop my materials, palette, and signature art style. I use sheet metal, paints, patinas, water based acids, resin, black walnut, and a few other ingredients to create these pieces. My art employs natural chemical reactions to change and enhance the materials. Though I guide this process, the outcome is somewhat uncontrolled and happily unpredictable. I am challenged by the process as I add movement, certain colors and spacial patterns based on nature. Every piece is inspired by the natural world.

You recently came back from a cross-country trip by van, something that, according to you, has had a huge impact on your work. How have the things you saw and took with you across your travels influenced your creative process?

Yes, last summer my wife and I took a large trip in a Westfalia van across the US and back. I never realized how much nature had an impact on my life and work. I greatly value the outdoors: the sights, the smells, the wind, the stars, the people you meet. I also was able to see places I have only dreamed of seeing/visiting: Wharton Esherick and George Nakashima’s houses, Falling Water, Yellowstone, the Catskills, etc. It definitely was a culmination of what I saw and experienced over this trip that more than ever instilled the desire for me to really be an artist, and to love the process of creating. More than anything, I try to be inspired by the journey from the place that I am at and the place that I want to be.


Above image: “A bit of inspiration, along with some walnut slabs that were blown down in Pennsylvania by hurricane Sandy, that I will be making furniture and cutting boards from.”


Above image: “Wood is everywhere, usually tucked into any corner that I can fit it in.”

Along with your travels, a sense of place seems to have an importance place within your work. How have your surroundings, geographically and culturally influenced how you create art?

That is a great question. Surroundings do very much impact my art. I want the inspiration to be even more a part of the story. Going forward I will have an accompanying photograph connected with each to each piece (whether taken by me or a collaboration with a photographer). Each piece of art will be sold with this inspiration photograph, to define my perspective as to where I was, and what galvanized the direction of the piece.

On your website, you mention inheriting your great-grandmother’s art supplies and how it has imparted a sense of history into your process. You seem to be thoroughly immersed in the experience of making art, almost as if this experience contains a work of art in itself. How, then, would you like for viewers to engage with your finished pieces? Is there anything specific that you’re trying to communicate, or is each person meant to bring with them their own associations?

I have an affinity for old tools, and luckily have a lineage of artists who came before me. My great grandmother was a painter and I still use many of her brushes from almost a century ago. I inherited tools from my grandfather, and my dad was a photographer and stained glass artist. I have learned from each of them, and use tools to this day that each of them have given me.

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What are your creative toolbox essentials? What sort of items are integral to your process?

Starting with an organized space (does not last long), music, some sort of plan of attack, and lots of coffee. As for the tools, it totally depends on the project.

What sorts of artists are inspiring you right now?

Always influenced and amazed by the work of: Robert Rauschenberg, Dieter Rams, Wharton Esherick, Sam Maloof and George Nakashima.

My friends constantly push and inspiring the work that I do as well: Stephen Kenn, Eric Trine, Chris Earl, Justin Bauer and Neil Harrison.

When do you feel the most creative?

Generally, when I am working the most. I find rhythm and my ideas just flow. Secondly, when I really step back from my work, and have a totally different lens to look through.

Describe your perfect home.

Timber beams, large windows, pocket doors, natural lighting, concrete, steel, hardwood, large rugs, a dog and my wife, somewhere between rolling hills or in the mountains. The perfect home for me is the home I build and the community surrounding it.


Above image: “These are some stools I make from black walnut and maple, along with some cutting boards.”


Above image: “This is the loft overlooking the studio: where I read, sketch, and take breaks under the natural light.”

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Above image: “Various tools and finishes. The 3 planes in the middle I bought off of a local boat builder, which he made years ago.” 

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Above image: “Some of the brushes my great grandmother used, still getting used today.”

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