Woodworking in America: Richie Robinson

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We are interviewing producers from all 50 states. Today we introduce Richie Robinson, a college student from Hawaii.

How did you start working with wood? Who were your mentors?
I don’t remember exactly how I started, although since I was a child I have always enjoyed creating with my own hands (I loved making origami when I lived in Okinawa). I have always enjoyed being familiar with any creative process I do. Growing up I learned new means and ways to create these amazing creations that I could imagine in my head. I have learned to create what I had once only imagined now with new forms of media such as wood.

I am currently getting my Ph.D. in architecture. However, when I began my academic journey, I wasn’t sure where architecture would lead me. In fact, I was originally going to study engineering. Yet I was attracted to Architecture because I loved creating tangible objects. Fortunately, when I started studying architecture, my professors continued to encourage me to always do my best and pushed me to improve my art. If it weren’t for them, maybe I would have moved on to engineering after all.

I am grateful that I have many people who I would consider mentors. However, there are a few that stand out. They guided me to become a better architect and craftsman.

Steve Hill, Hyoung-June Park and Hongtao Zhou have helped me grow so much over the years and I am very grateful for that.

Steve is a faculty member who works at the School of Architecture’s fabrication workshop, where he teaches students how to safely use woodworking tools.

Hyoung-June Park is currently my president of the D.arch (doctor of architecture) and has always found a way to push my creative ideas and help me solve the design problems I have.

Hongtao Zhou is a professor who first invited me to participate in the Tongji International Cardboard Competition in Shanghai China in 2016, where the University of Hawaii took home the 3rd prize. Hongtao specializes in fabrication and sculpture and has always invited his students to explore our creative thoughts.

The crane

What do you think is your best or favorite job? What kind of work do you do the most?

Last year I tried to limit the amount of time I can physically spend in the wood shop. While at home, I took the opportunity to try something new with my woodworking. I wanted to prevent burnout when I finished my PhD thesis and woodworking allowed me to manage my stress and be creative. I wanted to try to create a more decorative art style and smaller functional pieces. The style I use involves stacking and layering pieces of wood to create a shape with depth.

I created @ r_3_creations to showcase my work and help me with my creative goals. One day I asked for some ideas on an Instagram story and someone suggested “Crane + Sakura”. From there I let my imagination take over. I created this piece without focusing too much on the layers or depth. Instead, I wanted to focus on form and color, allowing the overall shape of the piece to paint a story for the viewer. What was really surprising was that the woman who suggested the “Crane + Sakura” ended up loving the piece and wanting to buy it. Coincidentally, I happened to create a piece that mirrored a tattoo he had of the same subject.

This piece was made because I wanted to create something that was reusable and sustainable. Every week my family and I get coffee from a local coffee shop and always get one of those recyclable trays that dissolve if they get too wet and if we keep it dry, we almost always forget to bring it back for reuse. The reusable stand I made should be a combination of sustainable and practical because it can be taken apart and reassembled and stored in a small carrying case.

This piece was originally a gift, and it was the first piece of this kind of depth that I made. After making this piece I decided that I would try to make all the Chinese zodiac animals and make them all in a similar style. From this piece I expanded the creation of layered wood art pieces from home with the limited number of tools I had available.

What advice would you give to those who want to start woodworking or take it up as a profession?
Always take the opportunity to document your work and if something doesn’t work as you imagined it, take it as a learning moment to understand how you can improve it next time! Take it all as a learning experience.

As my dissertation president always says “Hard Work Never Fails”.

What’s your best practical advice or woodworking technique?
Paper is a great way to prototype ideas, whether it’s creating something on a smaller scale with paper or if you’re making a 3D drawing of an image in your head! Make the first step easier, seeing things on paper can make it easier to plan and manage things rather than keeping them all in your head space. Paper is easier to replace than reworking and replacing a whole piece of wood.

Is there anyone you would like to shout out or would you recommend following? Who inspires you? (It doesn’t even have to be related to woodworking.)
Someone graduated from my program a few years ago named Joey Valenti, who did his thesis on removing Albizia trees, which are invasive to Hawaii, and replaced them with local species. Part of his dissertation was to use timber from Albizia trees to build a prototype of an indigenous Pacific Island-inspired design of a 400-square-foot pavilion.

His prototype is called “Lika” and is on display at the campus of the University of Hawaii in Manoa. To see more about her project or what she is doing now, check out her Instagram: @albiziaproject

See more of Richie’s work on Instagram @ _r3_concepts.

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