Leszek became a member of Design-Nation recently. He will be exhibiting in The Future of Craft at Bargehouse during London Craft Week and will also be demonstrating his skills at this major event in May. We managed to catch up with him to ask a few questions.
Design-Nation asked: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.
Leszek Sikon answered: I started to work as a full-time blacksmith straight after I finished my degree at Hereford College of Arts; I was lucky enough that my friends from Kingdom Forge were willing to share their workshop with me.
D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?
L.S: Hard question, I think Delyth Done from Hereford College had the most influence on me. She accepted me on to the course and guided me through the amazing 3 years at college, she has an incredible love for the craft and creates amazing opportunities for students. Also, the tutors that run the forge sessions were incredibly helpful: Adrian Legge, Ambrose Burne, Peter Smith and others have an amazing wealth of knowledge and experience. Since all of them still run their own forges we get to know not only the techniques but also the reality of running a blacksmith company in the 21st century.
D-N: What inspires you?
L.S: I draw most of my inspiration from history; I love to read about past events, get to know what drove people to act as they did and what they did both on the grand scale and in their personal lives. We take for granted how far we have come as a society, but also I think we would be able to avoid many of our mistakes if the general knowledge of history would be better.
D-N: Please tell us a bit about your design process.
L.S: It usually starts with a quote from a book or an item I have found, that I find fascinating, I would start to research more about it. Best example would be my “Shell Tools”. I was listening to a podcast about the First World War and found that many of the weapons were made by smelting down any available steel, fences, church bells etc. I found out later when I was talking with Józef Kułak, a 86year old master blacksmith, that because good steel was so scarce after the war they had to use any scrap available to make tools needed to rebuild after the war.
D-N: What is the best thing to have happened in your business to date?
L.S: I think my last year tax review that stated that I ended the year in the black. But seriously there are many events that have helped me but if I had to choose one it would be the “Forge” touring exhibition organized by Delyth Done. It was a big deal for me, I had not even finished college and my work was already exhibited all around the world, which really gave me the confidence boost I needed.
D-N: What is your workspace like?
L.S: It’s a big workshop that I share with Paul Stoddart and Elliot Harrison from Kingdom Forge, filled with old equipment that guys have salvaged from being scrapped. It’s quite dusty and extremely loud when all the power hammers and grinders are on. But it’s a place that I love to be in.
D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do others help you to market your business?
L.S: I’m lucky enough that my sister is a graphic designer and her help with the website, branding and social media is invaluable, still, I do as much of the day to day work myself.
D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?
L.S: I guess like with most of the craft practices it is finding the customer; not everyone is prepared to pay my prices. Also finding the right workspace is crucial, a blacksmith workshop requires a lot of space and equipment.
D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?
L.S: I would like to start employing other people so I can help to train a new generation of a blacksmiths and also so I can concentrate on design.
D-N: If you could collaborate with someone new who would that be?
L.S: I would love to work with a woodworker, I think I need to improve my skills when it comes to my wood handles.
D-N: If you weren’t a designer what would you like to do?
L.S: I would probably still be burning out working as a manager in retail, this was my previous job before I decided to quit it and become a blacksmith.
D-N: Why did you join Design-Nation? What is helpful about being a member?
L.S: I am looking for a way to find opportunities to show off my work, and doing it alone is quite hard. DN is extremely good at finding them.
D-N: Do you have you any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that we should know about?
L.S: At the moment you can see my work at Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters at Harewood House as part of the Harewood Biennial, next month I will be taking part in London Craft Week with other members of DN.