Engraver Castro Smith finds inspiration in his favourite bookshop
Castro Smith is an engraver who apprenticed at Rebus in Hatton Garden before travelling to Japan to hone his craft with metal-working master Kenji Io. He uses the ancient technique of seal engraving, incorporating European and Japanese processes to produce a cross-fertilisation of styles.
A hole-and-corner is an old English term meaning a secret place: somewhere you go to escape the world, to be inspired and to contemplate and create. Your everyday world within your studio is physically quite small – there are three of you working in here! Where is your hole-and-corner?
Barter Books in Northumberland. It’s the best book shop in the world. You can sit and have a bacon sandwich while you read, draw by the fire replace and get inspired by all the old printed books. I go there when I need some inspiration and research. The project I am working on right now is a large scale, hand-engraved vessel, exploring the creative journey of a product. I spent a day at Barter Books in search of reference material. My favourite thing there is the old printed book bindings they have – really nice foil embossed edgings – and the old antique illustrated books. They have a huge collection. And they have lots of maps too. Although the bowl started its journey in Japan, I will be tracing its journey across the North Sea, the stretch of water that connects the UK to Holland. The project is a commission from Ketel One Vodka distillery, which is based in Schiedam, where the docks were so important as a trade route to the rest of the world, and for bringing in craftsmen and techniques from different countries. I am fascinated by the way craft is tied to geography; the way it originates in one country but travels around the world, shaping and evolving other cultures and practices. The engraving will represent the international aspects of the project, the bringing together of craftsman, cultures and skills from overseas.
Can you explain why Barter Books is so special to you?
It’s close to home. . .where the heart is, in Newcastle. And I have great memories of trading in books for another book I’d spend the day looking for. You’re stepping back in time a little in that place. You’re not using the internet to find things, this is finding information as an action. You have to sift through a lot before you get what you want. You take a risk in terms of things catching your eye, and unlike an online search, you don’t know where it’s going to take you. There’s a little train track that runs around the books because it’s in an old train station. It’s run by train enthusiasts who wanted the station to be reinstated but instead they use it as a bookshop. The reason it’s called Barter Books is you can trade in your books there. It’s all secondhand, lots of unique, handprinted imprints and first editions.
Is it important to you to have somewhere to escape from the hustle and bustle of life?
Yes, and it’s definitely my workshop at the Sarabande Foundation. There’s always something to make or engrave, and if I get tired of my own company, I can speak to the other craftsmen there, have a cuppa. My workshop is private, but I often have clients who come and talk through the ideas for their engravings and some visiting craftsmen spend a bit of time in there.
What elements do you think make a perfect ‘hole-and-corner’?
Something that’s the best kept secret. You’re not the only one in on it – and it’s all the strange locals who’ve found it too.
Is it private to you or do you let other people visit?
Barter Books is public, but you have to be in the know. I mostly go on my own. I usually spend many hours there at a time, there’s coffee and cakes you can help yourself to, and I usually eat them by the fire. There are loads of little rooms you can go in to study. It’s like a mini Harry Potter Ministry of Magic, with all the green tiles.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
‘Never look too close – you can spend an eternity in the details’…and that piece of advice has saved me so many hours of engraving. There’s a point where you have to stop and not look any closer.
Sarabande x London Craft Week: ‘A Ketel Boiling with Ideas’, featuring the Ketel One commissions by Castro Smith and Esna Su, will be on display at Sarabande Foundation from 8-12 May.