State of Mind: Elise McLaughlan

Earlier this spring we visited the studio of Elise McLauchlan, a talented woodturner and furniture designer living in Vancouver by way of London. With a background in fashion and creating elaborate prop-driven window displays for clothing brands, Elise moved to Canada three years ago to set up her own studio where she creates her line of beautiful, sculptural, and useful hand-turned bowls, vessels, and home objects. Below we spoke with her about her current state of mind —her drive to create, how she dedicates time to chasing new ideas, and how she regards the ever-evolving practice of not being so damn hard on yourself.


Photos by Gillian Stevens 

When did you last look at the world in a different way? What perspectives were available to you – more possible – as a result? 

I moved to Canada from England three years ago and I often struggle with the concept of home. I feel a constant attachment to England and I’ve often been told that’s reflected in my work. I seem to feel the need to set myself the impossible task of making a finite decision on where to live which really limits my ability to live in the moment and enjoy my time without overanalyzing my surroundings. I had a conversation with my mum in a pub in East London where she reminded me she too has grown up in England but spent 10 years of her life in Canada, she’d had two children, bought a house, fully settled herself in Canada, but said she always knew she would return to England. It was in that moment I realized that I didn’t need to rush to make the decision [about where to be.] Now I feel like I have two homes. Pretty lucky, really.

Answers are hidden in plain sight. Tell us about a recent (re)discovery in your everyday.  

I often forget how beautiful my surroundings are here in Vancouver, especially through the winter or heavy rain fall months. We had our first signs of spring sandwiched in-between lots of rain so I decided to take my book down to the beach. I was amid an order that I was manically trying to complete yet it was comforting to know I have the ability to just pause— The rediscovery in my everyday life isn’t the beach, it’s the ability to stop working and relax!

“ The rediscovery in my everyday life isn’t the beach, it’s the ability to stop working and relax!”

What comes naturally to you? What do you find particularly challenging? 

I think I have a natural desire to make. When I’m pitched a new project it’s safe to assume I’m not thinking about much else until I have some ideas on paper. My prototyping process is somewhat unique, as I tend to use the end quality material; I like to keep all my prototypes even if they don’t work out so want to use a material that will last rather than scraps.

I’ll often come up with new ideas on the walk to my studio, which is pretty convenient because I can instantly bring them to life. It doesn’t matter how busy I am with orders, I will always find a way to slip it into my workload. It’s the part of the job I seriously enjoy so prioritizing it seems like a huge benefit of working for myself. My version of self-care!

On the other hand this also comes with its doubts — over analysis and comparison. I often seek out imperfections in my own work or work a piece into the ground with thinking that it isn’t quite right. It’s something I’m working on, or at least trying to find a way to use it to my advantage. I’m sure plenty of great ideas have stated with doubt.

What in your life have you recently made more simple? A way of asking questions or listening; a daily routine or a recipe; an approach to living?

I’m lucky enough to work with one material that alone makes things feel simple. Most of my work is made from Maple or Walnut and I now feel like I’m starting to know the ins and out of the two materials. I’m also currently reading a book called The Hidden life of Trees which is helping me understand the material in a different way. I believe the way to make your practice more simple is understanding the material you’re working with, how it will shape, warp, and what to do with the rough edges. Wood is a forgiving material, which makes it simple to work with…but having a deeper knowledge of how it will act in certain circumstances definitely makes my life a little simpler.

What in your life could use amplification? What do you wish to quiet?

Something I would like to amplify would be appreciation and actively acknowledging how fortunate I am to be using my hands and making every day. I think it’s important to remind myself of that to manage any complaining I might be prone to.

I would like to be able to manage disappointment better. Being in the studio brings its fair share of disappointment, when I chip a bowl at the last minute, drop a tray and crack the edge, reveal a knot in the bowl that cant be fixed or have a piece come flying off the lathe at my head. It’s a true challenge to be able to silence that disappointment…sometimes I think I should start a special shelf dedicated to the broken pieces. Maybe then I’ll learn to embrace the mistakes.

See more of Elise's work at

THE DOT HANKIE, Conch. PAINTER'S JUMPSUIT, Light Silk Linen, Earth.




THE DOT HANKIE, Conch. PAINTER'S JUMPSUIT, Light Silk Linen, Earth.




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