Inspired by Place: Georgian Bay
One of the biggest trends in handmade woodworking is epoxy pouring. There’s no question as to why; the results are always unique, there are endless possibilities, and they are consistently impressive. They make for great gifts or conversation pieces around the house. Lindsay Russell, the owner and artist behind Backwood Design Company, is creating some spectacular pieces so I reached out to learn more about her business and how she got started.
“I started woodworking by refinishing furniture – sanding, staining, finishing – that kind of stuff,” she explained. “It started as a hobby, then a side hustle, but then I was able to quit my job as an executive assistant after about nine months.”
She told her husband to give her until Christmas, and if she couldn’t make it, she’d go back to working a nine to five job. But everything worked out and not only does she work for herself, but she has a few part-timers working for her as well. She’s come a long way in just a few short years.
“My dad and brother are contractors, so they were the ones who taught me how to use the tools at first, but the real draw for me was the live edge river tables,” she explained. “When I started about five years ago, there were no resources to learn how to do it.”
And so she had to learn through trial and error, something that lead to her best-selling technique.
“I wanted to play with depth, create the look of deep water in these river tables, so I would experiment on scraps of wood,” she explained. “You use a blowtorch to get rid of bubbles and one day, my flame went out and I was handed a heat gun to use instead. It blended the colours in a completely new way.”
The results were like waves lapping up on the shore, a design reminiscent of the beaches of Georgian Bay, the place that Russell calls home. Georgian Bay is the northeastern arm of Lake Huron, in Ontario. It is known for its rugged bedrock and white pine forests to the north and sandy southern beaches.
Russell liked the look of the waves on the scrap wood so much that she stuck not only with the technique, but also the materials, launching a line of cutting boards, charcuterie boards, and wall art and named the collection after her inspiration, Georgian Bay.
Russell has a deep connection to place and the environment, factoring sustainability into her art and her business. She uses local woods such as cherry, walnut, and maple, all of which are harvested sustainably or salvaged. But regardless of how responsibly she procures the wood, she understands that wood is only a renewable resource if we make the effort to renew it.
“We plant a tree for every piece we sell,” she explained. “We want to make sure that these trees end up in our community: schools, hospitals, new homes.”
When I asked what wood was her favourite to work with, her answer was unexpected.
“I get some of the most beautiful results from spalted maple,” she explained. “When a tree gets moisture damage, it can get soft and unstable. Oftentimes, spalted wood goes to waste, but it has some really beautiful staining, so I learned how to stabilize it so I can create pieces that will last forever.”
I pointed out that this is an unusual choice of material. she agreed that it takes longer to work with and it can be a challenge, but the results are worth it and it sets her work apart.
“And ultimately, every piece of wood is different,” she said. “Every big project, I learn something new. You can’t force a piece of wood to do something it doesn’t want to do, so yeah, it takes a little more time and care to work with the spalted wood, but it comes out just as – or even more – beautiful.”
Most of the work she does are custom requests, but she makes an effort to add new pieces for sale to her website every two weeks because when the holiday season comes, she’s sold out of everything.
“One thing I love about this kind of work is that you don’t need to be an artist to get started,” she explained. “Or to appreciate it.”
Her work is undoubtedly easy to appreciate. Typically, the way that I end interviews is that I ask “is there anything that I didn’t ask, that I should have asked?” It’s a good way to tease out fun facts and interesting details that might not have come up in the conversation organically. Russell did not disappoint.
“Arlene Dickinson owns one of my boards,” she said, excited. “I think that’s pretty cool.”
And Dickinson isn’t the only famous Canadian to own a Backwood board. Construction TV star, Sherry Holmes, is a customer and so is country singer Brett Kissel. Unsurprisingly, Russell’s work can be found in homes across the country.