Meet the Makers: William Barsley woodcarving

Helping students carve out a new creative passion is our absolute goal as a company. One Maker who is playing a fantastic role in assisting students to achieve this, is William Barsley, of Devon. William offers the most inspirational woodcarving workshops and has shared his creative journey with CraftCourses.


William Barsley, happy in his workshop
Q1. When and why did you start practicing your craft?

8 years ago I was inspired to have a career change and re-train as a woodcarver. I set off travelling the world documenting woodcarving, much like the old journeymen, travelling to learn their craft. I kept a blog and wrote for a couple of carving magazines. It was whilst on this journey, and meeting other carvers, I realised that I knew very little about English woodcarving. A quick search for courses led me to the renowned Historic Woodcarving and Gilding course at the City & Guilds of London Art School. This was a three-year full-time carving course that helped turn my hobby into a profession.

The workshop space

Q2. Tell us about your workshop space.  

I’m lucky to have a lovely workshop studio in Dartington, Devon. There are some wonderful craft workshops in the area, the famous Dartington Hall Estate and Cider Press is just a 10-minute walk away and the historic town of Totnes is only a 5-minute drive.

Q3. Tell us about your team. 

It’s just me and my workshop assistant – a.k.a. Phoebe the dog! She is asleep most of the time but enjoys chewing on the wooden offcuts.

Gorgeous Phoebe hard at work

Q4. What do students learn on your courses?

I offer a one and two day woodcarving course. My focus is all about teaching the fundamentals of woodcarving, so students can continue carving once they are home. Key skills such as how to sharpen chisels (blunt chisels are one of the most common causes of injury and demotivation in beginners), how to select the best wood for a project and the methods to carve safely and effectively. Students get a good understanding of relief carving (an effective method of adding detail to any surface) and go home with their very own carved flower or leaf. 

William achieves incredibly fine work

Q5. Describe a typical month as a Maker/tutor.

My job is very varied, which I love! I predominately work on a commission basis, which means I’m able to plan my work well in advance. Sometimes I can be drawing up a design for a client or being presented with a specific piece they want carving. I do a lot of restoration work, so you can often find me working on site at a historic house, which I really enjoy! In-between this I do carving courses on the weekend or during the week for those looking to do one-to-one sessions. 

A close-up of William in action

Q6. Do you craft in your spare time?

I’ve always got a carving project on the go in my spare time, whether it’s a birthday present for a family member or something experimental I’m trying. Besides this I’m keen to learn traditional willow weaving, to make garden sculptures.

Q7. What other craft/s do you love apart from that which you teach?

Part of my training was in gilding (gold leaf) and so, every now and again, I get a gilding commission or try to add it into a carving. It requires a lot of attention and focus, which I enjoy. The slightest exhale of breath can blow the delicate gold leaf all over the place!

A pop of colour and glitz in this stunning piece

Q8. Who is your biggest source of inspiration professionally?

It's a trip back in time for me! Medieval woodcarvers are my inspiration without a doubt. I find so much inspiration from old carvings. We are incredibly lucky in the UK to have such a rich heritage and wealth of sculpture in cathedrals and historic buildings. I find their style of carving bold and playful. A few years ago, I worked on the Houses of Parliament helping to restore the medieval roof of Westminster Hall, which has 26 gigantic carved angels. It was incredible just being up close to these carvings, let alone working to restore them. 

Carving is so much fun!!

Q9. What advice would you give to other people looking to teach their art?

My best advice is 'GO FOR IT!' If you’re passionate about your craft, I think people will always learn something from you, and hopefully come away feeling truly inspired. The only other essential element to teaching in-person is lots of tea/coffee and cake for your students, these can only inspire more creativity!

Q10. What is the funniest thing to ever happen on one of your courses?

We often have some free time at the end of the day if students have finished their work quickly. I encourage students to use the free time to carve a self-portrait. Whilst not always the most flattering portraits, these carvings often bring about the most laughs and it's such a fantastic challenge for beginners to the craft.

The tools of the trade

Well, we want to visit William's workshop, how about you?

Are you inspired to carve out a new creative passion? You can find more information about all of William's workshops right here and try them for yourselves! Use the 'chat with the Maker' button if you have any questions for William in advance of booking your place or click 'see available dates' if you're ready to proceed with your booking.

Want to join our Maker community?

Would you like to earn an income from your creative passion? You too can promote your craft workshops, online classes, craft kits & finished items through CraftCourses. It is totally free to sign up and add listings, we will only take a payment once we have secured you a booking or order. It's easy to do, please sign up and if you have any questions that we can help with don't hesitate to contact us. 

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