Creating the extraordinary: When high quality art meets technology

How one art studio is successfully combining traditional craftsmanship with computerised robotics to create objects of beauty

Thursday 28 October 2021 15:13
<p>Gareth Neal collaborates with some of the UK’s top craftspeople </p>

Gareth Neal collaborates with some of the UK’s top craftspeople

As the colder months kick in and we approach the festive season, this time often acts as a reminder of just how quickly the years roll on. The last year, blended with the uncertainty of lockdowns, has certainly flown by. Yet in that time, something has shifted. A new way of life seems to have emerged from the ashes of the pandemic, encouraging us to take notice of the detail in our surroundings and care about the products we invest in. With that consciousness has come a hunger for quality in a way we haven’t seen for many years. It seems throwaway culture is collapsing, and in its place grows a desire for a more sustainable way of life.

It is with this ethic that Gareth Neal runs his art and craft studio in East London. A trained cabinet maker with a wealth of experience at hand-making crafts, he began experimenting with digital technology design in the nineties. Fast-forward almost thirty-years and the Gareth Neal Studio is now hailed for its beautiful art pieces and sustainably produced furniture, all of which exude both originality, precision and care.

Gareth Neal’s East London studio is where his craftwork comes alive

“We create objects with soul, for people to keep and cherish for their lifetime – and hopefully pass on to others,” explains Gareth. “Objects that, in theory, will never break – that are built to last. Things that are truly modern but have a little bit of tradition attached. Objects that you want to touch and feel.”

Such pride of work comes with the knowledge that the materials used – whether it be for artwork or furniture – are environmentally sound. In fact, Gareth ensures that only UK-sourced timbers – typically English Oak or Ash – are used. Meanwhile, much of the artwork is created from either waste or offcuts to reduce carbon production, an example of which is Gareth’s latest self-described “brutalist” collection of simple, minimalist furniture made from tree crowns and stumps.

The ‘Off Cuts’ collection, made with tree crowns and stumps

“It’s only through my knowledge of hand making furniture and many years of experience using traditional techniques that I have been able to harness what I’ve learned within the digital realm,” shares Gareth. “Technology provides another tool in the armoury of a cabinet maker or craftsman – to make things in a way we have never made them before. It can create accuracy of form and precision of execution in a way the hand can’t always achieve. So it not only supports my craft but also enhance the objects I make.”

Of course, collaborating with some of the UK’s finest craftspeople is another reason for the studio’s success. Among them are embroidery and braiding expert, Aimee Betts, who creates intricate cupboard designs, while Orkney-based straw worker Kevin Gould creates beautiful, modern-meets-rustic chairs using traditional techniques. Elsewhere, Bill Amberg is their leather specialist, while Annemarie O’Sullivan, tends to the weaving of the willow. Each an expert in their own field, “the pieces simply wouldn’t be what they are without them,” acknowledges Gareth.

Stitched sideboard created by Gareth Neal and Aimee Betts

Finally, there is the ethos behind it all. ‘People, process, place’ are the three pillars of creation that has built a business based on originality and respect. “I just believe that if we think more deeply about the people who make the objects, and the processes that we use, and the environment, it will be much better for the world,” confides Gareth. “If one of my projects adheres to all three, then I know I have designed it correctly.”

Much like Gareth Neal, The Macallan also take great pride in high-quality British manufacturing, combining the finest ingredients and a sustainable production process to create a whisky of outstanding quality and distinctive character. The Macallan Double Cask range is available in The Whisky Exchange, The Whisky Shop, Waitrose and other premium retailers. Find out more at