HackSpace magazine

Meet the Maker - Dan Morrison

By Andrew Gregory. Posted

Dan Morrison makes beautiful, beautiful things. We’re all used to having bits of wires sticking out the back of projects, or things working OK but not being quite finished, or constantly looking at something and thinking ‘I’ll do it better next time’. None of that for Dan Morrison, the brains and hands behind Blott Works. Everything he makes looks just right. He’s blended a mix of techniques and materials and come up with designs that are, at once, familiar and like nothing we’ve seen before.

“I started thinking of ideas for Blott Works about seven years ago. I’m in my mid–late 50s now, and I’ve done a few different things in my life. It had always been in the background, the creative angle, making things in different arenas."

“I was working on software development in London during my 30s, moved up to a small town in Yorkshire, and got a job as a funeral director."

Dan on the workshop lathe

“It was a pretty random move – I’d been in the middle of the dotcom boom of the 1990s. It was all pretty cutting edge – one day here, gone the next. I was approaching 40, having a great time in London, and it felt like the right time to settle down a bit. I moved up Yorkshire, carried on working in software, then saw an advert for a funeral director. I applied thinking I was never going to get it, and the next thing I knew I was a funeral director. “It was fantastic… You get to help people in a really practical way at the toughest time of their lives. In an hour or two, you can make things so much easier for people. People are traumatised, have no idea what to do, and we can just go in and talk them through it."

“After a few years, I started to think that it wasn’t going to be my forever job, and so then it was a question of ‘what do I do next?’. I spent a couple of years looking back at my life, at the things that I enjoyed, and tried to distil all those things into a job that would take me through to retirement and beyond. I asked myself: ‘What will I do when I retire?’ And the answer was that I’d probably set up a workshop and make things. I realised that I didn’t have to wait to retire – I just like to spend time in the workshop making things."

“So then I spent six months digging in the garden and making myself a workshop, and I took it from there."

“Originally I was going to start it with my friend Andy Plant, who’s a kinetic sculptor. Over the years he’s done a lot of big, town-centre kinetic clocks, and similar things at arts centres. And he’d always fancied making products to sell to the domestic market. We spent two years working together – this is when we were both full-time with other things, so it was evenings and weekends – and we designed a clock called pebble clock. It was a lovely two years; we worked really well together, designing this thing, working through the kink process, and getting bits cast and that kind of thing."

Pebble Clock

“I’m inspired by engineering architecture – typically classic cars, trains, boats, that sort of thing. I pull my sources from all over the place, but there’s always a mechanical structural essence to what I do."

“I’ve been working with Paul Parry. We’ve been following each other’s progress ever since, and collaborating more recently. I was a bit quicker to quit my job than Paul was, perhaps a bit more gung-ho about it, and it’s been interesting watching the two processes side by side. The big difference between our work is that everything I make is from scratch, from raw materials, so I don’t really recycle or upcycle things. I wish I did a bit, because it looks like a lot of fun. I quite like starting from scratch."

“I cast concrete things. The pebble clock [for example] is very round, bulbous – that’s cast at our local foundry just down the road from here. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting them. I made the patterns, and they cast the aluminium, then they get it all cleaned up. I would love to cast aluminium; I’ve thought long and hard about it, but I haven’t got round to it yet."

“My strength is that I’m not an expert in anything in particular, but I can apply myself to pretty much anything. I look at something and think: ‘I could probably do that.’ In my work, I do a lot of different things – I do woodwork, metalwork, I’ve got a lathe, I do concreting and various bits, but with some skills, it is best to take them to the experts."

“I tend to start with an idea for movement, like a gear linkage for example; something that will produce a bit of character or do a job. Then I work it and work it, sketch it up. I use Fusion 360 a lot now, which is fantastic. Quite quickly, things take on a personality; I find that very mechanistic things, the more I work them, the more they gain an organic feel to them."

“The combination of the oak and the concrete – the oak softens it, then the concrete will ground it and give it a certain grittiness. Then you’ve got the more precise metal shapes, the bits and pieces that give the work its form. Stainless steel fittings and a bit of brass to warm it all up, and getting that balance right is really important. Too much wood and it looks wrong; too much brass and it’s going look blingy. Balancing those four or five elements is a big part of what I do. It’s quite mechanical, industrial, but it’s also got a personality to it.”