Carving out creative time

Harvard and Yale alumnus, Craig Woehrle, is a certified smart guy who knows a thing or two about the material world. From his time as a Surface Lab lead designer, to the development of his very own collection of sophisticated 3D textured patterns for decorative wall cladding, Craig has spent years honing his focus in parametric systems and digital fabrication. Drawing inspiration from his studio’s view of the Salish Sea… this surfacing savant often applies the qualities of water, such as movement and repetition, to his ever-evolving craft!



What are some surprising places you look for inspiration?

This may or may not be surprising but I draw a lot of inspiration from the many qualities of water. We focused a lot on patterns of flow in landscape school so it’s a blessing that my studio overlooks the Salish Sea. I’ve been here for 4 years and I’m still finding new patterns in the water to inspire my design work.

Have you been experimenting with new forms in your practice (materials)?

Recently I’ve been exploring the efficiencies of casting high performance concrete. This is a departure from the modes of thinking and working that produce morphological patterns that one might cut from MDF, or solid surface. Can I achieve the appearance of non-repeatability in a design, composed of repeating parts? This is my concrete question.

What do you feel is the biggest block to your creativity?

The necessary disruptions of running a small business without a cadre of employees. There are a lot of gears to cycle through in an effort to stay up on everything from estimating projects to purchasing consumables and maintaining machines to scheduling freight and paying taxes. Most of these tasks are incompatible with my creative activity. I’d imagine this is common but suppose it could be a peculiarity to the way I’m wired.

Any advice to offer creatives who are looking for more happiness in their day-to-day?

Honor your creativity in at least these two ways:

  1. Carve out time- Be able to look forward, each day, to creative time without distractions that knock you out of this relaxed state of mind.
  2. Produce something- The initial product might be as seemingly insignificant as a dated sketchbook entry of thoughts that bubble up during your creative time. I’ve found that validating these ideas by recording them increases creative thoughts outside of that dedicated time, so I keep a sketchbook and favorite couple pens on me most of the time. It’s fun to look back through decades of your own ideas. Often, the ideas in these sketches find their way into the real world in some way, whether it’s a carved wall composition or a fire pit seating area in the yard.

Who do you feel you have learned the most from, so far in your career?

A 70 year old friend and mentor of sorts. He’s a 2nd generation tool and die maker and brilliant inventor. He has dozens of patents including a genius reconceptualization of the combustion engine that could very well change the world. With all that he has going on, he’s been kind enough to help set up my shop and machines. He’s a veritable Wikipedia of machining and material knowledge. I don’t know where Patternine would be without his help. Do I want to name names?

What is one material you think is really underrated?

This might sound pandering, but I absolutely love solid surface. From it’s invention in the 50’s through the 90’s it’s been known and used primarily as a residential countertop material. We have a mid-century home, designed in the early 60’s and it’s all over the place, here. There are new, better materials, if that’s all you want to do with it. Sinterized porcelain, and engineered stone hold up better but they can’t do the backflips that solid surface can. Solid surface is the only building material that I know of that can be easily carved, thermoformed, invisibly seamed AND lit from behind. It’s amazing stuff.

Who is the best in the game right now?

I don’t think I could name one person, but the design schools seem to be producing better and better pattern and flow work from their students.

Where do you think the design industry still has room to grow?

Mass customization of decorative elements from custom patterned walls with CNC routers to bespoke carpeting and textiles with CNC looms. It’s being done but I think there is lots of room to grow.