Dream Job: Driftwood Artist

Michael Fleming talks driftwood art

Forget everything you thought you knew about driftwood art (aka “glue gun and starfish”).

Maine-based artist Michael Fleming creates contemporary sculptures and art pieces from wood that has washed ashore. His work runs the gamut from functional rustic floor lamps to abstract wall pieces.

Michael sat down with us to dispel a few myths about working with driftwood and why (like us) he finds being near water so inspiring.

Why do you work with driftwood?

There's a story to driftwood from the time it grew from a tree to when it was thrown into the water by a human being or a natural storm. That's what I see in the wood. There's so much history in each piece. Certain pieces really show that history, in color, texture and form.

For me, to find a beautiful piece of wood and form that into something else and to put that into a home it just has such a great story. That's what I love about it.

Tell us a little about your art.

If I saw you on the street and you found out I made driftwood furniture and sculpture, you'd be expecting a glue gun and starfish. My vision for driftwood is… I'm just trying to really take it out of that cuteness and put it into a contemporary, modern form. You can put my art in any space, in a rustic cabin or an ultra-modern loft, and have it as a beautiful accent piece whether it's a bench, a bed or a sculpture.

How did you get into driftwood art?

From my travels. I traveled for 10, maybe 15 years around the world and I saw design concepts in all of these other countries. And while I traveled, I was also building furniture. Some of these were developing countries where there were no tools. Other times you only had a couple of tools, or you had to build your own tools from scratch, and from there I just got this simple, less-is-more idea, I saw these more organic forms and when I came home, I just got into creating driftwood art.

I live on the mid-coast of Maine and there's a beautiful supply here. I find a piece, dry it for a year, let it color naturally. I'll look at it as I'm working on other pieces and I'll get this fresh idea and then make something new.

So you harvest all your own driftwood?

Yeah, that's a big part of it all. I'll go up into the North country here, in the lake region, and I'll spend weeks on end and most of the time I'm by myself. I go down these logging roads for days and I go into these very remote areas and spend days in lakes and off-shore islands collecting certain pieces. 

What inspires your work?

Where I live inspires me. The weather changes so much here and I'm always out in the elements so that really inspires me. And design – I love design. I just love looking at what's happening in the design world from architecture to furniture and even in fashion, it's all related. And of course music.

What about the ocean?

I have to be near it and hear it and see it. It's basically the water that really inspires me and that's another reason why I love driftwood. It resembles water with the blue-mint color and being in the water is a big part of its life. It's all very connected. Everything in my work is very related to the ocean as well as lakes. Water's very important to me.

Is driftwood difficult to work with?

It’s difficult because you really have to be careful with the process, it can split and crack during drying.

I've been working with different types of wood, so I know the characteristics and the behavior of it. I don't find it difficult because I like the challenge of  trying to take this form and make it into something inspiring.

What else should we know?

My whole philosophy, as a whole, for furniture and the art of living is – it's not about comfort, it's about keeping a relationship with nature at the center of our experience.

That’s really what I love about what I do. When you're sitting in your room and you have this piece that I made, even if it's an ultra-modern place, you have this wonderful organic piece that smooths all the rough edges. 

To see more of Michael Fleming’s work, visit his website.

For another woodworking wunderkind, meet our MarkMaker Aleksandra Zee.