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Storied Walnuts The Story of Chantal Pitts' Outsideleft Short Story Competition Trophies

Storied Walnuts

The Story of Chantal Pitts' Outsideleft Short Story Competition Trophies

by Chantal, Art & Design Editor
first published: March, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

"I'm happy with the results. I'm glad people like them." - Chantal Pitts

Of all of the things we enjoyed in 2022, our first annual short story competition was a weird and thrilling ride. First of all we had no experience in setting up the type of competition where we actually asked anything of our readers, or as Tim London wrote, while crafting the competition guidelines, “Every week OUTSIDELEFT tells the stories of art and culture that mean something to our writers. Now we are encouraging you to write something for us!” In launching the competition our initial worry was, what if you throw a party and nobody comes… 

In the end, we were happily inundated with stories. Great stories. The winning entry came from Callum McDonald with his story Alice, and the close runners up came from Harriet Bradshaw with Always April; and Claire Griffiths, with her story Man on a Bridge.

There were prizes! We looked down the sides of the sofa cushions and found a small amount of spare change to send to the winner. Meanwhile we commissioned winners’ and runners up trophies from the acclaimed artist Chantal Pitts. Chantal creates a lot of her work in wood and is so accomplished that she was a contestant on a Channel 4 Britain’s Greatest Woodworker show in 2021. Harriet described her trophy as “unique and beautifully made!” Here’s Chantal’s story of how the trophies happened. 

“Outsideleft pretty much gave me carte blanche to do whatever I thought would fit. That’s their brief! I decided to use spare walnut offcuts from my screens…” begins Chantal.

(Chantal’s screens are around 2m high, amazing heavy walnut furniture room divider structures)

“I'd bought the wood with a £300 grant I'd been awarded in about 2008 for a college project. I’d kept all the unused and leftover walnut. It just felt like the perfect, solid material to complement the theme of the competition which was concrete.”

“I carved the details with a combination of chisels and a Dremel. Using different 'bits' (tool attachments) to either carve or sand. The lines of the 'paper' were a serendipitous texture created by a very course sandpaper attachment on the Dremel that I'd used to shape the recess for the pages. The open book for the winner's trophy took more time to shape as I had to carve deep into the wood to make the pages appear more realistic.” 

“My chisels are quite old and well used and I had to spend time sharpening them to achieve the required sharpness to be able to carve enough wood away. (Note to self - I must get my chisels sharpened properly before my next project). This was followed by much sanding to smooth out the surface.”

“I designed the book covers in Adobe Illustrator, using a couple of old books for inspiration. I had an idea for the process. I then reversed the text and printed onto greaseproof paper on my printer. This took a while as the images often came out smudged and I had to keep repeating the printing until I got an un-smudged print. I placed the print quickly onto the wood. I was off centre a couple of times and had to lightly sand the print off and reprint.” 


“I had intended to simply varnish over the print, but worried the text may get distorted by the varnish and decided to try pyrography, burn the text into the wood. This went very well, tracing the printed text with the wood-burning iron. I was very happy with the result, thankfully as if I had made a mistake, a light sanding wouldn't have easily corrected an error.“


“I finished the books off with a coating of danish oil. I was deliberating if to use varnish as this would leave the wood lighter in colour, but I can't resist the richness and warmth that danish oil on walnut provides. It was a risk though, as it could have turned out too dark to read the lettering, but I'm happy with the results. I’m glad people like them.”


Essential Info
The 2022 Outsideleft Short Story Competition starts here
Chantal at Outsideleft

Art & Design Editor

Art & Design editor, Chantal does the important things... Artist. Mum. Spiritual seeker. These are at the core of who she is. Who she defines herself to be. Her preferred mediums are wood, fabric, acrylic, posca pens and words. Chantal lives in search of wisdom. Her life is a spiritual journey.

about Chantal »»

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