James Walsh · Igneous

The most attention the average person pays to the humble bluestone paver, is that turn-back-and-blame-the-ground reaction after embarrassingly stumbling on some uneven cobbles.

Graduate designer James Walsh, however, saw much more than an insentient scapegoat. Using an innovative sand-casting technique, James turns the sludge by-product of bluestone into truly unique lighting designs – pretty impressive for a university graduation project!

Elle Murrell

James Walsh‘s ‘Igneous’ lighting design, co-created with Ash Allen. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The duo turned bluestone sludge by-product into a lava, and reformed it into a solid composite through their innovative sand-casting technique. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

‘It wasn’t until I began researching natural materials that were locally manufactured, that I became curious as to how this traditional material could be used in a contemporary approach,’ tells James. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

James and Ash. It is at Ash’s factory in Thomastown that James had the opportunity to develop his graduation project ideas, collaborating with the generous, established furniture designer to experiment with kilns with other amazing machinery. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

‘Now that I’ve graduated I want to keep discovering new ways of making, and as a designer I don’t think you should ever stop experimenting!’ tells James. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Elle Murrell
19th of September 2017

Having always had an affinity for drawing, James Walsh‘s first study path was a Fine Arts degree at RMIT University in Melbourne. After two semesters, though, he felt compelled to explore a more three-dimensional field, and switched to Industrial Design. ‘My focus was always to learn by doing, whether it be exploring wood-working, metal forming or casting,’ the designer explains. ‘After my first few years of making a furniture with typical wire bending, welding and other methods, I developed an interest in experimentation of materials and process, which was the basis for my Honours project “Igneous”.’

‘Igneous’ is James’ remarkable lighting project, born from the question: ‘What is quintessentially Victorian?’. Researching materials in response, James came to find that granite was locally sourced and produced in Castlemaine and Mount Alexander, where he visited factories and quarries to discover both traditional and contemporary processors. ‘The more I investigated these local materials, the more I found myself noticing bluestone pavers all around me, on my walks to uni on a daily basis,’ he recalls.

Honing in on this commonplace building stone, James discovered a bluestone factory just 20 minutes west of Melbourne, which opened his eyes to the staggering amount of waste material produced from the cutting of the stone. ‘On my first visit to this factory I discovered a skip filled to the brim with bluestone sludge, all of which was heading straight to landfill,’ he tells. ‘This was the turning point of the project for me, where I knew exactly what material I was going to be working with… I just didn’t know what was to come at that point.’

It was then that the 26-year-old designer/maker joined forces with established furniture designer Ash Allen. ‘As you can imagine, not many people were willing to create molten stone in their kilns, Ash on the other hand seemed excited by the idea,’ recalls James. After their first experiment in Ash’s Thomastown factory, they discovered that they could successfully turn bluestone sludge into a lava, and reform it into a solid! Pushing and refining that process, they were able to create the striking colours and patterns evident in James’ finished wall light.

‘This process utilises a simple sand-casting method, that safely melts volcanic stone in a kiln, at temperatures in excess of 1,200ºC (!!),’ details James. ‘Though sand-casting has been traditionally used to melt and form metals, Ash and myself have focused on using igneous rocks (meaning from fire), such as bluestone and granite to investigate the potential of natural materials.’

The inquisitive young creative is riding the high of this discovery, thought he has found it challenging to get his creations out to potential customers. ‘It seems there is a real void in many design courses, where there is no education on marketing and business. You learn the skills on how to sketch, engineer, and make an object, but at the end of the day you need to be able to sell your product,’ he explains, before praising Melbourne’s diverse creative community for being willing to help one another out. Huge props to Ash Allen for taking a chance on the young gun’s trailblazing idea – we hope to see more from this ingenious duo!

Find out more or enquire about James Walsh’s ‘Igneous’ via his website, here, where you can also follow his current experiments transforming granite into obsidian, in addition to his other furniture and lighting designs.

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