Behind the Scenes: Filming with Woodworker Elise Cameron-Smith

Friday April 13, 2018 Written by Smith

Elise Cameron-Smith is one of the makers featured in our hot-off-the-press book Look What We Made. She is also the subject of a short Smith documentary, which you can watch above. Scroll down to see some behind-the-scenes pics from the shoot. Plus, we also wanted to bring you some of our favourite bits from Elise's interview (some of which we couldn't squeeze into the final film).

On why financial stability helps creativity 

Three days a week I’m in a balloon shop delivering balloons to parties, and then three days a week I’m down in Gerringong and I just sleep in my van at the beach and come in here and make a whole bunch of cool stuff. It’s nice now to have a bit more financial stability and I can save up for things and buy them if I need to, I’ve built up my buffer zone. Because the thing is, it doesn’t matter how much you love your job, if you’re under financial stress all the time, it takes a lot of the joy out of not just your work, but your life. 

On being hands-on in design

I finished my first year of design study thinking I was going to be a guru product designer and sit on computers and make amazing stuff on the computer but... I really struggled. I remember being in the computer class trying to make a hinge on a computer... I remember saying to the teacher: where can you go to actually learn how to make furniture? Because that’s really what I wanted to do. And in my mind it was like: well how are you ever going to design something well if you don’t know how to make it? And he said: you can go to Sturt in Mittagong. 

I just never looked back to the design world.

I had this really interesting experience where something I’d designed at TAFE I ended up making, and throughout the making process I had all these epiphanies about how badly it was designed! And you’re going – I got good marks for this, but it’s crap! Because you’re not understanding the making process. So for me since then, the way that I end up making stuff is designing the whole way through. So it really did change my whole process. 

On figuring out what your work is worth

I think when you first start out, the hardest part is – just because it takes you 100 hours to make something, it doesn’t mean the thing is worth 100 times whatever you think your hourly rate should be.

Only with experience that you realise that your pieces are only worth what someone will pay for them. So that’s a big thing, working out your price point. And how to be productive, how to come into the workshop and make something quickly and well. And often I find that you do need to make a lot of something…if you’re making one-off things all the time, it’s really really hard because there’s a lot of thinking time in between. If you make a mistake, you’ve spent $500 on timber and it’s hard. Australian logs are being sent to China, being made into furniture and coming back for cheaper than what we can buy the timber for here. So you’ve really got to be careful about your material and not make mistakes. 

On keeping the faith

I look at people who are really experienced and think: how am I ever going to get to that level? They’re so amazing. But then you’ve got to remember that they’re 30 years older than you. Someone taught them the things that they know and then they went in there and practised for a long time.


Tom Osborne, our qualified drone pilot, captured sweeping shots of Elise surfing in the morning and skateboarding at twilight, taking care to not bash his precious flying camera into power lines or the ocean...

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 Cinematographer Sammy Hawker captured Elise from dawn to dusk...

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from brewing coffee and eating breakfast on the beach...

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to getting stuck into work, finishing off a commission and bashing out some of the sailboats she's become well-known for.

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Look What We Made is published by frankie press and features Elise, along with a bunch of other inspiring makers and creatives from right around Australia. Buy your copy here, or swing past here to find your nearest stockist.

Photography: Sammy Hawker and Suzi Taylor