Mark Pottle’s jeans are hooked, ripped, stained and covered in a layer of dust, turning them a light grey. His woods jacket doesn’t fare much better as he slips it on over his plaid shirt to head out to the workshop behind the house. It’s housed in one of three remaining sheds from five that existed on the property. The two torn down sheds are now piles of scrap wood, leaning against one wall. His dog, Revy, a husky-retriever mix he got from the Goose Bay SPCA, trots behind him to the shop, where he has his own bed and all the wood scraps a dog could ever desire.
Mark uses mostly reclaimed wood for his signature wall art creations. The piles of scraps in his workshop used to live lives as fences, pallets, buildings, flooring and siding. He scored last summer when his uncle gave him 10 blue pallets for his works, much of which he uses for the sky in his pieces.
Needless to say, Mark has had no shortage of scrap wood to work with in Newfoundland. There’s never too much, though, it seems, as each cut of wood brings with it a personality and grit all its own and will create the ideal mood for a certain work of art down the road.
He doesn’t need to tell you he works with wood for you to know. His thumbnail is blackened from a good smack, but it blends in with the rest of the wear and tear on his hands and attire. Although he mostly works with a circular saw, chop saw, table saw, planer and air-nailer for his pieces, he says he is just starting to get into hand tools and wants to start using them as his go-tos. Aside from wall art, he’s made everything from benches and coffee tables to blanket ladders and cutting boards, to headboards and countertops. And he’s open to pretty much anything.
His grandfather was a hobbyist woodworker and had a workshop in his basement. “I remember going down there and working on stuff with him,” says Mark, who started working with wood himself in 2016 while renting a place on the Northern Peninsula and working as a project manager for a contracting company. He used wood from a dilapidated shed he was asked to tear down to start creating useful items for the house.
Since then, he has been using wood to express his creativity, and founded West Coast Woodworks last year. Over the past two years, he has created about 50 wall pieces, many of which feature his signature snow-capped mountains, inspired by his time spent living in Canmore, Alberta and the west coast of Newfoundland. “I just want to be around snow and skiing and mountains,” he says, letting his memories, photographs and the colours of the wood scraps inspire him. “I look at a piece that has a really nice knot in it and I think, ‘Hey, that would make a nice moon.’”
But as for the wall art, it’s about a love of woodworking and an interest in sharpening his skills. Smaller pieces take him between two and four hours to create, while larger pieces
measuring four feet by seven feet can take more than 20 hours from start to finish.
While working in St. John’s, Mark met a painter from Ontario who invited him to work in his workshop with him. “He got me into using different colours and playing them off each other,” he says. Where Mark used to just use natural wood and stains, he now likes to pick up mis-tints at hardware stores and use them on his wood scraps.
He’s tried some geometric patterns, as well as waves, in his wall art, but mountains are his favourite and speak to his nature. He finds he works spur of the moment best. “I get the itch one day to go out to the shop for four hours to make a piece,” he says. “To me, the shop time is about enjoying it.”
Mark likes to have all of his wood ready to pick up and use in a piece, so he tries to rip all the scraps with a table saw or planer in big batches to get thin strips to work with later. He then dyes, paints or stains groups of scraps in an array of shades, some of which he makes himself. The rough, ripped wood adds dimension to each piece and holds stains really well, he says. He experiments with different combinations in hot water to create new, natural, homemade stains.
After he colours the wood, he works carefully on the placement of each piece, which requires him to be very particular and calculated. “One of the reasons I started doing these pieces is to work on my joinery for doing finish carpentry work,” he says, noting the shelving and cabinetry work that is ongoing for clients, as he sets his mountain peaks onto the background.
You see, these striking creations are not his main gig. Mark owns and operates a contracting business that does home builds and renovations. The art and furniture pieces are a bit of fun for him on the side.
“I’ll be renovating a house and the owner will say ‘we need a dining room table or a bench, too,’” he says, noting a walnut bookcase he is currently working on for a client. As he sips his coffee, he points out a wine-rack made from an old pallet that he has perched above his dining table.
The next fun, artistic creation is always on his mind, though. Recently, while working on a kitchen renovation in Little Rapids, Mark was overjoyed to rip up the old, parquet flooring and take it home. Each piece is perfect for his art as they require no ripping or planing and can be put to use straight away, saving him hours of prep-work. There aren’t too many people who can turn parquet flooring into something beautiful, but Mark’s new piece tells a whole other story, measuring four feet by two feet.
With such striking pieces, Mark doesn’t need to do much more than simply get some hanging up where the public can admire them. They are currently at Harbour Grounds coffee shop in Corner Brook and Twisted Sister in St. John’s. Besides this, he markets his work primarily through his Instagram feed @westcoast_woodworks, and has sold pieces in Texas, Toronto and, of course, Newfoundland and Labrador. This summer, Mark plans to collect some more scrap wood from coastal Newfoundland and use it to create masterpieces that are sure to become favourites in many homes across the island and beyond.