I am proud to say we have poured our hearts into this marvellous project. The amazing pupils, their awesome teacher Miss Bygate, the extraordinary Head Ms Hanson and all the dedicated, kind, thoughtful and very patient support staff were willing to really go for it and gave us all the encouragement and back-up we could possibly need.
The upper part of Pennard Primary School’s sculpture is complete, cut into sections and drying. It has been a joy to build. The pupils panels and tiles for the lower half are drying beautifully. I’m putting together the Book now and it’s lovely to review the wonderful time we had with this fabulous group.
The Lead Creative Schools Scheme aims to promote new ways of working in schools, providing the opportunity to develop an innovative and bespoke programme of learning designed to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
It’s about the school and the particular learning challenges that it is facing. A Lead Creative School will have access to creative people, skills and resources to support them and to address these challenges.
Osprey Studios won a placement in the excellent Pennard Primary School.
Three Cliffs Bay, Southgate, Gower.
The planning meeting was the best I’ve ever been to: very positive, practical and down to earth. Our Area Lead Artist, Photographer Lee Aspland, Headmistress Ms Hanson and her lovely, thoughtful teachers were flexible, supportive, very kind and clearly up for something exciting and challenging. They set the bar high and their dedication is inspiring.
- Writer Daniel Archibald Buck has collaborated with Osprey Studios for years. Here he describes his 5 days of intense, immersive, and hugely enjoyable workshops:’On Thursday 2nd February year five set out on what many would consider a herculean task: To write and perform an epic tale, with no preparation or script, in just five days.
To put that in context, a two hour film can spend up to five years in production, and will likely focus on just a few characters at a time. This story would be much longer, and have as many as thirty three characters throughout – one for each member of the class.
On day one, the focus was clear, we were never going to all be on the same page unless we had a framework we could all share. So after some practice in the hall standing up and getting our brains in gear, we sat down to learn The Story Circle, based on Joseph Campbell’s text The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
This is a stripped-down version of a degree-level screenwriting technique.
Over the course of a day, we went from writing simple three line stories with just a beginning, middle and an end, toward struggles about heroes overcoming odds and clashing with difficult challenges.
On day two, it was time to decide who our heroes were, and why. We started to develop ideas about Character development in depth, both in performance and in writing. Creating a character on the fly on stage in front of a group is a very different challenge to writing out facts about a made up person on a piece of paper. The kids were challenged with portraying a character’s job and emotion with acting alone in front of the class, and then with putting those characters together into scenes in which invented problems forced them to question how a certain person may react in a strange situation.
I don’t know if you’ve ever stood up in front of a group of your peers and pretended to be in a crashing airplane with no script, but it can be daunting, not least because something funny is bound to happen, and it can be hard to delineate between those laughing with you, and those laughing at you. The enthusiasm on display was impressive.
From there, we sat down to create a character in depth. Each person got to invent their own person, with fears, and hopes and dreams and special powers if they wanted. these characters would go on to become the focus of our story in the next few days, so they had to rich and vibrant, and stand up to scrutiny. Here are a few (pulled at random):
Charlie, a Twelve Year-Old Orangutan from Vine Village, who wants to the King of the Jungle, but who is afraid of Tigers.
Flames Boy, a Thirty Year-old Businessman. He lives in an ordinary house and drives an ordinary Lamborghini. He’s a super hero in his spare time.
Dr. Pepper, who is from California and is afraid of children. His Nemesis is Pickled Onion (who is a Pickled Onion).
Next we set about making masks, to represent these characters, so it would be easier to tell when we were acting and when we weren’t. Of course, it can be hard to create a mask that accurately depicts a sentient pepper pot, so in most cases it was decided to settle on a colour or a theme for your character, and to make the mask represent that.These were then left to dry over the weekend.
When we got in on Monday morning, it was time to get down to business. We had three days left to create a satisfying narrative, to explore each of the characters we had made, and to make sure that everything was recorded and that all the ideas and themes we stumbled over on our journey were explored and understood.
After a warm up and some improv exercises in the hall, we ventured out into the grounds despite the cold and the wet, to stake a claim on this land for the characters who now lived there. It didn’t take long for our introductions to take a turn, and within the hour, spurred on by a vocal contingent of the group who advocated character-on-character violence, we had a succession of people standing up and delivering impassioned stump-speeches on the moral balance between violence and peace, good and evil.
But when there were no more words to utter, it became clear that there was only one recourse left by which this dispute may be settled. Those who advocated aggression saw that their counterparts for peace would not engage them on their terms unless a show of force was demonstrated. War was declared.
And so began the main chapter of our tale, which is now being chronicled and will be set into writing and told for seasons to come you can be sure. There was war, a bloody dictatorship, a desperate rebellion, economic prosperity in bleak times, devious subterfuge, assassination and resigned democracy. And in the end who can say whose side the historians will take?
Well, we can!
As the artists and historians of our own tale, it is now to the class to decide how the epic struggle will be remembered. Working with monument ceramicist Rebecca Buck, they are undertaking the construction of a great totem, to be erected as close as is practical, to the place where their characters first awoke.
It will take the form of an eternal throne, upon which you can depend many kings and orators and dictators and prophets will take their place, for it will stand for many centuries (indeed, it will likely outlive the school so long as it is not purposefully destroyed) and will we hope, not only affirm to generations as yet unborn that this school was lived in and played in before their time, but also that their struggles, their games, their questions are themselves eternal ones.
What is heroic? How can we be strong? What determines the right to lead? How do we shape our own lives, when there are always those who will try and shape them for us?
I, having had a chance to get to know them and work alongside them, am immensely proud of year five. They rose to the occasion admirably, and proved themselves capable of tackling ideas and problems above their regular curriculum. They created challenging and evocative ideas that broke the regular mold that is so often written off as ‘just kids stuff’.
If you as a parent want to get involved in the last stages of the project (particularly the Sculpture Installation), please get in touch with the school, and stay tuned for information on our grand unveiling over the next few months, where we will show off the monument to the world and were there will be a dramatic retelling of the tale we wrote.’
I sat in on these fantastic days to collect information for the sculpture and souvenir book for the school’s library. Occasionally a pupil would sit and draw with me if they needed a some perspective on the workshops but the vast majority of the time they were having far too much fun. They did give me lots of valuable feed-back on the ideas. It was wonderful to witness how deeply involved all the pupils were with the story they were creating. Miss Bygate, the very sensitive, gentle and inspiring form teacher, was there for her children giving encouragement and direction.
This process was, without doubt the best, most efficient and most productive form of ‘consultation’ I have ever had with a group.
We spent a lovely afternoon getting know the clay, Scarva ES50 Crank, and each other’s strengths in describing ideas with it.
We had a well earned 4 day break which I used to make the scale model. I had a lot of great material. At the very outset we had agreed that the pupil’s ideas were to be at the centre of everything. Discussions with the kids during breaks developed the perfect vehicle for memorialising their story and sharing it with everyone else in play-ground: a magnificent throne incorporating scenes from the story in relief. There would be tunnels in a dynamic shape that will inspire creative narrative play. Pennard’s dramatic history and landscape would be featured to high-light the story’s context and link the future play there.
The top half of the sculpture would be ceramic and the lower half the same golden cement over blocks I used on the Marking Time sculpture in Bronllys Hospital grounds. The colour and texture match is really good. Some of the ceramic panels and tiles will be set into the cement as well.
Ms Hanson joined me and the pupils to walk the wonderfully large play ground that has a choice of landscaped areas that lead imaginative play. It is small wonder that these children are so bright, forth coming, creative and ingenious: Every member of the staff are committed and dedicated to empowering all of their pupils and enriching their potential. The school has a fabulous team of Volunteers that help them get maximum value from their very tight budgets. It was an honour to be part of it frankly.
We talked health and safety, budgets, prior and future uses of each area, took some measurements and chose the perfect spot in the centre of a circle of young but well established deciduous trees near a big mound with a tunnel and castle fortifications. A wooden play structure on the spot needed removing so we could accommodate that in our budget. I love to see money working hard.
The next Monday everyone accepted the scale-model and we went ahead to make the relief panels that would be set into the sculpture. This a fab, very cost effective method for getting the hands-on art-work of people onto a large form.
The pupils worked incredibly hard for 2 solid days. Their panels are wonderfully varied and beautifully made. They helped and supported each other and me. And we had a lot of fun. Once their panel was completed a team formed to make a small name tile for each person involved in the project. Another team made round mini-tiles with a stem to anchor it securely into cement. These will set off the panels nicely across the form. Miss Bygate was a star and kept everyone going and even helped load up the van. She is amazing. I drove home on cloud nine. Excellent art-work, a perfect sculpture site, a budget that would be thoroughly squeezed dry and a scale model I knew was right because the consultation was so immersive and genuine.
Daniel had run a Workshop for parents and pupils so that they could get a feel of what their children were working on. I did one for them in using clay for learning and play. I was very pleased and not surprised to find that these parents were already well into doing stuff like that at home. Miss Bygate set out a lovely display of really good photos that she had taken all through the workshops. Then she gave them to us for the Book. Similarly my short workshop for the staff mostly confirmed what they were all ready doing. The post How to use clay in Primary Schools affordably will be useful.
This is the first half of the framework. The final piece will be 130cm high, 2 metres wide and 1 metre deep. Once the framework is complete, with the section cuts and firings planned, I can add on the pupil’s and my own art-work. This will develop the thickness and strength of the walls. The clay is Scarva ES50 Crank, the same clay the pupils used. It will be fired to 1260 degrees C and turn a soft golden yellow that matches the white cement/golden kiln dried sand that will be used for the lower section and all joins.
Things are progressing really well. The intense texture, which will look great in the woodland light, is developing strong patterns and as the curves get tightened up there is lots of flowing movement.
The birds head is done and the dragon’s is getting there. The main thing, a powerful embrace, is there and when the blue mosaic is in place in the centre it will look enchanting.
Our foster-kittens are being very helpful with lots of feed-back. It will soon be time to cut the sections and begin the long slow dry.
These fabulous images are from the wonderful Black Eagle Project.
This project is a joy. The Theme and the build are very challenging, which is great. And I am working for a wonderful team of dedicated, committed people who have been involved in it, in various ways for years. They have all put in countless hours of voluntary time. The writer and poet Mark Christmas and designer Mick Farrell, both military Veterans, have been the driving force. They made a sheltered garden at Bronllys. They have contributed significantly to the design of the Marking Time walk and sculpture and they have donated beautiful poems written especially for the woodland site at Bronllys Hospital.
This one will be set at the entrance to the woodland.
Catching a Moment
Within these woods
there is a breath to be found
to ease new life into sight and sound
transforming our world and how we see
each branch, each twig, each living tree
so when the hurt inside we feel
creates distraction with no appeal
take a walk on this path to find this rhyme
you will no longer be ‘Marking Time.’
Dedicated to those who understand.
Mark Christmas, 2015
This one will be part of the sculptures base.
We are the child of nevermind
Who, finding dreams lost, unfind
Who, wandering, walking paths unknown
to find a woodland overgrown
And seeing in that woodland Glen
The happy minds of nevermen
Who elfin laughter laughly speak
Of how we humans keenly seek
Some new haven overhewn
And child stars of the moon
Mick Farrell, 2016.
Both of these lovely people are right there anytime I need more information or
inspiration. They have been hugely supportive and encouraging.
Mark Christmas had formed a link with Ross Bennet, the out-standing Art teacher at Llandrindod Wells High School and we planned a Workshop there.
We started with the excellent, really skilful A-Level pupils. I brought along the model and described the project and what work needed doing.
These guys are working on the panels for 2 of the corners. We talked about the use of repeating patterns in art-work. Marking Time has 3s running all through it. The pupils chose an elegant celtic emblem of 3 from the internet that will also echo the curves of the sculpture. The third panel will be the same shape, show a version of the emblem and have the Dragon story set on it with stamps by Mount Street Junior School in Brecon.
I particularly liked the choice the pupils made to have the panels linked but not the same.
I lost track of what year groups came along during the day because they were all equally quick on the up-take, skilful, very creative and completely charming. It was an excellent day: the pupils were thoughtful about the project, open and forthcoming with their ideas, encouraging to each other, relaxed and friendly towards me.
They have a fantastic relationship with the two Art Teachers: this is clearly an Art Department that goes above and beyond every day. Other pupils dropped in from 8.30am until 4.30 to get support, information and encouragement from the teachers they trusted. The Teachers never took a break and had their lunch on the fly. They knew every pupil and cared about every piece of work. It was inspiring!
I wish I had had more time to look through the pupil’s portfolios. The couple I saw were wonderful and so was all the work on the walls. Pupils are being guided to their own style at this school. And they get the opportunity to use a wide range of materials including digital. It was great to see so many boys in the A-Level group.
The central mosaic will be made up of coloured glass pebbles and beautifully decorated tiles, full of vitality, made by this wonderful group.
Llandrindod High School has taken the art-work on the sculpture’s base to a new level. So I’m re-designing the layout: the lovely mosaic tiles will easily hold their own and I don’t want to crowd them. Mick’s poem will now be in bigger letters and go on the face of the railway sleepers that will be the most visible. Mount Street Juniors will make a great job of those tiles.
Here is a collection of my thoughts and descriptions about making sculpture written in reply to student’s questions.
A Level project at Monmouth School: natural forms in art, particularly in portraiture both 3D and 2D.
It would be of great help for you to answer a few questions for this investigation. Any further insight into your personal influence of natural forms would also be greatly appreciated. My specific questions are:
You say that your abstract forms start with a theme or a known form and I know that you draw all the time, but I wondered whether you start with sketches specific to the planned piece or go straight into working with the clay?
Drawing from life has been an important part of my training but I never do it now. I still use the figure and heads to practise my skills (use it or loose it) but always in 3D and clay. These days I draw imaginatively for fun and to capture impressions and these sometimes are shapes which I might re-explore in clay.
Generally I go straight to clay with a theme as a starting-point.
With my best work I am filling in the space with clay- the form is there already.
Or, most often, I play intuitively and then work through the challenges that emerge. Rarely do I have a specific intension other that a guiding idea but I admit that frequently I’ll realise I am making something else! The front of your mind can go chattering on while the bigger part of your brain does the real work. Music is wonderful for keeping the two focussed. If I start dancing or singing I know I’m working well.
The system is to arm yourself with as much real-life information about natural forms as you can cram into your head. This becomes the structure of your ‘intuition’. Add reading, ideas, opinions, dancing, experiences and especially music. Really good, practiced craftsmanship then allows you to access this unique perception of life and put it into your medium so that you can share it.
The great benefit is I can turn to clay to work out everything. It’s my language, my thought process and what I have to offer the world.
I keep my studio and, as best as I can, my life-style, organised and tidy so that I am fit and ready to respond to events. For example the storms of this winter and the news about progressive arctic warming has gone straight to clay without me over-thinking it.
The most difficult part is maintaining belief in this process and keeping a clear head amidst constant distractions and doubts. Sculptors like Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore both used this approach. Many artists do. I turn to them to renew my courage.
In your blog you say that organic, natural forms are a strong influence on your abstract work and you talk about the influence of Barbara Hepworth in particular. Has she also influenced your more figurative work and which other artists have influenced your figurative work in particular?
Both Hepworth and Moore did many forms that were figures that they could see in the landscape in the way of animism and that gave me the confidence to show the figures I see. Most of my sculptures are of somebody, frequently birds of prey.
When I was young Brancusi and Giacometti blew my mind. Now I look at a lot of out-sider and art brut on Facebook (a fantastic resource for sculpture where you can study techniques in the artist’s Albums and ask questions). I greatly admire the fabulous craftsmanship and uncompromising imagination of Alex Oliver
( https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008249700514 ), Christophe Charbonnel
(https://www.facebook.com/Christophe-Charbonnel-117379408457506/ ) and the perfection and power of Patrick Villas’s modelling (https://www.facebook.com/patrick.villas.14 )
Seeing their work has opened the door to my using such naturalistic forms expressively. (before they were always disciplined exercises). My sons get me watching a lot of Marvel and super-hero fantasy films and the art-work is absolutely fabulous. They’ve pushed me to be more playful with my figurative work and that’s done all my sculpture a lot of good.
As well as rock forms, some of your pieces remind me of shells worn away by the sea and I wondered whether you are influenced by other natural forms, such as shells, leaves or coral?
I watch a lot of natural history and science programs and spend a fair amount of my free time outside. Trees are crucial to me. And I do collect shells and rocks. My thorough training means I can see things clearly and remember forms very vividly.
Drawing and making studies in clay of skeletons, the figure and heads teaches you the vocabulary of forms and especially of how nature transitions from one form to another in everything. For example that difficult area between the eye, the cheek and the nose: so subtle. You will see that in shells and all living things as well. Fascinatingly it also shows up in stone that has been shaped by the various processes of water. You need that knowledge to make abstract forms.
This post about my currant series might be useful. https://ospreystudios.org/2018/02/03/throwdown-at-the-hoedown/
Guest-speaker Talk for Carmarthen School of Art.
I‘m a dual national, British/American and since my early teens I’ve been working intuitively using techniques, disciplines and materials from Figurative Sculpture and hand-built pottery to make mostly Abstract forms that describe ideas and experiences. I recently learned my work is Bio-morphic which sounds way better than some of the other things it’s been called.
I am going to give you an over-view of my work with the whys and where-fores of doing it my way and some ‘what’s the point thrown in’.
I am 400 years old and I’ve been doing this for a Millenia, so my theories are tried and tested to breaking point. I work in clay but the majority of what I’m going to say applies to all art-forms.
Like all self-employed, vocational, sole-traders with a micro-buissness,(Yep! that’s us! ) our job is a roller-coaster over-loaded with risk, running on low cash-flows.
There is a harmful myth that Artists are “different”. That isolates us. It makes it easier to not pay us. It makes prospective clients nervous about how to approach us. And it can distract us from important parts of our Practice.
Loads of people, from Brick-layers to Social-Workers, pour their hearts into their work.
And they all wake up at 3am, wide-eyed with The Doubts: is their work good enough, shouldn’t they be doing more, in a different way, etc, etc!
I still get The Doubts about every 2 months. You look at your work and think “ this is RIDICULOUS!!! What am I DOING? I’ve really lost it this time.”
And some-times it’s true! You have, in fact, gone down a very bad road, for months, and it’s time to retrace your steps that bit older and wiser. Three steps forward, two steps back. Call in colleagues and get some sugar-less feed-back to help to see your way forward. And be ready to return the favour.
Or Type 2 Doubts where you walk in the Studio and think “What? Make sculpture? Me?!I can’t do THAT!?” The blank mind, empty hands…has your Muse and your Talent run off together and left you useless for ever?
Nah, you just need a break. Get outside, read, feel, experience, re-charge. Then get back to making lots of work: some of it will be really good.
Isolation and The Doubts wreak havoc with a lot of artist’s careers. There is all kinds of help and support for micro-businesses out there. Assume that it WILL apply to you. Keep books on your accounts. Talk shop with other Sole Traders.
And it is important to have some structure for, and understanding of, your creative process that will give you the confidence to hold your ground and routes to solve the problems.
Where DO our ideas come from? Why do some pieces seem to build themselves using your hands?? Why don’t we think that is creepy?
Intuition is made up of your memories and perceptions that together are your Knowledge.
Many of your memories come from actual experiences, physical and emotional, many from films, books, art, daydreams and your imagination.
Add in the strong pull of the cocktail of hormones that are involved in our every move, societal influences and Collective Consciousness (now accepted science and it must play a role along with Inherited Memory).
Every bit of your life stops off to be shaped by your perception on the way into your memory bank.
The quality of your Perception is set by your learning and experience and it will develop and change. So your memories will change too. Your brain reviews memories every 2 years or so and chucks out the irrelevant, rarely used stuff and re-files handy, popular stuff according to up-dated perceptions.
So your Knowledge and your ability to gain knowledge is limited by prejudice, ignorance and inexperience.
Artists have an important role in Society. One of Barbara Hepworth’s many strengths was the conviction that societies, as far back as we know, have always needed and supported artists so that they could gain the skills required to unravel and describe the ideas, beliefs, moralities and experiences of the group so that everyone was on the same page.
So it’s very important to educate yourself and develop your perception constantly throughout your career to avoid being narrow minded or irrelevant.
Like Actors we need to rehearse the physical characteristics of emotions and experiences so that we can capture and express them.
A vivid intuition needs skilled craftsmanship that can capture and communicate ideas. Scintillating, profound knowledge will be wasted if you are all thumbs.
Just like musicians and sportsmen, artists need to train the specific muscles needed. And become expert in handling the medium that suits us best.
So we need to practice reliable, effective exercises throughout our career to keep our minds and bodies fit for creativity.
As a teen I loved the work of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore ( I still do) and I researched and did my best to re-create their education for myself. This was very much at odds with the currant art-practice 35 years ago and I got a lot of hassle for it at college. I get the impression that would not be the case here at Carmarthen School of Art. I was angrily accused of being ‘very early 20th century’ when I refused to explain my coil-built abstracts in terms of inner psychological angst and insisted on life drawing.
(My pieces were about inner psychological angst, mind, but I didn’t need tuition for that – I was already really good at it).
For 15 years, as well as making my art work, I went to any life-drawing, portrait or figure sculpture classes going. And I drew the classical sculptures, skeletons and taxidermy in museums as well.
Eventually I switched to setting myself exercises using photos and skeleton diagrams. I still do this regularity to sustain the skills and measure my ability.
What you gain from this training is this:
- a broadening of your ability to see and perceive what is in front of you.
- a collection of memorised forms, details and structures that enrich your visual vocabulary.
- an understanding and appreciation of the structure of forms.
- fine motor-skills in your body specific to your art-work.
- disciplined systems for organising the huge, over-whelming amount of information in front of you so that you can work with it.
- clear mile-stones to aim for and use to assess your fitness: Figure study has definable rights and wrongs.
Add practicing and experimenting with your materials. And challenging your ideas by no- holds- barred discussion about everything with all kinds of people, not just artists. And understanding emotions by sharing your own with trusted friends and caring about others of all species.
I got into coil-building when I was 20, after my Foundation year (fantastic course in Banbury, Oxfordshire) when I was teaching pottery at a Summer Camp in the USA.
Life was very chaotic and stressful at that time and the rhythm and intense, absorbing relationship with clay that you get through coil-building and the slow, steady progression revealing the form drew me in like a sanctuary.
Big round pots, glazed hideously, developed into a-symmetric vessels with sheer clay surfaces, then to forms involving spirals, then sculptures incorporating birds, especially the Ospreys I watched on the New England lakes.
2 years on: I went to Exeter College of Art And Design here in the UK for a BFA in ceramic sculpture. The interior space of the forms ceased to be relevant and gradually the vessel openings were gone. My 2nd year was spent at Boston University’s excellent and intense Program in Artisanry, where the mostly post-grad potters could discuss foot-rings for hours with out being boring.
For 18 years, until I was 30, I did stints of waitressing double hours for a few months and then studio work for as long as my money lasted. I always worked from home, including when that was my Van. I fired at community centres, taught pottery and sculpture to Adult Ed, special needs and Summer Camp.
When I was about 28 I had gotten to coil-building naturalistic figures and of course I was struggling because that’s a fool’s errand right there.
I had made one that wasn’t too awful and this guy says to me, “yeah, that’s pretty nice, I guess you built it solid and hollowed it out, right?”
So I switched techniques for the figures and realised that wedding your-self to a technique isn’t loyalty, it’s absurd!
Always get outsiders to look at your work in progress. Ask them “ what’s the first thing you see?” and remove the plastic. Those fresh, first impressions can be so helpful. If there is a figurative element ask “is this about a character? Who are they, what are they doing?”
If they say “it’s a rooster running away” and you were aiming for “The Leviathan, Guardian of the Aquasphere, shape-shifted to the form of a rampant horse raging through the oceans” consider the differences between the two and you have the bit that needs work: the head was too narrow and the ears needed to be stronger.
Do it yourself: Take a break every 1 1/2 hours and go clear your eyes for 15 minutes. Load the washing machine, check messages. When you go back to the piece what’s the first thing you notice? It might be a problem. It might be a lovely bit.
Working Solid and Hollowing Out
So I spent the next 10 years working solid and hollowing out, loosing the advantage of the rhythm and voice of coiling but gaining the advantage of working on the whole form from the outset and being able to change your mind right up to the last minute.
You can separate the artsy work from the technical stuff: they use different parts of your head and don’t always mix well.
You block out the basic sizes,
Rough out the form
Refine all over in at least 5 cycles of adding/ subtracting.
Let it go leather hard on the surface,
Do finishing touches in 3 rounds: Remove, Add, Burnish (especially the edges)
It’s a great method for any shape up to 75cm x 50cm – above that the weight becomes a pain and you are better off working hollow with a clay armature. You still might hollow parts out.
Or you can Coil-build from a scale model using an internal support structure made of clay….
Large scale sculpture in clay.
Around about when I turned 42 I got the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to try: working really big.
I made a 6m long x 2m high sculpture with 9 life-sized figures and a 2m x 1.5m piece with wildlife, both incorporating seating for a community regeneration group.
Both were ‘blocked-out’ in large brick-clay coils using a scale model, then continued by adding and subtracting clay. They were then cut into sections which were hollowed out. The internal supporting structure (built w/ smaller coils) was discarded. The sections were fired and reassembled by a builder with cement, concrete, steel reinforcing and a lot of swearing.
A year or so later I was running a community Sculpture Studio aimed at ‘The Hard To Reach’ by a fab Regeneration group The Creation Development Trust in Blaengarw. (near Bridgend, UK). My group were awesome. They were mostly dealing with awful mental health problems so they couldn’t get jobs and had time, energy and intense life experiences to burn.
After they had all made some lovely things for friends and family it became clear they were going to drift off. So we decided to make a big brick-clay sculpture together for the new park planned by the ferocious Community Council for a big area of waste ground.
Calon Lan would tell the epic story of Blaengarw from it’s notorious ancient history of un-tamable Silurians, through to the industrial revolution, mining, bitter strikes, a culture in ruins and a slow, often tortuous, re-building.
There was something important to do for every kind of Volunteer from researching through the local archives to the hard labour of building the structure 5m long x 2 m high in a basement barely big enough, designing letter stamps and carving narrative reliefs.
I’ve done about 14 of these intensely collaborative projects now in various sizes. Because the sculptures are big you can fit in loads of different ideas and styles. The Sculptor’s job is to find ways to included as many people as possible and make damn sure the piece looks awesome (because your Volunteers trust you and deserve no less in return for the huge amount of time they donate), while being safe and vandal-proof because it’s in a public place.
I use the frame-work of ‘Co-production’ for all my projects. The very interesting theory is that humans are naturally co-operative and strive to be a useful, valued part of the group. So a good group leader asks for something in return for what they have to offer. Studies have shown that if you don’t use this method your project will probably be ineffective in enabling real change to take place. (All my funders have been involved in Community Regeneration on some level).
People will go all out if they feel valued as a contributor. If you are the Benevolent Professional bestowing your gifts upon the weak and needy you are requiring them to stay weak and needy. They will begin to drift off when they can’t stomach being patronised any longer. They wont have gained anything so your project has failed, leaving you frustrated and stressed and your reputation damaged.
So I offered to trade my skills on the tricky bits (eyes, hands etc), teach skills and ensure the final sculpture was fabulous in exchange for the local knowledge and experience, stories and symbols and the work each person took on for the task.
A lot of Public Art is made like this though not always so hands-on. It’s expensive because Volunteers need a lot of time but you get massive value for money because all the skill-sharing and co-production feeds back into the community.
These projects really highlight how much Visual Artists have to offer.
Many Artists specialise in non-verbal communication. A lot of people learn that way and regularly struggle to ‘find the words’ particularly after a trauma. We can guide people towards the form of wordless communication that best allows them to express themselves ‘beyond words’.
While hands and eyes are busy on artwork people find talking openly feels much less dangerous. They start to take themselves less seriously as mistakes are made on the art and every one laughs uncritically. Problems fall into perspective and become interesting challenges.
We laughed and cried a river while making the big brick clay Pit Marker Memorials because of the stories we were telling in clay. We worked from the heart, unashamedly: we wanted to share the tears. Now people with generations of miners in their families go to the Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, set by a pond on the mountain where the pit head was, to remember and mourn. And visitors and new comers can go there and better understand the village and the history that shaped it.
This is good, important work that sustains the humanity of our society.
Creative work is at it’s best when it communicates emotion with a sincerity that genuinely connects with the viewer.
Sculpture and pottery have the advantage over many other art-forms of being overtly physical so they can reach people more directly.
A lot of what we make is decorative. Stylish. Attractive. Or Narrative. Intriguing. It is understood and appreciated by the brain. Sometimes everything clicks and a piece is able to reach into people and connect with the heart and perhaps the soul.
That’s the best.
But there is a huge need for all kinds of art-work and processes. Our job is to find our niche in there and get as skilled as we can at providing our part of the structure of civilisation no less!
I’ve taught clay work to all sorts of people with all kinds of abilities. Many have been inexperienced in creative work. Some people ‘take to it’ very quickly. They transfer skills developed in other activities easily, they are very dexterous.
It gets called ‘Talent’ but that has become a misleading term that stands in the way of a lot of creativity. People are lead to think Talent will come to you if you want it enough or that you are born with it as a blessing. And that others are denied it…
Talent describes prodigies and savants. The rest of us have born and acquired ‘aptitudes’ for particular types of work. As a social species humans come in various types for the good of the group.
Psychologists studying creative aptitude have put forward the idea of ‘Flow’. Flow is when you get lost and engrossed in an activity, time flies etc.
We all recognise this, yes? Nope.
They found that 7 out of 10 people experience Flow. 3 do not. Their aptitude is better for different work. Of the 7 that do there is a spectrum with those people lost in Flow or who need to spend a lot of time there at one end and those who can easily dip in and out at the other.
Go to the right point on the spectrum down at the ‘out there’ end, add circumstance and opportunity, training and practice and you will have an artist. All kinds of jobs require high levels of Flow and creativity. We are not crazy or weird, don’t let anyone call you that. Our passion does not set us apart either. People in every type of work pour their hearts into what they do.
I like this idea and it fits in well with my experiences with students and Volunteers. People often describe doing artwork as ‘therapeutic’. So why aren’t we all exquisitely calm?!
I don’t think artwork has medicinal properties but rather ‘nutritional ones: I’m pretty sure many people fall into mental health difficulties because their circumstance denies them access to creativity, non-verbal self expression and Flow.
Part of our ‘calling’ is to build bridges for these people through our own art-work and in guiding them to theirs. And that can be life or death stuff.
A lot of nonsense is bandied around about mental health illnesses fuelling creative genius. It is a cruel Myth. Some geniuses have done what they can to make the best of the awful, destructive diseases they are stuck with. Many people living with all sorts of disabilities are denied jobs so they choose to spend time productively on art-work.
So Sculpture is my first language, the one I use to understand the world and sort out my thinking. And I also use it to communicate with other people.
It can be very difficult to tell if people are picking up on your message. They may have a strong, visceral reaction to your work but, not being able to find the words, say nothing.
A website and Facebook are great for making your work accessible, your ideas clearer and your self approachable. And I have found to my own surprise that I really enjoy running mine. I think my work has made big steps forward since I got into this stuff three years ago. Writing posts has clarified my ideas and getting really nice photos of the sculpture has helped me to look at it very objectively while rewarding me for putting in those hours spent on the edges and surfaces. People’s kind words, likes and shares are very encouraging.
And best of all I am part of a world-wide network of Makers of all kinds sharing photos, techniques, ideas, understanding and encouragement. I have learned a tremendous amount. Online stuff now fills part of that productive work pattern : 1.5 hours in the studio then break for 15 minutes. I used to do long, punishing hours deep into the night….that’s not ‘Work’. That’s looking a bit like ‘Obsession’ right there. Now I work 6 days a week, 7-5ish, with proper breaks. Some of that time is paper-work and internet stuff. Some is outdoors walking, thinking, taking it in. Talking with peers, reading, listening.
Music plays a crucial role in my sculpture. I use particular playlists for each Series. That inspires and guides the forms and brings me back to the right point after a break. My sons are into the vivid, wildly creative Games and animations that have become the voice of their generation and their influence has lead me to my best work yet.
On a good day I know look like an Olympic athlete, or at worst, Miss Marple on steroids, but the inconvenient truth is that I’m a dilapidated wreck. So everything in the studio is on wheels and, happily, I have the best assistant on the planet who can pack more sculpture into a kiln than physics can justify. I don’t intend to retire. I’ve already thought through how I could keep making stuff after the loss of any body-part. But will sculpture continue to work for me? Many artists see switching to a different job and life-style a failure or heresy. But our hard-won skills are entirely transferable, especially in a global, multicultural era that relies so much visual communication.
There is a really good-hearted group of people involved in this. They have spent a lot of time planning this Project with care and thoughtfulness. It is lovely to join such a strong Team.
The Theme is how the military and the community support each other. There are various Military Bases in this area including the world famous Gurkhas in Brecon. Many local families have military connections.
This is a subtle Theme and there is no obvious answer to it. We need to create a sculpture that will have genuine value for the people who will see it. A piece that will draw the viewers in and give them some peace and hope. We need to pin-point what communities and the military have in common that is relevant to the hospital site.
Kids can be brilliant at putting their finger on the mark. Mount Street Junior School in Brecon has a lot of Military kids. I spent a wonderful day on a huge join-in sculpture with 70 year 3 and 4 Pupils and the lovely, guiding staff.
In the morning we made a town like Brecon and spread it over a network of tables across the double classroom.
I went around helping, talking through ideas and taking notes. These children were very forth-coming, imaginative and empathetic. They expressed their ideas clearly and thoughtfully. It was a joy to work with them and they were very helpful in clarifying the theme for the sculpture.
There was a Military Base on the edge of town:
Just down the road from there was a caravan park where Service men could relax with their families in a calm natural beauty-spot.
All along the town’s streets were homes with busy family life going on. The children felt that it was the small moments that gave the greatest comfort to servicemen on leave from the war: meals together, watching telly together, chatting and playing video games.
The support and care for the military people came from people in the community of all sizes and ages. The Military protect our way of life and our land and we keep our society in good shape in return. A circle of care and protection.
On the other side of town ran the river. The bridge crosses it. ‘The bridge leads the soldiers back into the community’. A fisherman floats by in his boat. There is a water-park in town too.
The natural world came up many times. The children said it brings happiness into our lives and keeps us balanced. ‘Learning to forget’ was mentioned many times. Letting go of the past. The community helped the soldiers to forget past ordeals. These children are 8-9 years old. Wonderful.
In the afternoon we talked about how to show the idea of protecting and keeping everyone safe.
The children also did drawings with captions of their ideas.
Marking Time’ is a military term for the marching on the spot done between parade manoeuvres. It is a perfect phrase to express those difficult periods in life when you can’t go forward or back but have wait in a state of readiness, especially when you are caught up in a Hospital situation. You can feel very powerless.
It can be very difficult for many military personnel to relax their guard during the gaps between deployments, when they can spend precious time with their families. Particularly if they have had a harrowing experience. The Pupils at Mount Street Junior School clarified the idea that this is one of the points where community and military intersect and share support, empathy and strength.
I will spend some more time with the photos and drawings. Circles, spirals and forms in a variety of sizes raising up or giving shelter are the first images to come together. I will add this to my other consultation material and start preliminary scale models. Then I will take all this to an A-S Level and some year 9 pupils in Llandrindod Wells, Powys, for a Scale Model Making Workshop to share some skills in exchange for the pupils feed-back.