Pennard Primary Lead Creatives Project, part 4.

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 book we made: The People Of The Throne.

The final draft of the story The People of the Throne written by Pennard Primary School year 5, 2017, pupils and Daniel J Buck.

Hidden with in this old business text book is the record of the whole project. Read Daniel’s description of the project from a writer’s view-point here.

A great boost to have this kind and friendly Volunteer come along and rake over the foundation while we set the sections in place.

The People of the Throne sculpture unveiled!

After Headmistress Ms Hanson’s really lovely introduction Daniel read out some of the story

The moment we have been working for! A nod from Ms Hanson and this sculptural playform is covered in excited kids at last!

The pupils wonderful art work about what their character was doing during the story is set well into the coloured cement to protect it from play activity. This has given it a mysterious, ancient quality, like revealed carvings of a disappeared civilisation.

During the design phase the pupils were clear that they wanted the sculpture to inspire other children to make their own stories. There are tunnels and hidden places.

The sculpture is set facing the rising sun in a circle of established young deciduous trees, across from a big ground-work playform castle in the far corner of the huge play-ground at Pennard Primary School. This area is often used as an outdoor classroom and is a wonderful, magical, sheltered spot for free imaginative play.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

In the background, ever ready to step in and help is Hugh Blackwood, the school caretaker and artist who makes beautiful jewellery. He was invaluable during the installation, an out-standing assistant.

It was a joy to see this amazing group again, show them their book and talk about their new ideas.

The extraordinary Headmistress, Ms Hanson and some of her very proud pupils.

The Throne, Pennard Primary School, Pennard, Gower, Wales, UK. By Osprey Studios and Pennard Year 5 2017.

Year 5 had made us a fabulous card with drawings of each character.

Kind, beautiful, creative and very dedicated Miss Bygate with her fabulous class and Daniel on the sculpture they have made with Osprey Studios for every future generation at their school.

The Throne, Pennard Primary School, Pennard, Gower, Wales, UK. By Osprey Studios and Pennard Year 5 2017.

The Throne, Pennard Primary School, Pennard, Gower, Wales, UK. By Osprey Studios and Pennard Year 5 2017.

The Throne, Pennard Primary School, Pennard, Gower, Wales, UK. By Osprey Studios and Pennard Year 5 2017.

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Pennard Primary Lead Creatives Project, part 3.

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.

Pennard Primary Lead Creatives Project.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

Daniel Buck at Pennard Castle, Gower.

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

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.

  • Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.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.Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

    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.

  • Spoiler alert, that circle contains all the work we noted down at the end of the project.Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

    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.Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

    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.Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

    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.

    Rebecca Buck, Osprey StudiosRebecca Buck Osprey StudiosRebecca Buck Osprey StudiosRebecca Buck Osprey StudiosRebecca Buck Osprey StudiosRebecca Buck Osprey Studios

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.img_2320

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.Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

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.Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

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.’

This Guest Blog for Pennard Primary School’s website was written by Daniel A. Buck, Lead Creative Schools Practitioner and Freelance Writer and Actor.


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.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

We spent a lovely afternoon getting know the clay, Scarva ES50 Crank, and each other’s strengths in describing ideas with it.

 

 

 

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey StudiosRebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios All this work was photographed and recycled.

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.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

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.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios Rebecca Buck Osprey StudiosDaniel 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.

I’m on day two of the build at Osprey Studios.Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

The Pennard scale model in front of the build in progress of the upper, ceramic section, of the sculpture.

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.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

 

Studio Diary: The Marking Time Sculpture at Bronllys Hospital, Powys.part 6.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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These fabulous images are from the wonderful Black Eagle Project.

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Studio Diary: The Marking Time Sculpture at Bronllys Hospital, Powys.part 3.

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

Mark Christmas has two ongoing projects that have formed some of the back-ground to Marking Time: The Abandoned Solider  ( or on Facebook) and the TAS Project.

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.

It is not easy for a school to accommodate a Project Workshop into their packed schedules. Ross and Head-Teacher Jane Asplin went well out of their way. IMG_6150

We started with the excellent, really skilful A-Level pupils. I brought along the model and described the project and what work needed doing.

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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.

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I particularly liked the choice the pupils made to have the panels linked but not the same.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

What do artists do all day? Guest-speaker Talk for Carmarthen School of Art.

At Bracelet Bay, Wales, UK.

At Bracelet Bay, Wales, UK.

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’.

The slide show is a collection of images from the last 10 years and it will roll on while I babble through the ideas that work for me. 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 what 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. 3 steps forward, 2 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.

At Rhian Goodhand's Glass Studio.

At Rhian Goodhand‘s Glass Studio.

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.

Stephen Foote Photography.

Stephen Foote Photography. Steve and I have an on going collaborative project, The Landscape Series. We challenge each other and exchange really valuable, no-frills feed-back about the work. It has definatly upped my game.

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.

Working Intuitively

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 the strong pull of the cocktail of hormones that are involved in our every move, societal  influences, 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 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.

 

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Henry Moore at work.

Henry Moore at work.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

                                               

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.

    The measuring frees you up to be expressive with your modelling .

    The measuring frees you up to be expressive with your modelling .

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.

I got into coil-building when I was 20, after my Foundation year ( fantastic course) 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 to awful and this guy says to me, “yeah, that’s pretty nice, I guess you built it solid and hollowed it right?”

What?

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, 1st 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, consider the differences between the 2 and you have the bit that needs work: the head was too narrow and the ears needed to be stronger.

Leviathan VIII, 56cm H x 97cm L x 28cm D.

Leviathan VIII, 56cm H x 97cm L x 28cm D.

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.

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,

Cut/Hollow/rebuild.

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….

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). 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.

Parc Calon Lan, Blaengarw, South Wales.

Parc Calon Lan, Blaengarw, South Wales.

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.

Building Calon Lan in a small basement.

Building Calon Lan in a small basement. (How to..)

Sharon was invaluable. She worked on every stage.

Sharon was invaluable. She worked on every stage.

Jim, ex-miner, ensured that the images were accurate.

Jim, ex-miner, ensured that the images were accurate.

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.

We 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.

Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, Blaengarw, South Wales.

Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, Blaengarw, South Wales.

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 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?

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.

Gwalia Mynydd Mawr Home. This lovely man couldn't speak any more but he drew beautifully and loved clay.

Gwalia Mynydd Mawr Home. This lovely man couldn’t speak any more but he drew beautifully and loved clay.(How to..)

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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 3 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 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.

Osprey Studios. SA9 1YT.

Osprey Studios. SA9 1YT.

Studio Diary: The Marking Time Sculpture at Bronllys Hospital, Powys.part 1.

A new woodland stroll is coming together beautifully at Bronllys Hospital, near Brecon.

A new woodland stroll is coming together beautifully at Bronllys Hospital, near Brecon. This fantastic oak tree is opposite the walk’s starting point.

The path is laid.

The winding path is laid with beautiful curves, reminiscent of  celtic-knot-work.

And this triangle is the spot where the Marking Time Sculpture will go. There will be comfortable benches set in place so visitors, patients and staff have a tranquil place to sit and get a break from the often over-whelming activity in the Hospital.

And this triangle is the spot where the Marking Time Sculpture will go. There will be comfortable benches set in place so visitors, patients and staff have a tranquil place to sit and get a break from the often over-whelming activity in the Hospital.

Site Meeting. 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.

A really good Site Meeting covered all the restrictions and health and safety issues. These matters begin the process of defining  the boundaries of a new sculpture.

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.

Mount Street Junior School, Years 3 and 4 making a model of a town that cares for and supports it's Military members.

Mount Street Junior School, Years 3 and 4 making a model of a town that cares for and supports it’s Military members.

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:

A Military Base with tanks, helicopters and personnel.

A Military Base with tanks, helicopters and personnel.

Just down the road from there was a caravan park where Service men could relax with their families in a calm natural beauty-spot.

The Caravan Park

The Caravan Park. There are cabins, caravans, a duck pond, a fountain and lots of other fun and relaxing things to do.

Beautiful old trees are always calming and this is a perfect spot for reading and day-dreaming.

Beautiful old trees are always calming and this is a perfect spot for reading and day-dreaming.

The Caravan Park and the road leading to the Military Base.

The Caravan Park and the road leading to the Military Base.

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.

 

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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.

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Having dinner together

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Talking through how best to tell the story of these homes.

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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.

A solider enjoys an afternoon fishing on the river.

A solider enjoys an afternoon fishing on the river.

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He’s caught a huge fish.

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.

A tree house is a safe place to live protected by the forest. And a dragon!

A tree house is a safe place to live protected by the forest. And a dragon!

A dragon guards the town and the military can harness his power.

A dragon and a whale guard the town and the military can harness their power.

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Natural forms expressing tranquility.

The natural world gives us shelter, calm and peacefulness.

The natural world gives us shelter, calm and peacefulness. It is soothing and balancing.

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.

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Mount Street Junior School pupils sharing ideas and inspiration.

Mount Street Junior School pupils sharing ideas and inspiration.