How to make Animals using clay armatures.

We animals are frequently surprisingly similar and identifying those differences can be really difficult. Furriness or our perceptions built around our relationships can confuse the information and make it hard to see. Skinny legs supporting big bodies or building on larger scale where the weight of the clay is a huge issue cause a lot of problems.

This is the same technique I now use for making heads.  A simple clay armature supports the weight throughout the build and gives you a central point that you can work outwards from, allowing that most important key to success: making loads of mistakes and fixing them. You get to avoiding hollowing out so that you can play around with textures while you are building. And you will be using the process to re-organise the information in your head: there is no better way to do that than hands-on.

The skeleton is a stick-figure with the proportions (so important when you are being species specific) set out clearly and unambiguously. Fur, muscle shapes changing with the pose and fore-shortening in photos can confuse leading to sculptures that are cross between lifeless amateur taxidermy and stuffed toys.

The key reason making  forms from life is so hard is that the perception (the way we take in our knowledge) that we have built up over our lifetime of what shape the thing is, is based around our general experience of that animal. Making a sculpture of that living, moving, person requires going against what ‘feels’ right and using information we are unlikely to have bothered with before. Portraiture has a system to organise the huge quantity of subtle details. Learning this system will broaden your knowledge, and your access to more knowledge, enormously. That’s why the study of Portraiture and Figurative Sculpture is traditionally the bed-rock of Art.

The more you practice these invaluable skills the more you will see improvement in all your artwork, your general concentration and your ability to see. Like a pianist ‘doing scales’ you will build up the small muscles, motor-skills and neural pathways involved in this challenging, rewarding activity.

It is not rocket science and you can do it.

Because clay shrinks as it dries and is floppy when very wet a Clay Armature that will support and shrink with the form through the drying and the firing is invaluable.

Most techniques for building  hollow have a strong ‘voice’ of their own and will influence the final look of the piece. They can demand that you harden lower sections before you can build upwards and you are then unable to change them when you later realise they are wrong. This is a real disadvantage irregardless of your skill level. It is better to work solid over a clay armature especially if you are not using a scale-model and hollow out just before finishing touches. It’s not difficult. That technique is detailed here: Working solid and hollowing out.   

Working solid is an excellent method. You set aside the ceramic need for certain thicknesses in the clay  until you are sure you have the best sculpture you can make at that point. The armature holds the weight up. Some areas can be built hollow too. 

I was really lucky to run this workshop over two days at the wonderful North Devon Ceramics Academy and Studio. Nicola Crocker and Taz Pollard have created a fantastic, fun, supportive and practical space for learning and sharing creativity in clay. I absolutely love teaching there. Nicola and Taz have a very genuine commitment to empowering other people and sharing their open and imaginative approach to the vast potential within ceramics. The Studio is spacious, bright and comfortable and the atmosphere is friendly, unpretentious and very encouraging.

This amazing group of all experience levels were a joy to work with. And they came up with some great improvements to the technique. You will also adapt it to suit your hands and ideas.

We are using the out-standing Scarva ES50 Crank clay (a stoneware clay with a lot of grog – ground up ceramic grits- in a variety of sizes from corse to dust making it much easier to hand-build with) because of the way it reacts with water and it’s superb strength when hard and also when dry. You can use different clays for the armature but using the same one means everything shrinks at the same rate during drying and firing.

Many thanks to Nicola Crocker for the great photos of the workshop.

The Technique:

Print out skeleton images of your animal, ideally in the same scale as you wish to make your sculpture, images of the whole animal and images of that animal in the pose you want. On to a stiff slab that will be your central support, carefully draw the skeleton.

 

This is an important opportunity to get your head around this animals construction. You can trace through the skeleton using pin-pricks or pressure. But measuring from the diagram to transfer the image will begin the process of clarifying your knowledge of the animal for the purpose of sculpture.

The skeleton is set clearly in a simple to read pose. The sketch is the pose desired. On the clay slab the skeleton is set in the pose. This is not easy to do, takes time and is a huge investment in your sculpture’s foundation and in your skills.

Using stiff slabs, stand your central support up ensuring it is nice and stable. Make good joins: while much of this supporting armature will be cut away eventually some of it will remain and be useful during the firing. Build outwards using images of the animal to assess the widths. Use comparative measurements: the ribcage is twice the width of the head etc.

A narrow standing figure like a meercat will need something to support him or he will be and almost worst, look, very fragile. In the figurative tradition acceptable motifs are employed: think of those little shrubberies at the ankles of classic marble nudes. Or you can add a second figure and get support, a fascinating narrative and lots of fab negative shapes into the bargain.

Supports can added and removed all through the process. This wonderful student, herself a teacher came up with several practical and useful ways to improve this technique.

If you are comfortable doing it, build hollow. Or add the clay on solid. At this stage you are still building the frame-work for the sculpture: disciplined measurements will give you a great foundation that will give life to the artwork stage.

 

Squirrel.

This piece is all about the energy and character of this squirrel. The ‘fluffy tail’ can be a meaningless cliche and has not been used here.

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Work right around the form in layers giving full attention to the whole sculpture at each rotation. It is extremely important that you are always will to cut off parts that are wrong no matter how long you worked on them. A beautifully crafted eye will look grotesque in the wrong place.

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Once your form is completely ‘ blocked out, with all proportions correct switch to using tools to apply the clay rather than fingers. You will get a more attractive, stronger surface and can be more specific. A good habit is to go all around adding. Then all around subtracting, repeat until you can’t see what else could be done better at this point in your progression. Then hollow if necessary. Then do finishing touches (with small tools) Then poke a needle hole into any area that might contain trapped air.

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Add other types of supports if useful but remember they wont shrink with the form during drying.

Birds

Making birds is notoriously difficult because of their insane relationship with gravity. Work slowly in stages allowing the parts to firm up and add to the support system. Remove your clay-armature cautiously in small stages.

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This flying bird will be set on a base as yet un-determined. The armature holds the pose well on this very tricky piece allowing it to change and develop.

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This flexible technique can take you places you had thought of. Here the internal space has become part of the sculpture.

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Because the weight is supported and the skeleton provides strong boundaries you can play and feel your way around the form. The finished piece will need it’s own supports but here you can try various alternatives until you are happy with the look, strength and feel.

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Lots more trial and error will happen to this fascinating bird-scape in the next weeks.

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Take breaks, look out side to clear your eyes then glance at your sculpture and note what you first notice. If you hit a wall with it cover with a bag and walk away! I sometimes leave sculpture wrapped for months. I check regularly to mist with water and see if I can move forward again. Taking photos can be a good way to get some perspective. Ask others ‘what they see’ and compare that to what you want them to see. A dog that looks like a donkey has too big a head for example.

Giraffe

A wonderful form where negative shapes play a stunning role. Their grace and movement is enchanting and very tricky to capture.

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Five points of contact with the ground could give this piece stability but at this small scale those legs and feet are still so small. This elegant solution, where the central support is tidied up attractively and immediately becomes neutral, eliminates the distracting fragility.

Wild Boar

This animal is iconic and has held it’s place in art for Millenia. It’s bulky form and thick fur can easily be over generalised into a blob on sticks. Here the skeleton secures the integrity of the structure. This sculpture is about his power and movement.

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This piece will be completely cut away from it’s supports once it is firm to retain it’s shape, rested on foam and a hole made for a metal pin and base that will show off it’s galloping form.

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The details of the face should be in balance with the rest of the sculpture. At this small scale it is also a mistake to try and put on complicated detail. It will take a lot of time to find what can be left out. The skull will give you the clues: it is the structure of the face that matters.

Cats

Cats are extraordinarily flexible and their exterior hides their structure. Making pets can be very difficult because we have so much knowledge of them that can cloud the sculptural information. Use the skeleton to keep on track with proportions that our nutty perceptions may think are similar to humans!

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A beautiful, gentle way to address the eyes expressively in keeping with the form.

Dogs

This student had gorgeous pictures of her adorable young dog, especially his loving face. But at this small scale she focussed on his movement and energy to portray him. She will paint his distinctive markings on in colour.

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Keep re-checking those measurements at every stage.

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The armature is cut away (but continues to function usefully inside). Needle holes will be poked up into the form to vent all the air pockets made by building hollow. Then a hole will be placed for a wooden dowel set in a base to display this dog leaping as he runs.

 

Meercat

These little guys have tiny feet and very slender legs. You could build some grass or rocks around their lower legs to give stability. Or add a friend.

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Like the giraffe parts of the support wall could remain and no-one would notice because the charm of these characters and their friendship is far more engaging.

Otter

This up-right stance gives similar problems to the meercats but the way otters stand gives plenty of attachment to the base.

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An otter’s simple form can be very difficult to capture. His gesture and poses are well recognised so that helps. Starting with the skeleton puts the key points of his body in the right place under that silky fur. There is a lovely change in loose to very smooth modelling on the surface that recalls water running off the fur.

The Horse

Like many big herbivores horses have surprises in their skeletons that are key to their shape. A rig of spurs along the spine limits over-flexing but also keeps predator teeth away from the precious spinal column. It defines their characteristic silhouette. The skull seems bizarre but get that blocked in well and the head will look great, even in a small scale.

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Follow the transition points of the legs very carefully. Note how those big neck muscles cross and attach behind the shoulder blades. At this stage it is almost as if the legs are just attached to the edge of the body but you now know those leg bones go right up near the spine and have a wide range of movement which can be gauged by measuring the length of a bone and pivoting it from it’s socket. It was suggested that you could cut up a spare skeleton in order to make a hinged ‘shadow puppet’ that could be helpful in designing the pose from a standing skeleton.

Armadillo.

These guys go well above and beyond not to look like animals all! They have extraordinary skeletons, well worth studying. But it has to be said that apart from proportions the hard shell-like outer skin means you see no clues of it showing on the armadillo’s surface. Their shell is a very subtle, beautiful shape with exquisite patterns.

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This student did all the skeleton work as part of the workshop. But then he switched to working solid/hollowing out as a technique far better suited to armadillos.

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On solid clay use your skeleton to identify the right proportions.

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Use a serrated kidney tool to shape the body. Then use a flat wide modelling tool to add clay and further refine that gently undulating form.

 

Your central, weight-bearing support does not need to be flat/straight: Both of these abstracts were built outwards from a stiffened curvy up-right central shape of various thickness set on a metal rod.

Antarctic Harbinger III, 26cm H x 37cm W x19cm D.

Antarctic Leviathan, 45cm L x 23cm H x 12cm D.

 

Quality Joints:

Genuine joins are formed when the chains of platelet-shaped particles from each section inter-lock. Picture a magnified image of hair.

Score marks do not give the surface ‘tooth’; they allow water into the clay-body. On vertical surfaces they hold the water in place to give it time to sink in.

Slip is not ‘glue’, it is clay particles spread out in water and has little strength, especially when it has dried. It is ideal for holding a lot of water in place to give it time to be absorbed to soften the area of leather-hard clay.

Once both edges are softened put the pieces back together and move back and forth until you feel the edges lock together.
Manipulate the softened clay at the join to encourage further integration of those particle-chains and to disturb the straight line of the join; cracks love to zing along a nice straight slip-weakened join during the firing when the pull of shrinking stresses the sculpture.

Thicknesses: cracking/breaking.

How thick the clay can be to fire well depends on the amount of grog (the gritty bits of pre-fired clay ground to specific sized grit/dust that gives improved structure and resilience to your clay), the denseness of your modelling style, drying time and the speed of your firing.

Air bubbles trapped in the clay will expand with the heat. Grog and/or a loose surface will allow the air to seep through the clay. The same is true with water but steam expands fast. If your piece breaks into big bits during the fire it was trapped air and you will be able to see where the bubbles were in the shards. If it blows up into a trillion smithereens it wasn’t properly dry!

Drying:

I dry thick sculptures slowly under plastic which I turn inside out ( to avoid condensation pooling) daily for 4 weeks minimum and then 1-2 weeks in a plastic tent with a dehumidifier.  A card-board box makes a great, slow, draft-free drying chamber.A long dry allows the water to level out as water loves to do and that will enhance the structure of the clay within it’s new sculpture shape. You will get less cracks or distorting in the fire.

I fire very slowly with an 18 degree C rise until 600 degrees C. then onto full power up to the desired temperature.

Generally 3cm is a fair maximum thickness for a well grogged clay.

There is good essential advice about handling clay on the post about Coil Building.

How To Make a Head is essentially the same method and you will find it helpful. It talks about human heads but of corse is relevant to all heads apart from the handy option of being able to measure with callipers from your own.

Throwdown at the Hoedown.

 

 

Christopher-Michel_flickr_Web

Fantastic image from Christopher-Michel_flickr_Web. Interesting article here: //goodnature.nathab.com/larsen-ice-shelf-breakoff-our-future-in-ice/

“If there was ever an example of humankind being unable to bear too much reality, it is the current debate on climate change.” John Gray

Antarctic Leviathan, 45cm L x 23cm H x 12cm D.

I have been following the fascinating progression of Climate Change for 35 years. At last it is a main-stream subject. It’s intriguing how a small number of people are still trying to avoid seeing it, the deniers but mostly the avoiders. It is terrifying, lethal. Our doing and responsibility. The prospect of shifting the habits and habitats of our gigantic population is exhausting.

So a narrative has slowly emerged from the progression of sculptures (rather than the other way around), beginning during The Landscape Series. I wont interfere with that. I will record what I see, let the clay take the lead, research areas I need more information on, add music and follow the road. This is how I have always worked. But this time there is far more clarity.

Antarctic Harbinger I, 20cm H x 33cm L x 19cm D.

Throwdown at the Hoedown

A trichotomy of the Earth, the Guardians of the Aquasphere, the Lithosphere and the Atmosphere arose and they, and their Sentinels and Harbingers took on characteristics that the many life-forms of the Biosphere could relate to so that all would understand what was happening; They were going to let loose their forces. This was not to threaten or  punish. They simply knew it was time.

Rebecca Buck osprey Studios

Arctic Guardian and Harbinger, 70cm H x 37cm W x 24cm D.

The three spheres cover all that is water, stone or air. At first that seemed simple. But the three over-lap all over the place. And combining with sunlight, they build the whole of the Biosphere that they nurture and threaten.

Arctic Harbinger, 33cm L x 13cm H x 12cm D.

Steven Foote’s stunning photographs from The Landscape Series seem to contain the whole mysterious narrative, characters and all, I refer to them daily and they will continue to be the bed-rock of the Series.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

Bracelet Bay, Swansea, Wales UK. by Stephen Foote

The key there became the beautiful, evocative forms left by water as it passed over rock and the land, an echo of it’s own shapes. This, coupled with intense news from the Antarctic about accelerated melting and glacial movement has kept my focus particularly on the Aquasphere.

The Aquasphere

It is changes with water that cause the most upheaval to the Biosphere. Water holds centre stage in the atmosphere’s massive weather events. More often than not it is at the forefront of dramatic episodes in the lithosphere: mud-slides, sink-holes, erosion and sometimes the provocation of volcanos.

Water takes so many forms: flowing (fresh and salt), vapour, ice. Each has a range of characteristics. The primary character is the Leviathan but there are many others involved.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Guardian I, 33cm H x 83cm W x 36cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Guardian I, 33cm H x 83cm W x 36cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Harbinger II, 13cm H x 26cm W x 14cm D + base.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Harbinger II, 13cm H x 26cm W x 14cm D + base.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

Mountain River Sentinel, 69cm H x 39cm W x 28cm D.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

Coastal Harbinger II, 43cm L x 29cm H x 22cm W.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

Mountain River Harbinger, 37cm L x 21cm H x 19cm W.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

Mountain River Sentinel, 69cm H x 39cm W x 28cm D.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

Coastal Harbinger, 35cm L x 23cm H x 16cm W.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

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

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

Leviathan V, 45cm H x 65cm L x 23cm D.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

Leviathan V, 45cm H x 65cm L x 23cm D.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

Leviathan IV, 35cm H x 61cm L x 29cm D.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

Mountain River Sentinel, 69cm H x 39cm W x 28cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Mountain River Guardian, 36cm H x 67cm L x 42cm D. Landscape Series. Cupola Contemporary Art Gallery, Sheffield, UK

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Mountain River Guardian I, 36 cm H x 67cm L x 42cm D.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

Leviathan IX, 35cm H x 60cm L x 25cm D.

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Leviathan II, 2015, 53cm H x 79cm L x 36cm D, ceramic.

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Leviathan II, 2015, 53cm H x 79cm L x 36cm D, ceramic.

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Leviathan II, 2015, 53cm H x 79cm L x 36cm D, ceramic.

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Leviathan II, detail, 2015, 53cm H x 79cm L x 36cm D, ceramic.

The Atmosphere

At first I was seeing atmosphere simply as sky. Weather, especially the fabulous, awe-inspiring kind like hurricanes. But the atmosphere is every where, filling every gap, breathing life into the world, even under the ocean.

For this reason the Osprey is it’s main form.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Osprey II, 39cm H x 50cm W x 50cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Osprey II, 39cm H x 50cm W x 50cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Osprey II, 39cm H x 50cm W x 50cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Osprey IX, 13cm H x 18cm W x 11cm D +base.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Osprey I, 12cm H x 46cm W x 13cm D +base.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Osprey I, 12cm H x 46cm W x 13cm D +base.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Osprey III, 17cm H x 57cm W x 32cm D.

The Lithosphere

The Lithosphere, the geologic, stony part of the world has The Wyvern, a shape-shifting dragon that has taken a number of forms so far.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Guardians of the Valley, 30cm H x 67cm W x 26cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Guardians of the Valley, 30cm H x 67cm W x 26cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Wyvern IX, 14cm H x 38cm L x 15cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Antarctic Harbinger and Sentinel, 28cm H x 17cm W x 13cm D + base.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Wyvern XI, 13cm H x 20cm L x 16cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Wyvern, 11cm H x 15cm L.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Wyvern, 11cm H x 15cm L.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Wyvern, 11cm H x 15cm L.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Wyvern X, 12cm H x 21cm L x 11cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Wyvern X, 12cm H x 21cm L x 11cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Wyvern X, 12cm H x 21cm L x 11cm D.

The Biosphere

I  started looking at forms and ways to describe the Biosphere’s part of this story. ‘The Land’ sculptures started in The Landscape Series but this was different: it was no longer just the form and far more the theme of vulnerability. Change in the Natural world is  wonderful, a miracle. Frequently spectacular. And terrifying, heartbreaking, sometimes to dreadful to countenance especially where the Biosphere is concerned. But there is also belonging, the perfect fit of life grown out of the combined trinity of spheres. Nurtured, protected, watched over.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

Biosphere Sentinel II, 23cm H x 48cm L x 28cm D.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

Biosphere Sentinel II, 23cm H x 48cm L x 28cm D.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

Biosphere’s Guardian I, 22.5cm H x 22.5cm W.

 

As with all my posts I will add to them over time as things develop. Here’s some links  to interesting, key parts of the research so far for the Throw-down at the Hoe-down:

26 years ago I left New Hampshire with my first son in my arms, new CD’s of Bela Fleck in my suitcase and returned to the UK. This extraordinary music sustained and developed my work  for 15 years. Steve Vai and later a wider variety joined Bela. But this track, Bigfoot, is the key and the seed that has lead to this new Series:

Bela Fleck’s Throwdown at the Hoedown seems like the perfect title for this new Series and a fair way to honour all his music has given me, so I’m going to go with that for a while.

This fascinating article by Randall Morris about Masks describes the process that I am trying to work through here. I have learnt a great deal from Randall since joining Cavin Morris Gallery. His amazing collection and beautiful writing brings clarity to, and pin points the essence of, what is important in art. I am an animist by nature and it is my job to portray what I see but the distractions can be over-whelming.

Published on May 6, 2016  

Short essay by Randall Morris

Animism: informative article by Sarah Anne lawless. 

There is a ‘modern’ resistance/confusion to animist ideas. The waters are muddied by spiritualist ideas, religions and fantasies. It can be difficult to avoid distractions when you are working on this kind of sculpture. The process is intuitive and free-flowing. Expertise with well organised techniques allow for that by managing the clay’s weight and ceramic requirements leaving the maker and material to associate with minimal restraint. I’m not taking a political, moral or religious stand. I’m just doing my thing, same as always, doing my bit to get the sculpture made. That feels very important to me and I don’t need to know why.

But none the less I keep informed on new science about consciousness in matter and enjoy the kinship and familiarity of Outsider art/ Art Brut. Having boundaries helps to weed out those irrelevant distractions.

Within animism there are many practices used to engage and interact with the spirit world, to put it over-simply. I’m not attempting that. My role is just to be part of it. A record keeper, perhaps, a chronicler to help my fellow 21st century folk maintain a link with the natural world.

Panpsychism: The idea that everything from spoons to stones are conscious is gaining academic credibility

How the Earth Made Us, a fantastic BBC 2 series by Professor Iain Stewart. And some fab clips from another series, Earth: The Power of the Planet.

Awesome iceberg video. I now collect these!

Climate change info with a really interesting, informative video of leading scientist, James Hansen explaining the findings.

Naomi Klien‘s fascinating and very readable book, This Changes Everything and the exciting, optimistic organisation of the same name.

The Up is Down Series.

 

 

The Landscape Series.

This Series is a collaboration with Photographer and Documentary Cameraman Stephen Foote.   Click on any picture to see it full size.

Stephen Foote and I met up after 30 years in 2014. We were good friends as teenagers, both rather disengaged with school, both making art in our own time. 30 years on we both still use art work as a major part of our interaction with this nutty world. Sharing our images was a key way we got to know each other again and harnessing that process in a joint project was simply a way of capturing what was occurring naturally. We set a straightforward ” Artists Respond to Landscape ” brief and kept a very open mind while we walked, talked, Steve took pictures and I just took it all in. We met every few months and sent each other pictures of the ensuing work in-between times.

Steve is also a Cameraman and was involved in filming for Panorama during the early, very heated phase in Kiev and the Crimea. I was coming to the end of the Up Is Down Series . Our first visit was Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea. Then we went into Porth Yr Ogof caves and had a mind-blowing day for me; we spent hours in the dark, natural cave while Steve took a fab series of photographs. I stood in the river in the darkness, held the lights and listened to the flow of water, felt the under-ground breezes. From there the project clarified for us as the travels of the water from the sky above the Brecon Beacons to the river, especially the Tawe, on down to the wide bay at Swansea, and out into the Ocean where much of it will return to the clouds and begin the circle again. As it flows it leaves it’s mark on the stone, the ground, the life it passes.

These pictures are roughly in sequence for the progression of work over time, with Steve’s photos next to the related sculptures in some cases.

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Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

Wyvern, 10cm H x 18cm L x 11cm D.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

Wyvern, 10cm H x 18cm L x 11cm D.

Wyvern X, 21cm L x 12cm H x 11cm D.

 

Water and Stone, Bracelet Bay, 2014, 24cmH x 56cm L x 33cm W, Marbled architectural ceramic.

Water and Stone, Bracelet Bay, 2014, 24cmH x 56cm L x 33cm W, Marbled architectural ceramic. Photo by Stephen Foote

Stephen Foote; Dunes

Stephen Foote; Dunes

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

in progress, July 2014

Wyvern I in progress, July 2014. 68cm H x 64cm W.

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

 

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote.

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote.

It was this fabulous picture of Bracelet Bay that shifted me abruptly into figures, much to my own surprise. The character of the Wyvern developed while making the public sculpture the Balarat Pit Marker in The Edge Series: the coal, a buried treasure to be used wisely or there would be consequences, watched over by a shape-shifting Welsh dragon.

Busts in progress, Aug 2014.

Wyvern busts in progress, Aug 2014.

Here the Wyvern is a guardian of stone.

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Wyvern V, 2015, 27cm H x 51cm L x 25cm D, black ceramic. Cavin Morris Gallery, New York.

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Wyvern V, 2015, 27cm H x 51cm L x 25cm D, black ceramic. Cavin Morris Gallery New York.

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Porth Yr Ogof Cave, Brecon Beacons, by Steve Foote, 2014. We spent hours down here and as I assisted the photography, standing in the river and pitch black, I felt the underground wind and heard all the sounds of water travelling through the rocks. Extraordinary. A living, breathing world of unparalleled beauty.

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Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

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Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

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Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

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The Wyvern III, 2014

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

Wyvern II, 2014, 69cm H x 54cm W, x 31cm D, ceramic. Photo Stephen Foote.

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The Wyvern IV, Sept 2014

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The Wyvern and The Leviathan. in progress, Sept 2014.

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Wyvern VIII, 2015, 39cm H x 71cm L x 34cm D, ceramic. Cavin Morris Gallery New York.

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Wyvern VIII, 2015, 39cm H x 71cm L x 34cm D, ceramic. Cavin Morris Gallery New York.

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Wyvern VIII, detail. Photo Stephen Foote.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

Wyvern VIII, Cavin Morris Gallery New York. Photo Stephen Foote.

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Water moves from one sphere to the next in all it’s forms, changing everything it passes. On heavy, stormy days here in the Brecon Beacons it careens in sheets 10cm deep across the grassy hills, colliding in the streams and rivers to tear down towards Swansea Bay. It drops through the gaps and cracks it has left in the stone to the fabulous caves it has been cutting for Millenia. Standing out in the middle of all this you can see the mountain ponies, uncompromising, resolute and beautiful. They became the Guardian of the water, the Leviathan, in it’s mountain form.

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Leviathan V, 2015, 11.5cm H x 25cm L x 9.5cm W, ceramic. Photo Stephen Foote.

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Leviathan VI, 2015, 12.5cm H x 21cm L x 8cm W, ceramic. Cavin Morris Gallery New York.

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Leviathan V, 2015, 11.5cm H x 25cm L x 9.5cm W, ceramic. Photo Stephen Foote.

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The Wyvern and the Osprey, 2014.

The Osprey followed as the guardian of the sky.

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Stephen Foote Photography.

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Osprey II, 65cm W x 50cm H. Photo Stephen Foote.

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Osprey II, 65cm W x 50cm H. Photo Stephen Foote.

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Osprey I, 40 cm W x 25cm H.Photo Stephen Foote.

Steve’s landscape photos unify everything exquisitely, portraying a vivid place with such clarity you can feel it around you. My sculptural response inevitably, and with some regret, separated the features which got me thinking more carefully about their connections.

The  sphinx-like form and majesty of the Brecon Beacons also showed up first in the Balarat Pit Marker. A classic sculptural motif, the reclining  figure, with it’s many options for themes. Like the complex internal aspect of the Beacons complete with breath, life (water) running through veins in the rock, hidden secrets, moods, supporting of forests, wildlife, and us since the dawn of time. The subtlety of age: the Beacons are especially ancient and have been many things in their past. ‘The Land’ sculptures are about this part of what we saw.

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Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios.

The Land II, 21cm H x 52cm L x 27cm D. Cupola Contemporary Art, Sheffield, UK.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

The Land VIII, 21cm L x 12cm H x 11cm W.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

The Land III, 15cm H x 43cm L x 12cm D.  

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

The Land IV, 15cm H x 26cm L x 14cm D.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

The Land I, 24cm H x 65cm L x 19cm D.

 

At this point the Series branches off into new territory lead by images and news about Climate Change rather than Steve’s photos and my local landscape. I have been following the fascinating progression of Climate Change for 35 years. At last it is a main-stream subject. It’s intriguing how people are still trying to avoid seeing it, the deniers but mostly the avoiders. My guilty secret is that I see it as thrilling: nature rejoicing in it’s power and spectacular magnificence, the wonder of transformation. Throwndown at Hoedown is an ongoing Series now.

This fascinating article by Randall Morris about Masks describes the process that I am trying to work through here. I have learnt a great deal from Randall since joining Cavin Morris Gallery. His amazing collection and beautiful writing brings clarity to, and pin points the essence of, what is important in art. I am an animist by nature and it is my job to portray what I see but the distractions can be over-whelming.

Short essay by Randall Morris

The Up is Down Series  proceeded The Landscape Series and was a transitionary point in how I put together forms, particularly in relation to their bases. The research involved clarified my thinking and ability to see.

Most of the sculptures in The Landscape Series are built with the technique explained in Heads and clay armatures.

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.

What do artists do all day?

At Bracelet Bay, Wales, UK.

At Bracelet Bay, Wales, UK.

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.

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Bracelet Bay, photograph by Stephen Foote.

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.

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 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.

 

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 of all species.

Clay

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?”

What?!

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.

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.

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,

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….

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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..)

                                                     ————————————

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.

Osprey Studios. SA9 1YT.

Osprey Studios. SA9 1YT.

Studio Diary, Reflecting on Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

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You can imagine how massively pleased I feel when people say my work must be influenced by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. They have been the corner-stone of my development as they have for so many artists of all disciplines.

Last July I finally made my first visit  to the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle. I was invited by a lovely Collector who is from Yorkshire and is a big Hepworth/Moore fan. She has a range of my formative pieces; she is interested in those transitionary points in Artist’s work.

After the visit I poured out the first impressions in the Studio for a few months and now I’m re-studying the work of these giants and reviewing their influence on what I make and the process; The Doubts are always hovering on the edge. They regularly get to me and leave me questioning the validity of my work process; can you really share experience and ideas through abstract form?

Barbara Hepworth was confident that Sculpture was  an  essential natural work for humans, that it must be because we have done it since our very earliest days. Studying her work and biography taught me that you can join forces with your material to translate the voice of your environment into  forms  that will communicate to others.

Hepworth, Moore and most of their extraordinary contemporaries were quite sure that if you trained your craftsmanship thoroughly, and knew and respected your material, you would be able to work directly through your well informed intuition to create valuable, meaningful artwork that ‘felt right’ to you and spoke to others. The incomparable Conceptual Artist Grayson Perry talked about these values in his Reith Lectures this year and stated that perhaps the time we are in now is in need of evocative, powerful art that talks to the soul rather than the intellect.

I decided to write this post over these reflective months to clarify what I’m doing in my own practice. I will add to it over time to help maintain my focus.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

Both Hepworth and Moore studied the figure extensively in the traditional way.

Both Hepworth and Moore studied the figure extensively in the traditional way.

I was one of those kids who was always making things out of toilet paper and sellotape and by my teens, in the 1970s, I was taking my subject seriously. I read everything I could find about my favourites, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore and I tried to copy their  education. I lived in Oxford (UK) at the time so I could spend hours drawing in the Cast Gallery ( an amazing collection of casts from Greek and Roman statuary; extraordinary, muscly figures that kept still!)  in the basement of the Ashmolean Museum. In  Pitt Rivers Museum there was Skeletons and freaky taxidermy ( animals in crazy poses, that kept still.) At Oxpens Tech we did formal life-drawing of nudes and during my BFA hons at the Art Department of Boston University, USA, I was was hugely fortunate to be taught figure and portrait skills by Lloyd Lilly. He was a wonderful and exacting tutor and I owe him a great deal.

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At The Hepworth in Wakefield.

In my early 20’s I lived in Cornwall, UK, for a year or so and visited  Hepworth’s Studios in St. Ives and kissed the ground she walked upon. My work started to properly Abstract around then under the wonderful, great-humoured, very practical guidance of the lovely sculptor Ron Wood.

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So this trip to Yorkshire was a pilgrimage for me. And it was absolutely wonderful. Pippa was a fabulous host and such a great person to be with because she is fascinated with sculpture and comes to it from a different angle than I do, making talking it through with her intricate and revealing. Plus she is a laugh and we had a great deal of fun; she showed me the real Wakefield right down to the Rhubarb Liquor.

The Hepworth at Wakefield.

The Hepworth at Wakefield.

The Hepworth in Wakefield is just awesome. A striking modern building with wonderful light. It’s right in town near the shops and one of the things that made me so jubilant was seeing families who had clearly dropped in for another visit as a treat for their excited kids who were loving it. The Museum staff had groups of children sitting on the floor laughing and chatting and making things in front of these stunning sculptures. No hushed tones, everyone there (and it was busy) was relaxed and enchanted.

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Barbara Hepworth, Figure for Landscape, 1960.

The major Hepworth Retrospective ‘Sculpture for a Modern World’ is at the Tate in London this year, so  everything was re-arranged and Pippa spotted pieces she had never seen before.

This room is fantastic.

This room is fantastic.

The scene was the same at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It was an ordinary weekend and the huge carparks were packed. Families and friends were walking amongst the fantastic sculptures with the relaxed ease of familiarity, having picnics, playing, soaking-in the presence and passion of the artwork.

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

 Anthony Caro

Anthony Caro

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

Lynn Chadwick.

In the Underground Gallery they had set a completely stunning exhibition ” Henry Moore, Back To A Land”. Such a great title, I was hooked as soon as I saw it as we entered the Park.  The Show  was beautifully lit and spacious. There were pieces I had never seen before.  And lots of preparatory work like small scale models, drawings, found objects like intriguing stones. His tools were  laid out respectfully. I would dearly love to have had this Show as my home. It was wonderful. There is a nice short film that introduces the Show the very well; Henry Moore at YSP.

I had planned to do my BFA,Hons thesis on Henry Moore. I had an appointment to meet with him in 1985. I transported my feint ghost of a self, rigid with respect, awe and generalised terror, to his home and Studio. But sadly he was too unwell that day to see me. One of his very kind, thoughtful and generous assistants took me around the studios and told me all about it. I wrote my thesis about him in the end and I cringe to admit that I can’t remember his name. They were enlarging this sculpture, or one very like it , in polystyrene, scaling up from a small model Henry Moore had made many years previously. The Lovely Assistant told me that Henry often felt very anxious when this happened, that he wasn’t sure it was right to enlarge a piece made to be small. We all get the doubts…!

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Both Hepworth and Moore used evocative, shifting textures that further describe the forms by capturing shadows and reflecting concentrated spots of light. In both of these exceptional venues you can get right up close and inspect the craftsmanship. At YSP, even outside, they do ask that you don’t touch the work  but the sheep use them as windbreaks and scratching posts so most people feel there their gentle caress wont do any harm and it feels very good to send Henry Moore a whispered message of gratitude and recognition from the heart and through the hand.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth. Detail of Rock Form (Porthcurno), 1964.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Figure (Archaean) 1959.

These details of Rock Form and Figure (Archaean) show the deeply textured surface built up in plaster with the intension of ultimately being bronze. Both Moore and Hepworth had carving as their true-love but both built up forms with plaster, and occasionally clay, for models, to be cast in bronze. Here’s the whole of Rock Form showing the texture across the form;

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Rock Form (Porthcurno), 1964. She wrote of the group of pieces that include this one;’these are all sea forms and rock forms, related to Porthcurno on the Land’s End coast with its queer caves pierced by the sea. They were experiences of people- the movement of people in and out is always a part of them’. I lived in St Agnes on the north Cornwall coast around 1980ish. Fabulous area over-flowing with strange myths, legends and other-worldly beings. People often go there to loose themselves for a while. Hepworth moved her young family there just before WW2 broke out. Her Studio and the work in it left in London was destroyed by bombings. She stayed in Cornwall for the rest of her life, playing her part in the prosperity of the area along with Bernard Leach’s Pottery that continues to this day with the Tate Gallery having a wing there.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

I particularly love Rock Form. The holes face into the form bringing light in to meet within the shelters of the sculpture. Both Moore and Hepworth use the edges of holes so ingeniously to hold or pour light around the forms. Interior space is a massive issue with sculpture made in ceramic because the pieces usually have to be hollow if they are over a certain size wether that space has meaning to the theme or not. Bronzes are hollow too but, no matter what it is made into, ceramics always carries it’s ancient history of pots that is so intricately entwined in our evolution that we describe our bodies as vessels; no one can resist looking into the openings of big pots , can they. I am particularly re-studying the use of holes and the directing of a flow around forms in both sculptors work.

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

They both also used grouped forms a lot and one sculpture made of several parts is classic Moore. It’s really hard to do. Currently my work is gradually disassembling; bases reduced as far as possible, interior space integrated with the exterior (to a point…LOT more work needed there…) surfaces deeply textured. But so far any attempts to divide the form reek of pastiche. You can’t fake this stuff, it has to be sincere and real. Henry Moore had a strong relationship with the monumental formations of stone on the moors of his formative environment and tunnelling coal mines of his community. For the last 17 years  I have lived in a landscape and culture shaped by mining; 12 in the Rhondda Valley and making Pit Markers and Memorials across the Valleys and the last 5 years  in the Upper Tawe Valley, with the front of Osprey Studios  facing a working pit and and the back  facing the ancient, worn, mountains of the Brecon Beacons. The Landscape Series ( with the awesome Photographer, Stephen Foote) is all about describing our place within  the Natural World in this location and experiential frame-work; I am guided by the foot-steps of  giants. Pleasingly I live at the foot of Cribarth, the Sleeping Giant mountain, which rounds that train of thought off nicely.

Anthony Caro

Anthony Caro

Anthony  Caro was also on show at YSP, with lots of fab models and a few sculptures that got to me because they played with contained space and were beautifully made.

Anthony Caro

Anthony Caro

The carvings of Hepworth and Moore are beyond beautiful. The ethos of Truth To Materials, held by their group of artist colleagues for some years, shines out especially in the wood pieces. I took this idea very much to heart as an intense teenager. Clay comes in a multitude of disguises, no  single one speaking for all clay. Each blend of wild clays has it’s own characteristics to be celebrated. I still honour my material and work for it. It is a powerful material fully aware of the ties that bind us to it. It has shaped us and our societies countless times over the Millenia.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, carving in wood and some of her plaster-work tools.

Barbara Hepworth used lines of string or steel to follow the forces running through the forms. Henry Moore often cut lines into the surface. Both are such bold and fantastically effective things to do in certain circumstances. Working from these examples I’ve been using repeated patterns of texture or curves  to achieve the same thing with various degrees of success.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Here’s some other images of beautiful sculptures from Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, some taken by me and many collected from the internet. My thanks to the photographers and I am sorry I do not have your names.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Figure (Archaean), 1959. The name derives from the ancient Greek word for beginning or origin. The Archaean period saw the emergence of life on earth. Hepworth was very drawn to standing stones and felt a connection as a sculptor to the people who had been compelled to put them up. She often talked about how a person out in a landscape was a sculpture and part of the landscape. She saw her sculptures as living people. Not in a crazy way but in that her work was not done until the form was imbued with life. Over time her relationship with that piece would evolve and change, just as it does with other living beings.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have this part of The Hepworth, Wakefield as your living room?

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Single Form (Chun Quoit), 1961. Chun Quoit is a Neolithic chamber tomb in the beautiful landscape between St Ives and Land’s End (Cornwall, UK), an area that had a profound effect on Hepworth. It was created with her friend Dag Hammarskjold in mind. When he died not long afterwards she made the stunning, 3metre high version for the new United Nations Secretariat Building in New York City. I can’t deny that I get a kick out of this wonderful sculpture being made and installed there in the year of my birth in NYC!

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Barbara Hepworth.

Here is a charming video with some lovely footage of Hepworth working made by the Kroller-Muller Museum: Barbara Hepworth, Sculpture for a Modern World.

Henry Moore.

Henry Moore.

 

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Henry Moore at work.

Henry Moore at work.

Barbara Hepworth at work

Barbara Hepworth at work

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sculpture in the Garden

_F147690A Sculpture will transform any Garden, huge or pocket-sized, elaborate or austere. It will need to be made of beautiful, quality materials that have a radiance complimentary to your gorgeous plants. A piece needs to be frost-proof and easily cleaned. No material is as durable or as low maintenance as high-fired Clay.

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Half a Century I (sold) and II, £950 each.

The River, commission.

The River, commission.

 

Wyvern IV,62cm H x 55cm W.

Wyvern IV,62cm H x 55cm W.

 

Wyvern II, 70cm H x 52cm W. £850.

Wyvern II, 70cm H x 52cm W. £850.

 

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Up is Down XV, £300

 

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Harbinger I, £600. (sold)

 

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Up is Down XVI, 26cm H x 56cm L, £300.

 

I make simple , movable plinths with old bricks and attractive stone paving tiles. Dig a hole and put in some bricks to make a foundation if the Sculpture is tall or very heavy, then build a hollow plinth with a small doorway that can double as a safe, cosy home for wild-life. If security is an issue or the piece is tall and vulnerable to high winds sink a stake into the ground, build the plinth around this and have the stake go into the Sculpture- many of my Sculptures are hollow and you can set them securely with cement if needs be.

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Up is Down II, 42cm H x 90cm L, £650.

 

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Half a Century III, 40cm H, £150.

 

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Some of the Sculpture is fresh from the Kiln and new work will be on the go in the Studio.

River Harbinger, 125cm H, £950

River Harbinger, at Wyndcliffe Court Sculpture Garden, 125cm H, £950 (sold)

 

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The River III, 80cm H, £500

The River III, 80cm H, £500 Sold

 

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The Edge III, 57cm H, £600, (sold).

 

I freely admit I spend countless hours staring into the pond ''thinking''...there are Newts !!

Callipygous, 41cm H x 73cm L, £600.

Callipygous, 41cm H x 73cm L, £600.

In the winter sculptures give the garden focal points and structure while the plants rest.

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Up is Down IV, 44cm H x 58cm L, £1100

 

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Up is Down II, 80cm L, £500

 

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Harbinger I, £600. (sold)

 

The Garden backs right onto the wonderful country-side of the Brecon Beacons National Park

Osprey Studios Garden backs right onto the wonderful country-side of the Brecon Beacons National Park

Sculptures will define each area of your garden. This patio at the end of the garden is a calm, reflective place with dappled shade in the summer and warm sun in spring and autumn. In the winter the sculpture stands out and is eye catching from the house.

 

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Up is Down II, 41cm H x 80cm L, £500.

 

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Musings, 21cm H, £150. (sold)

 

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Musings, 20cm H, £150.

 

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The Edge XI, 77cm L x 49cm H, £600

 

The Edge I , 52cm H, £730.(sold)

The Edge I , 52cm H, £730.(sold)

 

Coastal Harbinger, 79cm L x 53cm H x 36cm D.

Coastal Harbinger, 79cm L x 53cm H x 36cm D.

 

The Edge XII, 71.5cm L x 46.5cm H x 40cm D.

The Edge XII, 71.5cm L x 46.5cm H x 40cm D.

 

The Edge XI, 77cm L x 49cm H x 40cm D.

The Edge XI, 77cm L x 49cm H x 40cm D.