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..)

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

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.

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How to Coil-build with clay from small to monumental.

There are lots of variations on the Coil-Building method. This one avoids all the pit-falls that cause your pots to go out of shape or break in the kiln.

I started out as a Coil-builder 34 years ago and I still turn to it regularly. All my monumental brick sculptures are coil-built. It’s all about understanding the clay and how joins are actually formed. The skills you gain from coil-building are extremely transferable making it a great place to start for beginners. There is a lovely rhythm to the work.

Here is the Coil-building Workshop that I run at Osprey Studios. Many thanks to my lovely students for being in these pictures.

How to do excellent Coil-Building.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

Choose a clay with a medium to high percentage of multi-grade grog ( grit in different sizes from dust to medium sized bits). Scarva ES 50 Crank is ideal. Clays of this type will give you the best results.

Start with the biggest pinch-pot you can comfortably make. (Unless your piece is really too big.

1.Start with the biggest pinch-pot you can comfortably make. (Unless your piece is really too big; leave out as much of the centre of the base as possible.)

Make it round.

2.Make it round.

 

The most important thing is an even thickness of up to 2cm at any point.

3.The most important thing is an even thickness of up to 2cm at any point.

Gently ease it into the shape of the first section of your pot.

4.Gently ease it into the shape of the first section of your pot.

Set it aside to stiffen up.

5.Set it aside to stiffen up.

 

 

Have several on the go at the same time so you are not tempted to rush each one.

6.Have several on the go at the same time so you are not tempted to rush each one.

Prepare the top edge to make a join.

7.Prepare the top edge to make a join. NEVER use a pointy tool. Use a serrated tool so that the score marks are not too deep. Fill these ‘ditches’ with water and give it time to soak in. Dab on a little more. Then put on slip; slip is perfect for holding a lot of water in place.

Very important bit.

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

Score marks do not give the surface ‘tooth’; they allow water into the clay-body. On vertical surfaces score marks and slip 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.

Never use a needle tool. Your score marks will be too narrow and deep. They will get covered over, resulting in a ring of tiny but malevolent air-bubbles that will expand in the firing and a crack will zing along the joins. I have fired pots for poor, misinformed makers that have come apart at every coil! You could see the deep score marks and powdery slip.

Start making your coil from a generous block of clay. Squeeze it gently and repeatedly into a thick sausage shape.

8.Start making your coil from a generous block of clay. Squeeze it gently and repeatedly into a thick sausage shape.

Using 2 hands gently squeeze your coil until it is 2 or 3 cm thick. Do NOT roll your coil.

9.Using 2 hands gently, and rotating, squeeze your coil until it is 2 or 3 cm thick. Do NOT roll your coil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every join is an opportunity for a crack, every coil a point where you might loose control of your shape. So it makes sense to use coils that are large enough to handle well and will give you 4cms of height.

Rolling your coil on the table can cause 2 problems;

  1. The grog that would have helped create an excellent join is packed towards the centre of the coil and the finer particles of clay are packed together to form a ‘skin’ of tight platelet shaped particles that are reluctant to reach out and bond with the platelets of the pot.
  2. enthusiastic rolling often causes a tunnel to form at each end of the coil that would be a substantial, damaging air-bubble. This is why you often see coil-builders break off both tips of their coils with out even looking at them; they know that hazard is probably there.
Rub the softened score-marks and excess slip off the pot until the edge is sticky not slippery. Your platelets are raised and receptive.

10.Rub the softened score-marks and excess slip off the pot until the edge is sticky not slippery. Your platelets are raised and receptive.

Attach 1 end of your coil. Hold the other end high. Gradually lower the coil, expelling air and any surplus slip.

11.Attach 1 end of your coil. Hold the other end high. Gradually lower the coil, expelling air and any surplus slip.

Guide the coil downwards and forwards with a pinch. This action creates a friction between the 2 surfaces that causes the platelets to hook onto each other from the pot to the coil.

12.Guide the coil downwards and forwards with a pinch. This action creates a friction between the 2 surfaces that causes the platelets to hook onto each other from the pot to the coil.

Do not be tempted to push clay down the pot with this step. Go to the end of your coil and stop. Do NOT go up another layer!

pinch upwards gently only at the seam off the join. (your finger and thumb will touch pot and coil each time) I call this lining-up.

13.pinch upwards gently only at the seam off the join. (your finger and thumb will touch pot and coil each time) I call this lining-up. Do inside first; this may push the wall out. next do outside; this will correct a bulge.

The over-hang of the coil can trap air if hastily pressed down. Rushed building is why coil-pots have a very unfair reputation for being hideous.

Go around and move clay down with your thumb; 1st the inside, then the outside as above.

14.Go around and move clay down with your thumb; 1st the inside, then the outside as above.

With thumbs inside and fingers on outside ( for best control) gently pinch the clay in the desired direction for your shape. Use many light pinches not a few strong ones for best results. The most important thing is the thickness. Not the height.

15.With thumbs inside and fingers on outside ( for best control) gently pinch the clay in the desired direction for your shape. Use many light pinches not a few strong ones for best results. The most important thing is the thickness. Not the height.

Support with 1 hand on outside. Gently move clay in many directions to get that coil right where you want it. Inside first, of course.

16.Support with 1 hand on outside. Gently move clay in many directions to get that coil right where you want it. Inside first, of course.

Now the outside.

17.Now the outside.

Support hand on outside, use serrated kidney to improve inner surface. Go in many directions, gently combing the clay into place. Then do the outside.

18.Support hand on outside, use serrated kidney to improve inner surface. Go in many directions, gently combing the clay into place. Then do the outside.

Repeat this action with a firm rubber kidney creating a strong, smooth surface.

19.Repeat this action with a firm rubber kidney creating a strong, smooth surface.

Sit back and look at the outline of your form. Use a paddle (flat stick) to tap in bumps or bulges. Rotate around the whole form in stages so that the stress of this action is spread evenly through the clay. Paddling compacts the clay particles making your form very strong. But over-doing it on one area can lead to cracks because it alters the drying rate.

20.Sit back and look at the outline of your form. Use a paddle (flat stick) to tap in bumps or bulges. Rotate around the whole form in stages so that the stress of this action is spread evenly through the clay. Paddling compacts the clay particles making your form very strong. But over-doing it on one area can lead to cracks because it alters the drying rate.

Paddling can clarify your shape: it's really satisfying.

21.Paddling can clarify your shape: it’s really satisfying.

Use curved tools to paddle the inside.

22.Use curved tools to paddle the inside.

Soften any indented areas that you don't like and add clay to fill them. Add textures in the same way. Paddle them gently.

23.Soften any indented areas that you don’t like and add clay to fill them. Add textures in the same way. Paddle them gently.

Scrape /smooth with those kidneys again.

24.Scrape /smooth with those kidneys again.

Now even up the top edge by subtracting or adding clay. Let it stiffen. Go over it again with a surform blade.( these take off nice controllable layers.)

25.Now even up the top edge by subtracting or adding clay. Let it stiffen. Go over it again with a surform blade.( these take off nice controllable layers.)

Spend a lot of time on the edge. use firm tools to compact the clay and get every millimetre of that edge exactly how you want it: attention to this detail will transform your pot.

26.Spend a lot of time on the edge. use firm tools to compact the clay and get every millimetre of that edge exactly how you want it: attention to this detail will transform your pot. Also tidy up the bottom edge where your form meets the table.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

27.My coil-building tools. The spray is water.

Coils are perfect for all sorts of applications.

 This bio-morphic head is being built on a clay armature with the techniques described in How to Make a Head. I use coils attached in exactly the same way as I would on a pot to get excellent joins. The coil is then pinched in the direction I want it to go.

28.This bio-morphic head is being built on a clay armature with the techniques described in How to Make a Head. I use coils attached in exactly the same way as I would on a pot to get excellent joins. The coil is then pinched in the direction I want it to go.

Using Supports.

When you are making complicated shapes use temporary supports made of clay that will shrink with the form. Build in support walls and buttresses. Use rigid supports with care: plan to accommodate the shrinkage.

Here I am putting down the first layers of 2 big sculptures. I am using Coleford brick clay in a very soft state. My 'coils' are half bag blocks but they are applied and treated in the same way as any good coil. The walls are thicker at the base to support the considerable weight of the next layers. The internal support-walls are thinner. On very big sculptures these support walls will be discarded when the sculpture is cut into sections. On medium sized sculptures, that will be cut into parts not panels, the internal support walls will be left in to maintain the shapes during firing.

29.Here I am putting down the first layers of 2 big sculptures.
I am using Coleford brick clay in a very soft state. My ‘coils’ are half bag blocks but they are applied and treated in the same way as any good coil.
The walls are thicker at the base to support the considerable weight of the next layers.
The internal support-walls are thinner.
On very big sculptures these support walls will be discarded when the sculpture is cut into sections.
On medium sized sculptures, that will be cut into parts not panels, the internal support walls will be left in to maintain the shapes of the sections during firing.

30.Note the finger marks left by the process: these are just like the marks of a serrated-kidney on a smaller pot. Like corrugation, they add strength to the wet clay wall and will be left on until the clay is firm enough to hold it’s shape.

 

The same layer of the fired panel-sections of the same sculpture during installation.

The same layer of the fired panel-sections of Bruce during installation.

Bruce in progress. There is a clay support wall under his head and the stack of blokes.

31.Bruce in progress, 3m wide x 2 m high. There is a clay support wall under his head and the stack of blocks was added later and removed as soon as the head was firm enough to cut apart.

Here’s some good examples of rigid supports in action:

Mynydd Mawr Courtyard Sculpture, Tumble, Carmarthen, Wales, 2m H x 190cm W.

32.  Mynydd Mawr Courtyard Sculpture, Tumble, Carmarthen, Wales, 2m H x 190cm W. The big blocks are firm memory foam which will accommodate the shrinkage. I often use it inside a piece to support ceilings. It gets removed when the piece is cut up.

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios.

33.Because this rigid support leans outwards it will not constrict the shrinkage. It was adjusted repeatedly during the build.

Mynydd Mawr, Tumble, nearly complete. Larger sculptures are always built from a scale model. The internal support walls are worked out in advance and the cutting of sections planned so that those walls will support the section's shape during firing.

34.Mynydd Mawr, Tumble, nearly complete. Larger sculptures are always built from a scale model. The internal support walls are worked out in advance and the cutting of sections planned so that those walls will support the section’s shape during firing.

front view. That broom was a good buy.

front view. That broom was a good buy.

Balarat Pit Marker,in progress, 6m L x 2m H.

35.Balarat Pit Marker,in progress, 6m L x 2m H. ( Ocean Colliery Pit Marker in background.) Memory foam on top of clay support walls inside the sculpture supports that long roof and accommodates the shrinkage.

The Sirhowy Wyvern in progress, 3m L x 2 m H. A tunnel runs under the horse with carved images on it's walls so we needed access to it. A thin support wall blocks the tunnel half way. It supports the structure but allows us to crawl in do the art-work ( a lot was done by some fab children) The support was discarded when we cut the sections. We didn't get to see the tunnel right through until it was installed on site.

36.The Sirhowy Wyvern in progress, 3m L x 2 m H. A tunnel runs under the horse with carved images on it’s walls so we needed access to it. A thin support wall blocks the tunnel half way. It supports the structure but allows us to crawl in do the art-work ( a lot was done by some fab children) The support was discarded when we cut the sections. We didn’t get to see the tunnel right through until it was installed on site.

Bucket and stool supporting the tunnel roof while we built it. The board to the left of the picture is there to protect some intricate carving about the Sirhowy Iron Works during the build.

37.Bucket and stool supporting the tunnel roof while we built it. The board to the left of the picture is there to protect some intricate carving about the Sirhowy Iron Works during the build.

Adding clay on to the surface.

38.All the big coiled sculptures have artwork added onto the surface once it is firm. Exactly like the smaller pot, the area is softened using scored ‘ditches’ and slip to hold the water in place, allowing it to soak in to the firm clay and raise up those platelet shaped clay particles ready to join with soft clay.

Once a good join is achieved the added clay is modelled and carved in stages as the clay firms up. The drying ( and shrinking) is kept slow using plastic covers to allow that vulnerable join to set as the water moves from the soft added clay into the firm wall.

Remember that water will always want to be level and will travel down the form over time as well as evaporating from the surface. This passage of water past those platelets completes the join. If there is too much water it will collect and run down  the join, destroying the bond.

With that in mind add as much clay as your artwork needs. If it becomes more that 2 cm thick hollow it from the inside even if this means cutting the section out of the form, hollowing it and reassembling it. The important thing is to find a way to get the look you want. For advice on this process click here: Working solid and hollowing sections out.

Drying coil-built forms.

39.Use plastic to shield firm parts from drying while you work on new parts. e.g. a strip of plastic sheet to keep the top edge soft while you put art-work on a lower area before it gets to hard. And visa-versa.

Slow the drying as much as possible to allow all those joins to set using plastic sheets.

Cover the piece in a shield of newspaper ( 5 sheets thick) or a cardboard box or fabric sheets (not wet) to create a  damp micro-climate that will slowly release the water from the clay and protect from drafts that would cause un-even drying (and maybe, consequently, cracking)

 

Related info on this site.

For a full description of how the really big sculptures are done click here: Building Brick Sculptures on a monumental scale.

The whole story of the fab Gwalia Mynydd Mawr Care and Nursing Home Courtyard Sculpture designed with local primary school children and staff and residents of the Home, run by Arts Care Gofal Celf in Carmarthen, Wales: Studio Diary, The Tumble Commission, parts 1-8. 

Using clay armatures and coils: How to Make a Head: Clay Armatures and Building Hollow.

Questions?

put your questions in the Comments below and I will do my best to answer them.

If you follow this site you will get an e-mail each time I put up a new post. I hope these ‘How to..’ posts are useful. Pass them on freely. Share pictures of what you make  on my Facebook. I would love to see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coil-Building Master-Class.

Rebecca BuckThere are lots of variations on the Coil-Building method. I started out as a Coil-builder 34 years ago and I still turn to it regularly. All my monumental brick sculptures are coil-built. It’s all about understanding the clay and how joins are actually formed.

At this fun and very informative Workshop I will teach you  my method and explain why I do it this way, including my scintillating views (rant) on slipping and scoring. We’ll start a planter and  cover different clays and scales, the use of supports, adding carving and scale models. Everyone, from complete beginners to professionals, sculptors, modellers, teachers and potters will get a lot out of this day.

Bring something to share for a relaxed lunch where we can chat and exchange ideas. I’ll have tea, coffee, juice and cake ready for you.

If you want to take your planter home to finish it, it will cost £1.50p/kg or I can just recycle everything after we have photos. I’ll take pictures during the day and do a step-by-step post about the Workshop.

For directions and more info about the Studio click here.

To see an over-view of my work click here.

To see what else might be useful for you on this site cluck here.

To see how to coil-build on a monumental scale click here.

How to use clay in a Care-home setting.

 

There is plenty of documentation about how arts and crafts can play a huge role in health and well being in Care Homes. But fitting activities into a busy, often stressful day can be daunting. Hiring in professional Artists experienced in working in health-care settings to assess the options and train staff can be great fun and very rewarding. But it might be beyond your budget.

Carers have the most important skills needed; they know their Residents well and want them to enjoy their day. In-coming teachers might not be able to spot the subtle signs that a Resident is having a rewarding experience or that they are getting bored or distressed. Residents often wont open up to new people. The only thing that matters is that the activity, even if it is just loosening stiff hands by playing with tools or being intrigued by the squishy feel of the clay, is that it adds stimulus, and hopefully fun, to the day.

I’m thinking mainly of people with Dementia here but Clay Modelling will be very popular with all sorts of Elderly Residents. Be prepared for lots of very rude models and lots of laughs!!

These basic principles can be used for all arts and crafts- and the results will always be just as good.

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Carers often undervalue their skills and can be shy about providing craft-skills. They just need encouragement, sensible, efficient Craft-packs and storage and a well managed schedule.

Clay Modelling in Care Homes; Low cost, straight-forward, self-hardening, recyclable.

Clay Modelling kit- One time purchases, max £60

You will need;

-1 x 12.5kg bag of Scarva Earthstone ES70  Architectural Body Clay a professional quality white clay from Scarva, my favourite supplier of outstanding sculpture clays. Including delivery you will spend about £25-£30.

-A bucket (the clay bag always leaks!)

-a choice of tools; Wooden Modelling Tools and Ribbon Tools will be the most popular.Scarva have a good range  but I buy them from Top Pot Supplies ( best quality yet lowest prices!) Amazon has affordable letter stamps (Small or larger) that will be very useful. 

-Re-usable plastic table-cloth cover if you are worried about scratches on your tables as this clay has small grit in it.

-a few micro-cloths. They are the quickest, easiest cloths for cleaning tables and hands.

-Boards are optional. B&Q will custom-cut a sheet of MDF for you. A board wide enough to fit across a wheel chair is great for some people.

Approx cost, incl. sheet MDF; £60. You don’t need all these items to start off.

The quality clay is the important item. Clays are made with recipes and therefor there is an infinite number of types of clay, each with particular properties. ES70 is absolutely lovely to use; it feels very nice, it’s not sticky, it doesn’t stain, it’s easy to clean up ( on carpet let it dry + brush out), it’s not irritating to sensitive skin and you can eat it! Most importantly it is very easy to use so people get good, rewarding results quickly. Beginners deserve a great material that will reward their bravery for trying something new and give them fab results that will spur them on.

ES70 works very well as a self hardening clay and can be decorated with poster paints once it’s dry. Residents can keep favourite pieces in their rooms for a while. It can mean a great deal to visiting families to see nice things their loved one has made.

Plan to recycle all the clay, even if it’s painted or has dried completely. Explain that the clay is expensive so you need to keep it for next time so that they don’t think it’s because you assume they will make rubbish! People are usually perfectly happy to get a photo of their work and then let it go. Often it takes the pressure off to make a ‘product’ and they can relax and enjoy the making part more.

What To Make?

Anything and nothing! Just try out the material, let your-self and your Resident play around, feel the material, flatten it, poke it! Put a little water on it and feel the smooth change in the texture. Letter stamps are great- get your resident to pick out the letters of their own or a family-member’s name. Press in every day objects. Try all the tools; it never matters what the tools are used for. Make models to get a conversation going. Give an enthusiastic resident some space and quiet to try things at their own pace. You don’t need to ‘teach’ you just need to share the experience. It’s a lovely thing to do.

Let people know that this is professional quality clay and tools; Residents are often very prickly about being treated like children and people forget that Adults are allowed to play too and that creativity is important for everyone’s well-being. We call it ‘A Hobby’ so it sounds mature! If you make your own things along side them and laugh about your mistakes it sets the right tone.

Work with a group or just one person for as much time as feels right. Have Art and Craft as part of any day, not just as a special occasion.

Gwalia Mynnydd Mawr Residential and Nursing Home in Carmarthenshire are aiming to bring creativity and fun into every day for their Residents. The kids had great success with asking Residents what hobbies they used to love or what pets they had and then making a model of that in front of curious Residents. Lots of warm conversations were started that way.

Gwalia Mynydd Mawr Residential and Nursing Home in Carmarthenshire are aiming to bring creativity and fun into every day for their Residents. The kids had great success with asking Residents what hobbies they used to love or what pets they had and then making a model of that in front of the now curious person. Lots of warm conversations were started that way.

Re-using the Clay

-At the end of a session drop all the clay back in the bag. (lots of people will love smashing the work up!)

-Put bag in Bucket

-slowly pour  a cup or so of water over the clay in the bag to soften the clay.

-Close bag w/ twisty

-leave minimum over night.

-place bag on floor and step on it a few times to “knead” the clay, turning bag a few times.

-Voila! It is ready for use. You can re-cycle your clay endlessly.

! Bag goes rock-hard; Allow to dry completely, drop lump on floor to break up, put pieces in bag and recycle

! Bag goes quite hard; knock holes all over lump.(hammer + screw driver= surprisingly satisfying task!) Return to bag and recycle.

! Bag goes too squishy; Tip clay onto a board and allow to dry until useable. “Knead” a few times over the day (or two) so that it dries evenly.

Storage

-Always close bag tightly w/ twisty

-Ideally store in a handy frost free place but it doesn’t matter  if the clay freezes.

-Ideally have the bucket on wheels as 12.5kg is quite heavy (plant pot wheels – Home-Bargains, £1.99.)

-Have all the kit together for quick access by everyone.

Homes need to be adaptable like ‘normal’ homes and organise a way for Carers and Residents to feel welcome to relax and make some mess. You wont get much with clay. Have a broom and a dust pan and brush handy. Enjoy!

 

 

Primary School children visiting the Care home for lovely afternoon of creative fun with Residents and carers. There was lots of singing, laughter and sharing. The residents lit up and the children were relaxed, charming and really enjoyed supporting their elders.

Primary School children visiting the Care home for lovely afternoon of creative fun with Residents and carers. There was lots of singing, laughter and sharing. The residents lit up and the children were relaxed, charming and really enjoyed supporting their elders. Family days like this are great fun. Take photos of the pieces and then re-cycle the clay.

You can see more about the wonderful, 2 year long, Arts Care Gofal Celf Project shown in the pictures here; The Tumble Commission, parts 1-8 

General information about Workshops with Osprey Studios.

More information about collaborative and community projects.

How to Make Abstract Sculpture in Clay; working solid and hollowing out.

 

Over Half a Century III.

Half a Century VIII.

The Edge VII

Wyvern VIII, 2015, 39cm H x 71cm L x 34cm D, ceramic.

Up is Down VII, back view

Up is Down V, 44cm H x 58cm L x 50cm D,

Up is Down VI, second view.

Up is Down V, back view

Making Abstract Sculpture can feel very elusive; where to start, when to stop? This post aims to de-mystify the process and give you an ideal technique that will allow you to go with your flow to make beautiful Abstract forms that express those things that are not easily put into words or naturalistic art.

Because there is no right or wrong with Abstracts you are better off with a technique that allows you to feel your way around the form and to change your mind any time you want to. Building the piece in solid clay allows you to separate the ceramic-technical needs from the flow of creativity for the most part. You do need to make good joins as you go along but with the right clay that is not a distraction. It’s a great method for pieces up to 1 metre. For larger Sculptures I often use it over a hollow clay-armature to reduce the over-all weight. Use a clay designed for sculpture and hand-building with plenty of grog (gritty bits like sand). Scarva’s ES 50 is fab and excellent value for money.

I work to music and usually have a theme I am following.  When you start out with Abstracts you need to put some boundaries in place; have a theme (an emotion, geometry, etc) or abstract a known form like a figure or an animal. All the pieces above were made using this technique. All but one are made in combinations of Scarva’s black clays.

Gill Tennant-Eyles, Emma Bevan and Tez Roberts came to Osprey Studios for a Workshop. We had an excellent day going over this technique and sharing each other’s ideas.

Make a block of clay that has the approximate hight/width/depth you feel you need at this point. Rough out the beginnings of a form.

Make a block of clay that has the approximate hight/width/depth you feel you need at this point. Rough out the beginnings of a form.

Work all around the form in stages, giving each area equal attention, refining with each rotation.

Work all around the form in stages, giving each area equal attention, refining with each rotation.

Add or subtract clay. A paddle will be very useful.

Add or subtract clay. A paddle will be very useful.

When the piece starts sagging leave it to harden up a bit. Use plastic to keep the drying even.

When the piece starts sagging leave it to harden up a bit. Use plastic to keep the drying even.

For larger pieces the process is the same. Use props or leave temporary supports of clay to hold up the form until it hardens. These might stay there until you have hollowed out the sculpture and reduced the weight.

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Once the piece is leather-hard carve/scrape the surface. You can still add clay but pay attention to the joins.

Once the piece is leather-hard carve/scrape the surface. You can still add clay but pay attention to the joins.

At the point where the form is complete apart from finishing the surface stop building and get ready to hollow -out. The piece should be firm enough to resist a thumb-print. On very large pieces you might start hollowing the top while the lower parts are still too damp; the hollowed clay walls will need to be able to support themselves with-out distorting. Don't let the form get to hard or you wont be able to cut it open.

At the point where the form is complete apart from finishing the surface, stop building and get ready to hollow-out. The piece should be firm enough to resist a thumb-print. On very large pieces you might start hollowing the top while the lower parts are still too damp; the hollowed clay walls will need to be able to support themselves with-out distorting. Don’t let the form get too hard or you wont be able to cut it open.

How thick the clay can be to fire well depends on the amount of grog, 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!

I dry thick sculptures slowly under plastic which I turn daily for 4 weeks minimum and then 1-2 weeks in a plastic tent with a dehumidifier. 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.

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

Choosing where to cut is easy: Starting at the top make the first cut at the point where you can  reach all the parts that need hollowing to leave 1-3cm walls. That may mean cutting off a very small piece and hollowing barely a few scoops, for example the head of a figure: drill a tool down the neck and then your next cut would be low on the chest, etc. Always ensure there is an air outlet for each hollowed area. Hard to reach areas can be skewerd from the inside or outside to make channels for the air/water to escape.

Horizontal cuts are best because gravity is on your side while the piece is drying.

Horizontal cuts are best because gravity is on your side while the piece is drying. Lay the cut section on foam.

Hollow the cut section first, score the edges with a serrated kidney (NEVER make deep scores) moisten w/ water and /or slip so that that edge can soften while the section is upside-down. The hollow into the rest of the form going as far as you can reach. Mark how far you reached on the surface to help you decide where to make the next cut.

Hollow the cut section first, leaving a wall approx 1.5-2cm thick. Do not smooth this inner surface: it will make it difficult for any trapped air to pass through the clay during firing. You can leave ‘buttress’ type support walls. Score the edges with a serrated kidney (NEVER make deep scores with a pointy tool. Tiny bubbles of air will get trapped there all along your join and possibly cause a crack.) Moisten w/ water/slip so that the edge can soften while the section is upside-down. Then hollow into the rest of the form going as far as you can reach. Mark how far you reached on the surface to help you decide where to make the next cut.

 

Once both edges are softened put the pieces back together and move back and forth until you feel the edges lock together. 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. Manipulate the softened clay at the join to encourge 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.

Quality Joints:  Once both edges are softened put the pieces back together and move back and forth until you feel the edges lock together. 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.

 

Smooth the now recessed join with water + rub until a slip is lifted from the join's surface. Make a coil 1.5cm thick by squeezing. Do not roll your coils; it packs the finer particles on the coils's surface making it resistant to joining. Attach one end and inch the coil into the join; press in then squeeze the coil to force it to inch forward along the join; this friction creates the bond.

Smooth the now recessed join with water + rub until a slip is lifted from the join’s surface. Make a coil 1.5cm thick by squeezing. Do not roll your coils; it packs the finer particles on the coils’s surface making them resistant to joining. Attach one end and inch the coil into the join; press in then squeeze the coil to force it to inch forward along the join; this friction creates the bond between the surfaces. Coiling explained here.

Blend the coil in, leaving it raised. The excess clay will slowly release it's water into the join, slowing drying. Wrap the piece in plastic and leave for week or so until the coil has the same hardness as the rest of the form. Then you can scrape it away, compressing the clay as you go to leave a strong join that wont recess during the firing.

Blend the coil in, leaving it raised. The excess clay will slowly release it’s water into the join, slowing drying. Wrap the piece in plastic and leave for week or so until the coil has the same hardness as the rest of the form. Then you can scrape it away, compressing the clay as you go to leave a strong join that wont recess during the firing.

Make you next cut and repeat.

Make your next cut and repeat.

Once those coils have hardened under plastic you can complete the Sculptures surface and edges.Once those coils have hardened under plastic you can complete the Sculptures surface and edges. Then set to dry very slowly (min 4 weeks) under a 5-sheets-thick-newspaper or cardboard box. For very large forms you can use a double layer of bed-sheets. If you use plastic turn it regularly so that condensation doesn't drip onto the clay and spoil it.

Once those coils have hardened under plastic you can complete the Sculpture’s surface and edges.   Then set to dry very slowly (min 4 weeks) under a 5-sheets-thick-newspaper or cardboard box. For very large forms you can use a double layer of bed-sheets. If you use plastic turn it regularly so that condensation doesn’t drip onto the clay and spoil it. Or stick plastic over your selves to make a micro drying-room.

Work in progress by Gill Tennant-Eyles

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Work in progress by Emma Bevan

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Work in progress by Tez Roberts

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These sculptures were all made with this excellent, versatile technique.

The Edge VIII, in progress.

The Edge VIII, in progress.

Up Is Down IV, in progress.

Up Is Down IV, in progress.

Up Is Down II, in progress.

Up Is Down II, in progress.

Up Is Down V, in progress.

Up Is Down V, in progress.

Up Is Down X, in progress.

Up Is Down X, in progress.

Over Half a Century, in progress.

Over Half a Century, in progress.

Wyvern VIII, in progress.

Wyvern VIII, in progress.

 

What Was the First Abstract Artwork?

click on this title to see the original article. Artsy has some really interesting reviews and is a great place to see stunning art-work.

  • Wassily Kandinsky, Composition V, 1911. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Who made the first Western abstract painting? That was the question that Wassily Kandinsky’s widow, accompanied by a team of researchers, set out to answer in 1946. Her late husband, a Russian painter who was among the pioneers of abstraction in the early 1910s, had himself been personally invested in the answer.

In 1935, Kandinsky had penned a letter to his gallerist in New York to insist on his preeminence. “Indeed,” he wrote of a 1911 work, “it’s the world’s first ever abstract picture, because back then not one single painter was painting in an abstract style. A ‘historic painting’, in other words.”

Kandinsky wasn’t the only artist interested in preserving his legacy. He and several early abstract painters—including Robert Delaunay, Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, and Kazimir Malevich—backdated their works, in some cases several years before they were actually completed.

This artistic jostling reflects a focus on invention as an individual act, notes curator Leah Dickerman in an essay for MoMA’s 2012 show “Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1025: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art.” But, as she goes on to say, that approach is in some ways misguided. Rather than the work of a solitary genius, abstraction “was an invention with multiple first steps, multiple creators, multiple heralds, and multiple rationales.”

What Makes an Abstract Expressionist Painting Good?

At the turn of the 20th century, the world was becoming increasingly connected. Steamships, cars, and trains facilitated international travel, while telephones, telegraphs, and radios allowed for conversations between people on opposite ends of the globe.

Within the art world specifically, journals sprang up in droves; in Paris alone, some 200 reviews of art and culture appeared in the decade leading up to World War I. Subscribers were scattered across Europe and America, allowing a wide swath of creatives to stay abreast of the latest developments in art. And this period also saw the beginning of a traveling exhibition culture, led by the Italian Futurists.

“Historians talk about ‘conditions of possibility,’” Masha Chlenova, a curator who worked with Dickerman on “Inventing Abstraction,” told Artsy. “For example, photography was also invented by three people at the same time. Daguerre just happened to be the best at marketing and patenting.”

Similarly, while Kandinsky is today hailed as the father of abstract painting, he was by no means the only player in the development of non-representational painting. His work Komposition V did, admittedly, jumpstart public interest in abstract painting. Exhibited in Munich in December 1911, this monumental work was just barely representational.

It was the first such work to be put on display, and “for some artists and intellectuals, abstraction not only began to seem plausible, but also took on the character of an imperative,” Dickerman writes.

Kandinsky had been thinking about abstract art for years beforehand. His manifesto On the Spiritual in Art, which appeared as a draft in 1909 and was published the same month as Komposition V went on display, laid out the tenets of abstraction. But it would still be several years before Kandinsky would finally break free from recognizable forms in his art. As Chlenova put it, “he theorized abstraction before he made painting.”

  • František Kupka, Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors, 1912. Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, NY. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
  • František Kupka Study for Amorpha, Warm Chromatic and for Fugue in two colors; Study for The Fugue, 1910–11. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 1976. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Dickerman references Czech-born artist František Kupka as the first to display works that were a complete break from representational painting. His compositions Amorpha, Chromatique chaude and Amorpha, Fugue à deux couleurs were shown at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in October 1912, filmed for the newsreels, and then broadcast across Europe and America.

Dickerman believes that Kupka’s willingness to publicly defy convention was related to his personal history. Although he grew up in Prague and Vienna and started out as a Symbolist, he later moved to Paris and developed close ties with the city’s avant-garde—which, as Dickerman notes, granted “him an insider/outsider status that seems particularly fertile for paradigm-shifting thought.”

But further complicating the question of “first” is that it can be difficult to determine the threshold of abstraction. When, precisely, does a work go from “abstracted” to “abstraction”?

French avant-garde artist Francis Picabia, for example, is sometimes credited with the first abstract painting. His watercolor Caoutchouc (Rubber) was completed in 1909, which would predate even Kandinsky’s theories on abstraction. But other academics have pushed back, noting that the work still retains some semblance of form, reminiscent of a bouquet of flowers.

For “Inventing Abstraction,” Chlenova said she and Dickerman began by establishing clear criteria for what they considered abstract work. “Our main criterion was the artist’s own position and their statements that they’re doing something abstract,” she said. “The terminology is a slightly different question because the word ‘abstract’ would not necessarily be used. But there was a very clear awareness from the artists that were sensitive to what was happening.”

  • Hilma af Klint, The Large Figure Paintings, No. 5, Group III, 1907. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Hilma af Klint, Svanen (The Swan) No. 17, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series, 1914-1915. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This is why, she explained, Swedish artist Hilma af Klint was not represented in the MoMA exhibition. Since 2013, when Moderna Museetheld the first-ever retrospective of her work, af Klint’s oeuvre has received renewed attention from the public. Known in her lifetime as a landscape painter and portraitist, it was revealed decades after her death that she had also been experimenting with abstraction. As early as 1906, af Klint had been painting colorful works full of organic shapes, spirals, and curlicues.

This date places her several years before Kandinsky even theorized abstraction, let alone acted on his ideas. But af Klint’s works sprang from her interest in the occult—during the 1890s, she started organizing seances with four artist friends where they practiced automatic drawing and writing.

Later, when she began her largest body of non-representational paintings, she claimed that spiritual forces were directing her hand. And for an artist to be included in “Inventing Abstraction,” Chlenova explained, they had to “formulate their practice as a conscious rejection of any reference to the outside world.”

Others disagreed with this reading, arguing that a mystical approach should not negate her contribution to developing abstraction. “‘Spiritual’ is still a very dirty word in the art world,” curator Maurice Tuchman toldthe New York Times in 2013. “When the prejudice against the idea of the spiritual life in af Klint’s work is overcome, which will require scholarship, then perhaps she will really take hold in the broader conversation.”

But there’s no disagreement that the invention of Western abstraction revolutionized art production in the 20th century, nor that it was predated by centuries of abstracted forms and patterns in non-Western traditions.

“One can treat abstraction a little bit more abstractly, if you will,” Chlenova laughed, “without ultimately being too concerned about who was first.”

—Abigail Cain

2nd Osprey Studios Open Photo Shoot With Stephen Foote.

This time Steve (http://www.stephenfootephotography.co.uk) wanted to make sure that as well as a set of beautiful images each,

we also all left with the understanding of how to use house-hold items , our own cameras and versions of Photo-shop to get quality photos of our work regularly.

Stephen Foote, Cameraman and Photographer at Osprey Studios.

We all participated in the making of images of each other’s work and there was a great level of discussion and evaluation of what we are all doing.

As well as keeping the cost down (each person paid £40), one of the benefits of these collective Shoots is seeing your work through the eye of the Camera and of your peers; you spot flaws and successes that you might miss alone in your Studio. And it is always very encouraging to be with like-minded people. We agreed not to sugar-coat our feed-back and between us we had a great deal of expertise. The day was really interesting and inspiring.

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Stephen Foote, Cameraman and Photographer at Osprey Studios with Leon.

Stephen Foote, Cameraman and Photographer at Osprey Studios with Leon.

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Stephen Foote, Cameraman and Photographer at Osprey Studios.

Having a wide range of work materials amongst  the group meant more questions and solutions were flagged up.

The Pot-Luck lunch was delicious and a great time to swap ideas.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here is a selection of my favourite images.

John Binet-Fauvel Recycled Sculpture

John Binet-Fauvel Recycled Sculpture

John Binet-Fauvel Recycled Sculpture

John Binet-Fauvel Recycled Sculpture

Kay Milward, Dragonfly wall piece.

Kay Milward, Dragonfly wall piece.

Kay Milward, Greenmen

Kay Milward, Greenmen

Kay Milward, adorable characters only 4cms high.

Kay Milward, adorable characters only 4cms high.

Rebecca Buck

Rebecca Buck

Rebecca Buck

Rebecca Buck

 

Tuition, Workshops, Play Events and Parties.

 

Theatr Brycheiniog's Kid's Zone at Brecon Jazz 2014

Theatr Brycheiniog’s Kid’s Zone at Brecon Jazz 2014

A Join-In Sculpture , Zimele UK. 2015

A Join-In Sculpture, with  Zimele UK in Abergavenny Castle. 2015

Theatr Brycheiniog's Kid's Zone at Brecon Jazz 2014

Theatr Brycheiniog’s Kid’s Zone at Brecon Jazz 2014

Sharing skills and encouraging creativity is what makes the world go round. I have a great deal of experience in guiding people of all ages and abilities towards their own style.

    Groups or individuals are welcome to come here – seeing the Studio lay-out and work-in-progress is part of the event. Or I can bring everything we need to you. The Workshop will be custom made to suit your needs.

For Example;

-I particularly encourage Teacher’s to do a fun, very straightforward  2 hour Workshop on Using Clay Modelling in School. We’ll cover firing/ self-hardening clays,recycling clay,decorating and controlling costs, everything to help you keep clay in the class room because it matters!

-A Portfolio Review will clarify the way you see your work in preparation for college applications or a change of direction.

-‘How To ‘classes with technical solutions for challenging projects,especially working on a large scale.

Join-In Sculptures are great fun and full of learning opportunities. It is a wonderful way to get Groups to explore ideas and themes. I have done these with adults and children at Schools, Events and Parties; Everyone adds their bit until we have a fabulous sculpture. Photos are taken and then we re-cycle the clay.

                   

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A Join-In Sculpture with The Big Skill at Archaeology For All in Merthyr.

A Join-In Sculpture with The Big Skill at Archaeology For All in Merthyr.

    This fantastic 3 metre x 2.5 metre painting was done with many kids at the Penrhos Youth Centre over 6 weeks.

Fees;

£25 per hour + 44p/per/mile Travel + materials .On average Individuals will use around £2.00 worth of clay. On many projects , like the Join In Sculptures,all the material is re-clycled so there is no charge for it.