Making the Remember and Rebuild Sculpture for Saxon Hall, Hereford.

Remember and Rebuild Sculpture for Saxon Hall, Hereford, in progress.

Planning a Public Sculpture.

This is post is an ongoing diary for this excellent Big Skill Community Project to share with everyone involved. And I hope it will be useful and interesting to anyone planning similar projects. I will add to it over the next 6 months.

Building big sculptures is intence, complicated, a lot of labour, a bit of a nightmare and exciting! This Memorial to everyone affected by the pandemic will all be made in clay, including the armature, fired in sections and then rebuilt on site with permenant construction materials.

Saxon Hall Community Centre

The amazing Trevor Stringer, Chairman and the driving force behind The Big Skill, at Saxon Hall marking the first site we considered for the Standing Up For Peace sculpture that welcomed people as they arrived and screened a bench. Now we have a site that compliments rather than interupting the stunning, established perrenial planting and will enhance the lovely, young community orchard.

Here is the project description and the sculpture’s ‘Brief’ which we put together in workshops over the last year. All kinds of lovely people are involved. I took mountains of notes and we had some increadable, intence conversations that lead us to this point in February 2021 where we feel we are ready to make our monument to an extraordinary time in our history.

1/11/2020
Saxon Hall
From Standing Up For Peace to Remember and Rebuild.
At the beginning of this project, in 2019, our society was brittle with division. Inspired by the
beautiful gardens of Saxon Hall we had the idea of a monument to community with ‘Standing Up
For Peace’ as a theme and enjoyable, creative workshops with The Accessible Craft Group and
other Makers at The Big Skill to bring local people together to focus on all the many positives
around us in Hereford.

This was going well, we had great turn out and a lovely, friendly, open atmosphere fostered by the
excellent facilities of Saxon Hall.

Then Covid19 stepped in… Lockdown gave us a shared experience that cast a harsh light on our
society and lead us to question what really made us safe, happy and productive.
Many people stepped up to volunteer and help ensure those around them were safe and well. Key
workers were acknowledged and appreciated for the great work they do for us all and the bravery
they showed in the fearful, dangerous situation.
The work we had already done for Standing Up For Peace made an ideal foundation for much
harder, more intensely focussed questions. And our amazing participants were really willing share
their fresh, new perspective and their very personal experiences.
So we have switched our focus onto the Pandemic experiences that have affected every aspect of
our society and daily lives. The Workshops planning the sculpture, sharing skills and getting people
together to have relaxed, inclusive conversations about these hugely challenging, difficult months
over crafts, cake and coffee have been re-named ‘Remember and Rebuild’.
Camera in the Community is proving to be a wonderful way to capture moving stories told in
person with genuine warmth and humour.
We have been taking notes, collecting images and ideas and now have a scale model and a new
budget for a sculpture that can honour this extraordinary time in our history, a painful year full of
loss, grief, fear and hardship where people from all walks of life have shown kindness, bravery and
generosity.
What Community Centres are all about really stands out at times of crisis. Fun and useful activities
build the ties that bind a community together so that when the doubt and fear in a crisis can seem
insurmountable the Community Center is a safe, trustworthy place where those able to give can join
with those in need and share the work that will rebuild the community to be able to cope in new
ways.
Out of a swirling confusion of contradictory emotions patterns have begun to clarify and form
routes that unite and strengthen the community.
On the Sculpture those routes can be followed, in an interwoven loop, up from the ground within
the 2 meter circle and around the guardian forms who make sense of the swirl and direct the flow in
and back out of the safe space between them at the centre of the circle.

Second draft of Remember and Rebuild. The base is the 2metre wide ‘distancing circle’ that has become iconic during the pandemic. There will be a swirlling mosaic of hand-made tiles set into it. The figure is just for scale.
Key ideas collected at Workshops:
-‘The space we hold inside is equal in importance to the space outside.’
-Spiralling.
-Two caring hands.
-A kind embrace, hug.

  • Reciprocity: The Ties That Bind.
    -Guardians: angels and also the SAS Soldiers (*mark Sea King Disaster, Falklands War in carving)
    uncompromising heroes with relentless courage who stepped up to work, regardless of the risk, to
    care for others. Key Workers. Wishing a for a ‘force’ to protect loved ones.
  • Inspired by Heroes. (talked about a lot and redefined by Lockdown)
  • Saxon Hall builds on the tradition of it’s Military heritage: offering the opportunity to connect and
    become part of the strength that makes resilience.
    -Two figures: Love and Courage.
  • Community in Nature.
    -The Rotherwas Ribbon, a winding path, marked this area as significant to ancient people.
    -Tie the sculpture in to the wonderful mosaics already in the garden. And to the Community
    Orchard, Herb Bed, the beautiful flower bed and other features on the site
  • a focus on sharing, making connections to strengthen the Community for this new era.
  • Building on what we learnt from Lockdown.
    -Two figures interacting: Working together. The need for connection is the biggest driving force in
    our lives- with people, pets, gardens. Creativity is all about that:-reaching inwards and outwards;
    trying to say what we mean, to connect by explaining what we are/see/can do/can offer.
  • The 2 metre circle encloses and separates, leaving us with ourselves.
  • 2 metre circle: protect, contain, shield, separate, personal space, boundaries, limit, barrier,
    reaching out, Pushing away, en-circled.
  • The Natural World: being safer out in the fresh air with Nature.
  • 2 figures facing each other and creating a space that has a flow between them and is empowering
    to stand in.
    Surface of sculpture and the mosaic tiles.
    Mosaic:
  • Katey Lyons and I will custom-make stamps to make it easy to join in at fun activity for all ages at
    a range of venues.
  • Include the type of tiles used in the other mosaics in the garden.
  • Carving:
    Designs/drawings needed:
  • the famous Turnip Worship that supports Hereford United.(!)
  • Frank Oz, voice of Fozzy Bear, the Cookie Monster and Yoda.
  • David Garrick, famous Shakespearian actor, 17C
  • First draft of Remember and Rebuild. We kept a lot of the elements but felt these 2 figures felt too much like a male/female human couple which set a limited narrative. We wanted something deeper, something bigger than us. And two tall, seperate figures would cause a lot of expence in deeper foundations to make them stable. We wanted as much of the budget to go on the art-work and community participation as possible. Joining the figures expressed more about community and importance of friends and team work. And it made the total sculpture self supporting, stronger and provided the wonderful interactive interior space and all the surface area in there for carving. At this time we still hoped to be a lot of face to face workshops where local people would do carved panels to be inserted into the sculpture build. Now, in February 2021, a lot of that input is being directed at the tiles for the base and I have more time to copy people’s ideas onto the sculpture surface.
  • Further research:
  • a visit to New Civic Museum in the Town Hall for Hereford local history.
  • Why the name ‘Saxon Hall’?
  • Tim Hoverd (Howerd?), Council Archaeologist for information about The Rotherwas Ribbon/
    Dineor Serpent that inspired the sculpture’s form.
    Collecting via group, social media (to be carved on surface/tiles):
  • As many of these ideas/themes as possible will be carved onto the sculpture’s surface
    Poems:
    God’s Garden Poem.
    The kiss of the sun for pardon.
    The song of the bird for mirth.
    One is nearer God’s
    Heart in the garden
    Than anywhere else on earth.

    Jokes: There is a lot of laughs around about everything! But when we get together most of the talk is focussed on kindness and trying to make sence of it all…
    Thoughts:
  • it’s surreal, like a plot from a film
  • -worry: about family, the lack of work and money
  • disbelief-denial
  • parallel universe- everything is the same yet totally different
  • no deadlines or alarm clocks, but everything you try and do needs planning now, even just going to the shop.
  • acceptance
  • enjoying the stillness and peace
  • you realise you can’t have it all or be it all: find a niche you can fill.
  • stopped making art and sat in the garden…processing it all, taking it in
  • Nice for the main earner to be spending time with the kids.
  • focussed on growing veg and salad
  • missing friends and family
  • all the routines fell apart
  • will the kids ever recover?
  • enjoying time within our bubble
  • society at once in fear yet working together
  • walking, so much walking!
  • learning to relax
  • Masks and not being allowed to touch is making us very separate from our bodies.
  • it’s a labyrinth
  • seeking a sense of progression
  • you think you are on track but alongside you is chaos, areas where you can’t make decisions any
    more..
  • a swirling confusion of contradictory emotions
  • Key Workers like Nurses don’t get to have a 2 metre circle like the rest of us.
  • thank goodness for our pets.
  • the garden has saved me
  • Being shut in at home can bring people closer but can also make it impossible to all get work done
    because the space is so tight. So people shut down and hide their feelings to keep the peace.
  • Contradictions; safe/trapped, providing/draining, giving/loosing, helping/cornering: the space
    between them is our shape.
  • I turn to the Moon…it radiates intense warmth on you. It defines our ‘outer-space’, the boundary of
    our community. Our inner space, where the heart is (a space always has a beat, a heart-beat, to keep
    you going,) is your privacy. The outer space around you is shared with everyone. You don’t have
    control over it: you only control your own space but it can not function with out a connection to the
    outer-space in some way.
  • There’s a heart-breaking rise in domestic abuse. We aren’t meant to live like this.
  • Families are realising that their habits need changing: who sleeps where, the kids autonomy, who
    deserves care.
  • Adapting to the 2 metre thing is so hard!
  • Feeling contaminated is weird.
  • feeling very isolate. And no hugs…
  • you feel exposed, threatened.
  • We are finding that the notion of Family= Safe space is not enough, that family can be
    claustrophobic and we are, and need to be, interconnected to a wider community in order to feel safe
    and happy.
  • You can’t take anything for granted, everything has to be planned!
    Sayings/Terms/phrases:
  • What goes around comes around
  • give and take.
  • A friend in need is a friend in deed
  • The new normal
  • Lockdown
  • Social distancing
  • mask-up
  • Bubbles
  • Loosen our Certainties.
  • Gather your dreams and let your spirit guide you.
  • Clapping for Carers
  • Safe and well.
  • Stories
    Images:
  • Tree of knowledge- including roots + mycelium + other smaller trees.
  • The Wood Wide Web
  • Elm leaves – local connection?
  • Sunflower
  • Dove
  • spirals
  • Installation:
    The 5 day Installation work will incorporate Volunteer skill-sharing with Sculptor and Builder.

  • Celebration:
    Originally we hoped to have a lovely event organized by the amazing ladies of the Afternoon Club
    who came to a workshop and were marvelous. During the Pandemic those days feel far off. So it is
    not incorporated in the Budget or plan but it is still a great idea. When the time is right it will be a
    very important, happy day for the Community.
  • There has been a lot of attention on this project and we were especially when the lovely, forward-thinking, down to earth Mayor visited and gave us some great feedback. Councillors have spent time listening and contributing. So have leaders from other excellent Community Projects. It feels really good to be part of a movement focussed on the quality of our daily lives and how we can support each other.
  • Site:
    Between the stunning Perenial Flower boarder and the Community Orchard.
    A 2 metre circular base incorporating the sculpture’s foundation and decorated with the spiraling
    mosaic, inset to be level with the ground, next to the pavement to allow inclusive access.
    The Community Orchard is in need of some TLC and a wild-flower meadow will be planted around
    the trees.
    This work should not expensive so we hope to use a portion of the budget for the costs.
    There is a fab opportunity to engage Volunteers to help with these improvements and to help with the ongoing up-keep of the lovely, important flower boarder and some lovely people have already signed up to support the extraordinary work Aubrey and his helpers have done.
    This also offers an opportunity to leave a legacy of engagement for our wonderful, creative participants
    once the Sculpture is complete.
  • There has been problems with people parking on this area on very busy days. The sculpture and
    improvements made around it will clarify the use of this part of the garden, improving it’s attractiveness.

Everyone is welcome to get involved by making a clay tile about your Covid 19/Lockdown experience for the mosaic base of the sculpture, or use the links on this Big Skill page to make your own expressive sculptures. If you could put any ideas or thoughts you have in the Comments here that would fantastic. I will be calling for things to add to the surface on my Osprey Studios FB too.

The Big Skill has a fab FB page where you will find all sorts of enjoyable, sharable things to get involved with, try out and give to your families and friends: The Big Skill Facebook Page.

A couple of the wonderful volunteers making Remember and Rebuild tiles in their own homes.

Katey Lyons is running Remember and Rebuild Tile workshops online and in person when possible. Here’s her video: join-in tile making for Remember and Rebuild.

Love Gardening? Contact The Big Skill to volunteer in the beautiful sensory and herb gardens, poly-tunnel and allotments and the leafy play area with it’s live woven willow shelter at Saxon Hall, Hereford! The big area around the sculpture has loads of room and potential. These photos only show half of it! There is a poly tunnel, raised allotment beds, a herb bed, the small orchard and beds all around the building!

The Schedual of Work and Budget.

The sculptor and the Project Manager work together to make the sculpture that speaks for the community. The Sculpture is not the work of one person but of the whole group who contribute in countless ways.

Once you know who is on board, what fascilities are available or needed, the proposed site (discuss the project ideas with everyone who currently uses the site for really valuable feed-back. This can be key in avoiding vandalism) and have a great ‘Brief’ you all believe in, you need to draw up a first draft budget and a first scale model. To help get the budget right (very important, there will only be a fixed sum available: if you over spend you will have to make up the difference) I make a Schedual of Work that describes the complete process, time-line, costs, resources needed, including who else I need on the team.

Feed-back on the model goes into the next model, adjust the budget, up-date the Brief (be sure to include the feed-back from the current site users) etc, until it all looks good.

Then present it clearly to the people who will make the final descision about proceeding. Use their valuable input to make the final Budget, Schedual of Work and scale model. Be sure costs of resources, especialy the work-space are right. Then present the final drafts to the descision makers for approval to proceed.

The Scale Model

6/2/21.

The Sculpture will be 2 metres high. The model is 21 cm high.

After weeks working through various versions, this final working draft of the model is 8% larger to allow for the clay’s shrinkage. In the full sized sculpture many of the strong lines may be softened but here they are clearly shown to guide me as I build over the many weeks this will take (the estimate on the Schedual of Work is 300 hours spread over 6 weeks to allow for drying time). The figure is just there for scale and I used it to guide the design. We want the interior space of the sculpture to be welcoming, a sheltering embrace.

The texture on the models have nothing to do with the final sculpture’s surface. Carved into the surface around the form will be writing and images about how this Pandemic has felt, given by all sorts of people in Hereford and anyone who joined in online.

Here is 3 posts that are very useful about making models including links for getting materials and tools: Making small sculpture and models.

Making Small Figures.

How to make Animals

There are lots of useful Step-by-step posts here: Osprey Studios Post Directory

Planning the Build.

Prepare the work space:

An internal structure made in the same Scarva ES50 Crank clay will support the sculpture as it grows upwards and stop it collapsing outwards to a point, so extra, external props will be needed: ensure there is space for them.

Face the sculpture so that you will have the best sight-lines for the most import parts.

A paper circle defines the base and will stop the sculpture sticking to the floor so it can shrink. And it will provide a ‘Map’ of the sculpture’s footprint so that we place the sculpture sections correctly at the Installation phase. So it is very important.

Plan the internal frame-work:

Any sculpture must endure all weathers and the possibility that adults will climb on it.

The structure must support itself during the build and when it being cut into sections. And when the sections are drying, being handled, fired and transported to the site.

Then it plays a role in the contruction process involving cement and iron rebars. It needs to be possible to insert the rebars accros the joins, get cement in there so that it fixes securly to a rough ‘key’ surface.

Over time water WILL get in there! So there needs to be drainage out of the structure.

I have been adding to this scrawl and amending it as new concerns or better ideas come up.

Start Building!!

Stage 1: building the Clay Armature.

This stage is all about blocking out the form by acuratly following the scale model and making a strong structure that will carry the outer layer of art-work that will be modelled/carved on to refine the form and add images and text in low relief.

As far as possible I will extend this load-bearing inner core vertically straight up. In places the holes through the form will cut accross it.

The rough process-marks will help key the cement and now they add strength to the walls in the way corrogation does. Here I am using Scarva ES50 Crank in large coils and the technique is explained here: How Coil Build with clay from small to monumental.

The first 50cm are the worst! It is obnoxious, hard labour especially if you are a decrepit old wreck like I am. Note the primary-school chair: invaluable! And a cushion for your knees: look after your body! Especially your back. The whole project will feel daunting and impossible. When building two of the huge pit-markers (5m x 2m, 6m x2m, 13 tons of clay) me and the team came up with 2 useful mantras: stick these on your bathroom mirror:

” One Bag at a time”

You have made a good, organised plan. Believe in it, trust it, adjust it where nessasary. Then focus on the needs of each bag of clay, good joins, even surface, careful drying. Then onto the next one. It will work. If bits collapse, rebuild them.

” Shuddup and get on with it”

Yep. Take lots of breaks, eat well, pace yourself. Some of the stages are really fun, exciting and spending your day with a big clay structure is actually awesome.

The wings growing out of the core will support the next outer layer.

Manage the drying very carefully using plastic, sprays of water, a hair-dryer, a fan, dehumidifier. Remember added clay will release water into hardened areas and soften them. And it will slowly percollate downwards, maturing your joins or ruining them if they were badly done.

17/2/21

Day 8 and the armature has reached 1metre high, the outer layers are going on and it is resting to allow the water to settle. 21x 12.5kg bags so far: 262.5kgs. That holds a lot of water!! In places there are 3 layers of wall so drying them to the leather-hard stage (that will be remarkably strong in this clay) is tricky and needs time. For the next 120cm the form will put a lot of strain on this lower section. These things do collapse sometimes and it is very annoying!!

The adjustable, metal bracket supporting the over-hang will stay there for the rest of the build and others will be used. I had them custom-made when we built the Blaengarw 2 Pit Markers mentioned above.

Ballarat and Ocean Colliery Pit Markers in progress in an old shop in Pontycymmer, Garw Valley. 13 tons of Coleford Brick Clay, a limited budget and timeline and an amazing team of fantastic local people who worked with me on everything from the design, research, build and the art-work on the sculpture!! Read about the technique used with Coleford Brick Clay, which is used in very soft, here: Building with brick clay on a monumental scale.

21/2/21

The armature is spending a few days in plastic to settle. The corse clay is wearing down my finger tips and if I’m not careful they will get splits that take ages to heal so they are also getting care and when I go back to the build I will put tape over them. Gloves move around too much and wear out really fast.

The focus has been on tightening up the form with carefull, gradual paddeling (especially using the rounded edge of a 1cm thick piece of wood: my Best Stick) and adding the third outer layer.

About 20cm of height is added and holes through the form are starting. Now it is at the widest point and will begin to curve inwards. This is a very scary, vulnerable transition, the most likely point to cause a collapse later in the build. I need to be able add clay on the lower surfaces at the art-work stage: this structure needs to be able to manage that new addition of softening water and the weight while still accepting the clay joins. When it is cut into sections the distribution of weight gets interupted and the structure needs to cope with that too. So the work is very slow and careful! And stressful!! But it’s a joy to see those curves starting to move.

A lot of weight is being added to this side. Small blocks and braces can make a lot of difference. It’s tempting to use a hair-dryer on the braces but that will rush the shrinkage on them and possibly lead them to crack and fail so a slow dry is important.

It looks crazy at the moment!

This post about the Tumble Commision describes a very wide sculpture-build with dramatic over-hangs where a lot of bonkers looking but really effective supports were used. At this point it’s helpful to look at where each stage leads to, especially for planning the internal clay supports that you wont be able to get at soon without making cuts: The Tumble Commision

15/03/21

5 weeks of building and t’s up to 1 metre 60 cms now and as the walls start to curve back inwards the point where it is most likely to collapse has passed. Hopefully, hahaha…

Parts I’m not working on are wrapped in plastic. At the end of the day everything but the soft parts are carefully wrapped and by the morning it is ready for more coils. I’m using smaller, shorter coils now and the work is much slower as the complicated areas around the holes are put it. I can do about 3 days and then it needs a rest day or two for the water to settle.

Then I go back and paddle accross everything: lower clay may have sagged a bit, curves become clearer. That might take all day. Lots of small adjustments, done in stages, will last better. Scarva ES 50 Crank is outstanding for not warping in the firing but uneven paddling will spoil that.

All the outer walls are there and now that the lower sections have hardened enough to be softened by adding extra clay I have started defining the main curves.

Because adding clay to the surfaces has to be done in stages I had to add now but idealy you wait until you have the whole form at this armature stage so that you can work with the full lines. So the careful, thoughtful work you do on the Scale Model becomes really important. Stick as closely as possible to the measurements from the model because of the follow on consequences in the form.

That said the form is big and developed enough that now I can respond to it in relation to my own human shape and size to get the comfortable, sheltered feel we want in that internal space. So I may choose to make big changes from the model. Because the armature is clay that is easy: you just cut parts off and rebuild them. Just remember to consider how the upper sections will need to be adjusted when you build them or your form might be ruined.

25/3/21

1 metre 86cm up. A lot of clay has gone onto the curves to define them. The bridge over window is in and those curves around it are better organised. It’s all starting to flow.

Some texture has gone on where plains needed defining. And the process-marks are looking great so I’m thinking a lot will stay. You have to be careful not to start avoiding changes that need making because you are trying to hang onto nice texture: The form is the priority. Then the carvings. The other texture and the section-cuts will work aroung those things as far as possible.

Standing inside feels really great.

6/4/21

205cm high, 737.5kg. The pace is much slower now and it is very close to being fully blocked out. As all the sides come together you find out how well you have followed the scale model!

The plastic stays on when possible to stop the lower sections getting too dry too soon. When it’s unwrapped a misting with the spray-bottle of water does that job. You need to be able to see and respond to the whole piece inorder to get the flow. That’s slow work. So once you know what needs doing next wrap the other areas up again. I spend a lot of time wrapping and unwrapping it!! But it’s important to keep the clay in good condition or it will collapse.

Although I havn’t gone up in height much more, the curves and texture have been developed by adding a lot of extra clay. Get a good bond first, shape it roughly by hand and then paddle the new clay into shape.

25/4/21

The form and the texture are now complete. Next comes the carvings and then the overall finishing touches which should take about 3 weeks.

The images and writing on the surface will involve adding and subtracting clay and getting really good joins needs a lot of care. Each part of the art-work will take a lot of time so the whole sculpture has been sprayed and tightly wrapped, using foam blockes to hold the plastic against the clay, so that it doesn’t dry anymore.

I’ve sketched on roughly where I want the wild-life images to be. So I’ll just unwrap those spots when I’m working on each one. These weeks will be a rest for the clay and the water will settle and improve the structure of all the countless joins. The work will now be very slow and gentle, a nice change of pace after the very intense 11 weeks of the build where the whole form had to be in my mind at all times, even if I couldn’t see it.

The Tumble Commission

The Celebration Day at Gwalia Mynydd Mawr, 5 November 2014

The Scale Model for a lovely commission for a beautiful Care Home in Carmarthenshire got a very warm and positive response and after months of workshops, planning and very careful thought the build has started.

As usual I’ve over -designed for the budget… but that’s my prerogative- I always stick to my quoted fee and how many hours I put in is up to me.I get a buzz out of challenge and this piece has steep leans , a very complex form and very strong themes that must be stuck to.

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  It has been developed from content gathered from other Artists on the Team working in a range of creative styles and  with some extraordinary Primary School pupils.

The children’s ideas were so sophisticated, profound and complex. For example; After spending a series of workshops with the Home’s Residents making tiles for the Plinth, they built the idea that life is a journey full of change and phases so they wanted to see a pathway that traveled around the sculpture. They wanted a warm , welcoming form that harnessed the rain ( that falls very regularly here in Wales!) to create pools and flowing rivers that represented the Love that is all around us and flows through our lives. Wonderful!

Many of the Residents have Dementia and all are very disabled. But they joined in, charmed by these adorable kids, and it was their warmth and sincerity the children picked up on. They talked about many of the harsh realities of their long lives; war, poverty, mining, loss.And the joys; the beautiful landscape of the country they love, pets, family, work.

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When your Commissioners pour so much of themselves into the consultation phase you owe them something stunning. That includes Arts Care Gofal Celf  who are running this 2 year ,multi -Artist project  with Gwalia and they are both a joy to work for.

So this piece is full of metaphors and symbols. And, I hope, the grace and integrity of the many people who brought it together.

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Near the Studio is the beautiful valley I go to regularly (the River Series came from there) and it is the perfect place to support this Sculpture. And it certainly rained enough this winter.

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The Sculpture will be 1metre 40cm high plus the Plinth and 1m 80cm wide.

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I always make scale model people too so I have the eye-lines right. They help to illustrate the scale.                                                                                                                                 

Measuring carefully from the Model the piece is coil-built using a variety of coil methods . The details are roughed in as the lower sections will necessarily get hard to support the weight of the following layers. Timing is everything. I do use fans and supports but if you mess too much with the drying phases you may well get cracks. If you work too fast it will collapse and I hate it when that happens.

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 There are internal support-walls and buttresses. The piece will be cut in large sections for the firing and these are pre-planned very carefully. The structure has be strong while wet , when dry,when being dismantled and moved to the kiln , through the fire, when being installed and then when it stands for decades, centuries even, in a public place. The site in this instance is a very lovely , sheltered Court-yard Garden with handsome landscaping. There wont be a problem with people climbing on it etc so I could allow some delicacy  but non-the-less it is a sturdy design although I am aiming for a light, flowing feeling.

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      The build method is the same as for the Monumental Sculptures but scaled down. The walls are thinner , the coils smaller , but the same sort of supports are used. The final sections will be much bigger so where the cuts will be needs to be pre-planned and internal structure put in to support the sections through the fire.

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Because the form shrinks as it dries, internal supports are clay and shrink with the form and external ones need to allow shrinkage or only be used for short periods. Quality memory foam is ideal because it lets the clay shrink yet will hold up surprising amounts of weight.The finger marks also support the walls and are left on the inside and only smoothed away on the outside after the section has gone firm.

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The clay is Scarva’s Earthstone Crank Material, ES50, and it is awesome. Their previous Crank had fantastic build quality but it was a minging colour wet and fired unless you put something made in Black Chunky in the kiln with it – then it took on a lovely gold shade. This new Crank is even better to use and will fire to very nice pale gold ideal for the setting.

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The lower section will stay wrapped most of the time to slow the drying and allow the water time to drop. I believe this makes the walls stronger but that might be nonsence. Each Clay-person develops their own relationship with their clay and techniques that are a breeze for one might be chaos for another. I started as Coil-builder 34 years ago and over time I’ve added a lot of side-shoots to my method.

It is 3/4 built, 225kgs of clay, 95cm high. I have definatly done the easy bits – from here on up it will be very slow; smaller coils added in small doses. In-between I’ll work on the surface images and the edges. This initial stage is building the basic form. A lot of clay will be added to bring out the curves and images. That will be left to harden and then the whole piece will be re-fined with subtractive methods. 3 steps forward , 2 steps back, slow and steady.

The shape looks crazy at this point.

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The first draft of the details can go on; the most important thing right now is to get good joins for the clay.

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 When the clay has hardened these can be touched up by carving with a delicate tool. These images were taken from archive pictures of 2 mines and the Railway local to Tumble. Apparently the Train that ran from Great Mountain Colliery was the first ever passenger line.

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I’m using smaller coils and each stage is taking longer.It is just approaching the point where the central hole will form and the top edges start to meet- lets hope my measurements were right! If it doesn’t meet properly I’ll cut out large sections and re-do them.

The props are getting more inventive!

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Those out-side supports will stay in place until after the upper parts are cut and lifted off. In theory it would be self-supporting….but if it collapsed it would do it fast! The final, fired and installed Sculpture will have cement and steel rods inside so it will be strong enough to climb on.

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Almost there- it’s down to finishing touches now. I’ve re-done the head about 90 times and I’m still not happy with it. The Sculpture is wrapped in plastic to rest and settle.I will un-wrap it with fresh eyes and be better able to see what’s needed. In theory.  Once the top feels firm I will remove those internal supports- a scary moment ; it could collapse which is why you need to have a ‘sensibly'(pessimistically ) long build time!  The supports have to come out because they are restricting the shrinkage and soon they will start causing damage. That broom will never be the same.  The outside supports will stay to the end and those sections will get their finishing touches during dismantling.

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Andrew Preece of Smart-fix, my expert Installer came over and we plotted the sections. It’s great having his early input. I never compromise on the form but Andrew can advise on structural issues so that the Installation goes smoothly and we get the best result.

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 That hole in the top left is the last bit to go in. The fired colour will be a stony pale yellow.

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The Sculpture is in the early drying stage, wrapped in plastic. Once I’m sure the upper sections are firm enough (including the internal supports) I’ll get my Assistants in and we will cut the sections and lift them onto memory-foam for a long, slow, dry.

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This is a lovely  stage; the clay is still full of water and it holds the light beautifully. I have been over the whole piece with a fine modelling tools.

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Photographs by Stephen Foote.

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You learn a lot about your own work from watching a skilled Photographer taking pictures of it. You get a more objective view. The lights are certainly a merciless test of your planes and edges. Stephen Foote’s top quality lenses will pick up every flaw.

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I went over the whole piece with fine portrait tools and his perfect pictures reward that.

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After a spell of controlled drying it’s time cut the sections. Luckily I have a fantastic Assistant, Michael Preece. I spent a lot of time  planning the cuts; we have opted for large sections and I needed to ensure they would fit in the kiln and be handleable. Mike  used a variety of tools to make the cuts and he and my son Daniel lifted the sections to thick memory foam where they will stay for at least a month.

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Working in clay you always have an eye on the Drying and Firing -Plan; accommodating  these long drying periods where the atmosphere needs to be controlled and having the right sized pieces ready to pack nice full kilns that will distribute the heat evenly.

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I went round all the edges of the cuts and tidied them and repaired any dings. I will cover the sections with sheets to ward off drafts and turn them regularly. Most cracks form at this stage although they may not show up until after the Firing.

From the outset the many people from Arts Care Gofal Celf, Gwalia and Mynydd Marw involved in this 2 year , multi-fasceted, Baring Foundation ‘Yma a Nawr’ project have put in their all to make it out-standing. After the excellent Installation of the Sirhowy Wyvern I knew that Andrew Preece and his team at Smartfix Property Maintenance would also do whatever it takes to make this Sculpture look fantastic. They are incredibly picky and fastidious, it’s marvellous. Best materials, committed craftsmanship, and they always stick to the Budget no matter how much extra time they have to put in.

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Smartfix Property Maintenance at Mynnyd Mawr, Tumble
Moving the heavy sections around meant 4 men had to be on site.
The 2 bottom sections are lowered over rebars set into the solid plinth and foundations.
It was critical to get the position of these first sections correct.
The sections are filled with concrete and left overnight to set.
Once everything has set the supports can be removed and the joints pointed.
The charming tiles, made by pupils at Llannon Primary School and residents at Mynnyd Mawr are laid out in a measured pattern.

The charming tiles, made by pupils at Llannon Primary School and residents at Mynydd Mawr are laid out in a measured pattern.

Andrew and Phil set the tiles.

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Mynydd Mawr Courtyard Sculpture, 2m h x 190cm w, 2014.

The Celebration Day at Gwalia Mynydd Mawr, 5 November 2014

A perfect , clear blue day for the un-veiling of the Sculpture and a celebration of the whole Project and all the lovely, dedicated people who were involved from Arts Care Gofal Celf, Gwalia, the Primary schools in the area and the extraordinary Staff and Residents at Gwalia Mynydd Mawr.

The Celebration Day at Gwalia Mynydd Mawr, 5 November 2014
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Climate Change Gardening

Found Gallery, the sensational new contemporary art gallery in Brecon, Wales has been complimenting the gorgeous exhibition, Found In The Garden with a series of talks. I was invited to have a conversation with the incomparably wonderful author and forager Adele Nozedar about Osprey Studios Sculpture Garden, (which has just been selected to be part of the National Garden Scheme for 2020) climate change and where this is taking my sculpture.
Punch Maughan and her kind, thoughtful Team made the beautifully lit, spacious gallery welcoming and comfortable with tea and delicious cakes. A lovely, really interesting mix of people came along and the discussion was fascinating, thought provoking and very helpful.
Osprey Studios is at the foot of Cribarth, The Sleeping Giant Mountain, in the extraordinary Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark.
Gardening to fit in with the wild-life in your region really makes a difference. In a wide open, often harsh environment like the Brecon Beacons offering shelter, homes and food counts, especially when seasonal changes are messing with wild-life’s usual routines.. Artist/Gardeners Karin Mear and Nigel Evans at The Happy Gardeners know the area intimately and along with others in the group described the long, dramatic evolution of this land that reminds us that the Natural World changes constantly.
Cribarth creates a boundary that holds wild, harsh weather largely on this side of it’s ridge. Just over this horizon, less than quarter of a kilometre away, is Osprey Studios, protected in a much warmer, milder micro-climate with the southern face acting as a sun trap all year round.
Walking out due north from Cribarth across extraordinary geology laid down by a warm sea and then exposed again by glaciers.
Breconbeacons.org : “The carboniferous limestone of South Wales was formed in shallow tropical seas in the Paleozoic era, over 300 million years ago. Much of it is of organic origin, being the shells and skeletons of sea creatures, large and small. Amongst the most spectacular fossils to be seen in the National Park are Lithostrotion corals. Their intricate internal detail is often beautifully preserved.”
Half a kilometre due south is where the wonderful Nant Llech, a very import river in my work, meets the Tawe that runs down to the coast 20 miles away at Swansea. Further up stream is Henrhyd Falls.
Petrified Stigmaria – Lepidodendron (Scale Trees) Root structure. This tree went extinct about 250 million years ago, much of them decomposing into coal and oil.
Walking the Llech’s bed when the water was very low a few summers ago I started finding and collecting petrified wood and other fossils. This fabulous one is in a big boulder. It’s awesome to know that as the river rages even the big boulders are washed down stream and might never be seen again.

A young Mare’s Tail next to it’s petrified relative that I found near-by.


Indefenceofplants.com: “As atmospheric CO2 levels plummeted and continents continued to shift, the climate was growing more and more seasonal. This was bad news for the scale trees. All evidence suggests that they were not capable of keeping up with the changes that they themselves had a big part in bringing about. By the end of the Carboniferous, Earth had dipped into an ice age. Earth’s new climate regime appeared to be too much for the scale trees to handle and they were driven to extinction. The world they left behind was primed and ready for new players. The Permian would see a whole new set of plants take over the land and would set the stage for even more terrestrial life to explode onto the scene.
It is amazing to think that we owe much of our industrialised society to scale trees whose leaves captured CO2 and turned it into usable carbon so many millions of years ago. It seems oddly fitting that, thanks to us, scale trees are once again changing Earth’s climate. As we continue to pump Carboniferous CO2 into our atmosphere, one must stop to ask themselves which dominant organisms are most at risk from all of this recent climate change? “
There are lots of Ash trees along this gorge and most have reticently died from Ash Die-back. There are log jams all along the river and landslips revealing fossils and petrified wood from the mass extinction event millions of years ago. The shiny black fossils are very nearly coal.
The wet meadow behind Osprey Studios sculpture garden. The hedgehog hotel is here too.

So the earth has changed drastically many times. You feel close to that here in the Brecon Beacons. It has all lead to the beautiful natural world that we know now and that we thought we could control and keep as ours…
This new, massive Climate Change and mass extinction is happening with devastating speed and we understand it: there is no way to sugar-coat it, it is our doing. We can predict what course it is likely to take and plan…
Humans are not innately destructive. Like many cooperative species that live in communities we are very busy. VERY busy…And that busyness can be turned towards cleaning up a lot of this mess.
Will our entirely justified grief, guilt and anger eclipse the beauty, joy and wonder that is still here feeding and sustaining us? Will despair fracture our communities and render everyone helpless and vulnerable? Except for those few profiteers who don’t or can’t care?
Believing we are a toxic force ruining everything we touch is a great excuse to do nothing. But we owe our fellows in the natural world better than that.
Leviathan II, 2015, 53cm H x 79cm L x 36cm D, ceramic.
Watching and re-watching geologist and fabulous educator Dr Iain Stewart‘s programs has helped me get my head around it and that lead to the ongoing Throwdown at the Hoedown Series which has just reached one of those turning points and I have been unsure what comes next. The discussion lead to this:
Eleanor Greenwood (who takes some of the most incredible photographs of this area which she knows extremely well): “My final thing that I wanted to say is that we are coming full circle back to the realisation that we are all nature. Our thinking that we are separate has hurt us in more ways than we realise. Your work is a big clear pointer back to that unity. There is sacredness and magic everywhere and you manifest it. I really enjoyed this eve and thank you for making me see climate change in a different light.”
Flabbergasted/very grateful me: “You are exactly right! And I think you have pinpointed the missing piece that I couldn’t see; the spheres, for want of a better term, are reaching out to us, taking forms we can relate to, but what are they saying? That!! Perhaps it’s just that…return to us while you still can….”
Gardens so often bring us together for the conversations that make all the difference.
Guardian of the Biosphere. The interior of this sculpture has spaces for wild-life to live.
Developing my garden over 9 years from a plain lawn with some old hard features like the cement paths and patio and the deteriorating wooden stable has also changed my thinking enormously. I first put in lupines and flowers and it was beautiful! No-one was more delighted and impressed than the slugs from the meadow at the end of the garden. After one, terrible, battle with them I saw this was not the fight I was willing to take on.
Joining forces with the rest of nature we can share the challenges of Climate Change. You can grow food to share with the other people in your community of wildlife and human neighbors, right down to those in the soil. The garden here is now full of fruit trees, bushes, a variety of strawberries, local wild flowers (slug-proof, bee/bug friendly, beautiful) and cultivated plants that can co-exist happily. Most of the grass has gone and now there is flowering low ground-cover, like cranberries.
There are lots of bird-feeders. And compost bins. You start feel like part of the solution and bit less like part of the problem. We can’t stop the change. But we can make amends as best as we can and ride the wave with grace.
All of nature has always had those who’s role is taking risks; trying out new habitats or times to flower, grow, mate or migrate. It seems very fair that we should make safe spaces for them and help with food and shelter if we can. Forestry Studies have found trees have been migrating in new directions for 50 years. One of my blueberries put out a few flowers this autumn, testing the chances…
This beautiful Acer was a special present to my self for being unexpectedly brave during one of those events that sharpen one’s appreciation of life. Our gardens can become a record of what matters most to us. It then taught me about choosing the right spot and not being afraid or reluctant to move unhappy plants. Or to give unusual plants a chance to make their home here.
Here’s a fabulous bit of drama and a tribute to the tropical past. And future? Changes in the Gulf Stream and other currents are happening now and it’s not clear what the implications are for the western UK. Right now it’s amazing that such a plant will grow here. (I transplanted the Torbay Palm across the garden from a hanging basket thinking it was a grass! It’s 6 metres high now and growing fast!) The interaction with the wild flowers is beautiful : this palm provides support and shelter all year round to a very long-stemmed wild flower that all sorts of insects adore on the edge of the pond. Gardening gets you looking to the future. Slow growing, long lived plants expect to face challenges and can be extraordinarily adaptable which is very inspiring.
Across the meadow at the end of the garden you can see the stand of huge Ash trees on the lower slope of Cribarth that have succumbed to Ash Die-Back. They have started to fall causing a landslip on the edge of a mountain stream and creating a beautiful new waterfall. After heavy rains the water has chosen a new route leading right to where a drainage ditch passes our gate and giving our patch a new shallow pond which fills with tadpoles and sustains other creatures. A few miles east another group of Ash are being watched because they seem to be immune to Die-back.
The movement of water is absolutely key.
This shady corner is full of wild life. All the sculpture plinths are hollow and provide homes for all sorts of people. The ground is always damp and often very wet. Just behind the sculpture is an apple, a pear and some blueberries bushes planted close together like I’ve seen in the woods by the river. They didn’t look too happy at first but a few years on they are taking off and I’m assuming that is because they have befriended each other underground. I had read that if you need a continuous supply over the season rather than big crops then close, varied planting is a good idea. Raspberries love this spot so I weed them out occasionally. A variety of cranberry plants have definitely taken and are quietly spreading among strawberries and various wild ground cover which I clear back sometimes to favour the cranberries but I get the impression they like the company. Everything seems happier with lots of other plants around them. Even my house plants do way better in mixed pots.
Anything cleared out of or from the edge of the pond is left on the side for a few days or tucked into the near-by bed so creepy crawlies can get back to the water.

We started the garden when we moved here in October 2010 with beds marked out with old carpet from the house left over winter and the pond put in the following spring, as recommended. I was so proud watching my sons dig it and it gave me some insight into the ground: 60cms of lovely dark soil down and then clay and big stones. We put in a good, flexible liner and two oxygenator plants and mini water lily. In no time at all it was full of life. Lots of newts, frogs, toads, dragon flies, water-snails (how?!), all sorts. Between them, the hedgehogs, birds and the huge predatory slugs the plant eating slug numbers have begun to balance to the point where the invaluable work they do for the soil offsets limiting what I can plant. Just like they promise on Gardener’s World.
Rae Gervis is an expert gardener growing extraordinary vegetables at Ty Mawr near Brecon. Every week you can order seasonal vegetables from them. Rae had no trouble persuading me not to dig my soil. But I hadn’t expected the results to be so good.
Rae explained: “Soil is the foundation of all life so needs to be nurtured. Soil vitality & biodiversity needs to be protected. Worms and other micro & macro-biota distribute air, water & nutrients far more efficiently & effectively than man can through digging. Mulch with any organic material, preferably well rotted. Soil is then insulated & protected from the elements. Slugs are a good food source for many animals including hedgehogs & they do break down organic matter making it available as nutrients in the soil.”
Building and fencing materials tends to involve horrendously un-green production methods. So we use recycled stuff and make things last where ever we can. The old fence enclosing what was a little pony-yard leading out to the meadow is rotting so I’ve woven a cotoneaster around it to replace it with a living fence which is now much higher and covered in berries. I had found the plant in a container in the hot front garden looking small and wretched when we moved in and I had no idea what to do with it. I plonked it in a stony hole and apologised. It has grown so fast!! Weaving it into flowing shapes is extremely fun.
This area is a cabin and patio now. Before it was a stable, before that a fabulous green house. I would love to pave it but it would be daft, wasteful and the layers of history would be lost. The old cement ground is worn and the mosses soften the look of it so I encourage them instead. Same with the rather rigid cement paths and patio by the house.
Evergreens are gorgeous all year and great for the front garden. And now it’s important to have flowering and/or fruiting plants and ever-green shelter for the creatures that may end up out and confused in mild winter spells. And the arriving refugees.
There are berries at the lower levels, strawberries, raspberries, black currants and gooseberries. Now that it’s moister I might move some of the cranberry’s runners here.
I let all this grow in to see what it would do (ie drop dead?) and I don’t mind admitting I wasn’t expecting it to be so lush! Recently we put in supports and some structure to the look of it.
It was just a nice front lawn with a small brick patio 9 years ago. It got way too hot and very dry out here in the summer and so did the rooms on this side of the house. The paint was fried and falling off the render. A number of my neighbors were having to replace their blistered render at the time so we decided we had better strip off the old paint and re-do it. In the back was a big Virginia creeper and the old paint under it was in much better condition!
Now the house is cool and comfortable all year round. The soil stays moist and I leave the falling leaves which quickly disappear into the ground thanks to the healthy wild-life. There are toads and lots of birds. Some are even nesting, glad that the street deters predators. I also find the sense of shelter very comforting.
This is the front patio which I never used before because it was broiling hot. The french doors lead into the Studio where I had to protect sculptures in progress from the heat. Now the vines form a roof and the light falling through it is exquisite. The purple-leafed grape vine stated clearly that it was ornamental and would not fruit but it does! There is jasmine, wisteria, roses, and an ever-green clematis amongst others so it changes and has beautiful scent.
Sweeping regularly keeps the weeds out from between the bricks and gives me a good excuse to go out there and revel in it. There is no joy to be had from herbicides and pesticides.
The parking area is really useful but I don’t miss not being able to see it. I’m building up a brush-pile in this corner for anyone who likes living in it and there is a small water feature here. I’m introducing a range of ground cover plants. Next year I hope to experiment with vegetables in movable pots on wheels on the driveway where I can separate them from the slug’s territory.

This very heavy, old gate came from the wonderful Theodore Sons And Daughter Reclamation Yard in Bridgend. Stripping and re-painting it took forever but it feels so great when you swing it open.

Gardening with a sense of purpose.
We are coming full circle back to the realisation that we are all nature. Our thinking that we are separate has hurt us in more ways than we realise.
We are being called to turn back to our natural world while we still can.
When all’s said and done it’s about Community.
Sharing with all our fellows, all the neighbours, great and small, wether we like them much or not, because we need each other. A garden reaches out from your home as much as it sets a boundary or shelters it. It creates links and bonds.
Gardening is a gentle, patient, subtle weapon in a battle we are better off for fighting. Our gardens become a record of, and a contribution to, what matters most to us.

How To Make Small Sculpture and Models

Covid 19; Standing Up For Peace Sculpture for Saxon Hall, Hereford: The design Phase. Please join in!

The Big Skill is working on a community project to build a sculpture for the beautiful garden at Saxon Hall Community Centre in Hereford, UK. We had started to bring people together with fun, informative, creative clay workshops to start developing the design. The models people made will be incorporated into the sculpture’s surface to add an expressive, relief surface that tells of the many ways everyone builds peace into their lives and communities. Then Covid 19 took over.

So now we have taken the work online. Please feels very welcome to join in. Go to The Big Skill website for more details.

Clay Modelling and small sculpture.

Using clay on a small scale is a great way to work out those ideas and feeling that are ‘on the tip of your tongue’ or just out of reach in your head. You can play around intuitively until it looks about right. Then you can use that model to guide you through another one where you think about it a bit more and so on. This is the basis of how I work and how I deal with any emotions or situations that in life that I can’t get my head around.

When planning a Public sculpture I start this way to clarify my own interpretations of the Theme. Then I will be inspired again by your models and other art-work and I’ll start making scale models that incorporate your ideas and forms and the issues out-lined in the Project Brief.

Coping with the Covid 19 lock-down has made us all acutely aware of how it feels to live in fear and what really matters and helps. So the models you make will really be from the heart and everyone will be able to relate to them in some way.

Humans are a social species and so it’s very important that we have a wide variety of skills to offer our communities. We are unified by a drive to share and communicate and some of us do that best through wordless routes like art work: making it and connecting through the art we see.

A piece of clay about the size of a tennis ball will keep your model a manageable size that wont keep collapsing or get to thick if you plan to fire it.
Just mess about: the ideas will come through your hands.
These other posts about small models will be useful:
Making Small Figures How To Make Animals
Listen to music that suits your mood or the mood you are aiming for.
I’m making an abstract form because that is my strongest language. The easiest, ‘best’ thing to make is the thing that interests you the most. Take your time and don’t care one bit about what anyone else might think.
I’m just trying to capture the movement or flow here, like dancing.
Much of the lower part is just there to stop it tipping over.
Blow dry just enough to keep it steady, especially lower bits. Don’t over-do it.
I’ve defined the form a bit more by cutting bits off and smoothing and compacting the clay with tools.
It’s time to add more clay: Break off a small piece with a tool, dab it onto a moist sponge and model it onto your sculpture.
Note the cake in that dish has gone.
Keep going around in Rotations, developing it in layers.
Look at it from all angles.
The next 3 images show the point where I’m beginning to get the hang of this model.
Bit more of this lower stuff will come off…Note that is is ‘roughed out’. If you spend too much time smoothing it will feel hard to make changes because “you don’t want to spoil it”. And being able to make changes at any point is one of the great benefits of working in clay.
I’ve blow dried it a bit more because now I’m going to add on quite a lot more clay. At this stage this piece is effectively the Armature.
Dab water on the surface, rub that until it is sticky, then add more clay.
I have switched to Porcelain clay which is tricky to work with. It looks a mess now but I will carve that back when I think I have the shape done. It will shrink way more than the Crank clay underneath so after the firing I will have a hard white finish with a lot of cracks in which I will emphasize in black. I’m after a timeless, stone-like finish.
Blow-dry the new clay to stiffen a little. Then use tools to compact the clay and clarify your farm. Don’t be tempted to smooth with water.
Raise the sculpture up so that you can see it better. I’ve had this fab turntable for eons. But I often use boxes and bits of wood which turn well. It’s very good to be able to sit up comfortably.
I used all the tools shown on the board for each task shown over the next set of images.