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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Make A Head; Clay Armatures and building Hollow.

Busts in progress, Aug 2014.

Busts in progress, Aug 2014.

The Head

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

It is not rocket science and you can do it. The challenge is fascinating and very rewarding.

The Technique

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

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

Or you can use this technique of building outwards from a Clay Armature to make your sculpture hollow.

Clay armature for a bust, aug 2014

Clay armature for a bust, aug 2014

3rd Bust armature in progress, Aug 2014.

3rd Bust armature in progress, Aug 2014.

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in progress, Aug 2014.

in progress, Aug 2014.

Here I chose to leave gaps that show the Armature but of course you don’t have to. The step by step manner of this method and the fact that you work all over the head  in layers from the start  makes it ideally suited to help you organise the huge amount of information in your mind while learning to make Portraits and other Sculpture.

The Workshop

Two people with a creative back-ground but who had never done a head before came to Osprey Studios for a 2 day Workshop designed to give them the practical skills needed to make heads on their own and get 2/3 of the way through a head. Day 1 was The Skull built onto the central support (that I had prepared and allowed to harden 3 days earlier). Day 2 was The Head up to the point before finishing touches. The students both took their heads home to finish. We used the excellent Scarva Crank (ES50) clay.

the leather-hard clay armature for the head

the leather-hard clay armature for the head. It will bear the weight  and be a scaffold for your additions. Some of it will get cut away as the bust becomes leather hard and can support itself.

measuring from your own head with callipers and placing the information on the armature in a way that also reinforces it..

Measure from your own head with callipers and add the information onto the armature. Some of these small, pinched slabs will also reinforce the armature. Start with where the neck emerges from the shoulders, then the chin, then the top of the head to ensure  you will hit a height that will fit in your kiln. Leave some room for error; later you can trim away from the base or add clay there to adjust the height.

I had made the Skull we used as a model previously using the same method.

I had made the Skull we used as a model previously using the same method. We also used photos from the internet and measured on our own and each other’s head. Having a model is expensive and sometimes distracting at this early stage of conquering the basics. This Workshop is designed to show you a method you can repeat at home.

Block out the skull using thin slabs attached to the armature.

Block out the skull using thin slabs attached to the armature. Work your way around the form in ‘layers’; don’t focus on one part for to long. Each part informs the whole and they need to evolve together. Mark the place of the eye-sockets, nose, mouth, chin without getting distracted by their shape. Then these bars of clay will hold up the next layer, etc.

It's surprisingly hard work. Take regular breaks to allow the info to sink in.

It’s surprisingly hard work. Take regular breaks to allow the info to sink in.

Spend plenty of time over the back of the head to ensure the size is correct.

Spend plenty of time over the back of the head to ensure the size is correct.

There will be points when it looks dreadful!

There will be times when it looks dreadful!

And points when it looks guaranteed to be a masterpiece.

And points when it looks guaranteed to be a masterpiece. Both of these phases pass!

Measure everything repeatedly and keep moving forward methodically

Measure everything repeatedly and keep moving forward methodically

Take the Skull up to the stage before finishing touches and allow to go leather-hard.

Take the Skull up to the stage before finishing touches and allow to go leather-hard. We chose to tilt the skulls a bit at this stage so that the Heads would be more expressive.

You can print these skull images to work from and there are 2 work-sheets for you at the end of this post.

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Block out the whole head over the foundation of the Skull.

‘Block out’ the whole head over the foundation of the Skull; Work all around the head in rough, refining the whole form in layers rather than concentrating on one spot then moving to the next. It is crucial that you are willing to remove any part that is wrong, no matter how much time you feel you have spent on it. A beautifully worked eye slightly in the wrong place will ruin the whole. Every minute you spend on this work is building your skill so there is no time wasted.

 

You will reap the benefits of all the careful measuring you did on the skull.

You will reap the benefits of all the careful measuring you did on the skull. Note that “The Eye” is the area all the way to the edge of that eye-socket not just the bit defined by the eye-lashes. ”The Mouth” starts up inside the nose and goes out toward the cheeks and the chin; it is not just the lips. Subtleties all across that area of muscle and skin over the teeth of the skull will express the mood of this person. Think a range of conflicting emotions and feel the small changes in your own mouth-area. Don’t look in a mirror, just feel them. Do it again in front of a mirror.  “Act” the expression you want your Portrait to have while you are working and you will find it easier to capture it in clay.

Continue measuring repeatedly using callipers and check your modelling by hold a horizontal or vertical stick to it and looking carefully at the shape of the negative space.

Continue measuring repeatedly using callipers and check your modelling by hold a horizontal or vertical stick to it and looking carefully at the shape of the negative space.

Walk away from your work and look in detail at something out the window ; this will 'clear your eye'. Turn and look at the head; what is the first thing you notice? It might be an error you couldn't see when you were up close and immersed in the work. Or it might be that it looks way better than you expected.

Walk away from your work and look in detail at something out of the window; this will ‘clear your eye’. Turn and look at the head; what is the first thing you notice? It might be an error you couldn’t see when you were up close and immersed in the work. Or it might be that it looks way better than you expected.

There are many tricks and techniques for making all the features and U Tube is a treasure trove. Try out different styles to find the one that you like.

There are many tricks and techniques for making all the features and U Tube is a treasure trove. Try out different styles to find the one that you like.

Use a similar modelling style for that hair to avoid that 'Wig' look.

Use the modelling style you used on the rest of the sculpture for the hair to avoid that ‘Wig’ look. As you get nearer to being done the quality of your mark-making as you add clay becomes important. Look at lots of Portraits with Google-Images, choose the look you like best and try out using different tools until you find your own style.

If you think you may have added a thickness over 3cms cut and hollow at the stage before finishing touches.

If you think you may have added a thickness over 3cms cut and hollow at the stage before finishing touches. If not you can fire the head with the armature in situ. Dry very slowly, preferably in a tent of news-paper that will keep off drafts and slow down the evaporation. While it is wrapped up the water from the added clay will migrate into the clay-armature and soften it; you might need to put a temporary support under the chin to stop the head tipping forward until the clay has stiffened up evenly.

Double-check all your measurements and then move into Finishing Touches.

Double-check all your measurements and then move into Finishing Touches. During this stage you are reinforcing this new perception and understanding of the head that is not just about communication but is relevant to portraiture. This will allow you to see more too.

This final stage, especially over the eyes, will take a third of your total work time. A head usually takes 30 hours.

This final stage, especially  the eyes, will take a third of your total work time. A head usually takes 30 hours.

Exactly like learning a musical instrument or a sport, practice will develop the fine-motor skills specific to this difficult task. It is ALL about Practise, good technique, and the right tools and clay. If you add enjoying doing it you will make beautiful Busts full of expression. 'Talent' is a mirage.

Exactly like learning a musical instrument or a sport, practice will develop the fine-motor skills and perception specific to this difficult task. It is ALL about Practise, good technique, and the right tools and clay. If you add ‘enjoying doing it’ you will make beautiful Busts full of expression. ‘Talent’ is a mirage. I revisit figurative work regularly so that my skills don’t slip away.

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

The measuring frees you up to be expressive with your modelling . Your ‘Creative Intuition’ is largely a collection of Skills that have become so ingrained you can take them for granted. They will be inter-woven across your mind, so the deep-set memories of the experience of dancing  at a party, the exhilaration you feel out on the mountain, emotions that have shown on your face, will be part of your Skill. While you are making things music can help you access specific memories; I use particular Albums to re-set the mood each time I return to a sculpture.

A set of good portrait tools will make all the difference. Tiranti’s are famously lovely. Just holding one makes you want to work, they are beautiful. The M Series Hardwood Tools are designed for Portraiture and will fit perfectly to the important, tricky parts of the face. Scarva have a good range of quality tools and the set of fine modelling tools look like they will be nice and the price is very low. I am very pleased with my  metal modelling tools from Amazon.

Choose a clay with plenty of mixed, medium to fine grog (gritty bits). Scarva ES 50 is out-standing.

Mary Cousins finished her head back in her own Studio. She has named her Butterfly.

Mary Cousins finished her head back in her own Studio. She has named her Butterfly.

Butterfly by Mary Cousins

Butterfly by Mary Cousins

Butterfly by Mary Cousins

Butterfly by Mary Cousins

Madam Butterfly by Mary Cousins.

Madam Butterfly by Mary Cousins. Mary makes absolutely lovely, fluid, sensuous porcelain pottery.

Once you have got the hang of this excellent method you can use it to open out the space of a form.

Frame-works for The Wyvern IV and, in the back ground, The Leviathan.

Frame-works for The Wyvern IV and, in the back ground, The Leviathan.

These Armatures or ‘frameworks’ were planned to be very much part of the fractured image. But the ‘corrugation’ and circular holes you can see are strengthening the Armature and would be very suitable to an armature that would ultimately be hidden. Playing around with these Armatures lead the Sculptures in un-anticipated directions.

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

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

Here are some work-sheets you can print off and use.

Scull Work-sheet, Rebecca Buck.

Skull Work-sheet, Rebecca Buck.

Portrait/clay armature Work-sheet. Rebecca Buck.

Portrait/clay armature Work-sheet. Rebecca Buck.

A good one from google images: screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-21-47-48

In February 2016 we ran this Workshop again but on Day 2 we played more freely. We still covered the essentials. I’ll add Workshop photos over time because you will find looking at how other people have handled it helpful and the variety inspiring.

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The group’s skulls after Day 1.

Pi, my Studio Manager.

Pi, my Studio Manager.

Phil Hughes and Martine Wills.

Phil Hughes  making his bust into a  poignant Warrior . And Martine Wills.

Sheila Mone

Sheila Mone , leaving a lot of bust section open using expressive curves.

Kay Milward

Kay Milward took her piece into the surreal with fantastic effect.

September 2016, I ran a Masterclass with the wonderful North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio. Taz Pollard and Nicola Crocker run an excellent Studio making their own work and giving very popular classes in pottery and hand-building. They have created a lovely, business- like space with an open, welcoming atmosphere that leads everyone into making their best work. They will be running Masterclasses, workshops and classes regularly, in all aspects of ceramics and it was a pleasure to work with them. We packed a massive amount of work into one day and group worked their butts off. Taz and Nicola kept everyone afloat with delicious, home-made food, drinks and humour.

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Masterclass with Rebecca Buck, North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

North Devon Ceramics Academy & Studio

Art teacher Sheila Mone and her lovely, forward looking department head Matt Peake, invited me to Monmouth School to work with their A Level students. The school has a set of very handsome studios and the quality student work reveals that this Art Department understands the important contribution and highly transferable skill set that art brings to a pupil.

We had 12 hours over 2 days and the work would be completed over the rest of the following weeks. The frameworks were beautifully made a few days in advance and left to stiffen. Day 1 was the skull with full measuring and day 2 was open with the only condition being that the eyes/mouth/nose placements were maintained. Some had photos to work from and I was pleased at the care and thought these students had put into their interpretation, bringing in themes and messages. Most of them had done very little clay work before! So it was a leap into the deep-end and they achieved a fantastic amount through intensive hard work. Wonderful! I went home on cloud nine!

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Sheila Mone talking through ideas with this student while the others listen in and collect information. These guys have great study skills.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Tony blocking out the skull in preparation for a portrait of Donald Trump.

With both of these heads the pupils used photos, aimed for a likeness. Setting boundaries like this will really help you to progress. The head in the back then went on to be beautifully stylised. The excellent head in front is based on Mohammed Ali. You can feel the strength and dignity of the man.

Rebecca Buck Osprey Studios

Robert moving forward from blocking out the skull to setting the key high points on the bones on the right plain.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Wilfred tidying the frame in preparation for developing the face. Because time was tight we left out the back of the head. This makes developing the head more difficult and I don’t recommend it. But handled stylishly it can look great.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. An excellent level of concentration.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. After giving general instruction I go one-to-one as much as possible. I aim to guide each student towards their own ‘voice’ in building, theme, and modelling style.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Wilfred has a good selection of views of his model . A selection of images from different angles is invaluable.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Really difficult to pull off but a great  challenge is 1/2 skull 1/2 face. This brave student had a steady, methodical approach that is ideal in portraiture.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. This wonderful student had already done a very good head after looking through this post so this time he chose to work double the size.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Harry had already done a very good head after looking through this post. And he has used clay on large pieces. So this time he chose to work double the size. Take your measurements and use a ruler to double them. Do not attempt to do it by eye. Larger than life heads carry an immediate power. It’s a great scale if you have a message to convey.

Harry’s piece just fits in the kiln!

Harry’s next head. Fantastic work on the very difficult area of the shoulders/base. 

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. The dark, haunting eyes in the photo were done by this very skilled student, Robert, by cutting through and harnessing the dark interior of the head. Really effective and evocative.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Rhianna had a powerful image of an elderly homeless man and wanted to portray his story. She left the eyes empty but cut smaller holes through the back of the head behind the eye-level telling an inner, nearly hidden narrative.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. The art department assistant, Kate Owens, beautiful use of clay.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. The art department assistant, Kate Owens, beautiful use of clay.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Kate Owens.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Kate Owens.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Harry’s theme here is a simple “contrast hard geometric form with organic form.” The size, the forward unyielding gaze, the beautiful, enchanting modelling style, the flow of the geometric inner form and the places where it mimics the natural structure of a head evoke a mysterious presence.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Sheila Mone helped her students and worked on her own fascinating bust.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. Excellent modelling skills and empathetic sensitivity are giving this moving image sculptural form.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. This a stylish, contemporary design for the base. It is very difficult to handle the truncated aspects of the bust. There are various ‘classic’ motifs that work really well but it’s very refreshing to see a new approach. This piece was then taken further to become this beautifully

The piece above was then taken further to become this beautifully defined character.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck. A few of the guys had to leave early including the student doing a superb job of Mohamed Ali using a beautiful, sophisticated modelling technique. The head of Donald Trump is being handled with great skill and thoughtfulness by another student. In each case they are aiming to capture the inner life of the man not just his shell. Of course this is very difficult but the challenge is engrossing and very satisfying and having a particular direction will get you through the many intimidating intersections on the road to a portrait. Art department Head Matt Peake worked alongside his students on the wonderful, humorous self portrait you can see front, right of this photo. The wide variety of approaches were a credit to the Art Department and the wider school.

Monmouth School A level students 2 day Workshop with Rebecca Buck.

 

 

 

Portraiture, Clay Armatures and building Hollow Workshop.

Portrait class 2015

The Bust

The key reason making heads is so hard is that the perception (the way we use our knowledge) that we have built up over our lifetime of what shape the head is, is based around communication and assessing each other. Making a head requires going against what ‘feels’ right and using information we are unlikely to have bothered with before. Portraiture has a system to organise the huge quantity of subtle details. Learning this system will broaden your knowledge, and your access to more knowledge, enormously. That’s why the study of Portraiture and Figurative Sculpture is traditionally the bed-rock of Art.

It is not rocket science and you can do it. The challenge will be fascinating and very rewarding.

The Technique

Because clay shrinks as it dries and is floppy when very wet a Clay Armature is invaluable.

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

Or you can use this technique of building out from a Clay Armature to make your sculpture hollow.

Clay armature for a bust, aug 2014

Clay armature for a bust, aug 2014

3rd Bust armature in progress, Aug 2014.

3rd Bust armature in progress, Aug 2014.

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in progress, Aug 2014.

in progress, Aug 2014.

Here I chose to leave gaps that show the Armature but of course you don’t have to. The step by step manner of this method and the fact that you work all over the head  in layers from the start  makes it ideally suited to learning to make Portraits and other Sculpture.

Frame-works for The Wyvern IV and, in the back ground, The Leviathan.

Frame-works for The Wyvern IV and, in the back ground, The Leviathan.

These Armatures or ‘frameworks’ were planned to be very much part of the fractured image. But the ‘corrugation’ and circular holes you can see are strengthening the Armature and would be very suitable to an armature that would ultimately be hidden. Playing around with these Armatures lead the Sculptures in un-anticipated directions (I frequently have no idea what I’m doing, just why!)

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

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

In this Workshop we will build a strong Armature, work on the Skull loosely for the benefit of looking at that and then build on the external features of the head; the face, ears, hair etc.

The Skull. 2014

The Skull. 2014

The Weekend

We’ll cover Hollowing out too.  You will get my invaluable tirade on joins. We’ll look at some different clays and talk about choosing clays. And we’ll sit down to a relaxing bring and share lunch in true South Wales Potter’s Tradition and talk shop. There will be drinks available all day.

Everyone, from any level of experience, is welcome and will get a lot out of this challenging week-end.

The Fee is £130 which includes 25kg of Scarva Crank (an out-standing sculpture clay), a set of sculpture’s callipers and set of Skull and Skeleton images. The Workshop is to give you the Techniques so that you can develop your own way of using them. Just like learning to play an instrument, practice and adding your own style will give you the results. You are unlikely to complete your head on the week-end and I will encourage you to take it home to work on or break it down and have the clay to use on your next head where you can work more slowly. I can fire your sculpture if you like and we’ll sort that out separately.

It is easy to get here  and there is plenty of Parking and the Studio is not bad for accessibility.

Studio Diary, The Landscape Project, part 1

Busts in progress, Aug 2014.

Busts in progress, Aug 2014.

Lots of changes, lots of layers.This is the main photo I am  focussing on; The sky, the land and the ocean and man’s presence – everything is integrated.

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote.

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea, by Stephen Foote, 2014.

These 2 pictures and the experience of being in both these places is never far from my mind these days.

Porth Yr Ogof Cave, Brecon Beacons, by Stephen Foote.2014

Porth Yr Ogof Cave, Brecon Beacons, by Stephen Foote.2014

A narrative is emerging that involves the passage of water from the Beacons’ sky to the ocean at the bottom of the Swansea Valley. The Tawe River passes the Studio and the ground beneath us is full of  tunnels from the rivers and from mining. The Wyvern, a dragon with a wonderful mythology about guarding the treasures of the subterranean world entered the picture when I was heavily involved with the history of local Coal Mining and  the Pit Marker Sculptures and it is re-emerging here. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next clay-armature is more specific now that I have a clearer idea of where I’m going.

3rd Bust armature in progress, Aug 2014.

3rd Bust armature in progress, Aug 2014.

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in progress, Aug 2014.

in progress, Aug 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Studio Diary; Return to the Figurative

in progress, July 2014

in progress, July 2014

An intense couple of months ending in a merciful bereavement has lead me back to the clear boundaries and challenges of Figurative sculpture. Portrait skills are hard won and need to be practiced regularly or they will be lost.

I’ve been playing around with the technique of building outwards from a framework that wont be hollowed out later and/or is a visible part of the form for a couple of years now and  I wanted to try it with naturalistic work.

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The River,a commission. 1.5 m high

The River,a commission. 1.5 m high

Half a Century II, 48cm H x 32cm W.

Half a Century II, 48cm H x 32cm W.

I started with the exercise Lloyd Lilly taught us at Boston Uni (about 300 years ago); Make the skeleton and layer on the muscles and skin. It is fascinating to do and hugely informative. These are the skills that give Abstract work presence.

Anyone who has taken one of my Workshops will tell you, with tears in their eyes, that the key to figurative work is organising the huge amount of information into manageable stages and that the Skeleton is just a stick figure with the perfect proportions simplified for you.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m not sure how I manage to be so thick but once again I made a clay armature for a bust that allowed the head to tip forward. Good thing I have that red broom on hand to prop it up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  With the 2nd one I made a much more interesting frame that would show in places.

in progress August 2014

in progress August 2014

It allowed me to work on the whole form from the outset  rather than build from the bottom up. I’m pushing myself hard to use new methods rather than fall into the same ol’ pitfalls and to be more expressive with the naturalistic format rather than only technical. I’ve done that many times before… but the results were pretty dire! This may also be yet anther very bad road but it’s the only route to get somewhere interesting. I’m aiming to integrate the figure with it’s landscape following the ideas of the Up Is Down Series. Wish me luck….!

Clay armature for a bust, aug 2014

Clay armature for a bust,  aug 2014

This clay armature is much stronger and the hollow spaces are more defined as part of the form good and early. The plan is to work towards integrating the Landscape work I’ve been doing with Cameraman Steve Foote using his stunning photographs.

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote.

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote.

Brecon Beacons, by Steve Foote.

Brecon Beacons, by Steve Foote.

Porth Yr Ogof Cave, Brecon Beacons, by Steve Foote.

Porth Yr Ogof Cave, Brecon Beacons, by Steve Foote.

This could take a while….

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