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.
Refine the surfaces in rotations. I like to do a rotation of removing, then a rotation of adding, etc, for a minimum of 5 rotations.
Metal, serrated tools like this are AWESOME! But for years I’ve used wooden ones, Ribbon tools, small metal tools.
The curved ends of the wooded tool is great for smoothing and compressing clay in the curves and along the edges.
Once you have the shape you want Wooden tools blend in the scrape marks for a lovely, lasting smoothness. and crisp edges.
Over smoothing a form can kill it dead. some texture brings out the smoothness.
With small sculptures you can often see features from all sides at once. They need to interact and relate to each other. You can still play with surprise revelations as the sculpture is turned like you can with large pieces. This form is inspired by my experience of the Covid 19 Lock-down and part of the Edge Series which uses two sides linked by a hole.
Ready to dry.
This is now covered in the white porcelain. The firing will do most of the finishing. Then I will complete it by rubbing black-iron oxide powder into the cracks.
Weather you fire or self-harden your sculpture do plan on applying a colour to finish it. Dry clay, and sometimes fired clay, looks very blah. Don’t judge the piece at that point.
Add colour. using layers of thin washes to build up a colour works best. (be careful with water if you have self-hardened or it will disintegrate) Perhaps wax or varnish. I never recommend glazes on ceramic sculpture: they usually hide your nice surface and unless you are experienced with a particular glaze it can go very wrong.
Putting the sculpture on a nice base can transform the way it looks.

The key to all sculpture is this:

1- Block out the form: decide the dimensions (height, width, length) including the base.

2- Work in Rotations refining the whole sculpture at each turn (by adding or subtracting in the case of clay).

Working on a Small Scale.

Starting small will allow you to get your head around the issues and get results quickly. You can try making lots of versions of the same idea until you find a style or image that really works for you. If it is authentic to you then other people will be able to relate to it.

Choosing Your Clay

Ideally use a clay with lots of grog in it because it will sag less, crack less, fire better or be stronger as self-hardening clay. Here I used Scarva ES50 Crank, an outstanding sculpture clay.

All Pottery Suppliers online will be happy to recommend clay if you tell them what you want to make. Clays are made from recipes so there are endless kinds. You want a Hand-building clay with fine-medium grog (pre-fired grit). Throwing Clay for the wheel will resent being a sculpture and be hard to handle. Many “Self- Hardening” clays are over-priced and difficult or unpleasant to use.

Bath Potters Supplies are really kind and helpful, have a lovely new website and a great selection of clays and tools for fair prices. Just looking through the site will give you a good idea of what is available. And they are still open and delivering during the Pandemic.

A bag of clay is 12.5 kg. Clay prices vary a lot. Talk to your supplier to get the right clay for the job. £10 shipping usually covers 10-25 kg so tools wont have extra shipping.

Tools

I love CTM for tools: great quality and prices, especially on the serrated metal tools. They sell fab clay too.

You don’t need lots…I have LOTS! You can make your own.

This useful post features a complete, reusable model-making kit that you can adapt to the size of your needs and helpful links: How To Use Clay In Primary Schools Affordably.

Quality Joints:

There is good, illustrated, essential advice about handling clay and making joins on the post about Coil Building.

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

‘Score marks’ do not give the surface ‘tooth’; they allow water into the clay-body. On vertical surfaces they hold the water in place to give it time to sink in and swell the clay so that the clay platelets are able to link with other platelets.

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

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

Thicknesses: cracking/breaking.

Generally 3cm is a fair maximum thickness for a well grogged clay if you plan to fire.

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

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

Drying:

These small models will dry out in a few days. To stop it drying between sessions wrap tightly in a plastic bag with no holes.

Dry your sculpture slowly or the limbs may crack as they will shrink faster than the rest of the form. A cardboard box placed over the top is ideal to slowly allow moisture to escape.

Finishing:
Self-hardened clay will be delicate but last forever so long as it doesn’t get wet.

Firing will make it strong and water-proof.

When it is dry/fired paint/wax/stain the surface : a simple all over bronze colour always looks great.

Place your sculpture on a nice piece of wood or stone and it will look amazing! Seriously!

Now go make another one.

The more you practice more skills you will build up. You will get the fine muscles, the organised thinking, and more challenging, interesting ideas. There is no such thing as Talent. There is Interest, skills, tricks of the trade, good, suitable materials and tools and practice.

Confidence is great but it does not always help tbh. Don’t be meaner to yourself than you would be to someone else. If you hit a block wrap the piece tightly in plastic and come back to it later. Note the first thing you notice when you un-wrap it: that is usually the bit that needs work or is really good.

Getting useful feedback is hard. Cover the piece, say to the person “tell me the first thing you think of” and uncover it. Keep your face neutral! Then ask ” what is the mood? ” or ” what is the model feeling?”

How to make Animals using clay armatures.

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

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

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

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

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

It is not rocket science and you can do it.

Because clay shrinks as it dries and is floppy when very wet, a Clay Armature that will support and shrink with the form through the drying and the firing is invaluable. All other types of Armatures must be perfect in shape or they will ruin the sculpture. And they limit your option to change your mind. Most cause disruption because they have to be removed: clay will shrink as it dries and crack around a rigid armature.

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

Working solid is an excellent method. You set aside the ceramic requirement for certain thicknesses in the clay until you are sure you have the best sculpture you can make at that point. The armature holds the weight up. Some areas can be built hollow too. When you essentially have the look you want but just before finishing touches, hollow it out.

The key to all sculpture is this:

1- Block out the form: decide the dimensions (height, width, length) including the base. Your clay armature will do this.

2- Work in rotations refining the whole sculpture at each turn (by adding or subtracting in the case of clay).

Working on a Small Scale.

Starting small will allow you to get your head around the issues and get results quickly.

Ideally use a clay with lots of grog in it because it will sag less, crack less, fire better or be stronger as self-hardening clay. Here I used Scarva ES50 Crank, an outstanding sculpture clay.

All Pottery Suppliers Online will be happy to recommend clay if you tell them what you want to make. Clays are made from recipes so there are endless kinds. You want a Hand-building clay with fine-medium grog ( pre-fired grit). Throwing Clay for the wheel will resent being an animal and be hard to handle. Many ‘Self- Hardening ‘ clays are over-priced and difficult or unpleasant to use.

Print your chosen animals skeleton to A4 or less size. This is half an A4 sheet. It gives you your height and length for this small sculpture. At this size my horse wont get to thick to fire: my clay has a lot of grog (gritty bits) so I will get away with the sculpture being 4-5 cm thick if it’s fired slowly.
Measure the distance between the feet and make a slab-base 1-2cm thick. Guess the width. This base will hold the legs steady until you are sure where to put the pose.
Lay clay over the skeleton diagram to copy the basic shape and sizes.
Cut between the legs. make a Temporary Support. This will bear the weight and keep the form steady while you work on it. At the end it will be carefully removed.
The size and shape of the Temporary Support can be changed as needed at any time.
Ta Daa!
Photos of the chosen horse will help you place the feet in a good place. They are surprisingly close together, set under the weight of the shoulders (like ours) and hips.
Fix them down by blending the clay into the base. This can be changed right up until the piece is dry. You could cut off a leg or any other part and redo it at any time. That’s one of the great things about working in clay.
Blocking Out: Do a little improvement to every part of the form then do Rotations again with a little more. And repeat! Layers and layers of work will allow the form to develop evenly.
Focus only on the essentials: the proportions NOT details.
Each bit affects how the other bits look: you might think the head looks wrong but actually the head is good, it is the neck that is wrong and so on.
The movement of working will cause the clay to slump. Check the height regularly by measuring your skeleton diagram. Squeeze the Temporary Support to make it higher. Work on the legs. Use a hair dryer to stiffen it up a bit.
Measure repeatedly from your invaluable diagram to get the proportions that will make it look like a horse not a cow or dog!
The tip of the tool marks one point, your finger makes the other: hold this and transfer it to your clay.
Mark the measurement on the clay. Add or subtract clay. Measure the next bit. Etc.
Sketching on the bones after measuring them will improve your sculpture, speed up your progress and increase your learning hugely. You are expanding your knowledge, challenging your habitual ideas, developing your eye for detail and improving your concentration. It is hard, fascinating and massively rewarding skill-building that will enhance your life. Seriously!
Notice and model which bits go behind: the bones and muscle of the legs go over the chest and hips.
The joints show you where the bendable bits are. Muscles can shrink or stretch.
Once your form has stiffened up a bit use tools rather than fingers for better control and a better bond in the clay: pick up a small bit of fresh clay with the tool, dab it on a piece of damp sponge in a dish of water and model it onto the form.
Use very little water or you will get a mushy, sticky mess prone to cracking later.
Double check the height, lengths. This one has sagged a bit so I fixed that. Focusing on the placement of the bones is much easier than trying to capture the gentle curves of a specific animal.
This is still the Blocked-Out ARMATURE. You have used the Craftsmanship of Portraiture to get everything in it’s key, horse-like place
Now I have a clear framework for my Creativity to play with!
Once you have the proportions right you can create the pose, type, age, character and mood of your animal.
A simple turn of the head brings it alive!
As you bend the form into your chosen pose look from above and use the spine to guide you so it doesn’t get distorted.
Blow-dry it a bit.
Now walk away and look at something far away for a few minutes to clear your eyes. Turn back: what is the first thing you notice? That is probably a bit that needs fixing or it might be the best bit. Sort out any problems now. On this one the back legs are set wrong, looks like he’s peeing…
Block-out all the details like mane, ears and tail. These parts are very expressive so take time over them in rough and they can be refined in your next set of Rotations.
Play around with textures. I’m thinking about the semi-wild Mountain Ponies here in the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The style you use should be consistent over the whole form: don’t over-do the face unless your whole animal is very detailed or it will look like a mask. Keep the features in proportion to the skull or it will look like a disease.
Use the tail and add plants on the ground to reinforce the legs. Work on the base to make it look as good as the animal.
At this point I set my self a very helpful Final Finishing Touches Rule;
A minimum of 5 Rotations with increasingly small tools: make additions of clay where ever you spot the need. Change tool and do a rotation of subtraction of clay. Then a rotation of adding etc, until you hit a rotation where you can’t see any more you could do. That means you have done your best on this piece.
If the legs are firm enough gently remove the Temporary Support in small pieces and touch up the form.
Trim the base nicely and under-cut it a bit to catch a shadow that will lift the whole piece and guard against ugly chipping. Sign and date the sculpture on the edge of the base or under-neath it.
Dry your sculpture slowly or the legs may crack as they will shrink faster than the rest of the form. A cardboard box placed over the top is ideal to slowly allow moisture to escape.
Self-hardened this will be delicate but last forever so long as it doesn’t get wet. Firing will make it stronger and water-proof. When it is dry/fired paint/wax/stain the surface : a simple all over bronze colour always looks great.

Working on a larger Scale.

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

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

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

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

The Technique:

Print out skeleton images of your animal, ideally in the same scale as you wish to make your sculpture, images of the whole animal and images of that animal in the pose you want. On to a stiff slab that will be your central support, carefully draw the skeleton.
This is an important opportunity to get your head around this animals construction. You can trace through the skeleton using pin-pricks or pressure. But measuring from the diagram to transfer the image will begin the process of clarifying your knowledge of the animal for the purpose of sculpture.
Here the skeleton is set clearly in a simple-to-read pose. The sketch is the pose desired. On the clay slab the skeleton is set in the pose. This is not easy to do, takes time and is a huge, worthwhile investment in your sculpture’s foundation and in your skills.
Using stiff slabs, stand your central support up ensuring it is nice and stable. Make good joins: while much of this supporting armature will be cut away eventually, some of it will remain and be useful during the firing.
Build outwards using images of the animal to assess the widths. Use comparative measurements: the rib-cage is twice the width of the head etc.
A narrow, standing figure like a meercat, will need something to support him or he will be and almost worst, look, very fragile. In the figurative tradition acceptable motifs are employed: think of those little shrubberies at the ankles of classic marble nudes statues. Or you can add a second figure and get support, a fascinating narrative and lots of fab negative shapes into the bargain.
Supports can added and removed all through the process. This wonderful student, herself a teacher came up with several practical and useful ways to improve this technique.
If you are comfortable doing it, build hollow. Or add the clay on solid. At this stage you are still building the frame-work for the sculpture: disciplined measurements will give you a great foundation that will give life to the artwork stage.

Squirrel.

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

28168793_1770914533215532_5065424511985736206_n
Work right around the form in layers giving full attention to the whole sculpture at each rotation. It is extremely important that you are always willing to cut off parts that are wrong no matter how long you worked on them. A beautifully crafted eye will look grotesque in the wrong place.
28423638_1770913396548979_7408888246974083767_o
Once your form is completely blocked out, with all proportions correct, switch to using tools to apply the clay rather than fingers. You will get a more attractive, stronger surface and can be more specific. A good habit is to go all around adding. Then all around subtracting, repeat until you can’t see what else could be done better at this point in your progression. Then hollow if necessary. Then do finishing touches (with small tools) Then poke a needle hole into any area that might contain trapped air.
28168803_1770907779882874_997248494279112147_n
Add other types of supports if useful but remember they wont shrink with the form during drying so they can cause cracks.

Birds

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

28238472_1770914699882182_4790263797335721966_o
This flying bird will be set on a base as yet un-determined. The armature holds the pose well on this very tricky piece allowing it to change and develop.
Flying Bird.
Flaying Bird.
28516475_1770915353215450_7764637475165898077_o
A Crow.
This flexible technique can take you places you hadn’t thought of. Here the internal space has become part of the sculpture.
28424273_1770914413215544_2111333537952422434_o
A Crow.
Because the weight is supported and the skeleton provides strong boundaries you can play and feel your way around the form. The finished piece will need it’s own supports but here you can try various alternatives until you are happy with the look, strength and feel.
28423376_1770907746549544_5918350837521029345_o-1
A Crow.
Lots more trial and error will happen to this fascinating bird-scape in the next weeks.
28424655_1770908636549455_134355264624936998_o
Flying Bird.
Take breaks, look out side to clear your eyes then glance at your sculpture and note what you first notice. If you hit a wall with it cover with a bag and walk away! I sometimes leave sculpture wrapped for months. I check regularly to mist with water and see if I can move forward again. Taking photos can be a good way to get some perspective. Ask others ‘what they see’ and compare that to what you want them to see. A dog that looks like a donkey has too big a head and too-tall ears for example.

Giraffe

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

Giraffe.
28235305_1770915399882112_3956514338875041168_o
Giraffe
Five points of contact with the ground could give this piece stability but at this small scale those legs and feet are still so small. This elegant solution, where the central support is tidied up attractively and immediately becomes neutral, eliminates the distracting fragility.
Giraffe.

Wild Boar

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

28336087_1770913559882296_2652095230509383388_o
Wild Boar
This piece will be completely cut away from it’s supports once it is firm to retain it’s shape, rested on foam and a hole made for a metal pin and base that will show off it’s galloping form once it’s fired.
Wild Boar
Wild Boar
28235438_1770907783216207_1301637179949560281_o
Wild Boar
The details of the face should be in balance with the rest of the sculpture’s texture and level of detail. At this small scale it is also a mistake to try and put on complicated detail. It will take a lot of time to find what can be left out. The skull will give you the clues: it is the structure of the face that matters.
Wild Boar

Cats

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

Crouching Cat
Standing Cat
Standing Cat.
Note the bend in the legs which is usually obscured by fur and the loose skin that allows cats to stretch so much.
Standing Cat
It is too soon for superficial details like ears. Focus on the key structure. This is still at Armature stage and it’s all about applying the Craftsmanship of Portraiture at this stage. The Arty, creative bit goes on top of that excellent, species-specific structure.
Crouching Cat.
The position of the bones and the length of the legs is very confusing and tricky to get right. Divide the problem into manageable steps:
Focus on the joint, they tell you where bends should be. Be sure the joint is in the right place.
Measure the bone’s length and swivel it from the joint.
Move to the next joint and bone. Etc.
Standing Cat.
This excellent, strong, central support allows you to place the legs where you want them on both sides to create the pose. Then the legs will stiffen and take on the extra work of holding up the weight of the body. The base should stay in place in the finished sculpture as it adds to the stability and strength of the legs. So, later that base can be made attractive.
Crouching cat.
Early stages with this one where it clearly wanted to be bigger! That was easy to change.
28276437_1770909053216080_8504364418212531382_n
Crouching Cat.
A beautiful, gentle way to address the eyes expressively, in keeping with the form.

Dogs

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

Dog
28276338_1770913796548939_8525643400870522190_n
Dog
Keep re-checking those measurements at every stage.
Dog
Dog
Dog
28337918_1770914806548838_9158096673947770149_o
Dog
The central support is removed gradually and with great care.
28168786_1770908893216096_458663834250338894_n
Dog
The armature is cut away (but continues to function usefully inside). Needle holes will be poked up into the form to vent all the air pockets made by building hollow. Then a hole will be placed for a wooden dowel set in a base to display this dog leaping as he runs.

Meercats

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

Meercats
Meercats
28167277_1770915159882136_393667124041479257_n
Meercats
Like the giraffe parts of the support wall could remain and no-one would notice because the charm of these characters and their friendship is far more engaging.
Meercats

Otter

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

Otter
28424236_1770907833216202_1721320175165417758_o
Otter
An otter’s simple form can be very difficult to capture. His gesture and poses are well recognized so that helps. Starting with the skeleton puts the key points of his body in the right place under that silky fur. There is a lovely change in loose to very smooth modelling on the surface that recalls water running off the fur.

The Horse

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

Horse
Horse
28337745_1770914826548836_797627945376929847_o
Horse
Follow the transition points of the legs very carefully.
Note how those big neck muscles cross and attach behind the shoulder blades.
At this stage it is almost as if the legs are just attached to the edge of the body but you now know those leg bones go right up near the spine and have a wide range of movement which can be gauged by measuring the length of a bone and pivoting it from it’s socket. It was suggested that you could cut up a spare skeleton in order to make a hinged ‘shadow puppet’ that could be helpful in designing the pose from a standing skeleton.
Horse
Taking full advantage of the central support.
Horse

Armadillo.

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

28424722_1770914009882251_1015339643706381624_o
Armadillo
This student did all the skeleton work as part of the workshop. But then he switched to working solid/hollowing (this link takes you to a post specifically about that technique) out as a technique far better suited to armadillos.
28337505_1770914379882214_4989179705449021977_o
Armadillo
On solid clay use your skeleton to identify the right proportions.
Armadillo
28238396_1770909343216051_405727725103138343_o
Armadillo
Use a serrated kidney tool to shape the body. Then use a flat wide modelling tool to add clay and further refine that gently undulating form.

Your central, weight-bearing support does not need to be flat/straight: Both of these abstracts below were built outwards from a stiffened, curvy, up-right central shape of various thickness set on a metal rod. You can see parts of the original central support where it became part of the final form, much like the sculpture of the Giraffe above.

Antarctic Harbinger III, 26cm H x 37cm W x19cm D.
Antarctic Leviathan, 45cm L x 23cm H x 12cm D.

Quality Joints:

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

Score marks do not give the surface ‘tooth’; they allow water into the clay-body. On vertical surfaces they hold the water in place to give it time to sink in and swell the clay so that the platelets are able to link with other platelets.

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

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

Thicknesses: cracking/breaking.

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

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

Drying:

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

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

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

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

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

How To use/do Join-in Sculpture Workshops

12971082_1191540624198015_4224611240142021105_o

This time we used a tricky technique of building hollow and looking at portrait skills because the participants were sophisticated and really skilled.

 

Join-In Sculptures are great fun and full of learning opportunities. I have done these with adults and children at Events and Parties ; Everyone adds their bit until we have a fabulous sculpture. Photos are taken and then we re-cycle the clay.Brecon Jazz Join-In Sculpture

They can be adapted to fit any group or space.  The key is for it to be a challenge to create the excitement and the rewarding achievement. Because all the clay is recycled, they are a cost-effective way to give people a chance to experience quality materials, tools and the challenges and buzz of making something on a large scale. Hesitant participants get a lot out of their contribution being part of something complex and big.

Making a Zoo complete with 4 toilets, a car park and an over-looking military complex. We worked on this all day, took photos and then squashed it all up. Fantastic fun, lots of skill sharing and teamwork.

Making a Zoo complete with 4 toilets, a car park and an over-looking military complex. We worked on this all day, took photos and then squashed it all up. Fantastic fun, lots of skill sharing and teamwork.

Clay is a fantastic material for kids. They relate to it immediately and it usually engages their attention for surprisingly long periods. The majority of Pupils will learn best when their hands are busy. It is the 3D equivalent of Drawing; it’s not just for arts and crafts; it’s versatility and affordability means it can be used to enhance all sorts of subjects even maths or history. Many children will find expressing and accessing their ideas in 3D much more natural than using 2D and for some it will be much easier than using words.

Click here for more info about using clay affordably in schools.

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

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

ES70 works very well as a self hardening clay and can be decorated with poster paints once it’s dry.

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

Clayton The Rottweiler has a full set of internal organs including a working bladder! At the end of the session we recycled the clay.

Clayton The Rottweiler has a full set of internal organs including a working bladder! At the end of the session we recycled the clay.

Monmouth Show w/ The Big Skill

With The Big Skill at the Monmouth Show.

The Usk Show.w/ The Big Skill

At the Usk County Show.

Join-In Sculpture at Brecon Jazz

The Join-In Sculpture brings people of all ages together.

Re-using the Clay

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

-Put bag in Bucket

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

-Close bag w/ twisty

-leave  over night or longer.

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

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

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

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

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

For larger quantities of clay recycling click here.

Storage

-Always close bag tightly w/ twisty

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Using a Join-In Sculpture to warm up students at an abstract sculpture workshop

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

Mount Street Junior School, Years 3 and 4 making a model of a town that cares for and supports it’s Military members. This time the Join-In Sculpture played a key role in the community consultation phase of the Bronllys project, Marking Time.

Click here for information about tuition and Workshops with Osprey Studios.

 

The Big Skill at SHYPP – Supported Housing for Young People Project.

11959984_1396460213707597_2050975536215992796_n-1

Fibre artist Emma Bevan’s Ffolkyffelt bring people together with new ways to express themselves.

Working for  The Big Skill takes you to all sorts of great places and amazing people. The equally awesome and broad-thinking group, Herefordshire New Leaf brought us in to spend the day with SHYPP in Leominster.

The wide mix of people at SHYPP are wonderful. They are working together, supporting each other, daring to be open and creative even in one of the most difficult situations anyone can face. Being homeless is a nightmare especially if you are so young. Their website describes the work they do project perfectly:

SHYPP provides 16 – 25 year olds across Herefordshire with housing, training and employment opportunities.

We provide a range of accommodation suitable for young people at different stages of their lives including foyer accommodation, move on flats, shared houses and supported lodgings.

We are not just about accommodation we work with young people through training programmes and a wide range of activities.  SHYPP wants to give Young People the opportunity to develop independent living skills, identify their talents and go on to live happy and successful lives.  SHYPP also provides floating support to assist Young People in their own homes, enabling them to access accommodation, maintain accommodation and help with debt management.

SHYPP is a service driven by what young people want, this means projects develop according to their needs.”

The SHYPP Blog. is excellent and SHYPP’s  Facebook. has the same warm, positive, up-lifting feel.

 

The Big Skill goes well out of it’s way help fab groups like SHYPP to fulfil their best ambitions and it’s great to be part of it.

The Join -In sculptures are excellent: they can be adapted to fit any group or space. This time we used a tricky technique of building hollow and looking at portrait skills because the participants were sophisticated and really skilled. The key is for it to be a challenge to create the excitement and the rewarding achievement. Because all the clay is recycled, this is a cost-effective way to give people a chance to experience quality materials, tools and the challenges and buzz of making something on a large scale.

12919925_1396460407040911_8344412175372830974_n

One of the best parts of this day was that Kevin, a sculptor local to Leominster came along see the Join-in Sculpture in action, learn about the possibilities and try out the Scarva ES 50 Crank clay so that he could offer this workshop. They bought the clay at the end of the day. Perfect.

12971082_1191540624198015_4224611240142021105_o

 

 

12938215_1396460327040919_5648409311563897776_n

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

This project is a joy. The Theme and the build are very challenging, which is great. And I am working  for a wonderful team  of dedicated, committed people who have been involved in it, in various ways for years. They have all put in countless hours of voluntary time. The writer and poet Mark Christmas and designer Mick Farrell, both military Veterans, have been the driving force. They made a sheltered garden at Bronllys. They have contributed significantly to the design of the Marking Time walk and sculpture and they have donated beautiful poems written especially for the woodland site at Bronllys Hospital.

This one will be set at the entrance to the woodland.

Catching a Moment

Within these woods

there is a breath to be found

to ease new life into sight and sound

transforming our world and how we see

each branch, each twig, each living tree

so when the hurt inside we feel

creates distraction with no appeal

take a walk on this path to find this rhyme

you will no longer be ‘Marking Time.’

Dedicated to those who understand.

Mark Christmas, 2015

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

This one will be part of the sculptures base.

We are the child of nevermind

Who, finding dreams lost, unfind

Who, wandering, walking paths unknown

to find a woodland overgrown

And seeing in that woodland Glen

The happy minds of nevermen

Who elfin laughter laughly speak

Of how we humans keenly seek

Some new haven overhewn

And child stars of the moon

Mick Farrell, 2016.

Both of these lovely people are right there anytime I need more information or

inspiration. They have been hugely supportive and encouraging.

Mark Christmas had formed a link with Ross Bennet, the out-standing Art teacher at Llandrindod Wells High School and we planned a Workshop there.

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

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

IMG_6155

These guys are working on the panels for 2 of the corners. We talked about the use of repeating patterns in art-work. Marking Time has 3s running all through it. The pupils chose an elegant celtic emblem of 3 from the internet that will also echo the curves of the sculpture. The third panel will be the same shape, show a  version of the emblem and have the Dragon story set on it with stamps by Mount Street Junior School in Brecon.

IMG_6156

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

IMG_1273

I lost track of what year groups came along during the day because they were all equally quick on the up-take, skilful, very creative and completely charming. It was an excellent day: the pupils were thoughtful about the project, open and forthcoming with their ideas, encouraging to each other, relaxed and friendly towards me.

IMG_1275

They have a fantastic relationship with the two Art Teachers: this is clearly an Art Department that goes above and beyond every day. Other pupils dropped in from 8.30am until 4.30 to get support, information and encouragement from the teachers they trusted. The Teachers never took a break and had their lunch on the fly. They knew every pupil and cared about every piece of work. It was inspiring!

IMG_6169

I wish I had had more time to look through the pupil’s portfolios. The couple I saw were wonderful and so was all the work on the walls. Pupils are being guided to their own style at this school. And they get the opportunity to use a wide range of materials including digital. It was great to see so many boys in the A-Level group.

IMG_6173

The central mosaic will be made up of coloured glass pebbles and beautifully decorated tiles, full of vitality, made by this wonderful group.

Llandrindod High School has taken the art-work on the sculpture’s base to a new level. So I’m re-designing the layout: the lovely mosaic tiles will easily hold their own and I don’t want to crowd them. Mick’s poem will now be in bigger letters and go on the face of the railway sleepers that will be the most visible. Mount Street Juniors will make a great job of those tiles.

What do artists do all day?

At Bracelet Bay, Wales, UK.

At Bracelet Bay, Wales, UK.

Here is a collection of my thoughts and descriptions about making sculpture written in reply to student’s questions.

A Level project at Monmouth School: natural forms in art, particularly in portraiture both 3D and 2D.

It would be of great help for you to answer a few questions for this investigation. Any further insight into your personal influence of natural forms would also be greatly appreciated. My specific questions are:

You say that your abstract forms start with a theme or a known form and I know that you draw all the time, but I wondered whether you start with sketches specific to the planned piece or go straight into working with the clay?

Drawing from life has been an important part of my training but I never do it now. I still use the figure and heads to practise my skills (use it or loose it) but always in 3D and clay. These days I draw imaginatively for fun and to capture impressions and these sometimes are shapes which I might re-explore in clay.

Generally I go straight to clay with a theme as a starting-point.

With my best work I am filling in the space with clay- the form is there already.

Or, most often, I play intuitively and then work through the challenges that emerge. Rarely do I have a specific intension other that a guiding idea but I admit that frequently I’ll realise I am making something else! The front of your mind can go chattering on while the bigger part of your brain does the real work. Music is wonderful for keeping the two focussed. If I start dancing or singing I know I’m working well.

The system is to arm yourself with as much real-life information about natural forms as you can cram into your head. This becomes the structure of your ‘intuition’. Add reading, ideas, opinions, dancing, experiences and especially music. Really good, practiced craftsmanship then allows you to access this unique perception of life and put it into your medium so that you can share it.

The great benefit is I can turn to clay to work out everything. It’s my language, my thought process and what I have to offer the world.

I keep my studio and, as best as I can, my life-style, organised and tidy so that I am fit and ready to respond to events. For example the storms of this winter and the news about progressive arctic warming has gone straight to clay without me over-thinking it.

The most difficult part is maintaining belief in this process and keeping a clear head amidst constant distractions and doubts. Sculptors like Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore both used this approach. Many artists do. I turn to them to renew my courage.

In your blog you say that organic, natural forms are a strong influence on your abstract work and you talk about the influence of Barbara Hepworth in particular. Has she also influenced your more figurative work and which other artists have influenced your figurative work in particular?

Both Hepworth and Moore did many forms that were figures that they could see in the landscape in the way of animism and that gave me the confidence to show the figures I see. Most of my sculptures are of somebody, frequently birds of prey.

When I was young Brancusi and Giacometti blew my mind. Now I look at a lot of out-sider and art brut on Facebook (a fantastic resource for sculpture where you can study techniques in the artist’s Albums and ask questions). I greatly admire the fabulous craftsmanship and uncompromising imagination of Alex Oliver

( https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008249700514 ), Christophe Charbonnel

(https://www.facebook.com/Christophe-Charbonnel-117379408457506/  ) and the perfection and power of Patrick Villas’s modelling (https://www.facebook.com/patrick.villas.14

Seeing their work has opened the door to my using such naturalistic forms expressively. (before they were always disciplined exercises). My sons get me watching a lot of Marvel and super-hero fantasy films and the art-work is absolutely fabulous. They’ve pushed me to be more playful with my figurative work and that’s done all my sculpture a lot of good.

As well as rock forms, some of your pieces remind me of shells worn away by the sea and I wondered whether you are influenced by other natural forms, such as shells, leaves or coral?

I watch a lot of natural history and science programs and spend a fair amount of my free time outside. Trees are crucial to me. And I do collect shells and rocks. My thorough training means I can see things clearly and remember forms very vividly.

Drawing and making studies in clay of skeletons, the figure and heads teaches you the vocabulary of forms and especially of how nature transitions from one form to another in everything. For example that difficult area between the eye, the cheek and the nose: so subtle. You will see that in shells and all living things as well. Fascinatingly it also shows up in stone that has been shaped by the various processes of water. You need that knowledge to make abstract forms.

1981984_10203331966200635_1180227792_n

Bracelet Bay, photograph by Stephen Foote.

This post about my currant series might be useful. https://ospreystudios.org/2018/02/03/throwdown-at-the-hoedown/

 

Guest-speaker Talk for Carmarthen School of Art.

I‘m a dual national, British/American and since my early teens I’ve been working intuitively using techniques, disciplines and materials from Figurative Sculpture and hand-built pottery to make mostly Abstract forms that describe ideas and experiences. I recently learned my work is Bio-morphic which sounds way better than some of the other things it’s been called.

I am going to give you an over-view of my work with  the whys and where-fores of doing it my way and  some ‘what’s the point thrown in’.

 I am 400 years old and I’ve been doing this for a Millenia, so my theories are tried and tested to breaking point. I work in clay but the majority of what I’m going to say applies to all art-forms.

Like all self-employed, vocational, sole-traders with a micro-buissness,(Yep! that’s us! ) our job is a roller-coaster over-loaded with risk, running on  low cash-flows.

There is a harmful myth that Artists are “different”. That isolates us. It makes it easier to not pay us. It makes prospective clients nervous about how to approach us. And it can distract us from important parts of our Practice.

Loads of  people, from Brick-layers to Social-Workers, pour their hearts into their work.

And they all wake up at 3am, wide-eyed with The Doubts: is their work good enough, shouldn’t they be doing more, in a different way, etc, etc!

I still get The Doubts about every 2 months. You look at your work and think “ this is RIDICULOUS!!! What am I DOING? I’ve really lost it this time.”

And some-times it’s true! You have, in fact, gone down a very bad road, for months, and it’s time to retrace your steps that bit older and wiser. Three steps forward, two steps back. Call in colleagues and get some sugar-less feed-back to help to see your way forward. And be ready to return the favour.

At Rhian Goodhand's Glass Studio.

At Rhian Goodhand‘s Glass Studio.

Or Type 2 Doubts where you walk in the Studio and think “What? Make sculpture? Me?!I can’t do THAT!?” The blank mind, empty hands…has your Muse and your Talent run off together and left you useless for ever?

Nah, you just need a break. Get outside, read, feel, experience, re-charge. Then get back to making lots of work: some of it will be really good.

Stephen Foote Photography.

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

Isolation and The Doubts wreak havoc with a lot of artist’s careers. There is all kinds of help and support for micro-businesses out there. Assume that it WILL apply to you. Keep books on your accounts. Talk shop with other Sole Traders.

And it is important to have some structure for, and understanding of, your creative process that will give you the confidence to hold your ground and routes to solve the problems.

Working Intuitively:

Where DO our ideas come from? Why do some pieces seem to build themselves using your hands?? Why don’t we think that is creepy?

Intuition is made up of your memories and perceptions that together are your Knowledge.

Many of your memories come from actual experiences, physical and emotional, many from films, books, art, daydreams and your imagination.

Add in the strong pull of the cocktail of hormones that are involved in our every move, societal  influences and Collective Consciousness (now accepted science and it must play a role along with  Inherited Memory).

Every bit of your life  stops off to be  shaped by your perception on the way into your memory bank.

The quality of your Perception is set by your learning and experience and it will develop and change. So your memories will change too. Your brain reviews memories every 2 years or so and chucks out the irrelevant, rarely used stuff and re-files handy, popular stuff according to up-dated perceptions.

So your Knowledge and your ability to gain knowledge is limited by prejudice, ignorance and inexperience.

Artists have an important role in Society. One of Barbara Hepworth’s many strengths was the conviction that societies, as far back as we know, have always needed and supported artists so that they could gain the skills required to unravel and describe the ideas, beliefs, moralities and experiences of the group so that everyone was on the same page.

So it’s very important to educate yourself and develop your perception constantly throughout your career to avoid being narrow minded or irrelevant.

Like Actors we need to rehearse the physical characteristics of emotions and experiences so that we can capture and express them.

A vivid intuition needs skilled craftsmanship that can capture and communicate ideas. Scintillating, profound knowledge will be wasted if you are all thumbs.

Just like musicians and sportsmen, artists need to train the specific muscles needed. And become expert in handling the medium that suits us best.

So we need to practice reliable, effective exercises throughout our career to keep our minds and bodies fit for creativity.

 

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Henry Moore at work.

Henry Moore at work.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

                                               

As a teen I loved the work of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore ( I still do) and I researched and did my best to re-create their education for myself. This was very much at odds with the currant art-practice 35 years ago and I got a lot of hassle for it at college. I get the impression that would not be the case here at Carmarthen School of Art. I was angrily accused of being ‘very early 20th century’ when I refused to explain my coil-built abstracts in terms of inner psychological angst and insisted on life drawing.

(My pieces were about inner psychological angst, mind, but I didn’t need tuition for that – I was already really good at it).

For 15 years, as well as making my art work, I went to any life-drawing, portrait or figure sculpture classes going. And I drew the classical sculptures, skeletons and taxidermy in museums as well.

Eventually  I switched to setting myself exercises using photos and skeleton diagrams. I still do this regularity to sustain the skills and measure my ability.

What you gain from this training is this:

  • a broadening of your ability to see and perceive what is in front of you.
  • a collection of memorised forms, details and structures that enrich your visual vocabulary.
  • an understanding and appreciation of the structure of forms.
  • fine motor-skills in your body specific to your art-work.
  • disciplined systems for organising the huge, over-whelming amount of information in front of you so that you can work with it.
  • clear mile-stones to aim for and use to assess your fitness: Figure study has definable rights and wrongs.

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

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

Add practicing and experimenting with your materials. And challenging your ideas by no- holds- barred discussion about everything with all kinds of people, not just artists. And understanding emotions by sharing your own with trusted friends and caring about others of all species.

Clay

I got into coil-building when I was 20, after my Foundation year (fantastic course in Banbury, Oxfordshire) when I was teaching pottery at a Summer Camp in the USA.

Life was very chaotic and stressful at that time and the rhythm and intense, absorbing relationship with clay that you get through coil-building and the slow, steady progression revealing the form drew me in like a sanctuary.

Big round pots, glazed hideously, developed into a-symmetric vessels with sheer clay surfaces, then to forms involving spirals, then sculptures incorporating birds, especially the Ospreys I watched on the New England lakes.

2 years on: I went to Exeter College of Art And Design here in the UK for a BFA in ceramic sculpture. The interior space of the forms ceased to be relevant and gradually the vessel openings were gone. My 2nd year was spent at Boston University’s excellent and intense Program in Artisanry, where the mostly post-grad potters could discuss foot-rings for hours with out being boring.

For 18 years, until I was 30, I did stints of waitressing double hours for a few months and then studio work for as long as my money lasted. I always worked from home, including when that was my Van. I fired at community centres, taught pottery and sculpture to Adult Ed, special needs and Summer Camp.

When I was about 28 I had gotten to coil-building naturalistic figures and of course I was struggling because that’s a fool’s errand right there.

I had made one that wasn’t too awful and this guy says to me, “yeah, that’s pretty nice, I guess you built it solid and hollowed it out, right?”

What?!

So I switched techniques for the figures and realised that wedding your-self to a technique isn’t loyalty, it’s absurd!

Always get outsiders to look at your work in progress. Ask them “ what’s the first thing you see?” and remove the plastic. Those fresh, first impressions can be so helpful. If there is a figurative element ask “is this about a character? Who are they, what are they doing?”

If they say “it’s a rooster running away” and you were aiming for “The Leviathan, Guardian of the Aquasphere, shape-shifted to the form of a rampant horse raging through the oceans” consider the differences between the two and you have the bit that needs work: the head was too narrow and the ears needed to be stronger.

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

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

Do it yourself: Take a break every 1 1/2 hours and go clear your eyes for 15 minutes. Load the washing machine, check messages. When you go back to the piece what’s the first thing you notice? It might be a problem. It might be a lovely bit.

Working Solid and Hollowing Out

So I spent the next 10 years working solid and hollowing out, loosing the advantage of the rhythm and voice of coiling but gaining the advantage of working on the whole form from the outset and being able to change your mind right up to the last minute.

You can separate the artsy work from the technical stuff: they use different parts of your head and don’t always mix well.

You block out the basic sizes,

Rough out the form

Refine all over in at least 5 cycles of adding/ subtracting.

Let it go leather hard on the surface,

Cut/Hollow/rebuild.

Do finishing touches in 3 rounds: Remove, Add, Burnish (especially the edges)

It’s a great method for any shape up to 75cm x 50cm – above that the weight becomes a pain and you are better off working hollow with a clay armature. You still might hollow parts out.

Or you can Coil-build from a scale model using an internal support structure made of clay….

Large scale sculpture in clay.

Around about when I turned 42 I got the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to try: working really big.

I made a 6m long x 2m high sculpture with 9 life-sized figures and a 2m x 1.5m piece with wildlife, both incorporating seating for a community regeneration group.

Both were ‘blocked-out’ in large brick-clay coils  using a scale model, then continued by adding and subtracting clay. They were then cut into sections which were hollowed out. The internal supporting structure (built w/ smaller coils) was discarded. The sections were fired and reassembled by a builder with cement, concrete, steel reinforcing and a lot of swearing.

A year or so later I was running a community Sculpture Studio aimed at ‘The Hard To Reach’ by a fab Regeneration group The Creation Development Trust in Blaengarw. (near Bridgend, UK). My group were awesome. They were mostly dealing with awful mental health problems so they couldn’t get jobs and had time, energy and intense life experiences to burn.

After they had all made some lovely things for friends and family it became clear they were going to drift off.  So we decided to make a big brick-clay sculpture together for the new park planned by the ferocious Community Council for a big area of waste ground.

Calon Lan would tell the epic story of Blaengarw from it’s notorious ancient history of un-tamable Silurians, through to the industrial revolution, mining, bitter strikes, a culture in ruins and a slow, often tortuous, re-building.

Parc Calon Lan, Blaengarw, South Wales.

Parc Calon Lan, Blaengarw, South Wales.

There was something important to do for every kind of Volunteer from researching through the local archives to the hard labour of building the structure 5m long x 2 m high in a basement barely big enough, designing letter stamps and carving narrative reliefs.

I’ve done about 14 of these intensely collaborative projects now in various sizes. Because the sculptures are big you can fit in loads of different ideas and styles. The Sculptor’s job is to find ways  to included as many people as possible and make damn sure the piece looks awesome (because your Volunteers trust you and deserve no less in return for the huge amount of time they donate), while being safe and vandal-proof because it’s in a public place.

I use the frame-work of ‘Co-production’ for all my projects. The very interesting theory is that humans are naturally co-operative and strive to be a useful, valued part of the group. So a good group leader asks for something in return for what they have to offer. Studies have shown that if you don’t use this method your project will probably be ineffective in enabling real change to take place. (All my funders have been involved in Community Regeneration on some level).

People will go all out if they feel valued as a contributor. If you are the Benevolent Professional bestowing your gifts upon the weak and needy you are requiring them to stay weak and needy. They will begin to drift off when they can’t stomach being patronised any longer. They wont have gained anything so your project has failed, leaving you frustrated and stressed and your reputation damaged.

So I offered to trade my skills on the tricky bits (eyes, hands etc), teach skills and ensure the final sculpture was fabulous in exchange for the local knowledge and experience, stories and symbols and the work each person took on for the task.

Building Calon Lan in a small basement.

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

Sharon was invaluable. She worked on every stage.

Sharon was invaluable. She worked on every stage.

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

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

A lot of Public Art is made like this though not always so hands-on. It’s expensive because Volunteers need a lot of time but you get massive value for money because  all the skill-sharing and co-production feeds back into the community.

These projects really highlight how much Visual Artists have to offer.

Many Artists specialise in non-verbal communication. A lot of people learn that way and regularly struggle to ‘find the words’ particularly after a trauma.  We can guide people towards the form of wordless communication that best allows them to express themselves ‘beyond words’.

While hands and eyes are busy on artwork people find talking openly feels much less dangerous. They start to take themselves less seriously as mistakes are made on the art and every one laughs uncritically. Problems fall into perspective and become interesting challenges.

We laughed and cried a river while making the big brick clay Pit Marker Memorials because of the stories we were telling in clay. We worked from the heart, unashamedly: we wanted to share the tears. Now people with generations of miners in their families go to the Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, set by a pond on the mountain where the pit head was, to remember and mourn. And visitors and new comers can go there and better understand the village and the  history that shaped it.

Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, Blaengarw, South Wales.

Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, Blaengarw, South Wales.

This is good, important work that sustains the humanity of our society.

Creative work is at it’s best when it communicates emotion with a sincerity that genuinely connects with the viewer.

Sculpture and pottery have the advantage over many other art-forms of being overtly physical so they can reach people more directly.

A lot of what we make is decorative. Stylish. Attractive. Or Narrative. Intriguing. It is understood and appreciated by the brain. Sometimes everything clicks and a piece is able to reach into people and connect with the heart and perhaps the soul.

That’s the best.

But there is a huge need for all kinds of art-work and processes. Our job is to find our niche in there and get as skilled as we can at providing our part of the  structure of civilisation no less!

I’ve taught clay work to all sorts of people with all kinds of abilities. Many have been inexperienced in creative work. Some people ‘take to it’ very quickly. They transfer skills developed in other activities easily, they are very dexterous.

It gets called ‘Talent’ but that has become a misleading term that stands in the way of a lot of creativity. People are lead to think Talent will come to you if you want it enough or that you are born with it as a blessing. And that others are denied it…

Talent describes prodigies and savants. The rest of us have born and acquired ‘aptitudes’ for particular types of work. As a social species humans come in various types for the good of the group.

Psychologists studying creative aptitude have put forward the idea of ‘Flow’. Flow is when you get lost and engrossed in an activity, time flies etc.

We all recognise this, yes? Nope.

They found that 7 out of 10 people experience Flow. 3 do not. Their aptitude is better for different work. Of the 7 that do there is a spectrum with those people lost in Flow or who need to spend a lot of time there at one end and those who can easily dip in and out at the other.

Go to the right point on the spectrum down at the ‘out there’ end, add circumstance and opportunity, training and practice and you will have an artist. All kinds of jobs require high levels of Flow and creativity. We are not crazy or weird, don’t let anyone call you that. Our passion does not set us apart either. People in every type of work pour their hearts into what they do.

I like this idea and it fits in well with my experiences with students and Volunteers. People often describe doing artwork as ‘therapeutic’. So why aren’t we all exquisitely calm?!

I don’t think artwork has medicinal properties but rather ‘nutritional ones: I’m pretty sure many people fall into mental health difficulties because their circumstance denies them access to creativity, non-verbal self expression and Flow.

Part of our ‘calling’ is to build bridges for these people through our own art-work and in guiding them to theirs. And that can be life or death stuff.

A lot of nonsense is bandied around about mental health illnesses fuelling creative genius. It is a cruel Myth. Some geniuses have done what they can to make the best of the awful, destructive diseases they are stuck with. Many people living with all sorts of disabilities are denied jobs so they choose to spend time productively on art-work.

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

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

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

So Sculpture is my first language, the one I use to understand the world and sort out my thinking. And I also use it to communicate with other people.

It can be very difficult to tell if people are picking up on your message. They may have a strong, visceral reaction to your work but, not being able to find the words, say nothing.

A website and Facebook are great for making your work accessible, your ideas clearer and your self approachable. And I have found to my own surprise that I really enjoy running mine. I think my work has made big steps forward since I got into this stuff three years ago. Writing posts has clarified my ideas and getting really nice photos of the sculpture has helped me to look at it very objectively while rewarding me for putting in those hours spent on the edges and surfaces. People’s kind words, likes and shares are very encouraging.

And best of all I am part of a world-wide network of Makers of all kinds sharing photos, techniques, ideas, understanding and encouragement. I have learned a tremendous amount. Online stuff  now fills part of that  productive work pattern : 1.5 hours in the studio then break for 15 minutes. I used to do long, punishing hours deep into the night….that’s not ‘Work’. That’s looking a bit like ‘Obsession’ right there.  Now I work 6 days a week, 7-5ish, with proper breaks. Some of that time is paper-work and internet stuff. Some is outdoors walking, thinking, taking it in. Talking with peers, reading, listening. 

Music plays a crucial role in my sculpture. I use particular playlists for each Series. That inspires and guides the forms and brings me back to the right point after a break. My sons are into the vivid, wildly creative Games and animations that have become the voice of their generation and their influence has lead me to my best work yet.

On a good day I know look like an Olympic athlete, or at worst, Miss Marple on steroids, but the inconvenient truth is that I’m a dilapidated wreck. So everything in the studio is on wheels and, happily, I have the best assistant on the planet who can pack more sculpture into a kiln than physics can justify. I don’t intend to retire. I’ve already thought through how I could keep making stuff after the loss of any body-part. But will sculpture continue to work for me? Many artists see switching to a different job and life-style a failure or heresy. But our hard-won skills are entirely transferable, especially in a global, multicultural era that relies so much visual communication.

Osprey Studios. SA9 1YT.

Osprey Studios. SA9 1YT.

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

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

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

The path is laid.

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

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

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

Site Meeting. There is a really good-hearted group of people involved in this. They have spent a lot of time planning this Project with care and thoughtfulness. It is lovely to join such a strong Team. The Theme is how the military and the community support each other.

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

There is a really good-hearted group of people involved in this. They have spent a lot of time planning this Project with care and thoughtfulness. It is lovely to join such a strong Team.

The Theme is how the military and the community support each other. There are various Military Bases in this area including the world famous Gurkhas in Brecon. Many local families have military connections.

This is a subtle Theme and there is no obvious answer to it. We need to create a sculpture that will have genuine value for the people who will see it.  A piece that will draw the viewers in and give them some peace and hope. We need to pin-point what communities and the military have in common that is relevant to the hospital site.

Kids can be brilliant at putting their finger on the mark. Mount Street Junior School in Brecon has a lot of Military kids.  I spent a wonderful day on a huge join-in sculpture with 70 year 3 and 4 Pupils and the lovely, guiding staff.

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

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

In the morning we made a town like Brecon and spread it over a network of tables across the double classroom.

I went around helping, talking through ideas and taking notes. These children were very forth-coming, imaginative and empathetic. They expressed their ideas clearly and thoughtfully. It was a joy to work with them and they were very helpful in clarifying the theme for the sculpture.

There was a Military Base on the edge of town:

A Military Base with tanks, helicopters and personnel.

A Military Base with tanks, helicopters and personnel.

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

The Caravan Park

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

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

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

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

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

All along the town’s streets were homes with busy family life going on. The children felt that it was the small moments that gave the greatest comfort to servicemen on leave from the war: meals together, watching telly together, chatting and playing video games.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The support and care for the military people came from people in the community of all sizes and ages. The Military protect our way of life and our land and we keep our society in good shape in return.  A circle of care and protection.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having dinner together

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the other side of town ran the river. The bridge crosses it. ‘The bridge leads the soldiers back into the community’. A fisherman floats by in his boat. There is a water-park in town too.

A solider enjoys an afternoon fishing on the river.

A solider enjoys an afternoon fishing on the river.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He’s caught a huge fish.

The natural world came up many times. The children said it brings happiness into our lives and keeps us balanced. ‘Learning to forget’ was mentioned many times. Letting go of the past. The community helped the soldiers to forget past ordeals. These children are 8-9 years old. Wonderful.

In the afternoon we talked about how to show the idea of protecting and keeping everyone  safe.

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

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Natural forms expressing tranquility.

The natural world gives us shelter, calm and peacefulness.

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

The children also did drawings with captions of their ideas.

Marking Time’ is a military term for the marching on the spot done between parade manoeuvres. It is a perfect phrase to express those difficult periods in life when you can’t go forward or back but have wait in a state of readiness, especially when you are caught up in a Hospital situation. You can feel very powerless.

It can be very difficult for many military personnel to relax their guard during the gaps between deployments, when they can spend precious time with their families. Particularly if they have had a harrowing experience. The Pupils at Mount Street Junior School clarified the idea that  this is one of the points where community and military intersect and share support, empathy and strength.

I will spend some more time with the photos and drawings. Circles, spirals and forms in a variety of sizes raising up or giving shelter are the first images to come together. I will add this to my other consultation material and start preliminary scale models. Then I will take all this to an A-S Level and some year 9  pupils in Llandrindod Wells, Powys, for a Scale Model Making Workshop to share some skills in exchange for the pupils feed-back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mount Street Junior School pupils sharing ideas and inspiration.

Mount Street Junior School pupils sharing ideas and inspiration.