Studio Diary: The Marking Time Sculpture at Bronllys Hospital, Powys.part 6.

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Things are progressing really well. The intense texture, which will look great in the woodland light, is developing  strong patterns and as the curves get tightened up there is lots of flowing movement.

 

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The birds head is done and the dragon’s is getting there. The main thing, a powerful embrace,  is there and when the blue mosaic is in place in the centre it will look enchanting.

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Our foster-kittens are being very helpful with lots of feed-back. It will soon be time to cut the sections and begin the long slow dry.

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These fabulous images are from the wonderful Black Eagle Project.

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Studio Diary: The Marking Time Sculpture at Bronllys Hospital, Powys.part 5.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

The full structure is built and the 1st layer of the textured surface is on. It has been every bit as challenging as I hoped!

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

The next stage is developing  the surface to enhance the flow of the curves. The clay with extra grog added will go on in layers using ever-smaller tools. It takes a great deal of time but it will leave fascinating, subtle surfaces and edges that are also very strong.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

In these early stages it can look distractingly chaotic. Any part that just doesn’t work well can be removed and redone.

Mick Farrell and Janet Epplestone visiting Osprey Studios to help with their very useful feed-back.

Mick Farrell and Janet Epplestone visiting Osprey Studios to help with their very useful feed-back.

It was lovely to have Mick and Janet call in to give me their objective feed-back. And some gorgeous flowers for my birthday! I will get in as many people as I can to double-check how the piece is being read. The Red Kite is becoming very clear. Bringing together the Dragon will be the trickiest bit.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

How To use/do Join-in Sculpture Workshops

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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

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

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

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Studio Diary: The Marking Time Sculpture at Bronllys Hospital, Powys.part 4.

Working on a large scale means returning to the same form everyday for months. So you need to be sure about the design.

I’m really pleased with the scale of the Marking Time Sculpture. It is within the human scale range so that the embrace and  eye level of the dragon and the kite/guardian’s wings will feel very personal.

Marking Time scale model.

Marking Time scale model.

Osprey Studios has a flexible layout and a solid floor so that anything up to 6m x 3m can be built there which keeps costs down.

Osprey Studios has a flexible layout and a solid floor so that anything up to 6m x 3m can be built there which keeps costs down.

The base foot print was painted on the floor in red and the outline of widest/deepest edges painted in blue to check that there will be space to work around the forms. The largest section is set on blocks to give the height of the eye-line. The other 2 sections are on wheels for easier access. The base footprint is painted on the boards in blue.

I always miss my wonderful Volunteers from past projects at this point. But it is a lot easier to be building in my own studio. Advancing decrepitude means some of my systems for moving heavy loads around lack dignity. And I can loose myself in the curves.

Areas are kept wrapped in plastic to keep the drying even. When you add new clay you need to allow time for the water to re-balance itself down the form. A large piece will be holding gallons of water.

Areas are kept wrapped in plastic to keep the drying even. When you add new clay you need to allow time for the water to re-balance itself down the form. A large piece will be holding gallons of water.

I am building the armature of the piece. The final surface will be added to it so I need to keep the clay at the best stage of hardness. Scarva ES50 Crank holds its water really well while still being very strong at the leather-hard stage.

I will be adding a lot of deep texture and modelling so these armature walls are very thin. In places the lines and curves of the final form are showing.

There is an internal support structure made of clay that will stay in place during the firing. It will help to support the sections when the sculpture is cut up so you need to plan them well in advance. Other materials like foam and wood are used inside just long enough for the clay to stiffen. External supports can be anything. They will need constant adjusting to accommodate shrinkage. I have a treasured collection of heavy-duty props and oddly shaped bits of wood.

There is an internal support structure made of clay that will stay in place during the firing. It will help to support the sections when the sculpture is cut up so you need to plan them well in advance. Other materials like foam and wood are used inside just long enough for the clay to stiffen. External supports can be anything. They will need constant adjusting to accommodate shrinkage. I have a treasured collection of heavy-duty props and oddly shaped bits of wood and memory foam.

The lines of the supports can be distracting.

The lines of the supports can be distracting.

2/3 of the way up. But the forms are not complete, especially width-wise. You see the movement starting in the curves of the central space. I'm using the sound-track from The Legend of Korra to keep the theme consistent across the weeks of work.

2/3 of the way up. But the forms are not complete, especially width-wise. You see the movement starting in the curves of the central space. I’m using the sound-track from The Legend of Korra to keep the theme consistent across the weeks of work.

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Bracelet Bay, photograph by Stephen Foote.

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

 

Guest-speaker Talk for Carmarthen School of Art.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Rhian Goodhand's Glass Studio.

At Rhian Goodhand‘s Glass Studio.

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

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

Stephen Foote Photography.

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

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

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

Working Intuitively:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Henry Moore at work.

Henry Moore at work.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

                                               

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

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

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

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

What you gain from this training is this:

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

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

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

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

Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working Solid and Hollowing Out

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

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

You block out the basic sizes,

Rough out the form

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

Let it go leather hard on the surface,

Cut/Hollow/rebuild.

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

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

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

Large scale sculpture in clay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parc Calon Lan, Blaengarw, South Wales.

Parc Calon Lan, Blaengarw, South Wales.

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

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

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

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

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

Building Calon Lan in a small basement.

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

Sharon was invaluable. She worked on every stage.

Sharon was invaluable. She worked on every stage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, Blaengarw, South Wales.

Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, Blaengarw, South Wales.

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

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

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

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

That’s the best.

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

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

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

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

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

We all recognise this, yes? Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Osprey Studios. SA9 1YT.

Osprey Studios. SA9 1YT.

Enflamed at Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York.

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Being invited to join this beautiful, sensuous, soul-reaching collection made my day. Some of my favourite Ceramists like  Melanie Ferguson and Monique Rutherford show with Cavin-Morris Gallery. Their introduction to their site made my week;

“Cavin-Morris Gallery has been exhibiting world artists for 30 years. We specialise in the work of self-taught artists whose work is made independently of the art world canon yet participates equally on the wall or pedestal. We represent the new generation of self-taught artists whose work remains authentic and visionary while representative of contemporary times. We also feature important works from preceding generations of self-taught artists including Jon Serl, Bill Traylor and Emery Blagdon.

We show an eclectic selection of tribal art from all the major regions of the world focusing on the unusual and the formally surprising.

Another focus is on textiles of the world, including South East Asian costumes an textiles including tribal China, and Japanese Boros: futon covers made over a period of a hundred years from cotton patches and threads.

Our newest department is a developing interest in Contemporary ceramics both functional and non-functional. We are especially interested in the way ceramists push the envelope of traditional form sand cultures. We show Western ceramists as well as Japanese, Chinese and Korean work.

The common thread that connects all this art is its uniqueness, its integrity and authenticity, and its reflection of cultural home-ground. The Contemporary artists we represent extend the continuum established by the self-taught and Tribal artists into a new and exciting multi-tiered arena.”

This article explains it perfectly; ‘A Chelsea Double Feature; Paper Meets Clay On “Homeground’s” Turf’ by Edward M Gomez.

1977362_10207300528654376_2230692460964721983_n View the stunning Catalogue here.

 

Melanie Ferguson extra ordinary pots encompass the universe and lead you beyond your borders.

Melanie Ferguson extraordinary pots encompass the universe and lead you beyond your borders.

 

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Mitch Iburg‘s stunning pots leave me breathless with wonder.

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Mitch Iburg. All the mountains of the world are honoured here.

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Sarah Purvey ‘s pot in the for-ground of  the beautiful display at Cavin-Morris Gallery.

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Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

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Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

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Wyvern V, black ceramic, 26.7 x 50.8 x 25.4 cm. Rebecca Buck.

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Wyvern VIII, ceramic, 39 x 71 x 34 cm. Rebecca Buck.

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Up Is Down VI, ceramic, 20 x 49 x 31 cm.

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Leviathan VI, ceramic, 12.5 x 21 x 8 cm.

This is a selection of images taken by Cavin-Morris Gallery. Go to the Gallery site  to see more beautifully presented photographs of these Artist’s  pieces and the other astonishing work by the Artists represented by this exceptional Gallery. The links from each name here on this post will take you to more information about each Ceramist. I will add more images as I get them.

Sculpture by Rebecca Buck at Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

Sculpture by Rebecca Buck at Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

 

Studio Diary; The Landscape Project, part 6, Review so far…

It’s the end of the 1st year and time to take stock. You can see the earlier parts of the story via the Contents page. Click on any picture to see it full size.

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

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

These pictures are roughly in sequence for the progression of work over the last year with Steve’s Photos next to the related Sculptures.

Bracelet Bay , Stephen Foote.

Bracelet Bay , Stephen Foote.

Up Is Down- in progress

Up Is Down- in progress

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Up Is Down- in progress

Up Is Down- in progress

Up is Down IX, 57cm W,

Up is Down IX, 57cm W,

Stephen Foote; Dunes

Stephen Foote; Dunes

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

in progress, July 2014

in progress, July 2014

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

in progress August 2014

in progress August 2014

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote.

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote.

It was this fabulous picture that shifted me abruptly into figures, much to my own surprise.

Busts in progress, Aug 2014.

Busts in progress, Aug 2014.

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

Bracelet Bay, Mumbles, Swansea by Steve Foote

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A narrative developed that was also influenced by the awesome storms of the previous winter. A trio of figures, the Guardians of the Aquasphere, the Lithosphere and the Atmosphere, arose and they and their Harbingers took on characteristics that the  many life-forms of the Biosphere could relate to so that all would understand what was happening; The Triumvirate were going to let loose their forces. This was not to threaten or  punish. They simply knew it was time.

 

Brecon Beacons, by Steve Foote.

Brecon Beacons, by Steve Foote.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Atmosphere in the form of an Osprey.

 

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

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

 

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Guardian of the Atmosphere, The Osprey

 

The Wyvern and the Osprey, 2014.

The Wyvern and the Osprey, 2014.

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The Wyvern, Guardian of the Lithosphere.

 

 

 

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.

The Lithosphere has The Wyvern, a dragon that has taken a number of forms so far.

The Leviathan in progress, Sept 2014.

The Leviathan in progress, Sept 2014.

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

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

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The Wyvern.

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Bracelet Bay, Stephen Foote.

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The Wyvern.

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Bracelet Bay, Stephen Foote.

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The Wyvern.

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Osprey.

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Wyvern

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Leviathon

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Osprey.

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Leviathon

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Wyvern.

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Wyvern

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Wyvern

The Guardian of the Aquasphere took on the form of the Mountain Ponies that run free in the Beacons.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA _F148186 _F148023 _F148792 _F148797 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   _F147964   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA _F148811   _F148835  _F148822   _F148837

It has been a fantastic year in the Studio; I am harnessing the narrative and collective sides of the monumental Community Sculptures of the last 13 years. But I’m free to use any scale. The architectural clays I use have given me the freedom to go anywhere in space. My amazing collection of Sculptor and Ceramist friends, from all over the world, on Facebook have encouraged and inspired me enormously. I’m settled into my lovely big Studio ( and gotten over the shock of having it at last!). Stephen and I communicate very well and we egg each other on.

Many thanks to everyone who has visited the work over this last 6 weeks and given invaluable advice and feed-back.I will continue with this series of sculptures until it is done.

We will start a new project focussing specifically on the passage of water from the mountains to the ocean along the  Tawe Valley. We are partnering with some Public art venues and setting up some Community participation to widen our perspective. We will  visit  a small Coal-mine and the Open-cast mine. Only a few years ago, on the 15th of September 2011, 4 men were killed in a dreadful accident at Gleision Colliery when their mine was inundated with water. Making the Pit Markers in Blaengarw, I heard about these type of accidents but, like everyone else, I never thought such a thing could happen here, in this century. From just below the Studio down-wards the River has an extra-ordinary history in the Industrial Revolution.

Neither of us have any idea where this will lead. We feel confident that we have something with substance and a great deal of potential and we have found a work-method that is productive and sustainable. I know from past projects that the community will come up with all sorts of treasures that will lead us into work that is far richer and more interesting than we would make alone. We will trade Workshops in photography and ceramics for input from community groups and individuals. It will be a fun process. We need images, stories, myths, legends,  history-including the ancient history and favourite,  special spots on the river or tributaries.

Studio Diary, Landscape Project, pt 5.

The Leviathan in progress, Sept 2014.

The Leviathan in progress, Sept 2014

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.

The second framework has become the Leviathan, the guardian of the Aquasphere as The Wyvern is the guardian of the Lithosphere. I will make more versions. These will have a pale gold colour. Next I will make a larger Osprey, guardian of thew Atmosphere, in the same  clay(Scarva ES50 Crank) and then move to the black clays and re-do the set.

The Leviathan in progress, Sept 2014.

The Leviathan in progress, Sept 2014.

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

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