James Thomas, 13, asked me to a couple of questions for his DT project. I thought I’d share it here…
For my DT homework for school we have been asked to choose a designer and produce an informative sheet/leaflet explaining and showing what they do. I have chosen yourself as, I too, love wildlife and my Grandad has a farm and has sheds full of old tools and I love making things. I also watch Countryfile and saw you on there too. We have several questions but the ones I am unable to find on your website are ‘why do you recycle?’ and how does it help the planet? Once I have completed my sheet I will email it to you to see what you think if that is OK with you.
Many thanks for your help and I really look forward to hearing from you.
I shall try to answer your questions but it’s actually not as straightforward as you might think.
You ask ‘why do I recycle’?’ As a nature lover and conservationist I always try to recycle and conserve resources in my day to day life, however as an artist I don’t use scrap metal because it is recycled. I am happy that it is recycled but I don’t use it because it is. The reason I use it is that it has a past life and that I enjoy incorporating the shapes into the work. I think it adds an extra interest to the sculptures. The reason I weld steel is that it enables me to make a diverse range of pieces with movement and balance that I could not achieve using clay or wood for example. Steel is very strong and welding is an immediate process that i find really appeals to the way that I work. So it is the very fact that the old tools are made of steel that I use them, not because they are recycled.
Your next question is ‘how does it help the planet’? Well this is another complicated answer. I use a lot of electricity to make them by welding, but nowhere near as much as would be needed to cast them into bronze. The bronze would be melted down using a lot of energy. So my welded sculpture is better for the planet than if I made bronzes. If I used newspapers and glue that would be even better for the planet though wouldn’t it? So I can’t say that my sculptures are particularly good for the planet in that respect. But, I like to think that when someone sees a sculpture of mine that celebrates a wild creature they may take a moment to consider the beauty of that creature and think about why that animal needs to be conserved or its habitat preserved. I don’t always make exciting big animals like some other artists (lots of wildlife artists paint lions, tigers and eagles) for me I find an ant or a lizard as interesting as a giraffe.
I hope this helps your project and keep making things with your grandad!
Last month Ellie Harrison came and visited me at the studio for a piece for CountryFile about the Brecks in Norfolk.
The programme is aired on Easter Sunday so they wanted to get me to make a rabbit to fit the Easter theme. I insisted on making a hare as this area is so well known for them. I took Ellie out onto the farmland a stone’s throw from the studio where we were rewarded with great views of several hares interacting. We spent a little while sketching (I like using biro) and I also took aluminium wire with me so we could make a quick 3D sketch as well. The hire car that I was asked to drive was far too hi-tech for me and I managed to lean my sketchbook on the horn which caused the hares to scatter but it didn’t take long for them to return.
We visited a friend’s farm to scavenge for scrap. The Eyles’ farm is on the edge of the Brecks and Stephen Eyles runs his agricultural engineering business from the farm. I was allowed to rummage around in old sheds and collected some great items. Unfortunately the footage wasn’t used on the final film.
Back in the studio I was asked to make a small sculpture with Ellie which was a little unexpected. With less than an hour to make it and 4 people in my tiny shed it was a bit of a challenge! Luckily I had borrowed a spare welding helmet from Stephen and kitted Ellie out so she could have a go at welding. She did pretty well at angle grinding and managed to do a half decent weld on the hare.
The resulting collage worked well and involved less than 10 items. Ellie took it away with her and is supposed to have given it to Matt Baker but she wants to keep it for herself! It was a pretty hectic day but good fun. I’m so glad that we found hares so easily and that everything went smoothly.
This sculpture was a commission for the Lars Johnsson Museum in Sweden. I have used a lot of shears for the wing feathers and have used an old leaf rake to add the long feathers on its back. The plumes on the head are tines from a potato fork and the bill is made from scissors.
Rake Ribbed Caracal
I was lucky enough to see a caracal when I was in South Africa a few years ago so I was really excited when I was asked to make one.
It was very important to get the head right, as I think felines can be especially difficult to capture. I had a pair of very large split pins that worked well for the eyes and I used pliers, coathooks and other curving items to get the muzzle and cheekbones.
Rake Ribbed Caracal
I used steel cable for the characteristic tufts on the ears and bow saw blades for other fur-like texture in places. The legs and paws used up a very large number of bull-nosed and other types of pliers as they helped define the toes.
Rake Ribbed Caracal
I was very pleased with the movement in the piece and was careful to get the overall balance so that the front paw is just off the ground. The power in the hindquarters and shoulders are conveyed with large items such as horseshoes, clamps and spanners. On one side I even managed to incorporate a large bolt from a door.
I am very grateful to my clients for allowing me to borrow the piece back so that it can be shown at The Natural Eye, the annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists which is at the Mall Galleries from Thursday 30 October until Sunday 9th November 2014.
Rake Ribbed Caracal
I was thinking of subjects for sculptures for The Natural Eye, the annual exhibition of The Society of Wildlife Artists at the Mall Galleries in London, and decided that it would be fun to try and make a red squirrel.
I tried to make the piece life size but it ended up a little too large. Despite my best efforts most pieces end up about 15 or 20 percent bigger than I intend. I think it is a combination of working with found objects and working in 3D. If I was using a malleable material such as plaster or clay I could remove or add volume fairly easily. With found objects I like to try and show as much of the shape of the original tool as possible and hesitate to grind volume away and ‘muddy’ the shapes.
The head has a variety of tiny spanners in it and the ears are made of a large wingnut that I cut in half and dinner forks with steel cable for the tufts. Although it is a bit obvious to use colour in the piece, I think it helps to show it is a red squirrel and not the larger grey. The bulk of the red comes from an old hand drill and a canterbury hoe along with a couple of pairs of pliers that had red handles. In addition I found a coat hook that I brought back from Sark with layers of white paint which was perfect for the white belly. The tail proved a problem until I hit on the idea of using old auger drill bits.
I enjoyed making this commission as I think corvids are very striking and lend themselves to being made out of old tools. When I make a piece I tend not to think about the item itself, as far as I’m concerned they are shapes and forms.
The bill on a Raven is extraordinarily large and the combine ‘finger’ was a perfect start. I shaped it slightly at the tip and added an old hand made nail for the lower part and steel cable for the characteristic bristle on the top.
The title of the piece, Blade Raven, was obvious when I realised how many blades were in the sculpture. Circular sawblades for the shaggy feathers, shear blades for the wings and tail, a sickle in the wing complete with the remnants of a ‘Spear and Jackson’ label and rotavator blades on the body among others. To add to the shaggy neck I used a small garden fork but also had an old dinner fork and a carving fork from an ancient collection of cutlery that I had been given.
This piece was a commission for a gift for a family member with a house in France named after the bird. It was quite an undertaking to create a piece in sheet steel on such a relatively small scale.
The problem with birds is that often a great deal of their recognisable features is in the plumage colours. I do not paint my sculptures so I have to be quite creative to refer to patterns and colours when using steel. For this piece I used the grille from an old white transit van bonnet to suggest the barring on the chest. in order to get a good dark stripe I had to create a space behind the grille to give the depth of shadow. It worked out quite well. In addition when working with painted steel you have to take care to ensure that the welds are kept to a minimum or the paint burns off.
An example of a sculpture on which I made use of colour is the Southern Ground Hornbill. This piece was made with scrap items that had already got red paint on them (spanners, pliers and a spokeshave) so provided the striking red pouch on the bird.
Southern Ground Hornbill
Hook Tailed Hare
I am lucky enough to see lots of hares in the fields around the village. This is a simple study of a reclining hare that reminds me a little of Durer’s drawing of a young hare. This piece is available from The Pinkfoot Gallery.
Hook Tailed Hare
A client commissioned me to make a sculpture of her feisty bantam cockerel. He was a bit of a character apparently and I hope that I have captured something of his attitude in this piece. A circular saw blade is used for the comb and auger bits, heated in my pot bellied stove then bent, add to the tail feathers alongside callipers and a builder’s trowel.
I made this piece for an exhibition in Stamford called ‘Living on the Edge’ that was a spin off from the New Networks for Nature symposium. The remit of the show was to make work in response to the title. It was a thought provoking show and I made Dog Chain Bittern, Tweezer Nosed Frog, a Roesel’s Bush Cricket and Bilhook Badger.
Dog Chain Bittern
Dog Chain Bittern alluded to the success of conservation efforts to help a particular species by setting up reserves.
Tweezer Nosed Frog
The Tweezer Nosed Frog was a reference to how the world has got smaller so that wildlife can be exposed to non native flora and fauna and indeed viruses, in this case the choroid virus that has spread through amphibians and is cited as the cause of extinction of at least one South American frog species.
Roesel's Bush Cricket
The Roesel’s Bush cricket is extending its range in the UK possibly through global warming and by making use of roadside verges.
A badger was an obvious choice as being a mammal in the news due to the TB crisis and an example of a species that is at the centre of a massive controversy involving Government, the farming industry, conservation organisations and the public.
I made a special effort to use plenty of digging tools in the piece as I enjoyed the fact that badgers are honed digging machines.