Final Sculpture of 2012

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Trowel Tortoise

Trowel Tortoise was finished on New Year’s Eve so I was working right up until the end of the year. I never really know how I am going to start a piece but with the tortoise I knew that I would have to solve the shell first before working on any other aspect. This is unusual because I would tend to start a piece with the head as this dictates the proportions of the whole creature. For the tortoise with such a defining and unbending feature as the shell it was very important that I got that right before embarking on anything else.

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Trowel Tortoise

When you really start looking at the subject you realise all kinds of subtleties in shape and the tortoise was no exception. The shell is more of a dome than most people would think and the underside proved as important as the top. The main structure was created from two shield shaped hinges and a few blades from agricultural harvesters. The oval lip on which the whole piece is built is made of two horseshoes with upholstery springs interlocked around it.

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Trowel Tortoise

At one stage the shell was much more open and this worked up to point. Much as I enjoy leaving negative spaces within the pieces the shell needed more visual heaviness to work with the solid legs. The lovely scaley texture on the legs is chainsaw blades and of course his plastron is a trowel. I worked very hard to get the pointed lip and almond shaped eyes on the surprisingly square head. He took longer than I expected but I was very pleased with the result.

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Trowel Tortoise

Wildlife Trusts Undersea Art Award

The Wildlife Trusts have given this award for the last 5 years and I was thrilled to be chosen. It is an amazing opportunity to learn to dive and then use the experience of diving off the UK coast as inspiration for work to celebrate the diversity of life off our shores. Being based in Norfolk it seemed a perfect opportunity to explore the relatively newly explored Cromer shoal chalk beds off the North Norfolk coast.

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Sawblade Goby

The dive training was pretty straightforward, although I was quick to learn that nothing involved with diving can be performed in an elegant way on dry land. One ends up feeling like a zombie with a toddler’s capacity for achievement. Straps, buckles and zips become major triumphs to undo or do up and movement with all the kit on is a mammoth task. Once under the water it is a different matter with the whole weight lifted by the water and everything that was a hindrance becomes a help. The first thing that strikes you is how noisy it is with every exhaled breath bubbling past your mask. You soon get used to it but it makes you very aware of your breathing.

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Drawing Underwater

The chalk shoal off the North Norfolk coast is an amazing haven for all sorts of marine life. Despite fairly poor visibility I was blessed with views of edible crab, shore crab, spider crab, lobster and shrimp. The gobies darting around on the sand were so well camouflaged they were only visible when they moved. The crabs were ever present in the gullies and cracks of the chalk reef.  A small lobster braved it out with me waving its claws in defiance as it marched backwards to find shelter in the rocks.

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Underwater Drawings(Lobster)

My attempts at drawing it were comical. It would be difficult enough with just the thick gloves to contend with but five metres underwater with cold hands I found the super thick watercolour paper bulldog clipped to a chopping board was not the best idea. Swapping sheets of paper was hampered by the cold and the graphite sticks anchored by string to the board. Thankfully with the help of my bemused dive buddy Kate Risely the bulldog clips got back on before the drawings were claimed by the current.  As we made our way back Kate pointed out the shadow of something, the suggestion of a fan perhaps and then suddenly I could see it was a flat fish probably a dab settled in the sand with its tell tale fins giving Kate the clue to its presence.

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Padlock Crab

The second dive was on the wreck of the Rosalie and I was rewarded with the astonishing sight of walls of anenomes crusting every surface of the second world war vessel. Wrasse and bib made their homes here amongst the architecture of the collapsing deck and it was easy to forget this was iron not rock that was host to this amazing mass of life.  A much bigger lobster and the colourful sea scorpions were showy compared with the rather messy looking spider crabs self adorned with algae and weed. Despite my inexperience I followed Kate around parts of the wreck finning under beams as we delighted in the sugar pink nudibranch or sea slugs and tiny skeleton shrimps nestled among the anenomes and sponges. Time was up on the wreck so we swam back across the sand bed that was punctuated by occasional little outcrops of chalk orientating ourselves by following the ripples of sand sculpted by the sea which was a clue that we were heading back to shore. Sharp eyed Kate found two immature greater pipefish that could easily be overlooked as detritus. They were amazing little fish like straightened out seahorses so it was easy to see that they are in the same family.

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Padlock Cuttlefish

The highlight had to be the little cuttlefish, the size of a large bumblebee that turned black in front of my mask and then darted back with a small burst of ink. Its tactic is designed to divert the potential predator to allow it to escape but being so small it only managed to go away for a few inches. The next option it chose was to drop down to the sand where it disappeared in front of my eyes with one last shuffle of tentacles that swept the sand over its head. Stunning.

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Mole Grip Lobster

Back in the studio I had plenty of inspiration and trawled through my collection of old tools and scrap to find the perfect components for the underwater critters. Mole grips and secateurs helped describe the claws for the lobster and an old blade from a hedge trimmer was the basis for the abdomen with brake cables for the antennae. Padlocks were perfect for the base of the cuttlefish body and the centre of the crab’s carapace. Ring spanners and ball bearings became the prominent eyes on the goby with sawblades for its feathery fins.

I am now hooked and hope to do more dives soon so I am sure I will be making more sculptures of marine life from my experiences.

The Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds are recommended for a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). To support this recommendation visit wildlieftrusts.org/MCZ/cromer-shoal-chalk-beds

Irish Moiled Cow

In 2012 I was commissioned to make a life sized Irish Moiled Cow for a museum in Dungannon, Northern Ireland. The sculpture is the biggest ‘found object’ sculpture that I have made to date and proved quite a challenge. Nicknamed Stanley due to the brand stamp on an old plane blade that I used on the forehead it used a serious amount of my stock of old tools and agricultural scrap.

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Irish Moiled Cow

Some of the items that I particularly enjoyed placing were the adjustable spanners for teets, old scoop from a set of grocers scales and shovels for the udder and the auger bits for the tail. There are all kinds of blades within the work which seemed very appropriate as cows cut/eat so much grass. Among others there were sickles, scythes, mower blades, saw blades, a brushcutter blade, reciprocal blades from combine harvesters and sheers.

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Irish Moiled Cow

The main bulk of the belly was made using the prongs from a very old hay tedder that may even have been a horse drawn one. A friend of a friend was dismantling it so my sharp eyed friend asked if he could give it to me. It proved utterly invaluable in depicting the cow and emphasizing the  bulk of the body. Many people would have tried to fill in the body work but I think your eye does it for you. I often think of cows as being a giant hammock of belly slung between two points and the sculpture reflects that. The hint of the rib cage is portrayed with a pair of old beet forks. Rather than beet forks from east Anglia it would have been lovely to have used potato forks from Northern Ireland. I did look in to sourcing scrap from around Dungannon but it proved impractical. I hope to be able to make another piece for the museum in the future so making a smaller piece in a borrowed workshop on site would be a perfect way to do so.

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Loading the Irish Moiled Cow

The sculpture had to get to Northern Ireland from Norfolk so I enlisted the help of friends who had access to an impressive and very new looking loader to get it into the hire van. I am so grateful to all my long suffering network of friends who come to my aid when these pieces need moving.

The Big Egg Hunt 2012

In 2012 I was invited to take part in The Big Egg Hunt. The event invited artists and designers to each decorate a large fibreglass egg which was then placed at various sites in London. Over 200 eggs made up the ‘hunt’ that encouraged the public to find the eggs and raise money for charity. It was all rather a rush to get the work done in time for the launch in February culminating in the finale in Easter when the eggs were then auctioned to raise funds for charity. It was nice to be involved with something that would be seen by such a large and wide ranging audience who would ‘stumble across’ the work rather than going to a gallery.

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Ambush

Inevitably there were a lot of references to birds by other participants so I decided to celebrate the less obvious creatures who emerge from an egg. The Treefrog and the Lizard are both hunting the unsuspecting cricket. I enjoyed the tension of the piece but it proved a real challenge to get the sculptures to follow the contour of the egg and then fix them onto it.

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Ambush

The organisers sited the eggs in various locations inside and out. They chose to place my piece outside and sadly within 3 days two of the sculptures had been stolen from my egg. A perspex box was placed over the egg to save the last sculpture but I had to make another two to replace the stolen works. It was a rather disappointing experience. I’m sure in future the perspex boxes will be used on all the more vulnerable works. It’s such a shame that the organisers have to worry about vandalism, in an ideal world work would be admired and not damaged.

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Ambush