The Natural Eye, Art Book One

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This limited edition hardback book is packed with images from nearly 60 of our artists. With an introduction by naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham, a short history of the Society by past President and founder Robert Gillmor, plus text by current President Harriet Mead about the Society in its 50th year and Bruce Pearson looking to the future, this is both a beautiful and informative book. With field sketches, drawings, original prints, oils, acrylics, mixed media, bronzes, ceramics and found object sculpture there are gems on every page. Each of the contributing artists have written short anecdotes about the work that they have donated and funds from the sale of the book will help the Society to encourage and support artists inspired by the natural world through the SWLA Bursaries and other opportunities.

‘What a handsome and impressive compilation it is! I am truly delighted to have it on my shelves.’ Sir David Attenborough

BBC Wildlife Magazine’s ‘Book of the Month’.

‘A hugely impressive treasury of fine art inspired by the natural world’ Jonathan Elphick, writer and naturalist 

‘Anyone who buys this book will love it if they have the faintest feeling for wildlife’  Mark Avery, writer, naturalist and environmental consultant

‘A whole world of wildlife is brought into the room with you, brimming with the essence of each subject, telling stories, and setting up wonder in our enquiring minds’ Andy Clements, Director of the British Trust for Ornithology 

At only £20 plus p&p it makes an affordable and desirable addition to any art or wildlife lovers bookshelf.

AVAILABLE FROM SWLA WEBSITE

Hammer Horned Giraffe

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Hammer Horned Giraffe

Here is my second giraffe of the year, Hammer Horned Giraffe. If you look at my post about Hedge Trimmer Giraffe you will know that I started a commission for a 4ft 6 giraffe that rapidly became too big. I put this one aside and made a correctly sized one for my client with the intention of finishing the large one for The Natural Eye, the annual exhibition of the SWLA at the Mall Galleries from 30th October- 10th November.

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Hammer Horned Giraffe

It took an awful lot of work and I was welding right up to the last minute to get the piece ready in time but I am happy with the result.

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Hammer Horned Giraffe

The bulk of the frame is made up of bow saws and long handles from edging shears and other gardening tools. The lower jaw is made of sheep shears and pliers handles plus old mortar trowels for the ears alongside the hammer heads for the horns. All the patterns are made up of blades from combines or other harvesting machines. The tail is made of auger bits.

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Hammer Horned Giraffe
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Hammer Horned Giraffe

Sole Great Auk

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Sole Great Auk

I was commissioned to make a life sized Great Auk for a client. I had to look on the internet for pictures of stuffed specimens and found biometrics on line as well. The specimens were very reliant on the skills of the taxidermist so I ended up basing my version of a Great Auk on an oversized Guillemot for the eye position and general feel of the bird.

Sole Great Auk - Harriet Mead
Sole Great Auk

I tried to capture the essence of the bird and was really pleased with the find of a ‘tramp’ or metal sole in my scrap pile. Designed to protect the base of the foot the ‘tramp’ was attached by a strap to the boot and used when doing a lot of digging I believe. The ‘tramp’ forms the back of the bird and allowed me to use a quality pun in the title of the piece ‘Sole Great Auk’.

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Sole Great Auk

I think it came out surprisingly well considering I had such variable reference and the bird itself is rather ungainly. The ridges on the beak were defined by the use of an old drawer handle and secateurs made up the bulk of the bill.

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Sole Great Auk

Ring Spanner Frog

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Ring Spanner Frog

Last week I completed the 4ft 6 inches high Hedge-Trimmer Giraffe that took many weeks and lots of scrap. Here’s Ring Spanner Frog which at 6 inches long was a much smaller proposition but it still took very careful work to achieve the ‘essence’ of frog. Small scale pieces are very unforgiving; the wrong item can ruin the sculpture as there are fewer components to suggest the anatomy. In addition it is quite tricky to weld on a small scale as the welds can be too big and thin items can melt away.

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Ring Spanner Frog

The eye sockets are made of ring spanners with ball bearings for eyes and the legs are handles of pliers and links from chains with screws and horseshoe nails for the toes. I particularly like the bit of bicycle spanner and a bottle opener that give the trademark froggy hunched back.

Hedge-trimmer Giraffe

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Hedge-trimmer Giraffe

This piece is a commission that I completed for a client who has several of my pieces. At only 4ft 6  high it is not life sized but is still quite substantial.  I used bow saws as a good basis for the neck and a large car spring as a rib cage. The pattern of the markings are depicted using blades from a combine harvester. Giraffes have an extraordinary structure and I was particularly struck by their shoulder blade and angular chest. I used a couple of G-clamps for the top of the shoulder and a garden fork for the chest. At times I felt unconvinced by the bizarre proportions but as it progressed my instincts were right and the piece came together.

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Hedge-trimmer Giraffe

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Hedge-trimmer Giraffe (detail)

The lovely long eye lashes are bow saw blade and the ears are part of secateurs and chainsaw blade for the fluffy inside. There are a lot of long spanners, strap hinges and horse shoes in the piece to create a strong structure.

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Hedge-trimmer Giraffe

Sickle blades and parts of bow saws create the barrel of the body with a very sturdy strap hinge along the spine. The tail is part of a poker and tines from a pitchfork with auger bits as the fluffy hair on the end. At first I was reluctant to add the patterning on the body and neck as it interrupted the flow of the structure and covered some of the detail but on balance I’m happy with the blades as they suggest the distinctive colouration without being too fussy.

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Hedge-trimmer Giraffe

Living Seas Exhibition

The Wildlife Trusts Undersea Art Award was set up in 2007 thanks to the vision of Peter Tinsley from Dorset WT. Since then 5 artists have been given the opportunity to learn to dive and then make work from the experience of diving off the UK coast. I was lucky enough to be the latest recipient of the award and I had an amazing time seeing marine life up close and in their element off the North Norfolk coast. See my blog about the bursary here.

To celebrate the Undersea Art Award and help highlight the need for Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to be designated examples of work from all five artists (Kim Atkinson, Antonia Philips, Anna Kirk-Smith, Esther Tyson and me) is on show at Chesil Beach in Dorset until March 27th. Click here for more information.

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Sawblade Goby

PLEASE DO YOUR BIT TO HELP THE MARINE HABITAT OFF OUR COASTS

127 MCZs were recommended by the stakeholder groups, supported by the MCZ Science Advisory Panel and Natural England, the Government nature conservation advisors. The Government’s current public consultation is proposing to designate this year just 31 of the 127, and it gives no real commitment to designating the remainder. We need a whole network of protected areas as nursery beds for fish and other marine life and 31 sites does not make a network.

The consultation closes at midnight on Easter Sunday, 31st March.
It is easy to respond as the Wildlife Trusts have produced a simple click-and-send campaign response. Click here to support the MCZs.

Patch the Terrier

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Patch

I was asked to make a sculpture of a particular dog for a client. Patch is a fox terrier who should have flopped over ears but hers decided to ping up. It gives her a charm all of her own but meant it was actually a rather tricky sculpture to get right as the ears seemed very large. As the client had commissioned it as a surprise joint birthday present for friends it was impossible for me to meet Patch in person so I had to rely on photographs and looking at her conventionally eared daughter Pickle who belongs to my client.

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Patch

The sculpture actually took a long time as I got bogged down in the detail and had to slim down the face to capture the distinctive muzzle of the breed. One ear is based around a small builder’s trowel and the other has part of a rotavater blade among other things. I managed to allude to the splodge on her body, hence the name Patch, by using cogs from egg whisks. The characteristic stance and feeling of her being ‘ready for anything’ worked well and is typical terrier. Some may say that my attention to detail went a little too far as I could not resist putting the strategically placed nut at the base of the tail.

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Patch

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Patch the Fox Terrier

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 2013

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.