My on-line diary began in the 1990's from my studio in the North of England. After a lapse of ten years, I resumed posting from my present studio on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

From the far beginning, the intention has been to give an insight into my working methods, and to share the triumphs, trials and tribulations of work-in-progress.

My diary pages are followed by thousands of artists, art students and art lovers in over 50 countries.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Inside out…

Today I removed the clay from the mould for the torso.  The mould now needs cleaning before making a cast.  From this type of mould only one plaster cast can be made.  This is because the mould has to be broken into fragments in order to remove the cast.  Hence it’s name, Waste Mould.
For me it is facinateing to see the figure inside out – it’s a bit like the visual jolt of reversing a photographic image, but doubly so.  In the 1990’s the sculptress Rachel Whiteread developed the concept of “negative space” in her Holocast Monument and her cast of the inside of an entire Victorian terraced house.
Recently I have found that a body cast - in its negative form - gives a new insight into the beauty of the human form.  This cast is not of a galaxy in space, but of a breast that bears the hallmark of suckling many offspring. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A messy business...

At the height of his career, Rodin had thirty moulders taking casts from his clay figures.  As for me, I’m sculptor, moulder and labourer rolled into one. 

The method of making a mould hasn’t changed since the time of Michelangelo.  First the figure is divided into sections with lengths of brass shim.  In the case of the torso, it is simply a top and bottom. 

Plaster is then mixed to the consistency of thick cream and flicked on the clay with the fingers.  It’s a messy business.  What misses the clay goes everywhere else.

When the flick coat has set, more plaster is towelled on so as to build up the strength of the mould. 

At least, that’s it in simple terms.  In practice, there are many complications and pitfalls along the way.  It’s a daunting task, because if the mould fails all is lost.

Cleaning up at the end of a day of mould making is what once put paid to the career of one hopeful sculptor sent to my studio for work-placement.  After a couple of days, he went back to college to switch courses.  He found sweeping plaster off the floor “too demeaning”!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Oh, to be in England…

Not so much for April or the chaffinch singing on the orchard bough, but for all the supplies that I can’t get on a small island in the Caribbean. 

Oh, for a couple of bags of fine casting plaster.  In order to make a waste mould from the clay torso I’ve spent the day restoring the properties of a bag a plaster that has a sell-by date of January 2000.  First, I pulverised it back into fine particles then dehydrated it in the oven for a couple of hours at Gas Mark 8.  It’s cooling off as I write.

My wish list would continue with tubes of Winsor Newton Artists’ Watercolours, especially the colours, Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber and Viridian.  On the engineering side of things, a ¼” end mill would not go amiss and while I am at it, a decent pair of shorts – I mean shorts, not those sloppy things that come way below the knee.

While I’m dreaming on, here’s a sketch of an English hedgerow with blackberries.  It's dated the same as my bag of fine casting plaster.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Innocent England…

Today I stumbled upon this photograph of autumn leaves cast in plaster.  Multiplied many times over and cast in bronze they were to have surrounded my innocent – but controversial – National Health Service standing nude.  (See diary page for May 9th.)  The sculpture depicts spring emerging from winter and the leaves would have formed a vortex around the figure.  However, even a whole host of leaves could not satisfy the prudish NHS Trustees as to the appropriateness of a nude figure in a hospital setting. 

D. H. Lawrence’s paintings suffered a similar fate.  Hence his poem “Innocent England”  which begins:
       Oh what a pity. Oh! Don’t you agree
       that figs aren’t found in the land of the free!
       Figs don’t grow in my native land;
      There’s never a fig-leaf near at hand
      When you want one; so I did without;
      And that is what the row’s all about.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In situ…

Today we carried the finished torso from one location to another to see how it looked from various vantage points.  In the past, they often hauled a new piece of public sculpture around the block by horse and cart for the same reason.  For months, the sculptor has become accustomed to seeing the work on the modelling stand in the studio.  To see the work from a fresh vantage point comes as a shock.  Suddenly you see strengths and flaws that had previously gone unnoticed.  A figure that seems large in the studio appears diminutive outdoors.   Those who see the work first in the studio, and then in situ, often asked why have you made the work smaller.

Here is the torso outdoors in the rain.  Through the deceptive eye of the camera she looks lost, whereas in reality she holds her own.  Either way, she contrasts nicely with the pebbles!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Songs for my supper...

It was through necessity that I declared myself as an artist on the pavements of France and Belgium in the late 1960’s.  We had sailed a converted coal barge to France with five pounds in our pockets.  My sketches were our means of survival - songs for my supper.  The courage it takes to set up cap and easel on the pavement is best expressed by the poet and writer Laurie Lee in his book “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning”. 

“Presently I got up and dressed, stuck my violin under my jacket and went out into the streets to try my luck.  I was now or never.  I must face it now or pack up and go home.  I wondered about for an hour looking for a likely spot, feeling as though I were about to commit a crime.  Then I stopped at last under a bridge near the station and decided to have a go. 

I felt tense and shaky.  It was the first time after all.  I drew the violin from my coat like a gun.  It was here, in Southampton, with trains rattling overhead, that I was about to declare myself.  One moment I was part of the hurrying crowds, the next I stood nakedly apart, my back to the wall, my hat on the pavement before me, my violin under my chin.

When I’d finished the first tune there was over a shilling in my hat: it seemed too easy, like a confidence trick.  But I was elated now; I felt that wherever I went from here, this was a trick I could always live by.”

Here is the market place in Bruges, one of the rare sketches from those early days.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Real people...

My subjects are not professional models, but real people.  Elizabeth drives a truck, Ganeen cares for the elderly, Samantha teaches at college and, as a girl, Alice carried bananas bare-foot down the steep hillsides of St. Vincent.

Denise has been my wife and model for twenty years.  That is not to say that she spends her days at ease in the studio.  She does the work of three men on our two and a half acre estate.  Nevertheless, despite hard work and five children - or maybe because of it - her body grows even more appealing with the passing years. 

This afternoon Denise was welding stainless steel cutting discs for a prototype food-processing machine – the latest of my inventions.  Behind the mask and beneath layers of protective clothing is the face and figure that has featured on so many of these diary pages.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Re-inventing the wheel…

Sculptor, Edouard Lanteri (1 November 1848 – 22 December 1917) taught modelling at the South Kensington Arts Schools.  Towards the end of his life he wrote a series of three books, explaining the art of human and animal composition in sculpture.  The books were re-issued in 1965 (new edition 1985) as two volumes, Modelling and Sculpting the Human Figure and Modelling and Sculpting Animals by Dover Publications.  They are regarded as the definative texts for those wishing to pursue the figurative.

With the exception of Lanteri’s work there are few other sources of information on the techniques of past masters.  Rupert Gunnis’s Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660 – 1851 contains almost 12,000 entries.  So much information on the sculptor’s working methods has been taken to the grave.  So much has been irretrievably lost!

Inevitably, I constantly find myself re-inventing the wheel.  Just occassionally I find a clue, such as in this rare photograph taken in Rodin’s studio.   The stand enables the model to hold and revert back to a pose. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From clay to plaster…

The reclining torso that began my diary pages way back in February has now progressed from clay to plaster.  Normally, I do this by taking a plaster cast of the clay.  However, what you see in today’s picture is a polymer plaster copy that I have made by measurement rather than by a mould.   

I doubt if many other sculptors have used this technique.  Measurements are transferred from clay to plaster with the pointing device shown in the photograph.  It is similar to the way in which a clay original is copied in marble - but instead of chipping away to the final form, I’m building up. 

The process is long a tedious but it gives me the freedom to develop the work as I go along, for the copy need not rigorously replicate the clay.  The second picture shows the surface texture in detail.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A knot there's no untying...

Thomas Cambell’s poem, Freedom and Love speaks of the impossibility of binding love to last forever.  Perhaps encapsulating the passion in bronze, as with Rodin’s lovers, is as close as we will get.

When I began my sculpture for the City of Leeds, my models were devoted newly weds.  Alas, by the time the sculpture was unveiled, they were divorced.  Those who have suffered the pain of divorce know how difficult it is to look back at even a photograph, let alone to be confronted for eternity with a life-size image in bronze.

Here they are, forever in love, “in a knot there’s no untying”.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The embrace...

In the drawings and sculptures of his later years, Rodin developed the interplay of two figures embracing.  The blend of eroticism and idealism in his “The Kiss” makes it one of the great images of sexual love. However, Rodin considered it overly traditional, calling it "a sculpted knick-knack following the usual formula".

I can relate to his misgivings, for whenever I attempt to bring two figures together the end result poorly reflects the ardour that I intended.  Somewhere along the way, the passion of the embrace is diminished rather than intensified.

When I was sketching the UK’s Northern Ballet at rehearsal, the English National Ballet staged Derek Deane’s Romeo and Juliet.  The director sent me this photograph of the principal dancers, Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks. 

From that day to this, I have been sorely tempted to make that striking embrace the starting point for a sculpture…and this time to retain the passionate mood of the moment.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

No lines at all…

I am beginning to realise that working on a large scale has a disadvantage when it comes to reproducing the paintings on these diary pages.  The intricate fusion of one wash running into another is lost.  To compensate, here is a detail from yesterday’s painting.

To continue the theme of lines: here, with no lines at all, is a detail from a painting I made today.  I made the preliminary sketch in watercolour and allowed the outline and washes to merge as they may.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Which comes first…

To answer the question posed yesterday by Honest Abe:  “Not sure which came first, the colour or the ink.”

Generally, the line comes first, but what you are seeing is pastel, not ink.  Over the years, I have tried almost anything that can make a line on paper: pencil, ink, charcoal, conté crayon, ball points and all manner of felt-tips.  Just before leaving England, I stumbled upon Pitt Pastel Pencils.  They are made by Faber Castell and work beautifully with watercolour.  I find that I can even apply them to wet paint, so sometimes I might strengthen a line as the painting progresses. 

In yesterday’s painting, I put the line down with point-breaking pressure.  In today’s painting, I used a lighter touch.  Once again, I'm working on a large scale (20" x 30")

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

That's more like it…

Painting in watercolour is not for the timid.  Contrary to popular perception, there’s nothing refined and dainty about it.   It takes courage to give a wash the freedom it deserves.   Moreover, watercolours need not be limited to the pages of an 8” x 10” sketchpad.   My large watercolour boards measure 30” x 40”.  I confess that beforehand my nerves are on edge at the risk involved.   That size of best quality board doesn’t come cheap!

Today I took courage – granted on a sheet of regular cartridge paper – and pushed the boundaries of size, colour, line and form for all they are worth.  When I turned the painting for Denise to see, her comment was, “Mm, that’s more like it”. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

While the bread rises…

Today offered a score of excuses for not getting back down to painting and sculpting.  Not least was Denise’s determination to do the week’s baking.  Without a model, I’m stumped.  However, as followers of my diary know by now, I can work fast and I can take my subjects as I find them.   So, when Denise said, “Okay you’ve got fifteen minutes while the bread rises.” I grabbed my chance.  


Friday, June 3, 2011

Therein lays the challenge…

After weeks of being sidetracked I am now determined to put all else aside and get back to “hands on” painting and sculpting.  I say “hands on” because no matter where I am or what I am doing, my mind is continually interpreting what I see.  These pent up visions give me the thrust I need to get going again.  In addition, the spaces between one spurt of effort and the next, helps to prevent me from falling into a rut.  If only my visions could be fulfilled in practice! 

For years, I have been trying to give my sculpture the freedom and spontaneity of my sketches.  This seems to be in the realms of impossibility.  How can a sculpture that takes days, weeks or months to create equal a sketch that has taken a matter of minutes?   Yet therein lays the challenge for next week, next year and for the next twenty years.  In the meantime, this sketch serves as a reminder of what I am after. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A hybrid chair…

Today I took one look at a long list of priority jobs, said to heck with it, and made a chair. 

It was born out of humble circumstances.  Some weeks ago, the electricity company did some tree felling in the valley.   They carted away the good stuff but left behind a pile of off-cuts.  Denise, never one to let anything go to waste, gathered up their leftovers and out of her stash of spoils, I sneaked the pieces I needed.

As the chair is intended for the paved area down by the river, it as something of a curious cross between a three legged milking stool and a Windsor Chair.  It’s the kind of thing a country carpenter might have put together a hundred years ago.  In those days, a carpenter may have found time to embellish his creation with a touch of affection – just as I did before putting down my tools for the day.