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.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Model and Muse

At a talk I gave some years ago I was asked, at what point the model becomes the muse. For me, the two are inseparable and this makes it difficult to find the two in one. In my search for new models I am heartened by those who doubt that they’ll be suitable, for often it is the unlikely applicant that has that ability to inspire.

Last week I did a trial session with a new model. For both artist and model it takes courage to make that first step. The brief session went well and resulted in the painting shown below.

At today’s full session we both tried too hard to achieve the rare rapport that enables the muse to take flight. But in retrospect we almost succeeded, as can be seen in this 15 minute sketch of the standing figure.

Pearl (middle name) is a medical student from Nigeria. She has an attractive first name that my dyslexia will never enable me to pronounce: Ekponmwen. Thank you Pearl.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Life, Death and Resurrection

Clay is the life, plaster the death and bronze the resurrection. This saying has been handed down by sculptors for generations and refers to the principal stages involved in making a sculpture.

As a reminder, the first picture shows the completed clay sketch of Annabelle’s life-size figure.

The second picture, taken this morning, shows the waste mold being chipped away from the plaster cast. You can now better understand how the initial pink coat of plaster acts as a warning device. The circled area reveals the plaster cast within.

As the resurrection may be years away, here in bronze are two my figures for the City of Leeds. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Casting complete

After two days of mixing, pouring, brushing and troweling plaster, the casting is complete. The technicalities of casting a reclining figure, as against a standing figure, have given me many sleepless nights. The next step is to break away the surrounding waste mold and that will involve many more days of hard work. 

The picture shows the cast reclining on my work bench while I go to recline exhausted in bed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

At Ease

I cannot trace the source of the image that illustrates today’s post, but given the context in which it appears I feel certain that the model will not mind me using it to endorse her message. Whereas the beauty of the torso, unadorned with appendages, is considered the norm in sculpture, this brave model offers the same acceptance in life.

An essential attribute of my models is that they feel comfortable in their skin. For some it comes natural, whereas for others, being at ease takes time. Without exception, those that stay the course find the experience liberating and uplifting. Freedom from inhibition works both ways: if my model feels comfortable, I feel comfortable, and vice versa.

The life-classes that I occasionally teach from my studio are different to the structured life-class taught in art schools.  My students are more likely to find the model bathing in the river than posing on the modelling stand. Thus, the nude figure becomes the comfortable norm rather than the discomfiting exception.

A hundred years ago the American artist Robert Henri wrote:

There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the nude human body.  It is not only among artists but among all people that a greater appreciation and respect for the human body should develop.   When we respect the nude, we will no longer have any shame about it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Inside out

For followers interested in the practical side of sculpture, today’s pictures show the completed waste mold. The detail is of the ear, inside out.

The mold is heavy and it takes two to lift it. It needs handling with care because its strength is compromised due to the open back. Think of an egg shell: amazing strong when whole but very weak when deprived of continuity in the round.

The next step is to finish cleaning the inner surface in readiness for the casting the figure in plaster.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Will it pay?

The theme of today’s post was prompted, first by an article bemoaning that painters of the nude have difficulty selling their work and second, by an announcement today that the government of Dominica will be offering low interest loans to musicians.

The very last thing an artist or artiste needs is the burden of a bank loan, no matter how low the rate of interest or how long the grace period.

Capital in the arts relates to talent and innovation. Curiously, these two attributes tend to come to fruition when spurred by challenges rather than when couched in ease. If I were to draw a graph of my brief periods of financial ease against my poverty motivated creative accomplishments, the two would be at odds.

I first declared myself as an artist on the pavements of France with work sold directly from the pages of my sketch book. I earned enough to feed my wife and young daughter and at the end of the year my paintings were on show at one of the leading galleries. The next spring we sailed our canal barge back to England and survived by selling pictorial map prints door to door. A couple of years later we spent a summer pushing a pram loaded with our camping gear through the byways of Southern Ireland and sold paintings along the way.

In a similar vein, one of the most memorable musical recitals that I have heard in my 75 years was played on a penny whistle by a struggling student on the pavements of London.

The spur of impending poverty motivates my creative muse to this day and it is now helped by time’s winged chariot hurrying near. I’m not bemoaning the current scarcity of buyers for my paintings and sculptures. I’ll get by without a bank loan and I want no provision for old age. When my work is finished, I will be finished.

Here is the pictorial map print of which we sold a print run of 1,000 door to door.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Can I cry now?

If in my earlier posts I have given the impression that taking molds from a life-size figure is all plain sailing, let me tell you that it’s not. Things can go wrong and invariably do.

Many years ago, when I was taking the mold from my award winning lock-keeper, one of the caps fell apart in my hands. My brother, who had just cheerily stopped by to see how things were going, will remember his none too cheery reception.

More recently Jessica, who was the model and assistant for my bathing figure, found herself buried beneath the figure's extended arms and calabash shell as they suddenly detached themselves from the waste mold. After we had frantically worked to salvage the broken pieces Jessica slumped in a corner and timidly asked: “Can I cry now”?

This brings me to the struggles that I am having with my reclining figure. On separating two of the caps (extended left leg and thighs) the pink flick coat detached from its plaster backing. This has never happened to me before and I’m lost has to the reason why it has happened this time around. Normally the problem is the other way around in that the flick coat and backing plaster adhere together with a strength that makes them difficult to separate when chipping the mold.  

Fortunately the clay was not damaged and I have now re-cast the caps in smaller sections (three for the leg and one for each thigh). As my father was fond of saying, “These things are sent to try us”. 

The picture shows the mold in the process of being separated.

Friday, March 10, 2017

By way of a change

An actress was once asked, which do you prefer: working in film or on stage. Her answer: whichever I’m not appearing in at the time.

I feel the same about working as a painter and sculptor. When I’m painting, I long to be modelling clay; when I’m modelling clay, I long to be painting.

Weeks have passed since I last captured my model by means of a suggestive watercolour wash thrown down in seconds on a 16" x 20" sheet of paper. Today’s painting of Annabelle recalls one of those longed for moments from a couple of months ago.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

In the pink

If Michelangelo’s or Rodin’s highly skilled teams of mouleurs had returned from their heavenly abode and visited my studio today they could have given me a break and carried on with the waste mold for my reclining figure. At the same time they might have suggested that I hang around so as to learn a few things.

Rodin’s mouleurs had devised new methods of making plaster casts. They were able to cast enormous sculptures that were amazingly light and strong. For example, one man alone could lift a life-size cast of Rodin’s Thinker. Alas, those remarkable artisans took their skills and secrets to the grave and I find myself continually having to learn afresh and re-invent the wheel.

One thing that has never changed in five-hundred years is the method of applying the first thin layer of plaster over the clay form. The plaster has to find its way into every crevice but at the same time any contact by hand would mark the surface of the clay. The only way is to dip ones fingers into a bowl of plaster the consistency of thin cream and flick it on to the sculpture. My inventive engineering background has sought alternative methods but this is the only one that works. It’s a messy job with plaster flying in all directions.

This first layer of plaster is coloured so as to serve as a warning when chipping the waste mold  from the plaster cast within. Without the pink tint, there would be no way of differentiating the white plaster of the mold from the white plaster of the cast.

Saturday, March 4, 2017


The materials and techniques associated with making a waste mold have not changed to any extent since the time of Michelangelo. Whereas I divide the mold with brass shims, in earlier times sculptors used clay walls – some still do.

The mold for a portrait bust can be made with just one division between front and back. However, the mold for the full figure is more complicated. If possible, one half of the mold runs the full length of the figure and is called the mother mold. The other half comprises of a number of caps. By releasing the caps one by one the mold can be more easily separated.

The picture below shows all the shims in place. The entire back of the figure, as it rests against the base board, forms the mother mold. Four caps then make up the front of the figure. Cap number two extends across the both thighs.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A well-deserved halo

Today I made a start on dividing the clay in readiness for taking the plaster “waste mold”. The halo that circles Annabelle’s head is the brass shim that I use for separating one section of the mold from the next. The halo is a well-deserved for Annabelle has faithfully given body and soul to the work in progress. If the painter Degas or the sculpture Rodin were alive today they would surely steal her from me! As with Enzo Plazzotta’s Jamaican Girl, she leaves Grecian Goddesses in the shade.

On the technical side, deciding how to position divisions has given me sleepless nights. A mistake means that the mold cannot be separated. Every division has to be carefully considered, both in terms of the line it follows and the angle required for release. Then, section after section of shim has to be cut and carefully inserted into the clay with the precision of a brain surgeon.

The term “waste mold” is apt, for in releasing the mold the clay is spoiled. If the mold is flawed, months of labour are lost: a daunting prospect!