Starting a sculpture

Ask any young child to draw their mother and they will invariably make a stick-like image with two legs, two arms and a head with the features of eyes, mouth, nose and hair.

Children draw what they know to exist not what they physically see. Similarly the adult human brain seems to often pre-empt a train of thought, translating it into a shorthand.

The brain plays tricks and the eye can be equally deceptive. A horizontal plane may appear completely level when it is not and visa versa. A spirit level will tell the truth but the ‘eye’ may disagree and the message to the brain feels uncertain and confused.

These peculiar and elusive conundrums persist in making sculpture. Information obtained from callipers may well conflict with what is perceived simply as ‘looking right’.

On commencing a sculpture, every artist must surely exercise some optimistic self-belief which may verge on arrogance. This confidence, regardless of degree, also demands the counter balance of ongoing and vigorous self criticism. Conceit can be an enemy of creativity.

Sculptors tend to be categorised into two main schools, modellers and carvers. Many sculptors of my acquaintance are hybrids of the two, myself included. All sculptors have their own pet medium which they have invariably arrived at, after trial and error, as suiting their own personality, working methods and subject matter.

I now use plaster almost exclusively, but I am no purist and will use virtually any other material that suits the purpose. Bronze allows me the freedom to create forms which are modelled, carved and constructed, often ad-lib in parts, married together, disassembled and reconstructed in plaster, clay, wood, sheet metal, cardboard, bones, plastic, wire and any other useful scrap.

The end justifies the means and I strive to maintain flexibility in my approach. After mixing, wet plaster solidifies in minutes, demanding rapid progress. Once the plaster has ‘gone off’ (set) it can be carved back and the surface wetted and added to, ad infinitum. Any mistake is retrievable, any change possible.

Aluminium sheeting is useful for cutting and bending shapes for wings and tails. Armatures of various diameters of steel or aluminium rod are utilised when needed but I prefer to keep armatures to a minimum as often they become a nuisance when a change of mind about direction finds them in the way.

Most of my life size pieces are constructed in solid plaster. Large and monumental works have a foam or polystyrene core in order to create an initial bulk and keep weight down.