Ornithologists use the word ‘jizz’ to describe a species’ individual impression in shape, posture and typical behaviour. I often exploit this and observing birds is the key to unlocking their spirit in sculpture.
The field study of birds, although enjoyable, informative and inspiring, has limited practical use in the studio. I feel that the essential, intimate study of bird anatomy is best served using dead specimens.
These arrive from various sources. The majority of fatalities in the smaller species are caused by cars, cats and glass conservatories, whilst power lines and other man made hazards cause the deaths of many larger birds.
Nature herself provides surprisingly few models; these are either eaten or recycle naturally without trace. Many people appear mildly shocked or amused by my use of corpses.
Nonetheless, the most diligent or obsessive observation from a distance, even with the aid of binoculars or a telescope, cannot inform of the literal dimensions of any part of a birds’ body in the way that measurement by callipers will.
Ironically, although careful measurements are keenly studied and digested, I ultimately see
no merit in slavishly replicating natures’ dimensions. I re-invent, often subtly, sometimes
This closely observed physiology is translated into forms which more suit my purpose as an artist. My aim is to transmute this information into a personal sculpture of the bird, not a scientific model.
These intuitive decisions to change or adapt by referring to the bird literally in the hand eliminates any guess work and determines that every move can be considered, decided upon and executed with enlightened confidence.
I do not attempt to manoeuvre dead birds into a pose; this element in my work is derived from previous experiences absorbed in the wild tempered with imagination exercised in the studio. Frequently, an original idea goes through a series of visual metamorphoses. For this reason, over the years, I have progressively made fewer preliminary working drawings.
Referring to two dimensional images when commencing work in three makes drawings
somewhat redundant. I do however often make small, rough sketches as an aid to
resolving problems or exploring ideas.
I also make measured life drawings of obscure or unusual parts of birds as an equivalent to anatomical map references or blueprints.