My creative process

Inspiration

For all of my works I like to study the subject from life but, sometimes for commissions, I will work from photos - lots of photos! I am fortunate enough to live in a rural area on a smallholding, so I have much inspiration around me in the animals I raise and my young family. I love to sit and watch. Looking for interactions between people, or movements in animals. I get excited when I see a ‘personality’ in a subject and am constantly recording with using memory, photos and sketches.

Rachel with orphan duck

Sketching to sculpting

I often start my pieces out of the studio, on site, as the scale of my work allows me to work anywhere. I start with a wireframe sketch or armature, following the silhouette of the subject. These initial lines are often apparent in the finished piece.

I then take these wireframe sketches and clad them in materials such as clay, papier-mâché, fimo, mud - whatever I have to hand or consider appropriate. I have used the children’s play-doh at times!

wire armatures

Moulding

These become the masters, from which I then produce a mould to cast into bronze. I prefer to cast into bronze as it is such a long-standing material which can achieve such wonderful patinas. I do sometimes cast very large pieces in resin (but only if the budget will stretch), but still prefer to work in bronze as resin is horrid to work with - very smelly and toxic.

For the casting I have two methods of moulding; lost wax and sand casting.

Lost Wax

For some pieces (usually the larger ones) I use the lost wax process. This involves moulding the master, creating a wax, investing the wax and then burning out the wax. This leaves you with a void in the investment into which the bronze can be poured. It is a complicated and time-consuming technique, but creates perfect copies with very little shrinkage. It also enables you to create hollow pieces by creating an investment core which, for large pieces, keeps the weight down. This casting technique also allows very complicated designs and incredible detail, right down to thumb and finger prints being reproduced.

If you are interested in a more comprehensive explanation of this method take a look at www.bronzeage.com. They produce some of my castings and have fantastic photos to illustrate the moulding and casting process on their site.

Sandcasting

For the majority of pieces I use the sand casting method. This is the oldest method of bronze casting known and has been developing since humans existed. It is avery simple technique but requires a lot of skill to get it right. I wanted to learn this technique in order to be able to cast my own work, but also to ensure the continuation of a dying craft.

I cast at a tiny foundry close-by with a friend who has worked with bronze casting all his life. Most times I will assist him and have learnt so much from his teaching. It is really good fun but it is dirty, smelly and can be dangerous so you do need to be careful. However it is something that you can do in your own garden (if you're willing to sacrifice some space) with a shed and plenty of time spare.

Sand casting is by no means easy - the moulding process can take years to master. I can only mould simple forms myself so far, but I am developing my method nicely and hope to eventually have my own foundry on site, next to my studio, so I can cast everything myself.

Below you can see a series of photos showing the sand casting and bronze pouring process.

 

Colouring and Finishing

Once I have my casts I 'fetal' them back - remove runners and risers and clean off any moulding lines. Following this I will usually patina the pieces. Using a variety of chemicals and acids to create shades of black, brown, green, yellow and red. Having originally trained as a painter I find this part very stimulating and enjoy seeing the pieces come life with colour. There are thousands of different combinations of colour - it is a never-ending journey of discovery. I love experimenting with new recipes and creating new colour tones and combinations.

Once patinaed they are then waxed and polished and the piece is finished. The final polish makes such a difference, adding to the dept of colour and allowing the light to bounce off the surface and highlight the form.

Patina sample