The process starts with several hours of study of the subject involving where possible the live animal.
I start on a new series of sketches in as many different poses and from as many different angles as possible.
From the selected sketches I develop a small model, in effect a 3 dimensional sketch in the round.
Next I make a small version of the finished piece. This is a Maquette based on the sketches and the wire model. I like making these maquettes as they inevitably have a life and spontaneity of their own and I approach them as finished pieces in their own right.
All of these preparatory steps are a huge help in defining the outcome of the finished piece and also in ironing out any possible snags. This process although lengthy can be likened to an athlete warming up as by the time I am ready to start the finished sculpture I am totally immersed in the subject matter.
The Maquette is made by creating an armature from copper tube which is , essentially, the skeleton of the piece. This is then clad in copper sheet This is the skin and muscle which covers the skeleton.
It is at this stage that anatomical correctness may have to be compromised for a feeling of movement and fluidity. Limbs may have to be lengthened or shortened and body proportions altered in order to make the sculpture 'alive'. It is far harder to achieve an acceptable image from 360 degrees than it is in two dimensions.
When the actual shape has been arrived at and the sculptural forms are acceptable then colour and texture can be added. The copper has several finishes peculiar to itself, some is still polished and reflective, some is dull and battered while other parts have a natural verdigree colour caused by oxidation. As well as this, when you are accustomed to the oxy-acetylene torch, you can almost paint the metal with the flame, applying and taking it off as the metal catches the colour. Approaching and retreating with the heat creates other effects and when you catch it just right you can chase
the colour around the surface almost like a watercolour wash!
The next stage of the process is a full size drawing and from that the finished sculpture is built using the same process and techniques as in the Marquette. At this stage there are usually more modifications as very often the scale can affect proportions and what works on one scale does not always work on another.
Each new sculpture starts with a period of intensive study and research on the subject matter. I keep my sketchbooks and if it is something that I have worked on before then these can hold an invaluable bank of information I have previously assembled.
The best way of capturing the essence of any subject is at first hand, primary, study. In other words, watch and sketch from life. In the case of domestic and agricultural animals, this is relatively straightforward for me as I live in a rural area rich in horses, dogs and farm animals. Exotic and wild animals are, of course, more difficult, but Chester Zoo is convenient for me and is a valuable resource, containing a myriad of subjects in an accessible, natural environment. Knowsley Safari Park is another source for studying wild animals at relatively close quarters. As most of my sculptures are of animals in violent or dramatic movement then i have to use photographic reference. However, if the animals have not been sketched live, then the copied studies can be stiff or stilted. Even the slowest moving animal, though difficult to draw from life, will yield an invaluable sense of movement. Although these drawings may consist of only one or two lines and, at the time, appear insignificant, when referred to later they will be much more reminiscent of that particular animal on that particular day than any still photograph. I have a large collection of reference books and I refer to these for additional input, one which I use constantly is Eduard Muybridge's book of "Animals in Action". This is a set of photographs showing a variety of animals in a continuous series of still frames at each stage of a range of movements, walking, quarters etc. and although many years old are full of relevant and useful information.
These are the basics of a fresh working drawing for each subject. This decides the best pose for that particular piece. The next stage is a small model or maquette. This is a good way to iron out any problems raised when converting the two dimensional image to three instead of confronting them in the finished, larger piece. The maquette can be made from anything that is to hand, for that matter so can the working drawing, I have drawn on newspaper and letters, and modelled with kitchen sponges, anything rather than lose the momentum. Usually I work in wire or clay, copper wire is my favourite. This becomes in effect, a three dimensional drawing in the round and loose, fluid lines of the wire echo the pencil lines in the sketch book, whist building up to a miniature version of the final piece.
In the case of the limited editions the piece is done in wire and wax and sent off to the mould maker and then on to the foundry for casting in a suitable material, for example, bronze, pewter or resin. Casting has become increasingly more sophisticated and there is an amazing range of patinas available in bronze and a constantly increasing number of additives to the resins to give many, varying effects, from terracotta or rusted iron to any number of colours and textures. It is at this stage that the shape scale and material of the plinth should be decided upon, however, I am usually so carried away with the work that I forget all about it until the sculpture is finished.
The maquette is followed by a working drawing. This is done full scale to the final sculpture and usually as a flat side elevation with a basic front elevation aswell. This is used almost like a technical drawing to measure distances and compare proportions.
From this drawing a basic armature or skeleton is built, usually in copper tube or steel bar or, sometimes, a combination of both, It is constructed using a brazing technique with the oxy-acetylene torch and bronze brazing rods. The choice of materials is determined by the eventual sitting of the piece with regard to weather resistance, wind force and surface patination.
The armature is of vital importance, the whole effect of the finished sculpture is dependable on getting the armature right! Although the piece has to appear anatomically correct, when constructing in the round, what appears acceptable from one angle can look completely wrong from another. This results in a continuous progress of compromise where what you know is right is sacrificed for what looks best from every conceivable angle. This is a really complex set of equations as the piece has to be looked at, not only from every angle at eye level but also at every other level. Each side ways step or stoop of the body can alter angles and proportions dramatically. This is a critical stage and, although frustrating, must be persevered with until it is right.
Next, pieces of sheet metal are cut in arbitrary shapes which are sympathetic to the anatomy of the subject. These are cut in a variety of ways, with the hand shears, which gives a clean line, with the oxy-acetylene torch, which gives a roughened, melted edge or with the Plasma torch, which gives a heat shadow along the cut. The metal can be bent and folded using the heat from the torch or the planishing hammer, to curve and stretch the metal. These pieces are applied to the armature using the braising method. at this stage I can decide whether to use metal that is clean and shiny, crumpled and distressed or weathered and Verdi greed.
When the sculpture is built it is best left for a while to allow the building enthusiasm to fade and a more objective assessment made. It is very easy to get carried away with the successful bits and not see bits that need to be improved.
When I am satisfied that the shape is as good as I can get it then it is time to look at the surface finish. This can be altered dramatically with the application of the oxy-acetylene torch. As you gain more control of the torch the change in colour can be chased around the surface by approaching or retreating with the heat, almost like a watercolour wash. Applying the heat in varying degrees or at various angles can result in dappled or mottled effects. The overall aim is to create surface patinas in specific places and blend the work into a unified whole so that the sculpture has an entity and stands as a completed piece.
Finally, the sculpture is placed on it's plinth and is ready for viewing. I have found so far that it is impossible to achieve concept in my imagination.
After seeing in my minds eye the split second movement that I want to catch, I go through the excitement of the potential in the basic maquette and armature, satisfaction at the building and assembling stage to eventual resignation and acceptance that while it may be close to what I want, it is far short of the grace, speed or ferocity of the original concept. This, however, is what spurs me on to start again on the next sculpture.