Thanks so much for being one of my treasured blog followers.
Finally I have got around to setting up a new website with an integrated new blog. The motivation? My Sir Nigel Gresley statue is due to be unveiled on the new Western Concourse at King’s Cross station at 11am on the 5 April 2016 (everyone welcome!). And with lots of media coverage, it made sense to invest the time into updating my web presence.
So, I would love you to subscribe to my new blog. Between now and the unveiling I will be blogging the story and pictures of sculpting the 7ft 5in Gresley statue.
I would also love you to take a look around the rest of my new website – any feedback very welcome!
Thanks again, and hope to see you as a new subscriber to my blog. Just enter your email address in the box on the right-hand side of the blog page of my website.
The contract is signed. The commission is a reality. Now I have to sculpt the 7ft 5in sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley in clay. Gulp.
My permanent studio is far too small and is on the first floor. The ceiling needs to be high. There needs to be sufficient space so I can stand back and view the sculpture properly. It needs decent light. It has to be secure with 24-hour access. It can’t get too hot, or the clay will dry. It needs to be within a 45 minute drive from home. And of course, not too expensive. I don’t want much!
My intensive searching reveals little that meets my criteria. But I am convinced I will find something. And I was right. It takes 5 weeks but I find the perfect temporary studio, thanks to a tip-off from a sculptor colleague.
Initially I need to use my imagination – it is dark, cold, crowded with another sculptor’s carvings and equipment. But it comes with a gorgeous view. Over the next few weeks it is transformed into the studio of my dreams.
It is cleared of all movables, just leaving the old piano, the pinball machine, and a rather large compressor. The floor is made of bricks and is very uneven. So family and friends come on my birthday to help build a sturdy raised wooden platform. What a birthday present!
The next step is to install new daylight strip lights and additional electrical sockets. And for finishing touches? Flowers. No studio is complete without them. Just saying.
The bronze pour has been a success and the follow-up metalwork has been done by the foundry. I enjoy the drive up to Bronze Age, to check the metalwork before the patination (or colouring) begins. After a few tweaks in the metal, we take Sir Nigel to the patination space.
The combining of heat with chemicals is not an exact science. Colouring bronze is a real art. It is always a voyage of discovery. Luckily they have great patinators who really try to understand what you are trying to achieve. I know what I don’t want – I don’t want that traditional, rather dark, brown bronze finish. I want something more subtle.
He takes his time, layer upon layer until we have a rather lovely warm opaque brown with beautiful variations in colour. A final layer of clear wax and Sir Nigel is ready for the drive back down to Brighton to be mounted on a wooden base and delivered to the client.
Two members of the Gresley Society Trust – Andrew Dow and Nigel Dant – come to my studio to pick up the bronze maquette. By now they feel more like friends than clients. We have been on a long journey together. I unveil the bronze. Finally our combined vision has come to fruition. They are absolutely charmed with it. The maquette is whisked away to the Gresley Society Trust Council meeting where it is whole-heartedly endorsed.
But there is no time for Andrew and Nigel to stand on their laurels. Permissions need to be sought from Camden Council, English Heritage and Network Rail for the siting of the 7ft 4 inch bronze on the new Western Concourse at King’s Cross Station. To everyone’s delight, by October 2014, all the permissions have been gained. It is time for the fundraising to begin.
Postscript: In late March 2015 I was commissioned by the Gresley Society Trust to sculpt the larger-than-life figure of Sir Nigel Gresley, but without the Mallard duck at his side.
The clay maquette of Sir Nigel Gresley and the Mallard arrived safely in the Docklands at Bronze Age Sculpture Casting Foundry. Their team made the two moulds – one for the figure and one for the Mallard – and cast them in wax. Two weeks later I was presented with the wax version of the sculpture to check. There is always a need for me to do some minor tweaks at this stage. Additions are made in white wax. I use my wax tools to make other amendments. Time also to position the Mallard. One of the Bronze Age team are always nearby to provide advice or assistance – and a welcome cup of coffee.
Finally, here is the clay maquette. Members of the Sculpture Group of the Gresley Society Trust came to my studios in Billingshurst to sign-off on this clay before it went to the foundry. I was delighted with their delight! It is always rewarding to exceed people’s expectations. It was now full steam ahead.
With the decision made on which pose to sculpt, the go-ahead was given. I started to sculpt the ‘final’ maquette of Sir Nigel, 35cm in height, for casting in bronze. Back came my ever-patient model, and on went the tweed suit, for some more detailed modeling in clay instead of wax.
Rather than making yet another armature, I reused the armature from one of the wax maquettes. But I needed to think more about making the armature for the Mallard.
The original wax maquette was always at my side for reference, along with my large workbook of photos of Sir Nigel and the King’s Cross site.
I was under time pressure. So each night after a tiring sitting, I would drive the clay maquette home and station it in my kitchen so I could constantly review it while away from the studio – while cooking, resting, chatting to friends. It becomes an obsession. What is working? What isn’t working? What is my priority for the studio tomorrow? Time with a model is always precious.
I am used to working at life-size, so a 35cm model is rather a challenge, especially to get any sense of a likeness. My model was great for the figure of Sir Nigel, but the head had to be based on photographs of the man. I decided to sculpt a 20cm terracotta wax head of Sir Nigel, purely to help me sculpt the tiny head of the maquette.
The Mallard was sculpted separately – incredibly hard to sculpt on such a tiny scale, in clay.
Here are some of the photos of the clay maquette in progress. In the next blog I will show you the final clay maquette, ready for mould-making.
Yes, the decision was unanimous. Sir Nigel Gresley would be depicted quizzically surveying the new Western concourse at King’s Cross, with the Art Deco-esque lines of the new balcony and the incredible new ‘tree’ canopy. Sir Nigel was quite a showman, so this seemed the perfect stage-set for him, with his old office building – now a grade I listed building – as the perfect backdrop. With his back to the old, he would be looking out towards the new, towards today’s busy commuters traveling near and far on trains influenced by his feats of engineering.
Caught off guard in a moment of reflection, Sir Nigel appears relaxed and relatively informal, with his hand in his jacket pocket and a copy of his trade journal, The Locomotive, in his other hand. This is his terrain. This is where he works. A twinkle in his eye suggests his good sense of humour. He was an authoritative yet not an autocratic man. He demanded excellence and commanded loyalty.
But why the duck? This is no mere whimsy. This companion to Sir Nigel, alludes to his record-breaking Mallard locomotive but also his well-documented love of waterfowl. According to his Grandson Tim Godfrey, Sir Nigel “used to live at Salisbury Hall in Hertfordshire, which had a moat, and he started a collection of wildfowl – wild ducks and so on – that he was very keen on….some of his locomotives were named after them” (Shropshire Star, April 29, 2013).
In addition, the Mallard duck was to rouse the curiosity of those unfamiliar with the man, including the younger generation: getting them to come closer, to read the wall plaque and scan the QR [Quick Read] code, to find out more about this incredible engineer. So, the inclusion of the Mallard was to attract interest far beyond the ranks of committed railway enthusiasts.
The go-ahead was given and I started to sculpt this pose in clay, as the final maquette (35cm), for casting in bronze.
Some decisions around the sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley were easily made. What better spot for a sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley than the new Western Concourse at King’s Cross station? Sir Nigel Gresley was Chief Mechanical Engineer for London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) there between 1923 and 1941.
It was also clear that we all wanted a larger-than-life sculpture of this larger-than-life man. We knew that we wanted him to be depicted in his late fifties/early sixties. This was the height of his influence, around the time of the record-breaking run of The Mallard. We agreed that he should be wearing a three-piece work tweed suit, given that he will be at his place of work.
Further discussions with the Gresley Society Trust ensued. The questions still faced were many. Should he be sculpted holding tools of his trade, like a slide-rule or a chronometer ? Or should he be shown surveying the new concourse, with his old office building as a backdrop? How could we engage the public, including younger generations, that would not recognise his face or know of his achievements?
I was commissioned to sculpt three maquettes (or small models) to help make the final decision on the pose. Whereas painters tend to sketch out their ideas in two-dimensions, sculptors tend to sketch out their ideas in three-dimensions, in clay or wax. I use terracotta wax onto a metal armature so that I can move the pose if required.
Here are the three rough maquettes in terracotta wax – from left to right, Sir Nigel with slide-rule in hand, looking out across the concourse with a Mallard at his side, and with a chronometer in hand. The Sculpture Group members of the Gresley Society Trust came to my Billingshurst studio to see the maquettes and decide which was to be taken forward, in bronze. The decision was unanimous.
What was the artistic brief? Several highly enjoyable and creative meetings at King’s Cross Station with The Gresley Society Trust formed the basis of the brief. We were inspired by the location. Sir Nigel Gresley was Chief Mechanical Engineer for London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) between 1923 and 1941 and had his offices at King’s Cross station. A shared vision emerged. We wanted a larger-than-life sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley, with his old building as a backdrop, representing the past, with him looking out to the new concourse, and to the future.
There were still so many more questions to answer. At what age should he be depicted? What pose would be appropriate? What should he be wearing? It was time for me to get stuck into researching the man, his life and his engines. And time for closer scrutiny of the proposed location, camera at the ready. My collection of pictures grew – here are a few pages of my ‘working’ book, which I use throughout a commission. Further discussions ensued and I was commissioned to sculpt three maquettes (or small models) to help make the final decision on the pose.