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.
Today is the day. I have had my studio in Billingshurst since May this year, but my house is still cluttered with sculptures, moulds, materials, wax, tools, and drawings. Today I get serious. It’s about time I was able to have people round without worrying. Without worrying I’m going to accidentally poison them with a toxic polish that has slipped into the soup. Without worrying a sculpture will fall on them from a great height. Without worrying they are going to be freaked out by all the faces staring at them from around the kitchen and living room. Time to reclaim my home.
I am starting in the kitchen, where I worked up until May. Not a single surface is clear of sculptures or sculpting paraphernalia. Mind you, I’m already proud of the floor, which I can see at last. The plaster, buckets and moulds made it to the studio a week ago. Result. I have been putting this off for a while as have been so busy, but it’s a priority now. Not so much to re-gain my home, but to get my studio functioning. To get the industrial shelves and workbench there. And to get some shelves up for all the moulds and armatures.
So, to the kitchen. Just been counting. There are 21 portrait sculptures and 15 figure sculptures – wax and terracotta – in my kitchen. Many of the clay portraits are under black bin liners. The intention had been to hollow-them out to fire. Or to keep them moist until I made the decision whether to keep them or not. Of course the decision has been taken out of my hands. Once they are under a black bin liner they somehow become completely invisible. They are now too dry to hollow-out, some have started to crack. Should be easy to just chuck them out?
You would think so. But they are mainly portraits I have sculpted during demonstrations, such as at the Henley Festival and the Mall Galleries. For these demonstrations I rope in family to sit. They take it badly if I destroy portraits of them. So here start the negotiations. Big sis wants to keep hers. Dad is reluctant to see any of his portraits ‘go’ – but I have found five portraits of him in the kitchen alone. We agree that he keeps the three fired heads and I ‘lose’ the remainder. The problem isn’t just family. If I am honest, I also find it hard to chuck them out. Solution? Leave out in the rain and I can see them gradually disappear into the soil. Feels more compassionate.
Some of the portraits are the dried-out clay sculptures left over from the casting process – they have been cast in bronze, resin or plaster – and I haven’t quite got around to chucking them out. But I do rather like to watch them crack. And sometimes I love the dry clay more than the cast piece.
So – a few I will keep, some I will bin, and some I will leave outside and let the rain do its work.