Friday 9 December 2011

Of topic ranting!

I've popped a note about my current display of stuff at The Castle in the Exhibitions section which turned into something of a diatribe about the council attitude to arts and culture in Swindon... go have a nose!

In the meantime, I've been contacted by Swindon 105 Radio about the possibility of doing an interview based on my art... watch this space for details...

Saturday 19 November 2011

EDIT - more info and stuff

I promised some new photos in my last posting - here we go:

Here's a new shot of the still unnamed piece installed at the Solsberry Outdoor Museum in Indiana. A big thanks to Allison and Gerry for getting her so beautifully installed.

... And heres a shot of the completed plaque made for Mr Chris Chilvers:

Friday 11 November 2011

A Long Update

Well - its been a while once again!

Last month I spent a very enjoyable time playing with the folks down at The Bullpen in Stanford in The Vale. It was my first foray into ceramic shell casting - which was interesting (I can claim to have been there and done that now!) - but I was somewhat unimpressed by the results. There's no doubt you get a fine surface finish - but it seemed to me that it was poor compensation for the huge increase cost in materials - and the sheer horror of having to chip your piece from the resulting concrete like white mould. If you want a fine surface finish, why not cast in sand and work a fine finish? It seems like the quicker and easier (not to mention cheaper!) option to me. Of the three pieces I cast in ceramic shell, one has broekn trying to remove the shell, one did not fully cast and the third DID come out extremely well. However, this was a small and relatively simple form with flat plains which meant breaking off the shell was relatively easy. Horses for courses I guess - I have much yet to learn!

Other news is that Gerry over at the Solsberry Open Air Sculpture Museum has installed the piece I cast over there in the summer. Bathed in the dappled light of an Indiana forrest in the fall, its looking very nice (and situated in a location which brings a smile to my face!). Gerry has sent me a rough photo or two which I'll post here later - and I'm hoping that Allison will be able to take some more photos for me so I can include them in a brochure I'm planning for the new year.

Other news and musings...

The Bullpen pour was jolly good fun (cursing ceramic shell aside!) Particular highlights included a visit to the excellent Pitt Rivers museum, where we were entertained to a video on primitive casting, and lots of chats, flights of casting fancy and theorising with the other artists and artisans. Two things to come from these conversations may well find their way of the B&W Casting project list. One is a concept for a centrifuge for detailed castings - the other is to more fully explore the possibility of using thermite for casting in iron. More on this soon!

Something which I'll add to the exhibition list soon is that a bunch of my stuff is currently on display up at The Castle on Prospect Hill. Given the parlous state of arts and culture in this town, post political meddling and cuts, its good to see that local businesses are stepping up to the plate. The hosts get free decor and artists get a place to display their work. Pub regulars get a change of scene and some art which hopefully stimulates a bit of conversation - and small minded or unsophisticated binge drinkers prefer to move along to a theme bar with wipe-clean posters. Everyone's a winner!

Other things on the 'to do' list are to make sure I cast up a load of some ornate aluminium 'salamander' door handles for Kiss The Frog Again (who are interested in stocking them - and who have, incidentally, been in receipt of some high level architectural and design praise and for their signage, the very letters for which were cast by your's truly cast!)... and once thats out the way, I also need to take things forward with a possible commission to cast a pigs head for a local pub (and if you're local to Swindon, I'll let you work that one out for yourselves!)

Oh, a big thanks to 'Mr C' (He'll know who he is if he reads this) for his patronage regarding 'Autumn 3 and 3'. That people are prepared to support artists is what makes this endeavour possible - especially when funds are limited!

I'll come back to this post soon to add you some links and photos.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Back out in the States - a very busy month!

An empty blog for over six weeks - not good! Well, I do have an excuse (or a long list of them). One goes by the name of Allison (more on this in due course)- another is Swindon Open Studios - and the other is my latest trip out to the USA. Yes, thats right - I'm back, after only a few weeks gap.

I've just discovered that I've been given the fantastic opportunity to participate in this Year's 'Paradise Pour' - otherwise known as The Columbus/Indiana Cast Iron Invitational 2011. Its not every day you get an invite to something as cool as this. I've got to get cracking as it kicks off in a just over a week.

And if all of that wasn't enough, I've got The Bullpen pour to look forwards to (better dust of my leathers!)

I'll let you know more about all of these adventures in due course...!

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Reaching the end of my time here :-(

Yep, the end of the month is fast approaching. I can't believe how fast its gone. In five days time I will be flying back to the UK with a head-full of really happy memories. Hopefully (provided I don;t sit here for too long gossiping with you!) I'll also have finished a piece which I will have the pride to see installed here at Sculpture Trails. When I fly, I'll be thinking about all the new friends I've made and how a sculpting extraviganza like this bridges so many gaps in our modern world. Does that sound a bit over-blown? Maybe the furnace fumes and the heat has finally got to me - but think about it: Art as practiced in the western world is about the most overt study in elitism that there is. Think artist, think creative person desperately trying to to work a medium and earn respect (if not money, alas) whilst itching the compulsion. That can lead to introversion and can make artists into slightly lonely people: non creative people often misunderstand the work - and their own peers often denigrate their work as its all part of the critical competition... What do you end up with? Ahem - (a pretty typical example, at least in terms of what I see in the UK...)

Well, an event like the work study programme at Sculpture Trails breaks those barriers. A process as complex as mold making and casting means that no-one can particpate without being absolutely ingrained at every stage - and those few who do sit back and let other do the donkey work miss out on the real value as to what this sort of endeavour is about. It becomes a leveller - you work and exchange ideas with people you might not have given the time of day. It forms bonds of trust and friendship. It makes you re-assess what the value of an individual is and appreciate that we're all different and approach things in different ways - but by being open minded to the other possibilities extends your knowledge. It really is a beautiful thing - no different perhaps to any other group of people who bond through an extreme challenge.

Anyway, I have a final mold to sprue and ram in sand, so I'd better get going.

Speak soon!


Thursday 21 July 2011

breakin' iron

As I type, our artists are busy finishing molds, breaking iron, patching the furnace and doing the 101 things necessary to make an iron pour possible. And thats one of the things which makes an endeavor like this so much fun and so different from other forms of art. You can't melt and pour iron alone. It takes a team of people each with their own individual skills to come together to make it happen. It also takes trust and dedication - after all, this is molten metal we're dealing with: you HAVE to be able to trust your fellows with your life and limb.

We're gearing for a night pour - most of the action should be taking place from about 9.00pm in the evening cool. A few more of my pieces are ready - so I should (fingers crossed) be in a position to let you know how they poured tomorrow.

Other news? Well, I appear to have lost ten pounds over the last fortnight - though I'm unsure at the mo whether that was in sweat or the displacement of blood which ever bug that flies or creeps upon the earth has seen fit to drain from my body. My bites have actually started to overlap! And they said English food was bland eh? The local critters seem to be thriving on it!!!

On the subject of food, I cooked for all last night - cottage pie, which I think went down really well, although it was weird eating English winter comfort food in the sultry warmth of an Indiana summers evening.

OK - I'm off to add thgis to the Sculpture Trails Facebook account. If you're following all of this, please take the time to ask your friends to 'like' the sculpture trails FB pasge. It would be great to hit the 400 mark before the end of the month!


Saturday 16 July 2011

Another day, another pour

Hello all,

I have mentioned that its hot here, haven't I ? ;-) Well, those of you who may have spotted a theme from previous posts will be unsurprised to find out that, once again, the hammer of the mid states summer sun is beating down on the anvil of Sculpture trails. All the fans are running in the workshop (though it is much cooler up in the woodland amongst the sculptures - so don't let the heat put you off visiting folks!)

As I type, I can here the sound of those more accustomed to the heat, pounding iron into fist sized chunks for the 'charges' which, along with batches of coke, provide the fuel and iron which feeds the furnace, our metal matriarch, 'Lady D'. She has a prodigious appetite, and turns these charges into boiling iron at an incredible rate, once she's up to speed.

Last night I had the pleasure of working alongside our very own foundry Methuselah, Nathan Goodeson. Nathan 'wrangles' the furnace, tweaking it, adjusting it and ensuring that all runs as it should. His most exciting - and to my eyes, terrifying - duty is to tap and 'bot' (no giggles at the back please!) the main pour spout. That means breaking through a plug of clay bused to bung the pour spout to release the iron - as well as re-plugging it after the tap to allow the sump inside the furnace to refill. Sounds pretty spectacular, hey? Well, he does this not using some piece of machinery, but by hand. As you can imagine, this requires complete concentration, dedication and a dose of bravery. Nathan is also a thoroughly decent fellow. I'm hoping to tell you more about the process he's developed called 'eclectromelt' in some subsequent postings. Anyway, it was fascinating working with him and to see the operation of the furnace right alongside. Normally when you work as crew for the pour, your concentration is totally absorbed by the ladles and the molds, so it was a great way to be able to see another side to the process.

Right, I'm going to crack on, as amongst my chore list, I've giot to get some links and photos posted up on the Trails Facebook!!

All the best,


Monday 11 July 2011

Hotter still!

Today there was a heat advisory - which means we're doing odd jobs and then hiding back in the shade. I know this blog is starting to look and sounds like a running commentary on the weather - but at least I'm not longer alone on this aspect - we have two new slightly wilted brits on site, the lovely Caro and Phillip.

Duties today include wax oiling a sculpture, whacking weeds (Gerry's stripped to the waist and running the 'hogger' over the main field - lets hope he doesn't burn the top of his head. Wear a hat Gerry!)

Moulds and forms are progressing well - hopefully I'll have some time to post some images later. Works range from Alisons 'interesting' Squid, Devin's form in styro foam and my 'prongs'. I believe Caro has brought some wax patterns with her - these are currently located in front of the air-con in the 'wellness' cabin. Wax things are in serious danger of melting into puddles in weather like this.

Last night saw us take a late night walk and tour into the woods to see the weird phenomenon of 'fox fire' - a brightly glowing fungus which we inadvertently spread around the clearing we had made. It was very unearthly to stand amongst the trees and see this green carpet of flourescent chippings glowing like the feint coals of a camp fire.

I'm off in a minute to go wax-oil a sculpture of Gerry's which has been partly dismantled for renovation. Yes - wax oil (or should that be oyl?) This fine British product has been established as by far the best alternative to paint for the colouring and preservation of the metalwork. (Quick pause for a moment of national pride). That said, after a trip down to WallMart last night for some essentials, its best to concede that our American cousins beat us into a cocked hat when it comes to innovation and King Capitalism. Swept along by a holiday mood, I spent $90 on such essentials as a Millar Lite hat with integral beer bottle opener (for those hot sultry nights) - and an industrial pile of pants and socks (getting through at least two pairs a day due to the heat) - Cheetos cheesy crisps, the unbiquitous Gatorade (who ought to be sponsoring this year's Sculture Trails programme, given the amount we have consumed) and a pound of chewing gum.

Right - signing off for now. I'll be back when its cooler to correct the typos and spelling mistakes and to add a few photos.


Sunday 10 July 2011


We're here discussing the joys of blogging!

Friday 8 July 2011


Another scorching day - filled with mud moving, stone wall building (retaining walls behind new pieces on site), putting down concrete pads and burning fallen wood.

I had hoped to post you a load of images of what I'd been up to, but sadly, the linux photo editor seems a bit crap! A few will have to suffice:

... restoring sculptures... 

... setting up new bases for forthcoming sculptures...

 ...the crew contemplating the next move...

Wednesday 6 July 2011

6th July - 1st pour

Instead of my usual loquatious ramblings, my blog is going to have to be a little on the short side as there never seems to be enough time in the day to put aside to write as much as I'd like.

First off, as the title suggests, today was the first firing of the 2011 Trails study programme. A little over 800lbs of iron hit the moulds in scorching Indiana heat. From fire-up to pour took a little under two hours. I currently feel like a boil-in-the-bag piece of cheap meat, having acted as skimmer and dead-end on three of the four pours. That wasn't exactly the plan during the pre-brief, but necessity was the mother of improvisation - as the furnace they use here melts the metal so quickly, a few of the crew were caught out. Pouring iron always scares me to be honest - and its always a relief when everything is over and done and you can look back and reflect (and quaff a well deserved cold beer). The others are off cooling in the Masse family pool, making sweaty foundry crew soup whilst I type this!

An artist called Mary was the creator of todays moulds - as soon as I have pictures to show you of the pieces she cast, I'll add them here.

Right - time for me to cool off to as I ought to get cracking with my own pieces, though to be honest, I might snatch a sneaky forty winks first!

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Hello at last

I promised try keep a blog of my American adventures. Well the first 72 hours have seen me too jet-lagged, heat-stroked and sweaty hard crafting in 90oF (what is that in centigrade?!) heat. Internet coverage is possible here - but not in the tiny tent which I'm *trying* to sleep in (beers helps with that). I am grubby, sticky and after only three days in, almost out of clean clothes. The death on the onsite washing machine today in a flash of blue sparks has been a source of major horror!

If you want an idea of the countryside in which the Sculpture Trails park is located, have a looks at the links and the website posted previously: We're right out in the countryside - a fairly hilly landscape dominated by maple trees, little creeks and winding roads. The sculpture park is very reminiscent of the Coalbrookdale set-up (if you're non-cognoscenti, go Google!) - but on a far bigger scale - 50 acres of woodland. The sculptures themselves are spread across the site, focusing in glades and cuttings into the trees and hillside.

Gerry's folks have made us very very welcome - and each LONG (12 hour plus) working day has been rounded off with beers and fine food. On the subject of sustenance, I don't think I have ever drunk so much water in an attempt to stay cool and hydrated. Yesterday I had but a single wee, which was the colour of fluorescene. In fact, come the afternoon yesterday, I was spark out knackered and had to 'take an early bath' after being sick: this involved a three hour kip in the 'wellness cabin' - which has a bed, a bathroom and most important of all: AIRCONDITIONING.

The other artists are divided into participants (who have paid) and work/study students (like me) who are trading graft for the chance to cast later on. Quite when and where this is going to happen has yet to be discussed - though the delay will be welcome, as the frikken baggage handlers have managed, in finest slacker tradition, top ensure that the contents of my bags were shaken, stirred and utterly smashed to pieces - included the pattern for the Vulcan which I was hoping to cast. How on earth people are supposed to travel to the states for more than a weekend with a single piece of small handluggage and one piece containing bomb/earthquake/baggage handler proof contents in the hold utterly escapes me.

I shall tell you more anon (maybe even tonight if I don't polish off to many re-hydrating beers) - as my laptop battery is low and I need to go wrestle with the travel adapter!


Tuesday 5 April 2011 looks at 2010 Cast Iron Sculpture Workshops - Get re...

Here's a nice video from Gerry showing last year's Sculpture Trails pour - with an indication of whats to come...

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Up to The Stone Show

Spent an interesting day up at the Stone Show in London. Thanks to several kind businesses and stand holders, I now have a stack of samples to look through. There is some really gorgeous stone available out there, with such variation in texture, colour and strength. Fascinating stuff. I'm also here to have a look at the updates John's made to the site (hat tip to Mr H!). We've now got a media section for the coverage we've been getting. Fame and fortune awaits...

Sunday 13 March 2011

An interesting day at The Affordable Art Fair

I spent a very interesting day yesterday up in t'smoke visiting the Affordable Art Fair up in Battersea Park.

VERY interesting indeed. By 'affordable' the displaying artists and galleries meant that prices were £4k and below - so I guess people's interpretation of 'affordable' might have to be quite flexible (and it also begs the question as to what isn't affordable when you're the sort of type who browses these type of events looking for a new piece to display in sitting room #3). Anyway, it was very inspiring. First off, I felt far from over en-awed. It was good to see lots of cast work on display, though predictably, this was mainly bronzes. It was also interesting to see that there's very definitely a hackneyed style when it comes to form. Most were small figurines - most often depicting humans in various balletic poses - all very obviously having been taken from wax original patterns. Following close behind those were lots of animals - and yes, you've guessed it, the inevitable bronze-bloody-hares! All the bronze pieces had been patinated - most in a standard 'aged' dark brown - with a few of the remainder finished in bright blues with re-burnished elements. None of the bronzes showed much in the way of imagination as far as I could see. I guess the classical 'spindly' human/animal forms are what sell - but it was encouraging to see that all were well within the scale to which I cast, the sort of sizes within the capacity of my crucible and which would sit comfortably on a coffee table or sideboard.

The revelation of the visit though was the work of Marcus Egli. Not only is he working in aluminium and stone (like me) - but I really feel an affinity with his work.

Reading through his CV, he's also self taught, proving that the lack of a degree (with its increasingly diminished value) is no barrier to practising as a professional artist. I'd really like to meet him sometime or correspond. Watch this space - if I get a chance to chat (and he agrees) I'd love to post up an interview. Its not often I venture up into the smoke, but I shall make every effort to go and see his forthcoming exhibition up at the Woolff Gallery.

On to other news - I've bought my ticket for the Sculpture Trails jaunt this July - and have received a flattering note back from Gerry Masse, promising, fun, fire, molten metal and much fun. Subsequent postings from me better include some details of what I'm going to be doing I guess. Until next time!

Saturday 19 February 2011

Exhibition over...

Wow - that was a surprisingly busy few weeks!

 A big thanks to all of you who came along - and especially to those who bought things and for the many kind words of support and interest. Big thanks to Gordon, Matthew and Stany for the extra fantastic images which now adorn the Exhibition and Finished Works sections on the home page.

Now I've got to crack on with stuff to do over in the states, the wee exhibition down the hive for March and the exhibition Gina and I are planning for the Walcott Street Chapel in Bath. (Gulp!)

Sunday 13 February 2011

Loads to tell...

Well, another unforgivable gap in the B&W blog - but I come loaded with excuses, as it's been a somewhat busy period. I shall try and keep the whole thing pared down, as there's much to tell!

1. The exhibition of my stuff down at Artsite has gone really well. Five pieces (small ones) sold - and the promise of a few commissions which is exciting. I'll do more of a breakdown of that later.
2. Lots of press and media - coverage in both local newspapers/mags, and interview with local radio and coverage on the regional bbc online section. This is all really good stuff for establishing a credible artists CV. It's a shame but  also the reality that there are plenty of people who don't simply buy things 'sold as seen'. The back story of the artists and the snob value of an established past counts for as much (if not more) than the simple aspect of whether or not they like the piece. Well, not having studied art at degree level, it makes having a name and recognised reputation all the more important: (go have a looksee - )

Sitting in the gallery has been an interesting experience. Including the private view, I reckon I should have had around 500 people through the doors by the end of the fortnight. Given Artsite's slightly hidden location and maybe less than welcoming exterior, I don't think that's too bad. Certainly I've had plenty of positive feedback from visitors - not to mention a few swapped tips from casting enthusiasts and old pattern makers. Swindon had a large number of foundrymen working in the GWR railway works, so that side of things shouldn't have come as a surprise! Lovely and interested people make enduring the cold sat on reception rewarding. The trouble is with Swindon that interesting/art interested people are a little thin on the ground 10.00am to 4.00pm during the week. I'm going to try and encourage the mangement team there to open in the evenings and weekends instead. That'll make invigivilating easier to organise, as well as hopefully picking up potential visitors who are looking for something to do of an evening (catching the people going to and from the Wyvern too.)

Andy and Bill at Artsite have been brilliant keeping me company and helping man the desk on my college days - and it's also given us an opportunity to talk through some ideas to help PR Artsite a little more. Watch this space!

The exhibition finishes this coming Friday - next things to consider are ideas for my forthcoming trip to the States (erecting a large sculpture over at Gerry Masses Sculpture Trails in July), putting up another exhibition at the Beehive for March (thinking of casting up a load of simple ally scratchblocks for that one) - PLUS staring work on a load of insect inspired pieces for a week's exhibition in the Walcott Chappel in Bath with Gina Dunsford. It promises to be a VERY busy summer...

OK - I'm going to go off now to start posting up a whole load of images to the Finished Works and Exhibitions sections.

Bye for now - Tobes

Monday 10 January 2011


So, the time has come for us Black & White Casting folks (erm... Toby and I) to push the envelope in our search for more detail in our casting work.  So far, we've been the proverbial* sand-men, packing our formative objects de wax within a silica tomb before applying a generous dollop of hot metal.  However, it can be advantageous in some instances, particularly with work where a high degree of surface texture is required, to use an alternative method - namely ceramic shell casting.

In theory, this is an easy process, you simply make up your wax pattern (in my case a model of a hand), coat it in several layers of slurry, letting each layer dry before applying the next, fire the whole thing (to burn out the wax and to harden the ceramic shell), then tip in your molten metal.

The trick is getting the slurry mix right.

You can buy slurry mix off the shelf (albeit a shelf in a specialist casting shop), but it costs a fortune and we Black & White Casting types "prefer" (ahem) to bit somewhat thrifty when it comes to materials.

Thankfully, Toby had come across a "secret formula" on one of his more recent casting courses, so we used this as our basis for testing.

My first test begain with the creation of a small wax keyring type object.  I then mixed up the soon-to-be-not-very-secret secret formula, which consisted of equal parts of plaster, sand and vermiculite (the latter being old-fashioned loft insulation).  It was a right pain to grind down the lumpy vermiculite into powder, but I sort of managed it and pressed on regardless, adding water to the mix to make the aforementioned (and very aptly named) slurry.

The slurry was the dribbled (for want of a more arty expression) over the wax keyring and put aside to dry.  Once dry (ish) I added a further coat and repeated this process a third time before deciding enough was enough.

I promptly took a couple of months off over Christmas, eat and drank a lot and avoided all things arty (I'm lazy like that).

Having had a long time to dry (in my kitchen) the slurried-keyring had gone rock hard (if a little powdery), so with the dawning of the New Year and a trip over to darkest Wiltshire, the time was nigh to melt out the wax, fire the ceramic shell and get that metal poured.

In short... success.  The ceramic shell survived half an hour with of heat blasting in our bespoke melt out oven/ceramic firing kiln (aka a heat gun and Twinings Tea tin) and didn't even collapse/explode when we poured the molten ali in!  Additionally, the surface of the final keyring was pretty good considering I wasn't THAT careful in it's construction and I hadn't paid too much attention to having a pour cup (to allow a head of metal to press down into the mould) or sprues or anything any sensible caster would have done.

The next step was to refine the process somewhat.  With that in mind I made a better test item (molten wax poured into a metal tin to produce a uniform and smooth shape), modifed with letters stamped into it (for extra detail).  I also purchased high quality vermiculite grinding apparatus (a £12 blender from the Argos sale) and chopped that lumpy crap into proper powder.  Mixing it with sand, plaster and water produced a much  smoother slurry, which acted a lot like that special stuff that flows like a liquid, but is hard when you punch it (look it up on t'Internet if you don't know what I mean).

My final act before close of play was to slurry-ify (technical term) the new wax pattern mentioned above.  With luck, when we return to "the Shack" I will be greeted with a strong, solid ceramic shell which I can continue to build up and (eventually) pour molten metal into!

See you next time.

* To be fair I don't actually know of any sand-men related proverbs, so you'll just have to bear with me I'm afraid.