This last year, I have been funded to develop my 3D construction skills, with the bronze sculpture acting as a focus in terms of design and moving into an unfamiliar discipline. But alongside this, a recent residency in Ireland allowed me to work with two artists to learn more about other materials and construction methods. In both cases, the materials used were recycled or repurposed.
Krystyna Pomeroy is a nationally known artist who is also a great friend and mentor. Krys is passionate about the environment and works in environmentally conscious way as much as possible in her choice of materials and processes. Amongst other things, she has an expertise in working with card and paper. She is well-known for her papier mache sculptures and uses this technique to create pieces in their own right as well as forms to cast in bronze.
We worked on the theme of boats for three days and in particular, how to scale up. I would very much like to develop my own larger work so the grant was to experience different ways of construction. Krys had mentored me through the design and creation of the sculpture for which I used various types of cardboard at her suggestion. So continuing to work with this material enabled progression.
To hand was a huge piece of corrugated card which became a boat I took to the sea to watch its demise – I couldn’t take it back to England so it felt a poetic end. Learning how all materials work and behave is key, and perhaps the most humble of all materials – paper and card – have their own unique properties, the secrets of which were uncovered a little more. I am better at understanding how to harness its strength, flexibility and how to cut with ease and join efficiently.
A tiny model was made on the back on a food packaging box after sketching. Using such materials offered a freedom to experiment and I have a renewed appreciation for humble materials and the respectful engagement with them modelled by my good friend.
Before we even started working at scale, I was asked ‘how to you want the boat to feel?’ I thought it wouldn’t matter just to practice, but of course it did, as it informed all the on-going decisions from that point in terms of intention and satisfaction with form. My somewhat perfunctory, utilitarian dinghy shape was changed to have a more graceful line and whether it needed to ‘work’ or not as a boat was discussed in terms of design principles. It was yet another example of being conscious of how I want to use line in form, and there will be more about that when the sculpture is ready to share.
Every dimension was then measured and noted, the size of the cardboard dictated how large the piece could be, and serendipitously we could scale up to ten times which made the maths a little easier!
Once the pieces were cut, masking tape held places together as they were shaped and roughly joined. More tape secured it once I was happy. Translating a rough model to scale meant that adjustments needed making, and the angle of the back of the boat needed reviewing in particular.
Recycled brown paper was pasted up to cover the masking tape.
We carried the boat to Carrigaholt Bay one afternoon and let the sea do its work…
Here is a short video of the boat-making from start to end.
The other sculpture was an ephemeral willow ship. This has since been left in the garden to see what happens! Out in the garden in the pouring rain, I found the longest branches I could. Long ones were stripped of leaves other than a few at the top, and smaller ones stripped completely. Their colours were beautiful, different on top where the sun had touched them to their undersides.
I was stripping the branches into a compost bin near the area where the birds come down to feed. Krys has a robin that feeds from the hand and pops in the kitchen to say hello!
In this case, a few half grapes had been left out and a female blackbird was giving me a royal telling off for being in her space. I stopped to let her come down and enjoy the juicy fruit.
I sketched for a few minutes and thought, ‘could I produce a ship from reeds that looked as if it was floating in them, something more fragile than traditional willow weaving?’
Once more, corrugated card and tape were used to help provide a base and pattern for the sculpture. I would have never thought of such an ingenious solution! As it developed, pipe cleaners held uprights in place temporarily and masking tape ‘guy ropes’ were needed to handle the weight.
I knew I didn’t want to weave the willow as I wanted uprights that were not forced otherwise from weaving, and I wanted something that wasn’t constructed tightly. Repeatedly knotting the sections became meditative, and these were left as overtly visual elements of the process. Where lack of movement had to be ensured, a way was found to pierce the willow so that wire could be pushed through the stem. The main horizontals were two stems twisted together to provide a stronger visual element against the uprights. Over a couple of days, the fresh leaves withered, but their silvery undersides added to the effect and the studio smelt delicious!
The point of this time together was to learn new skills; product was secondary although I was pleased with them. What I can’t describe here is all the chat and learning that results in dedicated time away at such residencies. I have some new skills and knowledge that will be tools in my maker’s box for the future as well as a lot of happy memories.
Again, here is a short video: