I am an artist-craftsman living, working in and inspired by the Tamar Valley. In the woods on the Cornish side of the River Tamar, close to Cotehele House (National Trust) I live a simple life in a mobile home with no mains connections beyond my telephone line. A small solar system provides me with a limited electric supply.
The wood I use is locally sourced, coming mainly from local tree-surgeons, and is worked almost exclusively with hand-tools. My studio has no mains power, only a small solar panel which powers my radio. I dislike powers tools; their noise and vibration, and have to run a generator to use them, so their use is limited to larger pieces. My work is finished with natural oils and waxes, and I believe my sculpture to be among the most sustainable art work available today.
For me sculpture should be touched as well as seen, to this end all my work is finished to a very high standard; flowing curves and a satin smooth finish that invites the touch; in fact to truly be appreciated my work it needs to be touched, caressed even. My sculpture is an expression of my love and respect the forest, and I hope that it gives you as much pleasure as its creation gives me.
My jewellery is a small-scale extension of my sculptural work which I think of as wearable sculpture, every bit as much care and attention goes into these pieces as into my larger work.
Coming about as it did because of an injury caused by too much carving, I find my drawing a sometimes welcome change, gentler and less physically demanding, providing a balance in my work which allows ideas to flow more freely.
The Carving Process
Trees are the most amazing sculptures in their own right; the way they twist and turn to reach the light, the way they repair themselves after damage, and it is in those places, that demonstrate the tree’s battle for survival, that I like to work. Within them are the most interesting shapes, but also the hardest, convoluted grain patterns.
The carving process begins with a seed germinating in the Forest soil, and many generations pass before the tree dies, is blown over or is felled. So my part in this process is small in comparison.
When a new piece of wood is gifted to me I spend time with it, just looking and being with it, connecting with the wood and the tree it has come from. As I look an image appears in my mind of what the finished piece will look like and it is then time to pick up my tools. A mallet I have turned on a pole-lathe from a piece of Apple wood and a large gouge allow me to quickly remove wood. Big chips fly as I begin to draw out the form I have seen within. This is an intense and energetic period, requiring physical strength to swing the mallet and guide the gouge. As the rough form is defined and I am happy with the direction the work is going, it is time to change to smaller tools so that I can begin to refine it further. The tools I use at this stage vary from medium sized gouges and drawknives to old wooden spokeshaves (a delight to use once properly sharpened).
I will frequently stop and just look, turning the piece so that I can view it from all angles. There is no front or back to my sculptures, a three dimensional piece should be seen from all directions. As I look I will see areas that need deepening, but I do not rush to remove wood, because carving is a subtractive art-form, material must be removed to reveal what is inside (whereas a painter applies layers of paint to build up a picture), and once wood is removed I cannot put it back!
As the carving progresses and I near the final form I use smaller and smaller tools, removing less and less wood. It is at this point that I stop using my eyes and begin to use my hands to see the piece. I feel the curves and the transition between them as I want the whole piece to flow smoothly. It is now that I use cabinet scrapers (thin pieces of flat, hard steel, ground to a variety of curves with a sharp, hooked edge applied) to take off tiny shavings. It is a labour of love, spending as much time as it takes, removing tiny amounts of wood to achieve the form I have seen. Once I am happy with the shape I begin to sand, starting with 120-grit paper and working over the whole surface to reveal any blemishes and remove them. I continue with finer and finer grades; 150, 180, 240 down to 320 and 400-grit to achieve the almost impossibly smooth finish that my work is noted for. This really is a meditative process, going over the whole surface time and time again, and by the time the sanding is done I know the piece intimately.
Applying the first coat of the wax-oil that I use is a delight bringing out the colour and grain patterns as it does. This is the first glimpse of how the finished sculpture will look. Successive layers build a sheen, feeding and protecting the wood. A final buff with a soft cloth and signing it completes my part in the process. After I have done my work the piece continues to evolve; the colour matures and cracks may appear over time, but this is a part of the piece since wood is a living material, reacting to changes in temperature and humidity.
I want people to see my work with their hands as well as their eyes; I want them to fully experience the piece as I have in the making. My work is my worship and my meditation and each piece is an honouring of the trees for the air we breathe and the wood I work, for the wood that keeps me warm in winter, the chair I sit upon and the myriad ways in which they sacrifice themselves for us.