The last time I was in the studios at Coventry uni there were tins of paint everywhere as the clearing and painting was happening for the degree shows. There was plenty of energy buzzing around.
But it was definitely time to get on with the upholstery phase of my new sculptures so I brought home the huge roll of pink upholstery foam and continued working in my studio at home.
When you are working in your own studio it can be hard to keep up momentum. I do get lonely and do miss having other artists around to bounce ideas off but I do really enjoy the flexibility that working from home allows.
I had decided to give myself a deadline of 13th July to complete my first large sculpture. I spotted a show in a London based gallery that I really wanted to apply to and the entry deadline was 15th July so that got me focussed.
I checked with the gallery and they do welcome larger 3D pieces, but they did say that it would have to fit through a normal sized door.
Well, the oval frame was the only one that could fit through a doorway and even then once I upholstered it it I realised that it might be a bit of a squeeze but I decided to go ahead anyway. I liked the profiles of the competition selectors so got myself focussed.
First I wrapped all the steel spines in strips of blanketing fabric. Then I stitched on sheeting fabric to encase the frame.
I cut each section of pink foam, glued each to the sheeting and then carved each with an electric carving knife. I really like this part of the process. But it does take ages. I think it took me two days just to work through the foam stage.
I then added a layer of foam wadding. This just helps to smooth over any ridges that can still be felt in the foam.
Next was the stage that I had been dreading: the hand stitching on of the panels of wool tweed fabric.
I was dreading it only as I already knew how laborious it was going to be. And it was! I had used a similar technique when I was making a previous sculpture Madeleine and I have strong memories of this process. However there really isn’t an alternative. If I’d used spray adhesive I would run the risk of the glue eventually showing through the fabric. Nasty brown patches of latex glue seeping through the ‘outer skin’ of my sculptures is something that I’m not prepared to let happen.
Things moved along a bit faster after the pink tweed was completely stitched on. I had been looking forward to working with the white wet-look PVC fabric and it was just lots of fun. I think I was having flash backs to my own red wet-look boots when I was 10! Again quite a bit of hand stitching and I did do some in the middle of the night a couple of times. My date of 15th was looming close.
I had originally thought that I would be making the piece so that the metal milk cooling paddle and the ‘arms’ would be detachable but actually accessing and tightening the bolts after the padding was in place was really quite awkward so I decided to leave them permanently attached.
I’d been thinking about my shaggy spinachy green element for a while. Even though this green fringed braid sourced from a stall on the Rag Market in Birmingham it was pricey and then I did loads of distressing to get it to the shaggy state that I wanted.
Although the formal part of the AA2A placement has finished I will be back in the small metal workshop at Coventry University a few more times. Helen, the technician is in for 3 weeks in July and she has said that I am welcome to make use of the facilities then. I’m looking forward to it!
I have sourced three of the vintage scrap paddles from milk bulk cooling tanks. My Father was a farmer so I do have an interest in agricultural implements but actually they find their way in to my current sculptural pieces mostly because of their ambiguous forms. I am not making a statement about dairy farming, rather I think their incorporation is because as a little girl these were the things that surrounded me as I played. They were the props in my childhood world.
Although I like certain aged surfaces (aged galvanized metal and weathered copper will feature in these three large beings/ sculptures) I am not, generally speaking, a fan of distressed surfaces.
I have sourced fabrics for one of the new sculptures (the oval based one). Some sophisticated dusky pink tweed, creamy white wet-look PVC and a sort of shaggy spinachy green trim. I bought the wet-look fabric yesterday. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I think it’s luscious!
I try to be as intuitive as possible when making. I try not to analyse too much as I really want to work with materials because they feel like the right colours textures etc. I must admit that I do ask myself questions like, “Is that too 70’s?” or, “Would be too cheap, homely or downmarket?” But I actually don’t want to spend too much time making analytical decisions. I try to tune into a far off time (my childhood?) and to feel intuitively that the fabric that I am using is right.
So this is why sometimes I seem to work slowly. It’s because I feel deep down that it isn’t actually right and so I wait for the appropriate fabric/ material to reveal itself to me.
Even though I haven’t yet added the padding and fabrics to the first two frames I decided to get on and make full use of my AA2A access to the metal workshops at Coventry Uni so before Easter I made my third frame. This time I worked with 10mm steel tube. This means that the frame is much lighter but it is actually trickier to weld. If the power is set too high you actually burn through the steel tube before the weld is made. So this took a bit of tinkering with the settings before I got the mix right (mix of gas, wire feed speed and electric voltage).
See working with steel photo album for rough starting sketch, and the frame in progress. I also cut and bent 8 spines which will be attached to the frame later. I am going to use bolts rather than weld these on as I want them to be removable. This is all to make transportation easier. These are the largest sculptures that I have made (2 m wide and deep and 1.5 m high) so transportation and storage costs have to be considered.
I also used the plasma cutter (a great tool) to cut a couple of circles from steel sheet and then welded them to the long arm that I will be attaching to the oval based sculpture See initial Rhino drawing.
It was a bit frustrating because the welder started playing up. Andy, the technician, diagnosed it as being a problem with the wire feed. I did manage to weld the circles to the arms but it is a messy join. Luckily it won’t be visible as it will be covered in fabric later.
The next time that I was in the workshop the gas had run out so I brought the frame home and took my secret weapon out of my cellar. My own welder! I had been given this as a present from a friend about 5 years ago but have never used it. I realise now what a valuable and useful present it is.
So again the AA2A has prompted me into action.
“If you learn by your mistakes I am a genius!” This is what I say to myself when I seem to have made a lot of mistakes....while learning of course! It was three trips to MachineMart (getting the right welding wire, welding tips and my very own angle grinder) and fiddling about with the gas, wire feed speed and voltage settings before I made a satisfactory weld.
With the good weather I have made more progress; adding a base plate with castors to the oval frame and sets of short to the other two frames. I need good weather as I don’t have a garage and my studio is full of flammable items so I have to use my back yard when welding at home. See photo.
Other good news is that I currently have five pieces on show at The Public in West Bromwich.
I'm really pleased with this as not only is my work is being shown in such an interesting building but it is being exhibited alongside pieces from Frank Cohen's Initial Access collection.
So often I want to make a piece but have no idea how I am going to make it. But this isn’t a reason not to start and also certainly not a reason to be scared. Because I work with such a wide variety of materials and found objects I have now got used to having to devise ways of constructing.
I have quite a stock of found items in my studio. The only criteria for them being there is that I find then intriguing. It can be because of colour, form, materials or a memory that they trigger. I have had this set of avocado acrylic tap heads for a couple of years now. They are screaming 1970’s kitsch out to me but I am sure that what I make will be far from kitsch
About 10 months ago I drew this very rough sketch of the form I wanted to make. I take my inspiration from every where and luckily I have not only a huge library of visual inspiration photos on my computer but I can also recall them fairly easily. See attached photo album for evidence of my inspiration from circus tents, trapeze artists and even a ceramic bulb vase. I then commissioned a friend who has metal milling equipment to make this central brass boss. At the time I had access to various metal working pieces of equipment but as this was via an evening class in a local school and it was closed all summer Margot had to lie dormant.
So having access to the Jewellery Workshop while on the AA2A at Coventry University has been brilliant. If I haven’t been in the foundry I have been in the jewellery workshop.
Helen, the technician, has been really helpful and given me lots of encouragement when I thought that I had bitten off more than I could chew.
During my degree at MMU I had done some metalwork and had particularly enjoyed working with aluminum and copper but that was several years ago and this piece, Margot, was really very challenging to solder. In fact one of the base legs actually cracked and broke while I was working on her. Brass is a brittle material and I had just used too much heat in the same area when attempting to re solder a failed joint.
But every setback has a silver lining.
I had to go back into Birmingham to Keatleys the metal suppliers and after that I popped into see an old friend, Andy Phillips, who is a jeweller and diamond setter. I showed him what I had made of Margot and he gave me the encouragement that I needed. It was on his suggestion that I popped into the Birmingham School of Jewellery to find out about possible access to metalworking studios in the future. That’s where I saw the Rhino evening class advertised and so quickly signed up. It is good to keep adding to my skills and I can see that a knowledge of Rhino is going to be helpful to my practice.
Having succeeded in the soldering I have been a bit critical of my work. The angles between the supporting rods are not perfectly accurate ... but then in my defence I am not a machine, and I have made this piece to the best level that my current metal working skills allow.
But actually Margot is not about being a perfectly constructed piece she is a sculpture or ‘Being’ as I prefer to call my sculptural pieces. I am more interested what the resulting combination of form and materials says to viewers.
I hope to make work which resonates on a deeply emotive level and which acts as a vehicle to reconnect with a "place" or memory deep in our subconscious.
Margot is very close to completion. I now need to complete her with the appropriate fabric. Having first searched in various of my favourite fabric shops, including the Fancy Silk Store in Birmingham, I am now waiting for a delivery from Whaleys in Yorkshire.
So not yet finished but significant progress has been made, not just in realising this piece but also in learning and refreshing my skills.
I was a bit thrown by the reading week at Uni. I hadn’t realised that it was on until Andy, the technician, mentioned that he would be off on holiday. I could have gone into the foundry towards the end of the week when the other technician, Sue, was in but as it turned out my dad was ill so I had to dash up to Scotland.
So back from Scotland (my dad is now on the mend) and suddenly it was my children’s school half term so things got busy here at home. I also had my other hat on and was leading felting workshops with children with disabilities. Wool is a completely different material from steel.
When I did get back in the foundry I started to make the base of my piece (working title Desperate Dan Pie).
I have decided to make the frame in two halves- a base and a top. This is so that when upholstered it is easier to transport. I have worked out how I will attach the pieces - the bottom, top and the piece of vintage milking machine -once in a gallery setting.
I need to think about all these things now before it’s too late.
Using what I’d learnt from Richard Bett in Lincoln making the base was much easier than I had expected. Only a bit tricky setting the rings up and trying my best to get them centred (see photos).
With just 8 support spines it didn’t look right and also as these were in the thinner 6mm rod I decided to add in more spines. Now with 24 spines I am happier.
I decided that this was the time to transport the ‘pie’ back to my studio at home. Too big to go in my car I strapped it to the roof of my husband’s van. Once upholstered all this transportation will be more difficult. I wonder about artists who work on a much larger scale, for example Joana Vasoncelos.
But at least I am working larger. I am pushing beyond the comfort of making works that can be transported in a car.
The other reason to bring the ‘pie’ home now is that I need to use my angle grinder to trim some protruding rods.
This has been one of the most awkward aspects of working in metal at university. Recently the angle grinder has been recategorised and is now deemed too dangerous for students or visiting artists to use. Maybe I am being fussy as these ragged edges will be covered in fabrics but not being able to use an angle grinder alongside the welder is frustrating.
Ask any metal worker and they will say that an angle grinder is to welding what a steam iron is to dressmaking. It is a tool that people usually use throughout the welding/fabrication process.
This week I also had a day of welding tuition with artist and metal sculptor Jack Russell. I travelled to the Rural Skills Centre (at the Royal Agricultural College near Cirencester) to do this day course.
I had booked it ages ago and so in the event I didn’t learn as much as I’d hoped. But it was good to see how other artists work.
Jack works from photographs, drawings on paper and designing as he makes. He doesn’t use any software such as Rhino in his practice.
I also broadened my welding skills on this day by opting to use the stick/ arc welder. I can definitely say that it’s quite a bit harder to use than a MIG welder.
So far as well as making new work the AA2A placement has acted as a catalyst. It has forced me to seek advice and tuition.
The technicians at Coventry university have been helpful and I have had some tuition from Richard Bett in Lincoln and Jack Russell in Cirencester. I have also been attending an evening class in Rhino at the Birmingham School of Jewellery. Now in week 4 of the 8 week course. I am REALLY enjoying it.
Now I need to get on with the Rhino drawing for my third large frame.
It now feels like I’ve now finally got my self properly into the AA2A residency. It was a slow start with waiting for id cards and just generally finding out who people are where tools and equipment are kept.
Andy, the technician in the foundry introduced me to the welder, and also to plasma cutting.
I had already sourced a really interesting piece of scrap that I want to use as the basis for this first larger sculpture. I’d done a rough drawing and had an idea of measurements but really I felt far from ready to take some lengths of steel rod and start fabricating. I felt all at sea.
I am lucky though and I do have some talented friends. I visited Richard Bett, a Lincoln based artist and he very quickly suggested that doing my drawing on Rhino would be his approach. Although Richard is mainly a jeweller he has also made some large public artworks and also street furniture so he knows what he’s talking about. I downloaded Rhino for mac (still in Beta version) and started working through the tutorials.
Richard sent me his Rhino drawing of my proposed sculpture (it looks a bit like a Desperate Dan Pie!) See ‘working with steel’ photo album.
So I watched a few more YouTube Welding tutorials and went into the foundry to get started. Bending the steel with the hand roller was really exhausting! (see photo album)
I’ve now made the top of the ‘pie’ but then had to wait a couple of weeks for another steel delivery.
By now I really knew just how little I knew. I didn’t feel too happy with my slightly wobbly results. I felt like I was floundering. Although the steel won’t be seen once it’s padded upholstered I really wanted to get better.
I went back to Lincoln and had a days tuition with Richard. He took me to the metal workshop that he uses when working large scale. So rolling steel rod isn’t half as hard when you have access to a motorised roller. We were working in a farm shed and everything was huge. The welding table was bigger than my kitchen. So again Richard demonstrated that a Rhino drawing meant the avoidance of ‘bodging’ to get everything cut accurately and although it was a long day we managed to complete my second frame. It fitted in the car (just!)
Yesterday my order of steel rods arrived. Unfortunately not the 8mm rod that I had requested but 6mm. I decided to go ahead with it anyway. It was a lot easier to bend than the thicker rod. I hope that it will be as supportive for the structure as the rods for the base of the ‘pie’ will be made from it. I just wanted to get on and didn’t want to wait another week for a fresh delivery!
So once I had everything bent and cut to size... the gas in the welder ran out! The joys!!