Here are the finished versions of the carving and painting shown in the previous post ‘Modest Beginnings’.
The first is a little meditating chap (in beech wood), and the second is a space painting entitled ‘Formation’ – my first in over 2 years.
Today was the first time I have gone into my studio to paint for over 2 years.
I had stopped for two reasons. Firstly, looking after my second son full time when he was very young left me little time to paint. Secondly, I found it hard to be motivated to paint when the destiny of the majority of my paintings was to be covered in bubble-wrap and put into a storage room. Although I enjoy the process of painting, I need to know that the paintings are going to be seen otherwise they are pointless. My drive to paint is now attempting to overcome this inertia.
I have now titled and signed the last painting I completed – ‘A Slow Expansion’ – in 2012. I have pinned 10 photographs of ideas for paintings to the walls of the studio, and I have blacked up 4 canvases in preparation for new paintings. This might not sound like much, but it is a beginning – a commitment to starting again.
Whereas ancient art from the rest of the world is mostly representational, featuring animals and people, up until the Roman conquest, the majority of British art is abstract – centring around geometric patterns, circles, dots and lines.
In ancient British rock art the “cup and ring” (circles surrounding a central dot) formations dominate. There is a proven link between these and the stone circles that are scattered across the land during the Neolithic and early bronze age, whether or not these two types of circle are intended to represent the same thing.
Although the meaning of the patterns of ancient British rock art remains a mystery, there is obviously something significant to us about circles. They are appealing to us, simple yet mysterious, mystical yet mathematical, and indicative of human presence; conjuring up images of settlements and community.
I enjoy continuing this heritage of British abstract art that extends into prehistory by embracing the usage of circles, lines and dots.
Before I was an artist, I was a computer programmer.
As well as being a scientific, mathematic and precise occupation, programming can be intensely creative. As computers worm their way more and more deeply into our lives, so the potential for a computer program expands. The ability to write a computer program is a blank canvas – anything you can imagine that a computer can do – anything it can display on a screen, play through its speakers, or control via an external device, is possible by writing a program. The only limits are the ability of the programmer, both in terms of technical know-how and intellectual insight, and the time and effort required to develop the program (which can be considerable).
The reality of a job as a programmer, however, is typically a long way from this ideal of vast creative potential. Far from being free to be the god of one’s own personal universe, a programmer is a slave to the market, and what they are working on can be both hugely frustrating and mind-numbingly boring.
I have recently taken up programming again as a hobby – initially to write a tool for developing my website. I soon remembered how frustrating and tedious, yet exhilarating and rewarding it can be. Having finished my web development tool, I was keen to continue, and I decided to resurrect the beginnings of a 3D graphics program I had been working on years before. Here was a way to make a window into my own world and allow me the creative freedom that I remember glimpses of from my days as a professional programmer. Alas, however, progress is slow and hard-won, as it must be for the solo programmer (and an out-of practice one at that), and it is just one more activity fighting for its share of my time.
Here is a description of my entire carving process for what was a very ambitious piece for me: ‘Spiral Embrace’ – a wedding anniversary present for my wife. I had started on the designs about 5 months before I began carving, so I had a lot of time to think about it. It took about 14 hours of carving work spread out over a month. The fact that it had to be done in secret was an additional challenge!
1. The vast majority of my carvings start out as sketches around a general idea. The initial idea for this piece was of two figures entwined round each other in a spiral, but forming a single form, with one supporting the other at the base.
2. From the rough sketches, I draw an accurate design from the front and the side. I sometimes make notes as it can be hard to map these 2D images onto a 3D block of wood, especially with a continuously curved shape like a spiral.
3. For complicated carvings, I sometimes do a smaller version to start with, using a soft wood like pine. This allows me to test out how I imagined the 3D piece. I was unsure whether to have this piece divide into two or stay connected. Dividing the piece didn’t really work with the maquette, so I decided against it for the final piece.
4. I cut away large sections of wood from the initial block before I start using knives or chisels. This can be tiring work as it is done by hand and the wood is hard.
5. I trace the 2D designs onto the sides of the wood. I often have to do this several times as I cut away portions of the design.
6. Here all of the saw-work is complete, and I have redrawn the design onto the wood by eye.
7. Now I have started to use carving knives to take away larger chunks of wood. This is where I have to work hard to visualise the sculpture in order to bridge the gap between the 2D designs and the 3D shape. I get very nervous at this point, and it is the hardest part of the carving for me. This is where having a small version of the carving to refer to comes in very useful.
8. I have now formed a nice continuous spiral with the figures, and the only large portion of wood that has yet to be removed is a central core.
9. Here the core has been removed through lots of careful carving from all available angles. I remember that it is very rewarding to reach this point in a carving. The two figures are now distinct and I am starting to get excited about how it will look when finished.
10. I have now finished carving and have completed the first few rounds of sanding. You can see how the piece will look, but the finish is still rough.
11. The final piece after fine sanding. All that is left to do is apply a couple of coats of finishing wax and polish.