When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
I have always stumbled over the question 'when did you become an artist?’. I come from a family of artists and writers. For me, growing up, it was not seen as an unusual thing to want to bring my paints and paper on holiday with me. The desire to look at something, either physically ‘real’ or an idea, to really see it, and then to represent it on paper or in 3D has always been with me. It was only much later that I realised that so many other people simply didn’t have that desire.
What are the challenges of sculpture?
Sculpture is hard work. It requires space and equipment, and I envy the painters their portable paints and canvases, the ability to work ‘en plein air’. On top of that, you have to think about installation of the pieces, and also where to store them when they are not being exhibited. It is also expensive - I sell in bronze, which means that when I decide a piece is ‘finished’, I have to have the courage of my convictions and cast it. This can be a massive investment, so it does focus the mind somewhat.
So why did you choose sculpture?
The challenge of working in 3D also brings its own rewards. As well as thinking ‘like an artist’, that is, how to best represent the truth of things, I think sculptors also have to be able to think like structural engineers or architects. The best idea fails if it cannot support itself, which means you have to know exactly where you are going from the start. If the armature (the metal ‘skeleton’ underneath the clay) isn’t strong enough, or there isn’t enough of it, then you have to take the clay off and start again from scratch. This gives you a healthy respect for materials, and stress, and the physics of movement and mass. I’m also a terrible painter.
When are you happiest?
The times I am happiest are when I am drawing or sculpting from life. When I stand in from of a model, the rest of the world simply falls away, instinct takes over, and I know I am in my right place. I guess it feels like I have left my conscious mind at the door, and that nothing else matters apart from the movement of the pencil or charcoal on paper, and the form of the person in front of me. I am completely exhilarated by the triangular and transformative relationship between the model, the drawing/sculpture and the artist.
What part does drawing play in your work?
Most of my work is done in the studio, with no model in front of me. Mostly, it springs from ideas or scribbles that I then develop in my sketchbooks. Obviously, some ideas work on the page, but not in three dimensions, so the next step is to sketch a tiny maquette in wax on wire. The real challenge is to keep the freshness and freedom of the line or the maquette, whilst developing it into a fully-realised piece.
What work do you regret?
The pieces I regret are works I did because I thought they would be ‘attractive’ for buyers. With a little more experience under my belt, I realise that trying to make a piece ‘attractive’ is fatal - these works are at best accomplished, but otherwise derivative and uninspired. My best work is the work that I haven’t tried to direct too much, and when I have been quiet enough to follow an instinctive thread of thought.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am just finishing a piece, which came from some jottings made on a cliff path in Cornwall. I don’t yet know what it is called, or exactly what it is ‘about’, but it is trying to say something about that essential bit within all of us which is completely true and honest.
How will you know when a sculpture is complete?
Sometimes, finishing a piece feels like the hardest bit of the process. You’d like to go on fiddling forever, although one advantage of working with clay is that it is constantly drying out, which forces you to put down your tools sooner rather than later. I then have to make a mould, and then cast it, which is nerve-wracking, especially as I often find it hard to look at a piece for months afterwards, and can only see the things that I should have finished differently. And each sculpture may be cast multiple times, so I have to look at it again, and again, and again…..
Years later, I look at the sculptures and am amazed that it is those ‘imperfect’ aspects which actually make the piece wonderful.
What is the biggest challenge of being an artist?
The biggest challenge to me of being an artist is trying to juggle family life and work. I don’t know whether that is the same for male artists today, but expect that this is a conflict that wouldn’t come up in an interview with a male artist. Obviously being a woman and a mother makes me the person I am, which directly influences my work, so I wouldn’t wish it away, but there is a tension between the need to find quietness to develop ideas, and the pressing need to organise school runs/the laundry.
Apart from that, I think every piece of work presents a fresh chance to see things completely differently, and the challenge is to be completely truthful. There is always the temptation to fall into familiar modes of expression just because they have worked before.