The latest videos, photos & posts straight from the studio
Carving in-situ in a school is a very different experience from carving in my workshop.... When I'm in my workshop I can take my time and reflect on the piece I am carving but when carving in-situ it can be much more physically and creatively demanding due to time constraints and in this case an agreed time frame of 5 days work.
Carving at the top of scaffolding is a very tricky business because you can't step back and you can't move around to the side of the sculpture with the same ease as if you were on the ground. It quite often helps if the scaffolding is about half a foot away from the thing you are carving to give you enough room to get your saw in. I'm still constantly climbing down the scaffolding to get perspective on the sculpture. Because of all these circumstances it's good to research what you are carving and have some clear drawings. That way you can press on under more challenging circumstances.
I've been commissioned to carve this abstract piece and the customer was inspired by the shapes she had seen in sculptural furniture. The benefit of these types of commissions is it encourages me to carve pieces that I wouldn't usually carve. When carving these flowing shapes like fire and water or nature, always keep the saw moving in curves.
USING OUR RIGHT & LEFT SiDE OF THE BRAIN - We know that the left and right side of our brains see and perceive the world differently and so when carving faces in my workshop, I hold up a mirror to the face I am working on to show my brain how I carve one side differently to the other. Because I am right handed and the chainsaw I am using is geared toward right handed use it means that I generally carve one side more confidently than the other. Holding the mirror up over each side of the face allows me to see clearly where my weaknesses are and will show me with more fluidity the way forward. I can create the same effect by photographing the face I am carving then bringing it up on my computer and flipping it to see where the imperfections are. To emphasise this point I will often draw with my left hand when I'm working on the design as it will help exercise the opposite side of my brain. I've noticed that carvings old and new from around the world will clearly show me whether the carver is right or left handed. The photograph attached is of an African mask, which has a beauty to it but shows me it was carved by a right handed carver because of the way in which it is lopsided and this is accentuated by the angle underneath her nose.
Commission work can bring out the best in you and challenge you because you have to keep going back to a regular theme so you get to know your object very well. This is my latest commission of a Welsh Dragon.
In this time lapse video I've included all my working drawings. I start with a pencil to build up the marks that I consider to be most important and then with a green marker pen I define the shapes and marks that I really like. I then use a red pen to express the finished lines. I then mark it free hand onto the piece of wood and this process builds up my confidence, intention and knowledge of the object that I'm about to make.
SPACE.... Picasso famously said "Before creation there must be destruction". The trunk stands before you in your workshop and the object is within but before you can get to the creative part, the surface that people will see, there is a removal of a lot of wood... The blocking out.... At this stage, when you make your first big cuts with the saw move the saw in curving shapes that from the beginning suit the form of the sculpture you intend to create. How well you know the piece will allow confidence to make large cuts and through cuts. It's these through cuts that will reveal the positive and negative aspects of the silhouette of the sculpture that will start to react against one another. Cutting the gap between the legs is knowing the shape of the gap, the shape of what is not going to be there is as important as the shapes of the legs themselves.
Understanding.... You can clearly see when an artist has a good understanding of the object they are carving. Carving something as complicated as a jumping horse means that I will do many sketches of of horses from life or the internet. When I can sit down at the kitchen table and draw a jumping horse without any information infront of me do I then feel ready to go out and carve. This helps me build a rhythmic patterns of the shapes needed to construct the horse which exist under a law. The law being that when you start marking out the back legs at that very moment you are deciding where the head is going to be. When the back legs move up and down, the head moves up and down.
CARVING IN A LARGE SPACE - In a large space where sculputre can be seen from a great distance, small details are not important. It's how the sculpture looks from 10m or more as this is where a large majority of your audience will view it from. On visiting Ely Cathedral and standing and bending my head back to look at the vaulted ceiling you can see elaborate paintings of angels but after climbing the great staircase to view them up close, the artist has just used large blobs of paint, there is no small detail to be seen. Using my saw at different angles and depths and nose carving with the saw is my version of this paint blobbing. It is this technique that can give the sculpture a sense of movement because too much detail can make a sculpture stand still. For example, carve all the detail of the dog would make the dog look as if it were asleep. To carve the same dog at full speed, it is best to carve the energy of dog, the rhythm of dog..... when the dog is running at speed the detail is unseen.
This is my latest sculpture of a fairy chair for the the sunflower labyrinth at Scolton Park manor. Dues to the success of the marriage of the wood of my last sculpture, I am using the Ash and the Wellington again. The Ash will maintain a super strength through its grain to hold the bell of the mushroom head.
The Art Out West exhibition starts at the Stackpole walled Garden on 1st August, where you can view my Blodeuwedd sculpture throughout August!
Welcome to Simons new Facebook page. Follow him and keep up to date with his latest works.
A time lapse carving part of a Faraway Tree sculpture
This is my abstract sculpture finished. Carved from Douglas fir.... this type of wood works as it is going to be an indoor piece.
THE LABOUR OF ART - A large part of carving is labouring. I would compare trench digging to hand carving. The skill of trench digging with a pick axe is to swing the pick axe over your head and to hit just the right amount of earth to maintain the momentum of your swing for your next strike. If you take too much earth your pick axe gets stuck, if you take too little you are wasting energy through flicking with the axe. This is technique. When I stand back and look at the trench I have dug there will be bumps and uneven marks which I will go back to and level off. this is the artistry. So when I am working on a carving I do the same thing, I labour at making my large cuts and then I stand back to see where I need to step forward and level off and work on the finer detail. This is the moment the artist appears.
KNOWING YOUR WOOD...... When a Stone Age man was discovered carrying a bronze axe, they found sixteen different types of wood on his person, each one for a specific purpose. The knowledge needed when acquiring wood is never ending and I am still learning. For example, there is a wide range of Oak species, all with vastly different qualities and then you need to consider the time of year the tree was felled, where it was felled and the location in which the tree grew. Once the trunk is in my workshop, I will take the living skin off the tree and then I will leave it to see what happens to the trunk... does it split, are there cracks, are there nails or burrs and giant lumps of earth trapped inside? For all of these reasons you have to have flexibility in your carvings so that the form or shapes you want to create, such as head and arms can move depending on what is happening with the trunk.
These drawings relate to the video posted below....
Rhythm of marks..... In advertising we see many interpretations of animals heads such as bulls, lions and dogs. The shapes used can be very abstract but are instantly recognisable to the human eye as the animals they are trying to portray. Even if they are simply blobs of paint, as long as the eyes,nose and mouth are the right distance apart from each other they will still be recognised as the animal in question. When carving eyes in my sculptures, I find it is the reflective quality and the energy behind them which can make them hard to carve. They can be better interpreted with two cuts in the wood that are in rhythm with the face you are carving. It will be these two holes that make a shadow that can make the most convincing eyes. This sculpture by Jacob Epstein use holes as eyes and lumps of clay as hair which gives a sense of life that I greatly admire.
WOOD USE - There is a vast amount of different types of wood that you can use for indoor use because your sheltered from the elements. When it comes to good weathering wood for outdoor use the choice gets much smaller, which is why I like to use Oak, Cedar and Sweet Chestnut for outdoor sculptures. It's very important that these trees are felled in the winter preferably when there is a heavy frost because this will add a longevity to the sculpture and allows the wood to hold its natural colour. If it's felled in the Summer it will just bleed sap out and lose it's depth of colour. I split trees up into three simps groups. One dimensional growing trees that grow up straight with mathematical pattern in their branches such as evergreens. Then there are two dimensional trees that are moving in shapes more like bananas like the Ash and the Sycamore. Then the three dimensional growing trees, the fruit trees, the spiralling sweet chestnut and Oak trees. The Oak lends itself to three dimensional sculpture because they can move in a spiral which mimics the shape of animals.
When I get a commission I will always create a drawing first. This is a good way of opening up the discussion so that the design can move toward something everyone is happy with. Often the drawing has been done months before I have sourced the wood. Once the wood arrives in my workshop it has its own nature and shape and then I have to allow the design to evolve in relationship to the wood infront of me.
In all art, be it painting, poetry and music, there is a balance between your ability, technique and control of tool against expressing a sense of spirit. It is good to be practised and sharp in both tool and mind for that is what truly sets you free to express yourself. To sharpen a chisel by hand on an oil stone takes practice and should be something you learn to do with your eyes closed once mastered. You should know the edge of your chisel so well that you are not looking at it when carving. Coming from a traditional hand carving background I learnt to use a flat chisel as my main tool, just as all Egyptian art was carved with flat blades and not gouges. Only at the end of my carving would I pick up a gouge to describe folds in cloth or shadow under an eye. I have found that carving with a chainsaw has given me the ability in one tool to do flat cuts but then use the nose of the saw like a gouge. Once this technique is mastered then the spirit is free to express itself.
On my way to the opening of the Art Out West exhibition where Blodeuwedd is being exhibited.... this coinciides with the launch of my new website!
To describe the journey taken to create a 3D carving that has come from your observation and imagination is a complex task. In the process of carving a sculpture like Blodeuwedd and Bran the Blessed, it is important to rough out the shape and form of the whole sculpture before you start introducing any detail or relief carving. Once I have roughed out the shape of them I will literally be drawing on the wood with my chainsaw experimenting in marks and shapes, knowing that all of it won't exist on the finished piece, but this is the process of sketching with my imagination. I am also at this stage learning how the piece of wood responds to my saw and how the wood reflects the light. To describe roughing out the form means that the sculpture half way through should look stunted and strange... uncompleted. When you carve an arm and then you carve the fingers, the wood is expanding in its surface area. For example, if you take an orange and remove one segment, the surface area increases, but if you take the same orange and you took a thin slice off the top it would reduce it's surface area. The sculpture should only look good at the end. This page is an opportunity for me to describe my craft which I love doing.