Joining The Dots – The Blood, Sweat And Flying Sparks of Creating Sculpture

Standing lurcher cast in bronze sculpture

Long Dog

 
Why do you sculpt?

It’s great to be questioned about (pretty much) anything. In answering, it requires forming thoughts into a coherent, communicable package, to consider rationally how and why I believe and behave in a certain way. Sometimes the answers are surprising, perhaps revealing patterns that have been long held simply out of habit. As with anything, it pays to take time to really consider  – in this case how the work is developed from the first embryonic seedling of contemplation, to the final placing of beast on plinth.

It’s a fascinating journey and one that that’s been brought into sharp focus recently by a question from a sceptical buyer: Continue reading

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Full Moon – Not Knowing

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Wouldn’t it be really cool to be able to provide the answers to everything, to remove any uncertainty and to reveal the secrets of the universe: Continue reading

Midwinter

 

Dawn comes late in these the dark days of winter.

It was a night of howling wind, driving rain beating against weather worn creaking windows. The dog remained curled tightly in his basket ears creased and eyes crinkled, shut to the possibility of morning’s arrival.

Magic Seaweed  – the surfer’s oracle, proclaimed 30mph onshore winds with messy fierce waves battering the rugged South West Coast but to those who know, there are always waves to ride, tucked in the unpromising corners of the dusty, fading, genteel Victorian resort towns that line the shores of the East Wight, or more rarely, stealing  into the shallow sandy bays of the Northern Coast, which in the Summer play host to toddlers taking first shaky steps on sand, squealing with delight as gentle ripples tickle pink toes.

We were not alone when we arrived, the surf bush telegraph is hyper optic it appears and a handful of wetsuit clad figures were already laying seal like awaiting the next set. We made our way through the flooded carpark, sharing jittery, short, conversation as we stood watching the conditions from the shore. The swell rolling in was smooth and consistent – a legacy of stormy weather far out in the channel, shaped by the wind’s fetch – a geographic term which describes the amount of open water over which a wind has blown.

When hesitancy begins to creep into my psyche, my modus operandi is to leap into action before the fear becomes paralysing, so within minutes, I’m paddling out from the beach heading “out back” into the unbroken water, through swirling surging white foam, totally immersed, watching for gaps between the wave sets which give an opportunity to paddle out, avoiding the washing machine effect of battling through the breakers.

Once in the water I’m hooked on the complexity of riding the raw energy of an ever-changing wave. It focuses the mind like few other activities do and even after a couple of hours in the cold sea it’s still difficult to tear myself away despite aching shoulders and the promise of a hot cup of coffee. It is a completely entrancing experience, providing an intrinsic reward which closely resembles, for me at least the concept of “flow”that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as:

“an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing”

It requires persistence, curiosity and teaches humility – all characteristics which I’ve found to be helpful in creating a life that is joyful and peaceful independent of external circumstances.

I’m writing now by the fire, it’s evening, dark and quiet. The dog lies with head on the hearth and the only sound is the gentle creaking of the wood burner, flames dancing hypnotically in the darkness. One more journey outside to put the chickens to bed and then the day will be over.

Aside

Growing Up

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The “Dragon Tree” in Brighstone, irresistible jumping, swinging and climbing platform. Reputibly a dragon which killed and ate thirty village children, turned to wood by St Tarquin of Vectis in Medieval times. Undeniably a very fine, “Grown Up” tree.

It’s telling that the phrase “middle aged” is frequently used in a critical sense. I think this says a lot about our culture which values the feverish energy and unblemished beauty of youth over the peace and wisdom that can only come from a life that has been lived..

The years when one is no longer young, but not yet ancient, in particular are glossed over with a veneer of distracted agitation – it’s noticeable that with our cultural terrific emphasis on youth, action and material success, middle age is either belittled or denied as we try to push the clock back, continually overstraining ourselves in unnatural effort, tying to become what we once were, or more likely what he had once hoped to be.

It’s easy to understand why midlife is often synonymous with restlessness, discontent, despair and doubt. Similar feelings in fact to the dawn of adolescence. Like any period of change the temptation is to deny or rail against, to fall into nervous breakdown, drink, love affairs or frantic fruitless overwork. It’s sad that we try to “cure” these signs of change, instead of using them to accept the change, to grow a different stage of life that may in many ways be more fruitful than previous times. Maybe youth is a closed world, that whilst beautiful at the time, we need to learn to outgrow?

By middle age, most people have attained or ceased to struggle to attain, some kind of place in the world – the huge attachment to place, people, material surroundings and accumulations is somehow less important as little by little life changes – children leave, career loses its intensity. If we’re not careful it would be easy to become attached to the outmoded model of life, living in a stone walled fortress of our own making. Maybe being open to the discomfort, the emptiness of failed ambition and disappointment is as good a springboard as any, to becoming open to  other forms and experiences. The shedding of the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulation, the shell of ego – the things that protect us from the competitive world, could be a blessing, an opportunity to be completely ourselves at last – a real liberation far more empowering than clinging on to the vision of everlasting youth.

There are certainly doors which will be shut to us when youth is left behind – maybe the chance to raise a new family, the dream of an olympic medal, being the most beautiful girl at the party or a latter day Prince Charming. Certainly this may be a time for mourning, but maybe in some ways this is a relief. For many of us we now have time at last for the creative, intellectual – or physical activities we pushed aside in the heat of the race.

It’s true that society in general doesn’t help us to interpret this part of life in this way, but I see it more and more as a time with increasing freedom to fulfil the neglected sides of myself – hopefully bringing to the process a little wisdom, courage, curiosity and wonderment gained along the way. The experience of  being “bien dans sa peau” – in English literally “well in one’s skin”seems to come more easily with age – and that, for me at least, is something worth celebrating.

Sheep

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

Albert Einstein

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Moon over Tennyson Down

OK – this is going to turn into something of a rant….

Last week one of my children, whose school topic of the moment is “Space” came home having been encouraged to consider whether the reported 1969 footage of astronauts walking on the moon was fact or fiction. Fantastic! This was a ten year old being encouraged by a creative, confident and far sighted teacher to actually question what he had hitherto assumed to be a fact.

It was brilliant – isn’t this what education should be about? Challenging, not taking the written or spoken word as gospel, critical thinking. It’s ever more important in the age of global communication where (as I mentioned in Skinners Pigeons) the research shows that the majority of young teenagers actually believe without question what they google. Given the internet is to a large extent unregulated, aren’t skills to question, to objectively evaluate what they’re being told and act accordingly, what we should be instilling rather than filling the curriculum with facts to be regurgitated when required and as a result ticking the boxes of “normal” development – with those kids who don’t tick the results somehow being made to feel less than.

I went through an extended essay with one of my older kids recently – initially it read rather like a Phd thesis – it didn’t flow, the child didn’t really understand what she was trying to say, it had a “copy and paste” feel about it – even though it wasn’t. When we tried together to work on is, I constantly came up against “The marking scheme requires….” The marking scheme is the thing that gets “points” and the points are the things that determine overall grades. The sad thing is that in this case, the marking scheme seemed to make no allowance for individual interpretation, for a fresh way of structuring the writing in a way that made sense to the child. It was actually discouraging individualism.

We want to teach our kids to be themselves, to celebrate their individualism, to create, to explore, to get it wrong sometimes and to learn resilience. This is not in any way a criticism of teachers – who I think are actually trying to develop these things in their pupils but are fighting a constant battle against lack of time, funding, testing and constraints of the curriculum.

So my thought for today is to celebrate and encourage the individual – don’t get caught up in feeling that you – or anyone else “should” be a certain way. Keep testing, don’t blindly follow the flock, learn and encourage a pragmatic, suck it and see approach to life. Don’t live “through a glass darkly” for fear of being seen to be different.

 

 

Letting children be

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“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” – C.G. Jung

Despite having half a dozen children, I’ve never felt that I was a naturally, nurturing “earth mother” kind of parent. Maybe this is partly as a result of the sheer overwhelmingly complex logistics of managing such a large tribe, or maybe  I tend to have an approach that’s more pragmatic than most. My children are certainly the most important thing to me in life – but I feel that my job as a mother is more along the lines of allowing them to become themselves, to gently allow them to develop emotional and physical resilience rather than to protect them from life’s inevitable peaks and troughs.

Of course parenting is one of lifes greatest experiments – since none of us are experts, we are all learning on the job so to speak and for me at least, there’s always been a vague underlying concern at my sometimes unorthodox and frequently somewhat chaotic attempts.

Much of the unease comes from a feeling that things should be done in a certain way –   with an emphasis on academic performance, highly tuned social skills, – and of course children with perfectly coiffed locks, who arrive at school on time every day without the marmite stained faces of my small urchins.  In my household this seems a complete impossibility  – something which has sometimes secretly led me to doubt that my  children will ever “succeed” in the conventional sense. The nagging concern beneath this is  that their failure will have been as a direct result of my inability to coax, control, cajole or bribe them into submission.

It’s been an extremely welcome surprise, as the older members of the family begin to leave school, to notice that at some point along the line, they’ve made their own decision to become – for the most part –  responsible, hard working, interesting and likeable. There have been plenty of moments when I’ve been pretty sure that one or other has been destined for a life as an unemployable and irresponsible hooligan  and in these moments I’ve often made some kind of frustrated and angry attempt to take control, only to find that this kind of aggressive assertiveness is bandied straight back at me by the enraged teenager and we enter some kind of escalating friction filled war zone, where all communication breaks down.

Pretty soon in my career as a mother, it became obvious that this kind of approach didn’t work for my children – that they were very much their own people and that the most respectful and effective way to look after them was to allow them to be themselves – putting forward a scaffolding of boundaries, values and integrity and then to a large extent letting them find their own way. Letting go of the part of me that wanted to say that I knew best and instead making some kind of attempt to lead by example has been liberating for us all. It’s a lesson in curiosity, in the realisation that diversity is a good thing – that our way is not necessarily the only or the best way – and that even if we are “right” we can’t and shouldn’t force our view of rightness onto other people – even our own children.

It’s something I still struggle with – but I’m beginning to notice that dropping the expectations that your children should be a certain way – whether it be sporty, sociable, kind, mild, hard working or whatever –  and replacing it with kind curiosity about how they actually are, is worth doing.

Trust is a big part of this – trust that things will work out in the end regardless of my attempts at control – and more importantly trust in my children that they will find their own way and that in doing so they’ll gain the confidence to carve their own  future.