Thursday, 31 March 2011

Sun Time

This week has been all about sun and time, making sundials for sunny gardens.  These ones are mini sundials, small, pretty stones with a solid brass dial, inscribed 'Sun's Time' with a happy sun face and roman numerals.

Sundial - Yorkstone - 6" dia. x 6" ht. © Jennifer Tetlow
Before watches and clocks the gentleman traveller would take with him a portable sundial, a brass instrument, which, if opened up and positioned correctly, would tell the time.  After seeing one of these exquisite and highly ornamented antiques, I had the idea of making a small sundial for gardens, one which could be easily moved and adorn any small space.

Sundial - Yorkstone - 6" dia. x 6" ht. © Jennifer Tetlow 
On sunny days it is a simple, but happy pleasure, to gaze upon a sundial to check the hour.

Sundials - Yorkstone
6" dia. x 5" ht. & 4" ht. © Jennifer Tetlow

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Snails in my Garden

During my gardening work I have come across a multitude of snails, it seems every time I move a stone there is one stuck underneath, or a family of them.  I've seen varied shell shapes, some colourful patterns, some tiny brown ones and others with yellow stripes.  It has slowed me down as I check each time I move anything, to avoid crushing and squishing - I pluck them off and find a safe place to put them.  I feel sorry about disturbing their chosen spot and hope they will survive the move. 

Jennifer Tetlow Snail carved in Yorkstone © 2011
I remembered a piece of stone in the workshop with swirly iron-ore marking, which I thought looked just like the snail shells.  It was my hope that the banding would come perfectly  in the coil of the shell, but I missed slightly, and it ended up on top!

Jennifer Tetlow Snail carved in Yorkstone © 2011

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Taking Shape

Every spare minute I've been getting on with a bit of gardening, such perfect weather, to prepare my vegetable area.  Yesterday I spread the last of the manure, and now I have three raised beds which are almost ready.  I have heard so much about the merits of raised beds that I thought I would try them, and I'm also rather enamoured of the 'no dig' methods of Charles Dowding.  He talks of the soil as a living organism and the soil food chain, which I like, and I'm learning masses.

Another reason for choosing raised beds is that I had a lot of soil that came from my foundation excavations (I'm extending the workshop and building a lean-to section to my main work area).  The stone edging all came from this clearing too, so both jobs have fitted together very neatly.   

One of the beds ended up being very deep at one end, as the ground is on such a slope (I made the bed horizontal), and I might design this differently if I did it again.   However, I'm very pleased with the new growing area and can't wait to do some planting - after a bit of cement mixing and buiding!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Sounds of Spring

What a beautiful day!  How the birds sung this morning their early chorus, but two bird sounds really stopped me in my tracks.  The Curlew calling, flying low in search of nest sites, so plaintive and haunting and then the Woodpecker, drumming the fresh spring morning in.  It is such a rolling, repeated reverberation, a sound so clear and woody that it mesmerises and excites all at once.  I used to think it came from the hollowing out of nest holes in the trunks of trees, but apparently it is to signal to other woodpeckers that this territory is taken, and to entice the female woodpecker close.  I wanted to be close, and hear more, and feel it rippling through me.

Woodpecker - Collagraph Print

Monday, 21 March 2011

Happy Equinox

A bit late I know, but happy day anyway.  Officially, the Equinox was at 23.21 yesterday, but I was snugged up asleep and unaware of the point in time, so I'm celebrating today.  It is a morning of early sunshine and mist - very beautiful.

Nowruz Zoroastrian - image from en.wikipedia

I'm so happy to have longer days, and spring feeling days too.  The strength of this feeling is captured in the wonderful Bas-relief stone carving in Persepolis.  On the day of an Equinox, the power of an eternally fighting bull (personifying the earth), and that of a lion (personifying the sun), are equal.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Inspirational Sculpture

Some days I find sculpting more of a challenge than usual.  I just don't seem to be able to get the look I want.  Often I take myself off for a good brisk walk, to clear the head, and come back to the stone with fresh eyes.

There are times when nothing seems to work and I despair of my ability.  A little while ago I was working on a commission and got 'stuck'.   For some reason I found it impossible to get the 'liveliness' that I wanted and I worked round and round with the chisel, taking off a little at a time to test the way, until I had only a tiny covering of stone left to get it right.

I put my chisels down and set about working out where I was going wrong.  I thought about it over the next few days, and it started to become a bigger and bigger knot, the more I thought, the more impossible a solution seemed.  So I tried not thinking about it.  Worse still! 

It seemed to be too complicated.  So I went back to basics, and looked at some of man's earliest mark-making in stone.  I found some fascinating examples, but what struck me most were the Fish Gods of the Danube.

These stone heads, with fish-like features but no bodies were carved in about 5000 BC by Stone Age men living in a settled community at Lepenski Vir, in what is now Yugoslavia.  The settlement was on the banks of the Danube, and the river probably provided the settlers with much of their food.  The carvings are thought to represent Fish Gods revered by the settlers.

To me they are so powerful and strong, full of energy and spirit and yet quite simple in form.

There in a moment, I had it, I was trying to be too clever and complicated in my carving!  What I needed to do was carve with the feeling, meaning and purity that I felt the Stone Age men did.

Immediately I carved myself a Fish God copy, to try and know what it was to produce the icon - it doesn't match the brilliance of the originals, but I keep it at the workshop as a reminder that I must carve with my own spirit and must keep in simple!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

My Hedgerow

Along the top side of my workshop is a hedgerow, it is mostly Hawthorne but also Holly, Lime, a Sycamore sapling and Wild Gooseberry are growing.  A runner of Blackthorne keeps sprouting out of the hedge and persistently interrupts the neat line.  It is an old hedge, the hawthorne has thick, gnarled and twisted trunks and branches and all the growth is densely knitted.  A blackbird is building its nest in the thickest, tangliest centre.

The first to sprout fresh green spring shoots is the wild gooseberry.  I admire its tenacity, it is quite a straggly old stem and yet it bursts into life and pushes through, leading the way.  Very soon it is covered in tiny buds, pinkish, which are soon full open and powerfully fragrant.

Very quickly everyone knows about it, and the bees are busy.

Not that the gooseberry needs the bees' hungry attention, it is self-fertile.  The gooseberry we know today was cultivated from this wild gooseberry which was found in abundance in hedges (the bark not being liable to be eaten by rabbits on account of its prickles).   In 1573 William Turner mentioned it in his herbal, noting it for not only its medicinal properties, but for its use in cookery.  In another publication of 1750 directions are given for propagating, training and pruning the plants so as to bring the fruit to a large size - gooseberries the size of plums!

Locally we have the very famous and oldest surviving gooseberry show in the country, Egton Bridge Gooseberry Show.

Gerard recommends the unripe fruit to be used in broths, and says the ripe berries, if eaten by themselves "ingender raw and colde bloode".

Illustration from Wikipedia

The birds pick off the berries so fast when they are still tiny, I have never managed to try one.  I would like a bush or two in my vegetable plot as I love them, and to test the theory that they were named because geese like to eat them.  Or was it that goose meat goes well with gooseberry sauce?

Monday, 14 March 2011

Plough the Fields

Above my workshop the fields are being ploughed at the moment, and all yesterday there was a glorious smell of fresh turned earth. I watched for a while, Lapwings making a noisy fuss, birds flocking for the worms and grubs, and mice, voles and rabbits scattering, leaping the hills and troughs freshly furrowed.

Quite a scene, until stone was struck, which bent the plough!  I am the lucky recipient of the offending ironstone boulder, which is huge. It will make a fine plinth for showing sculpture at my Open Studio.

All that earth turning released my own gardening energy, a cue it was time to get going with my vegetable patch. Last year I did very well growing in stone troughs - but I want to be a bit more ambitious this season. So the boulder was delivered along with a tractor bucket full of organic matter for me to dig in!

In times past, after ploughing and sowing, the stones were picked off the fields, usually the work of women and children. Locally this was done around Easter time, and if work was completed by Good Friday they could attend the nearby village tea party!

There were also 'stone rearing' days in Spring - walls and boundaries were the most economical use of the plentiful material lying about, loose stones. These were special occasions, after the land had been cleared during the winter, neighbours would bring poles for lifting the heavier stones and moved on from farm to farm. Where a heavy boulder lay near where a new wall would run, it was easier to move the line of the wall to include it, which explains why some old walls zig-zag so much.

I think I have enough on with my manure!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Ludlow Assembly Rooms

I am very excited about some new dates to add to my exhibition list this year.  To coincide with the start of the Ludlow Festival, I am exhibiting at Ludlow Assembly Rooms, Shropshire from Friday 24th June to the 7th August, 2011.

I  have called the exhibition 'My Chisel and I' and will be showing new pieces specially made for the exhibition.

It is a new venue for me  - Ludlow Assembly Rooms opened its doors in May 1993 in the restored and updated buildings of the former Assembly Rooms, dating from 1840. The opening was the result of five years of tireless campaigning by a group of people who believed that their rural community deserved its own place of entertainment.  What a great success story - gives me renewed aspirations for our own tiny Village Hall!

I hope you will accept this as your invitation to attend, I would love to welcome you all at the preview on Friday 24th June from 5 pm.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Stages of Sculpture

So many people ask me how I get from a block of stone to the smooth finished piece, so I have taken a series of images of my carving during the making of my latest piece to show the stages.

You have seen my drawings for sculpture, but the next stage is often the making of a maquette, particularly if I am working on a commissioned sculpture.  A maquette (a small scale model or rough draft) can be made of any material, but I usually use clay or plaster, occasionally I use stone.

These are the quick sketches I made in clay to get the positioning and attitude of the dogs.

Then, once a pose is chosen, I start work on carving the block, using the maquette as a guide for the scupture.  Here is the album of all the stages inbetween  the block above, and the finished piece below.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Lettercutting in Stone

Brrrr... the mornings over the last few days have been so cold, back to deep frosts and ice.  Not easy going for cutting of delicate letters in stone - my fingers just wont get moving properly and feel all thick and numb.  I've been doing the exercises everyone suggests when your hands are cold, (which don't work anything like quickly enough, if at all!) of flailing my arms in circles in the air, or out to the sides and back round my body.  I've tucked my chisels inside my overalls to warm through and done fast jogging on the spot, but in the end had to ignore it and just get on despite now blowing thick, white breath clouds in front of my work.

Luckily the sun has soon broken through, and I've moved outside to feel the warmth of it.  It also creates wonderful light to see my letters, casting shadows and outlining starkly my wobbly lines for correction.  I keep going over the cut, shaving a little off at a time, to get the curve and even straightness required.  It is a very satisfying sensation to have the (sharp) chisel cut through the stone, and leave the crisp, clean line of a letter's edge.  And I've forgotten the cold.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A Fox on the Train

What an adventure for a Fox - first to be hauled from the quarry and then born onto a small wooden banker (a banker is the workbench stone carvers use), and shut in a shed with the sounds of nature and the moors calling outside.  Then came a solitary plinth, hot bright lights and white walls and  lots of hands stroking and voices - after which, back to the shed.  Then in a sudden rush, bundled and packaged and carried and turned and put in a suitcase, zippered up dark.

A long, long journey on a train, suitcase carried and trundled and bumped and banged, to the end, a station throng with bodies pushing and rushing, and one smiling, friendly face, and a new home.

Yes!  My arms did ache a bit, but I'm very happy as Fox is now part of a lovely new family and settling in well.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Modern British Sculpture

I spent a day away from the workshop on Tuesday, visiting the Modern British Sculpture exhibition at the RA, and try to be disciplined in making these occasional expeditions, as they are a great tonic.   I love the train journey filled with expectation.

The exhibition was set out in twelve different rooms, each having their own focus.  The intention of the curators Penelope Curtis and Keith Wilson was to address a specific problem, aspiration or confrontation experienced by sculptors during the twentieth century - questioning: What is British? What is Modern?  What is sculpture?

The most exciting area for me was the 'Theft by Finding' room - through the dark walled, dimly lit space, came illuminated icons from a wide variety of cultures and ancient fragments brimming with aesthetic power and beauty, and beside them work of British sculptors influenced by these pieces.

Forepart of a running leopard - Halicarnassus - marble c.350 bc

Sanchi Torso - India - red sandstone  c.900

Duck Weight - Neo-Sumerian - Granite C. 21500-2000 bc

Seated Torso - Frank Dobson - Ham Hill stone - 1923

Angel (hand), Angel (wing) - Ivan Mestrovic - Walnut - 1916

My eyes saturated and mind full of sculpture I made my way back to Kings Cross, and was unaware of the journey home - pondering, creating, feeling inspired, motivated, so alive and awake.

I've learned quite a lot from this exhibition, and I'm already organising my next trip - a lot of the pieces I loved were borrowed from the British Museum, and I must make another visit there.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Sculpture ready for Delivery

I felt a sudden panic when I knew it was time for the piece to be loaded for delivery.  Was it finished?  Had I done enough?  Was I happy?  Would the customer be happy?  All the questions that come flooding forth when the needles of insecurity proddle and prick.

Work invariably (for me) goes on right until the last minute, and things always take much longer to do than anticipated, and I suppose this adds to the anxiety.

Last minute finishing before delivery

Ultimately delivery time is very exciting, I can show off all my hard work and place the sculpture in its intended spot in a beautiful garden, rather than seeing it in my muddy, untidy and chaotic workshop and yard.  It all went smoothly and calmly - we tweaked and adjusted position for the best view and balance - and it was done.  Then we all stood and stared - and I felt very emotional and proud. 

Sometimes it is quite difficult to say goodbye to a sculpture, having lived with it intensely for many weeks, and there is a big gap in the workshop now it has gone.  A new block of stone soon shakes my attention into focus and I'm on with my next commission.
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