Describe your typical working day?
This is the ideal, but as ever it varies. My studio is designed very much with the apparent movement of the sun at heart, so each area receives the light for a particular type of work during the day. The mornings tend to be when I engrave and do the fine work filing and cutting, the longer shadows give a clearer visibility. The early afternoon light falls on the part of the studio where I design and make models in card and wood and play with creative ideas. The late afternoon light falls into the office, where I can draw up lettering and do admin-type work.
What does a studio mean to an artist?
Absolutely everything. I, like many other artist friends, love their studios as it is where they are themselves. The studio is one’s creative home. Usually, artists work alone and enjoy that. The studio surrounds one with lots of tools and drawings and models and one is totally immersed in what one loves most. I cannot imagine anyone would be an artist unless they really wanted to and could not help themselves. It is not an easy life, but it is so satisfying. Elizabeth Gilbert gives a fantastic Ted Talk about “genius”, and the need not to take all of the credit for one’s ideas, if one does, the creative spirit tends to dry up, and either one just repeats what [they have] done before or takes to the bottle. The studio is a place where one can just wait, where one plays, where one can allow the magic to happen or not. Where one can be quiet away from the hubbub of usual demands. It is incredibly lucky to have a place that is just for art. Everything in one’s studio, from an interesting stone or a leaf to a mass of tiny model ideas and drawings, allows one to become fully immersed and happy at play.
What do you like most about your process?
Recognising that something really works as a design, and wondering how on earth that happened, is the most satisfying aspect. You cannot make a design happen, but you must be ready to grab it when it shows up. As a student I thought if only I kept working and working and taking it all very seriously and getting better and better, I would “get there”. My master teacher was brilliant and would make me cry seeing some of the beauty of his drawing and ideas. I was lucky, as part of my seven years apprenticeship included enlarging some of his drawings and models. That gave me a sense of proportion. You get a “feeling” for what works.
When commissions came into the studio, we were all given the brief he had, and asked to have a go at a design. The designs I came up with, despite my intense ambition, were never as good as his and I kept asking “why why why?” I remember clearly one day getting a glimpse of him at work, drawing a design. Suddenly I saw that he was like a child playing with a pencil and paper and it was this utter ease of skill and observation that allowed designs to flow through him.
Like a gymnast, the need is to teach your entire body the skills and allow the creativity to flow through. You cannot play a violin unless you have practised and practised and practised boring scales over and over again. So it is with art. You need a background of observation, drawing, practising engraving, over and over and over again. You must come to understand your metals, what you can do with them, how far each material will let you push it, how sharp your graver needs to be or what the angle for the face of the graver needs to be to let you cut the metal with the most ease and crispness. In time it begins to feel easier and natural but there is always further to go. Always.