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Tomcat and Bookworm

I've had an interesting and shocking week as far as my plaster bust collection goes. I was extremely taken aback - and delighted  - to find I'd been listed on Culture 24 as one of 10 artists 'you should be collecting now'! The list was created by the Axis artists database of which I am a member. It's a fantastic database supported by the Arts Council and having a profile there led to my first large public sculpture commission in Cardiff.
Read the whole feature on Culture 24

The second interesting thing that happened was the launch of the new Courvoisier Brandy ad campaign featuring Bookworm, one of my large limited edition busts. I'd been waiting since the photo shoot in August to see the result and here it is. Quite thrilling to think how many people will be getting a peek at Bookworm thanks to this massive print campaign in various parts of the media.

These two events made me realize that I had never posted about the making of and backstory to these two busts so I thought I'd remedy that now.
People had been asking me for a while if I could produce some larger sculptures so in preparation for my exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor earlier in the year - the 'Secret Society Sculptural Banquet' - I decided to make 4 large busts. They are about 60cms high but at least 3 times larger than the rest of the collection.

This is without doubt the most complex bust I've made to date. It was extremely challenging because of the position of the plane -just perched on top with little to support it - and the deep undercutting of the collar. When I started making plaster busts I never dreamt I'd be able to achieve a mould of this complexity so was pretty pleased with my technical progress - all trial and error by the way.

This one has just come out of the mould  - it takes two of us to pull the silicone away it's so thick and undercut in places.

As with all the busts, inspiration comes haphazardly and is often in response to objects I come across. In this case it was a plastic toy plane in a charity shop which turned out to be (as identified by my plane-mad partner) an F14 Tomcat fighter.  At first I stuffed it back in the box because it looked to be far too difficult to cast from but I was lured back by the fantastically sleek and sculptural form and after studying it carefully from every angle for a good 10 minutes I thought oh well, let's give it a try - plus it was only 50p! In the event, I had to adapt the plane quite a bit because the tail fins were far too slim to cast from, so in the end it's a Dalwood Tomcat more than an F14.

At first people don't notice the earphones. I like these bizarre justapositions of recognizable objects 

My mother used to have a French Pleat in the 1960s and I always loved that hairstyle - so sophisticated. I created mine from rafia - remember that hobby night material?? Nightmare to cast from as so much filling required in the gaps.

This is Tomcat at my Designers Guild Banquet

It's been interesting how people have responded to Tomcat, she has become a big favourite and as well as private collectors has been bought for 5 star hotels and luxury apartment complexes. I think it's the profile and angle of the plane that makes her so visually arresting. You never know how a sculpture will be received but once made they seem to gather their own momentum.

Making the collar in the original sculpture was a technical triumph for me and in fact is my favourite part of the bust. I constructed it from scrunched and folded paper stuffed with cotton wool. I couldn't put any PVA on the surface to seal and strengthen it because that would have made the paper go soggy and bubbly so I had to pour the silicone for the mould directly on to the paper. I had no idea if I could pull it off so when it worked I was thrilled.
I just love casting from paper - the slightest crease is picked up by the mould and  cast, transforming something incidental and so delicate into the solid impassivity of plaster.

Casting it is a learning curve - here the nose of the plane hasn't come out so I have to re-cast that part and attach it. It's a nightmare to cast actually.

Tomcat at my Secret Society Banquet - see her in the film 

Bookworm was considerably easier to make - no undercutting, no cantilevered sections.

This is the silicone stage. The back half is already coated and has a plaster jacket and this is the second side. The silicone has to be built up in layers so it can take 2 weeks to make a mould this size in stages. Silicone is a real pain to work with, sticky and gloopy and difficult to handle and control.

I'd had the idea of using a book for a long time, I like their sculptural shape and the way the pages change the profile depending on how the leaves fall. I cast from open books in both my public sculptures - in Cardiff and the Cynon Valley  (you'll see the book motifs if you follow the links).

Funnily enough, although Bookworm has also turned out to be a favourite with people, when I first made her I wasn't at all satisfied and thought she had been a bit of a failure. Something about the way the book sat on the head. But now I do like her for her simplicity.

Funny about finding the book;  we were on holiday near Hay-on-Wye - famous village of books near the Welsh border - and I scoured several of the huge second hand bookshops looking for one the right size and shape. I accumulated quite a collection of concise dictionaries!. That's the first and probably last time I'll ever buy a book based on it's shape - Bookworm is a keen translator of German if you want to know!

Bookworm at the Secret Society - here's another link to the film 

Bookworm and Tomcat were recently installed in the foyer of a beautiful cathedral conversion - the coloured perspex plinths add a perfect element of 'cool' I think.

I made two other large busts - Astronaut and Tank Girl - their story is coming soon.

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