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From Wire and Clay to Bronze on Granite

reflections by the Sculptress JOEL

The Original Deerhound“How long?” is a question I am often asked – how long does it take to make a sculpture?...and it is one I often cannot answer in detail – but the Celtic Hound was different as a project.

I was exhibiting in the Orangery at Blenheim Palace pre Christmas 2009, when the passionate owner of a Hound called Cassley saw my work and.... I saw an image of Cass on the mobile phone and by January the 1st we were already started..... for me this involved starting research on the web into the breed standard and images, pouring over images of Cassley and making up the armature from the measurements. For us a photo session of the lovely original, in beautiful weather Jan 9th, measurements and drooling (the artist doing the drooling - not the hound!).

The Beautiful Longdog Head

When you know that the ruler has informed you that the measurement is 11"... or nearly 30cm in the metric..... from tip of nose to back of stop..... you also know that you are going to need a strong armature and a deal of clay!

Oak and Steel ArmatureThe length was supported by steel rod, fixed securely to the strong steel upright and imbedded into a substantial block of wood (English Oak no less). The supporting sculpture wire was added within the profile and the first layers of clay were there on the twelfth day of January.

I was rather pleased with developments and posted these on the blog, for the client to enjoy, and for her to see where all her financial input was going! I had a great response - "It’s a mallard duck!".

This was on the phone....a mallard duck!!? I looked across the studio towards the Deerhound Sculpture... it was a very large mallard shape... Hey hoh, just keep going.

Two days later of careful build up.... now we can start to see the width at front, the measuring for the all important eye sockets in position.... another phone call.... much amusement at the other end..... celebrating the Meerkat on the blog.... just keep going, enjoy the Meerkat moment...

sketch in the first of the hair, think about those wonderful ears, keep on studying and measuring.... a deal of work and on the fifteenth it was acknowledged to have the hint of a “greyhound” having appeared. Keep on going.....

Deerhound or Mallard Duck? Compare the Meerkat? Compare the deerhound!
Duck meets Meerkat meets Greyhound Thats more deerhound than duck!

Mallard, to Meerkat, to Greyhound!

The next day and the eyeballs are sketched in...eyes always make a difference and yet look so weird without lids... My record (counted to date) was getting a second eye in place on the thirteenth attempt... I think it was in a dog portrait, not a horse portrait. Sixteen days in and we have the beginnings of hair sprouting – by way of giving me a visual check, that the Deerhound will be a Deerhound.

27th of January and we have a Deerhound head emerging, and a photograph of the Sculptress looking suitably intent ...scrutinising and working on it....T’was me!

The Deerhound and Scuptress JOEL

The "How long?" question becomes complicated by the Sculptress schedule waiting for the next "sitting" with Cassley and client, and being filled with the process of achieving a life-sized portrait head of a handsome young Labrador retriever called Basil.... in Suffolk.

Just keep going... long hours and on the third of March we have a Deerhound to behold.

The Long March

The attention span of the reader must be strained so the great series of "sittings" (8 in total) I shall compact.... the delight of the almond eyes.... the wonder at the impossible nose... and all that hair.

all that deerhound hair in clay

Too often I was able to rue my confident "Oh yes, she is lovely and would make a beautiful sculpture" having seen a mobile phone image 2"x3" approx... All that lovely hair. And the client was wonderfully tolerant when I started to have the opportunity for crisis of confidence... 'will it ever be right and finished?' Having seen the slow inexorable climb from a duck, and the strand by strand application of hair, waves, curls, curves and dangles.... "Its wonderful, she’s really coming on!" says Fiona – now a friend having shared all the hours of making, and the joys of home made soup and bread.

With this encouragement and more gazing at the original and just keep going... April sunshine and I can see we are on the final strait, starting the long gallop to the finish line at Aintree.

clay works on the deerhound head almost completeclay works on the deerhound head almost complete
Subject and commisioner visiting the work in progress.

That is in the clay! Since we have next to tenderly take the Celtic Hound through the foundry.

I finally stop adding, fiddling and adjusting, breathe deep, pray and carefully having photographed the clay from all angles, drive to the foundry at Birmingham.

I have designed the impossible 'beard' to cast as easily as possible, even so with all that lovely hair and those eyebrows!!!! The foundry achieve a miracle of a mould...from which is taken a wax (well more than three and then we get a good one).

From Clay to Wax

Me to the foundry and there she is, the Celtic Hound in wax, lying on its side, looking good, but needing hours and hours of work to reinstate the bits that did not pour in the wax. The flame of the burner flutters, as you heat up the wax tool – just enough and you make the right mark, too much and you have a hole in the wax.

The skills of a modeller in wax have to be seen or tried to appreciate. Bring on the modelling clay I use for the sculpture, I say...if it falls off, push it back on again...wax has to be nursed expertly to join, meld and move. But it does take impressions in a particularly sharp way. Love those ear hairs... which have to be cast separately.

Wax to Investment Mould

Don’t you love the richness of a new language and what fun we can go from investment to de-investment, and in this case, it is a good thing.

Investment means that the Celtic Hound with its feeding runners, and sprues attached, is invested with the mould that will bake to leave the gap into which the molten Bronze will pour...and of course the particular among the readers will recognise that the large pieces are cast hollow, and something must hold the core of investment from slumping down as the wax whizzes away in the kiln/furnace.... Lost wax.

The Bronze Pour, Cast and Finish

Sounds so easy when you say that...less so raising the temperature to the right point and consistency, mixing the metals of Copper, Tin and the skill of the foundrymen...and there you have it and large block of what looks like whitish concrete... and somewhere in it a Bronze Deerhound portrait – we hope – if it has cast happily.

Happily it did and after the acceptable and needed de-investing it looks like a strange Damien Hurst candelabra... until the runners and sprues, now of Bronze are fettled off.

They just keep going....the cut ends then need to be chased back into the original detail, the hair extensions added! And the fixing rod to hold the Bronze to its base and what does it look like - a strange, matte ‘newish penny’ colour.

The Romans used to bury their Bronzes to give them the deep aged look that we buyers expect.... and then techniques developed and alchemy of chemicals and heat...more expertise to bring the golden Bronze (for Cassley) of the coat and the deep Bronze of eye and the warm depths of the coat..... a wolla (et voila) as the French dit.

You can tell that by this time the Sculptress in on a Sgian Dubh, not only until it is safely transported to the Studio and treble checked and finished, but also until the owner is transported... to see her Celtic Hound

The schedule for us both, strangely, meant that the unveiling happened at Blenheim Palace, 28th May, as the Sculptress JOEL had been invited to be present with a work in progress –(a pigeon in flight and also a Little Owl sitting on post) at the 'Taste of Summer Exhibition'.

Limited Edition Fine Art Bronze Portrait of a Celtic Hound

It is that moment when the client’s face breaks into a smile, when I feel that I have finally got ‘there’, the finish line is crossed and the winners enclosure is to be enjoyed.... as others meet the Bronze, admire and touch it and celebrate the Celtic Hound and all the Deerhounds it echoes.

The answer - in this case six months and a lifetime or three, or ten!

The completed deerhound head cast in bronze

Stunning, Deerhound head in Bronze

The Sculptress JOEL would be delighted to answer questions about this or other projects, or to share about the latest Wolfhound sculpture.

Edition numbers of the Celtic Hound Bronze life sized Deerhound portrait are available, again please contact the Sculptress JOEL at the Tenon Studio 01664 454987.

Full and current contact details can be found in the directory. Alternatively, for more information about bronze scuptures please visit the sculptress JOEL's website.