Annie Peaker is a figurative sculptor who makes her work in ceramics. I won’t post any images of her work, for copyright reasons, but she creates sculptures of people and animals with rich textural surfaces with a depth of colour and interest on the surface. They are well worth a look if you don’t know her work. We first came across her when on holiday in Cumbria, where she lives, but her work is widely available. When I first showed an interest in trying sculpture in ceramics my wife suggested I should try one of her courses, and I have (at long last) got around to it.
I attended a 3 day course, the first day of which she went through the basic process by making a warm-up piece, in this case a red squirrel. She builds up the form from hand rolled “slabs” of clay which are then bent from the inside to form the main body of the piece. Where texture is needed it is usually “rolled in” at the start. The slabs are then bent and “stroked” from the inside to get the curves. Sometimes additional pieces are added. I’m happy with the squirrel worked out, though maybe got a little over enthusiastic with the ears!
She lets you work in the evening and so I tried a figure sitting. She didn’t go well. Although the piece worked structurally the proportions and feel were out. The body is much too big for the legs, as an example. (Image intentionally omitted!) I had already said that I would like to try a figure, which is why I tried this as an experiment, and so over the next couple of days she went through the process she uses to build a figure. She very much likes elegant forms. Apparently she took Vogue for a couple of years and has used that to collect a large library of reference material of elegant ladies in unusual locations. It comes through in her work.
This time the techniques were hers, but the basic design was my own. As choice of pose I used rather less elegant ideal, with the subject rather worse for wear. She leans again a wall (partly a prop and partly part of the scene) a little too drunk. A discarded wine bottle and plastic glass sit behind her heels to emphasise the point. I played with the pose initially with a pose manikin (Similar to these). I’m happy with the end result overall, although there are a number of things I would hope to improve in future work. (For example, the fingers are too fine for the body, and could easily have been just a touch fatter.)
What did I learn? Major amounts of “How to?” on the basic build process. More subtly, however, I learnt a lot about the need for observation and moving that into sculpture. As Annie said, lots of sketchbook drawing is needed. Not to have the drawings to make from, though that is useful, but because the process of drawing and sketching makes you look in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise. I think my next adventure in this direction is to do some myself. I need to try both animals and people, and possibly even something slightly more abstract. So much to do, and so little time.
One final thought on what I learnt: The drawing course is working as hoped for. Although I have many things about both pieces I would like to improve, I don’t think I would have been able to get even close if I hadn’t been doing the drawing course. It is improving my observation, knowledge of proportions and approach to working. That is, in itself, a useful observation.