Saturday 28 August 2021

Monster Repair Shop

Over the last month or so I've been getting a small gang of monsters ready for their big debut on December 5th at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. They've had to be rescued from the elements, cleaned, repaired, repainted and - in some cases - augmented with new features.
As detailed in this earlier post (here), the Monster Zoo was a community arts project that I set up during the Coronavirus lockdown to give local families a safe, open-air space to gather and chat and to provide an outlet for childrens' (and adults') creative energies. 

The project was a huge success, spawning nearly 400 monsters and achieving national recognition by being featured on Channel 4's Grayson's Art Club (click here - the segment with me and Grayson is at 28:20 minutes).
I repaired four of them for their residency in the Westcountry. However, during discussions with the museum, it was reduced to one monster (the metallic-looking smiley guy) due to the sheer number of exhibits on display. However, the monster will be accompanied by a rolling projected slideshow of EVERY monster made for the zoo. Isn't that great? 

They'll be on display from December 5th 2021 until next Autumn. 

Here's the website with all the details.

Meanwhile, I donated the green monster and the furry monster to a friend's grandson for his birthday and he loves them!  

Tuesday 17 August 2021


Trashbashing is the art of making sculptures from rubbish. 

And one of the great masters of this is Studson Studio. Here's his fantastic trashbashed model of Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle made entirely from junk.

My kind of project!

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Chesham's Big Picture

I was recently asked to get involved with The Big Picture in Chesham, Buckinghamshire - a collaborative venture by a bunch of artists, businesses and a local theatre to promote the arts. I was invited to do so by the organiser, award-winning film maker Emily Brown. Across five days of arty fun we ran workshops, created shop window displays and interactive events, such as an art trail featuring Chesham-related history. 

We kicked off in the foyer/cafe of the Elgiva Theatre, hanging a group of canvases all painted by local people. Emily designed a mural featuring Queen Elgiva - the ancient tribal chief who was the first person to ever name Chesham in writing - and then broke the design into 40 squares. Then, local people - some artists, some not - were encouraged to have a go at reproducing one of the squares on a canvas. The finished result looked like this:
Hanging them all straight and getting the spacing right was a nightmare but we got there. 

We then asked local resident and all round lovely chap Alex 'Taskmaster' Horne to chose a top three, which he did. He also created a canvas of his own ...

The High Street Art and History trail was next. I was asked to produce some sculptures and art relating to the story of Roger Crab - hermit, hatter and pioneering vegan.

Buckinghamshire-born Crab fought with Cromwell in the English Civil War, and was severely wounded in the head by a sword. Once cashiered he set up a hat maker's business in Chesham where the chemicals used (and possibly his head wound) affected his nervous system and mental health and led him to exhibit some extreme behaviours. He became a vegan (long before veganism was invented), and attacked the church and authority, for which he was arrested several times, whipped and placed n the stocks. He consequently decided to sell off or give away everything that he owned and chose the life of an ascetic hermit. He built a hut in a tree near Uxbridge and, from there, uttered prophecies and doled out herbal medicines. His behaviour and criticism f authority still upset people, however, and he was accused of witchcraft. He therefore made one final move to East London. He died just before his 60th birthday having nearly doubled the average life expectancy for a man at that time (31.3 years).

I was tasked with doing a cartoony portrait of his army days and to create a junk sculpture of him and his tree house.
It has also been suggested by some academics that stories about Crab partially inspired Lewis Carrol's Hatter from the Alice books. Whether it's true or not, it's a fun story so I was also tasked with making a junk Mad Hatter too.
Crab's life story is told across eight shop window displays and they all feature work by local artists. It's a wonderful venture and well worth a visit if you're in that corner of Buckinghamshire.

Chesham Library is hosting an exhibition of original paintings for sale ...

The various displays and exhibitions can be viewed for the remainder of August.

Sunday 1 August 2021

A quick and dirty 48 ... okay, make that 72 ... hour build

I recently fancied setting myself a 48 hour making challenge. And, upon finding a delightful little doodle by the late great Rowland Emmet, I decided to make a small steam-powered Hansom Cab. Here's the doodle in question:

I wanted to make it using existing materials from my junk box so I didn't set out to make an exact copy of Rowland's design. I let it inspire me instead. 

I had a pair of laser cut coaching wheels left over from another project so that was a good start. I also had some sheets of balsa so I knew I could make the cab itself. Therefore I started with the boiler/engine component.
What you see here is an orange juice bottle, two scoops from various powdered goods, an old caster from a swivel chair, a Rotring ink bottle,  a biro casing, bottle caps and a car air freshener. I then added some plasticard panels, punched from behind (using a dead biro and hammer) to give the impression of rivets. Then I added some wooden stirrers, some beads as pipe connection points, and some googly eyes as rivets. 

Next step was to add some further details - such as some nylon bearings on the funnel, more bits of balsa, some aluminium wire as pipes, garden spikes, the cap from an old inhaler and a small plastic bird (both found while dog walking). I ditched the round air freshener as it unbalanced the sculpt. I then painted the whole thing black and dry brushed it with a mixture of metallic copper and silver.

I would add more detail (greeblies) and a top to the funnel in due course. Meanwhile, I started work on the cab section. I cut the whole thing from balsa sheets and made the harness/runners from some old foamcore. And that was the end of Day 1.

Day 2 started somewhat disastrously. I walked into my studio, tripped, knocked the cab onto the floor and then stood on it. Nightmare!

But, actually, the accident did me a favour. I wasn't entirely happy with it anyway. And building it a second time gave me the opportunity to improve the shape and make the structure stronger. The new shape also allowed me to add a door that opens and shuts. I wasn't totally happy with the windows though and resolved to figure out a better option than the holes I'd cut. 

I added a saddle for the driver (actually the trigger from a spray bleach bottle) and gave the whole thing a coat of brown paint. I then made a passenger seat from card and covered in an old off-cut of Tweed (my wife is a seamstress).

And that was the end of Day Two. Okay, so my planned 48 hour model wasn't going to happen now. But what's an extra day?

On Day Three the cab got several coats of paint and was 'dirtied' up. I then attached it to the engine with some screws and hot glue. What I needed now was a driver.

Some time ago - when I was first teaching myself to work with Super Sculpey - I made a figure of a birdwatcher. Here he is.

 I figured that he could be sacrificed and cannibalised for the greater good. So I remade his hands and feet, cut down his nose, added a moustache and a great coat and repainted him.

I glued him onto his saddle and made some reins/ropes by twisting some fine aluminum wire. And that was the end of Day Three.

I was pretty pleased with the finished result.

But was it really finished?

I think it was Leonard da Vinci who said that art is never finished, only abandoned. That is so true. I'm still not happy with the windows and I think the cab needs some coaching lamps and maybe some decorative detailing in gold. So I may come back to it.

Watch this space.



As predicted, I couldn't just leave it like that. I found some laser-cut zeroes in a craft shop which made much better windows. I also added an expansion tank at the rear of the cab with a pipe to the boiler. 

I then realised that there was nowhere for the customers' luggage so I started to construct a trailer from old fast food dishes and various greeblies. I then made some things to go in the trailer including this cabin trunk made from a pill box covered in leather rescued from an old chair I ditched, plasticard strips and some stickers I printed off the internet.

I also added some coaching lamps, curtains, a ladder and some steering reins to the engine and gave it a touch of green paint. Finally getting somewhere!