Wednesday 27 October 2021

Upcycling Heaven in Cornwall

I was visiting my native Cornwall in 2011 and, while on a walk between Helston and Porthleven via Penrose Walks and Loe Bar, I found a wonderland of junk!  Wreckers Studio is in Porthleven and is, I suspect, actually someone's back garden rather than a reclaim yard. But just look at how some of the junk has been arranged to make faces and other forms. I love places like these as they are full of the raw materials I can use for making sculptures.
It was, sadly, closed that day. All I know about it is that it's run by Steve and Paul Williams. 

It reminded me of one of my favourite places to visit, now sadly closed down. It was near Penzance, between Long Rock and Marazion, and was called Shiver Me Timbers. The place consisted of acres of tumbledown shacks and sheds overflowing with marvelous junk. 

It was a thing of beauty.
I've bought a few things from there over the years, including a pair of Spanish trawler fishing floats which the owner told me had been 'cut off one of their bastard poaching nets'. That was the sort of tall story that Terry 'Trader Gray' used to tell all the time. I met him many times and there was a story attached to every item. He built the place up into what he called his 'museum of oddities and wonder'. 

When he died in 2009, his son Joe took over the business. However, in 2011 the landowner decided to sell the site to a property developer and Joe shifted what he could some three miles down the road to Crowlas and the Truthwall Industrial Estate where it now operates from. 

It has a website and a Facebook page and is still doing good business thanks to the current vogue for upcycling old furniture. But it is a shadow of its former chaotic and magical self.

For more brilliant pictures of the old site in its heyday do visit John Stumbles' excellent webpage about the place.

Thursday 14 October 2021

Great upcyclers #1: Ptolemy Elrington

I first met Ptolemy Elrington way back in 2005 when I was researching a piece I was writing about luck. While thinking about the whole ‘lucky horseshoes’ business, I was struck by the fact that you rarely see horseshoes by the side of the road these days. Traditionally, for a horseshoe to be lucky, it should be ‘thrown’ by a horse. In the 21st century horses are more of a luxury item than a necessity and most are re-shod regularly, which means that the shoes don’t get worn enough to be thrown. I reckoned that, as cars have replaced the horse, maybe the modern equivalent is the plastic hubcap. Cars throw them all the time. 

And, for Ptol, hubcaps have been very lucky indeed. They’ve given him a career as a professional artist.
‘There was a big bend in the road near where I was living with a few hubcaps lying around in the grass,’ he told me. ‘They were lovely and shiny and I liked the designs on them so I took them home, wanting to do something with them but not really knowing what. I had the idea of making a suit of armour out of them, but I never got round to it. So I forgot all about it for a while.’ But then, while travelling around India for a year, he was inspired by the way that people constantly re-use and recycle materials; not for art but as a necessity born out of poverty. Returning to the UK, and struck by just how wasteful we are by comparison, he became a fervent recycler, fixing broken items for resale and making art from the things that we shamefully throw away. 

His hubcap creatures were an immediate hit ... although they were not without some teething troubles. ‘One of the repercussions of using hubcaps as your primary resource is that the size of the finished sculpt is set before you begin’, he explains. ‘You’d think people would realise that the sculptures are all going to be, at minimum, hubcap-sized. The fact that they’re buying from a company called Hubcap Creatures Ltd should also be a bit of a giveaway. But even then I’ve had one or two people say to me … ‘Well, it’s lovely and all that, but why is there a BMW logo in the middle of its body?’ And where do they think I’ll find hubcaps small enough to make a life-sized dragonfly? I’ve had to put the sizes on the website now.’
Ptolemy’s workshop in Brighton is full of fish made from hubcaps cleverly folded, snipped, bolted and wired together. The silver-coated plastic suggests the sheen of skin and scales beautifully. However, there are also wild boars, eagle owls, frilled lizards, wolves, octopuses, dragons and even saxophones. And all made from discarded hubcaps. To buy new ones would defeat the object and, anyway, he believes that scuff marks and other damage just adds to their charm: ‘The scars of their previous lives add texture and history to the creatures they decorate’, he says. ‘Just look at the skins of whales and dolphins; they show us the animal’s lifetime of experience. Just look at ourselves. We all have those marks and scars too.’ 

In recent years he’s swapped between hubcaps and metal, and has, among other things, created a series of giant pieces for Anglian Water. His water voles, bitterns, newts, ospreys and dragonflies have all been made from shopping trolleys pulled from rivers and canals. It's brilliant thinking.
His studio is a living testament to his recycling passion. The ceiling lights are headlights taken from scrapyard Citroen 2CVs. There’s an F15 Eagle fighter plane made entirely from pieces of old Dyson vacuum cleaners with a Sodastream cover cockpit hanging over the kitchen area. There’s another small plane nearby made from a garden strimmer and wheels taken from the tape rollers inside an old VHS player. Rather than go to Ikea to buy an angle poise lamp, Ptolemy made his own from windscreen wipers, fat magic marker cases, food cans, salvaged wire and bits taken from the insides of dead washing machines. 

It’s so tempting to draw parallels here with the wacky inventions of W Heath Robinson or Rube Goldberg, but there’s maybe a better clue to Ptol’s inventiveness right in front of you on his workbench: a Blue Peter badge. Like me, he is of the generation of kids who tuned in twice a week to learn how to make space rockets from squeezy bottles and sticky-backed plastic, Christmas decorations from old coat hangers, and Barbie houses from shoe boxes. When I suggested this, he nodded knowingly but also revealed that he’s been on the programme a couple of times and that one of his sculptures is in the Blue Peter garden. There’s no mention of that on his website, which is typical of the man’s quiet and self-effacing personality.
The final question, naturally, is about that name … 

‘Yeah, I know. Dad has a thing about the letter ‘P’ I think’, he explains. ‘I’ve got a sister called Pandora and a brother called Piers. And Dad’s a Peter. Personally, I’m thankful. Before he decided on the P theme, I was going to be called Tarquin.’ 

‘But why Ptolemy and Pandora?’ I asked. ‘Are your parents into the Classics?’ 

‘Actually, they are a bit’, he said. 

‘Piers isn’t very Egyptian’, I said. 

‘No’, said Ptolemy, ‘But his middle name is Rameses.’ 

I’m still unsure whether or not he was pulling my leg. 

 Ptol's website Hubcap Creatures is here.

Friday 8 October 2021

Washed Ashore - Art from ocean polluton

Washed Ashore's mission is to build and exhibit aesthetically powerful art to educate a global audience about plastic pollution in the ocean and waterways and to spark positive changes in consumer habits. Their artworks focus on plastic pollution education and its impact on sea life, in order to encourage recycling and promote awareness. They are made entirely of debris found washed up on our beaches.

Washed Ashore's volunteers have gathered over 60,000 pounds of debris. Beach clean ups and the sculptures created from the debris are designed to inspire change.

Their website is here.

Friday 1 October 2021

A few makers you should know about

Youtube boasts an ever-growing population of brilliant makers. I featured Studson Studios a few posts ago, but I thought today that I'd point you towards a few more quality makers who do amazing scratchbuilding and upcycling work.

First up there's Bobby Duke. His delivery may be strange and played for laughs but his work is stunning. He's not primarily a trash basher but he does occasionally indulge, as in this great video where he makes insects from plastic disposable cutlery.

Next up is Boylei's Hobby Time

Boylei builds some great dioramas and does great toy conversions. However, he also does some excellent scratchbuilding and is currently working on an imaginary alternative wild west populated with steampunk vehicles and monsters. It's fantastic work. Here's one of his buildings - a saloon bar with a difference.

Lastly (for today anyway), there's Bill Making Stuff.

Bill mixes scratchbuilding with sculpting and makes some fantastic stuff. Here's a video of his biggest scratchbuilt model to date.


More soon!