The making of ‘Owl’ – Part 1

Creating sculpture can be a slow process. It takes time to move from inspiration to concept, then to preliminary sketches and selection of materials. The making is an art in itself.

I want to show you more of the making, partly because some people think that is the entire work rather than just part of the process. There’s always a seed of some kind, whether you draw upon real life, imagination or copy a previous work.

‘Owl’ is largely formed like our own owl. Behaviour and movement are part of the observation too, animating the work. I wanted to depict a natural behaviour of owls – the movement and stretching of a single wing.

I selected a piece of freshly felled Horse Chestnut for the sculpture for several reasons:

  • Firstly, this is a wonderful wood, full of movement and vibrancy.
  • Secondly, the grain contours simple forms, differentiating sharp curves from gentler ones. This adds depth, especially since I wanted to use a pale wood.
  • Thirdly, shaping the wood while ‘green’ speeds the first part of the process.

Susanna and I prefer to work in the open air – weather permitting – because we enjoy pleasant surroundings and because wood or stone dust are less of a problem outdoors.

We often use a combination of hand tools and power tools. There is a distinct skill to using each one and part of that knowledge is in understanding when a particular tool is most useful. For example, in shaping the ‘block’ I intended to use, the best tools were hand axe and hammer. The wood could be split along the grain, halving a section of timber (above), then refining it into a rough oblong.

I often roughly draw the form onto the material with chalk, but in this case I used a red marker as it worked better with the wetness of the green wood.

After sawing off some extraneous pieces, I began to ‘rough out’ the form with a rotary rasp on an electric angle grinder.

And that is where I had to stop for a while. The wood needed to dry, before the form could be given some detail.

At this point, patience is hard. The idea is there. Materials have been chosen. The shape is under way. You can see – in your mind’s eye – the finished work. Yet you’re aware that months must pass before you can continue.

And so we wait.

The Making of ‘Owl’ – Part 2