Frequently Asked Questions.
Below are the answers to some of the questions I am frequently asked.
Hopefully if you have a question, or were just wondering, the few examples below should help -
if not please contact me and I will be happy to answer your questions.
Where do you get the willow?
Most of the willow I use comes from Somerset but there are growers all over the country. I tend to use the growers in Somerset because I know the quality of the willow is usually good and they don’t often run out of willow!
Can you use weeping willow that is found in many gardens?
No. Well...you could but it is very difficult to condition this type of willow for use so it would need to be used fresh, it would very quickly become brittle and it would shrink as it dries creating gaps in the sculpture! You can however use lots of different materials in sculpture – clematis, vine, bramble, ivy and many materials you might find in hedgerows but all would succumb to the same issues as mentioned for ‘garden’ willow!
The willow used for basketry and sculpture weaving is of specific varieties that posses certain qualities that lend themselves to basketry and sculpture work. This could be because of their natural growth pattern – long, fine, tapered rods – their innate flexibility once prepared, the texture of the bark or the colour they retain once dried and then prepared for working.
The Latin name for willow is Salix and there are some 350 – 400 different varieties within the genus. Many of the varieties are used across the world for weaving but the most common used for basketry and sculptures are Salix purpurea, Salix viminalis and Salix triandra.
And of course you could use all sorts of other materials as well – in combination with the willow or on their own – rope, fabric, metal, wire, reeds and rushes, found objects, plastic carrier bags – the list is as endless as your imagination!
How do you prepare the willow prior to use?
Willow growers usually cut in early spring and then the willow is dried naturally before it is sold. If you try to bend a willow rod once it is dried it will snap so before it can be used for basket making or sculpture it needs to be soaked in water for one day per foot of its length. Once it is soaked it then needs to be mellowed or rested for a period of time to complete the conditioning and make it fully workable. The mellowing process involves wrapping the wet willow in a damp cloth and then a dry cloth to allow the willow to properly absorb the water and become flexible enough to bend.
How long have you been making willow sculpture?
I have been working with willow since 2007; I started with baskets and moved on to plant supports, obelisks and sculpture. I love making baskets and, being a full time gardener, I make obelisks and plant supports all the time but I really enjoy the creative and interpretive freedom that sculpture affords me.
How long do sculptures take to make?
A medium sized piece like a sheep, hare or pig takes around eight hours to make, a smaller one like a pheasant or a chicken can take three to four. Having said that if you add in the willow preparation time (soaking in water), the actual making time and then the time it takes for the spray oil treatment (for waterproofing) to dry off the whole process can take up to six to eight weeks – even longer in colder weather - so if you want something for Christmas you need to order no later than the end of October and preferably as far before that as you can!
Do you only use willow in your sculptures?
Some sculptors who work with willow will only use willow but I, like many others, sometimes use a metal frame or armature. I also sometimes use cable ties during construction which I remove once the weaving builds up and holds everything together – I often find that I don’t have enough hands so the odd cable tie really helps me out! Occasionally I might use small pieces of wire - for the same reasons as cable ties - unlike cable ties which are removed the wire will often be left inside the sculpture but wouldn’t be visible once the piece is finished.
I also occasionally use wire to persuade the willow to do what I need it to do – the tail on a pig or pheasant for example - and this would often remain on the sculpture and might be visible!
Do you use a metal frame?
For some sculptures I use a metal frame of sorts – usually for two legged things and the larger sculptures. I do this for several reasons, not least of which is that if a sculpture is supposed to stand upright I want it to do just that but I also like them to be safe and secure. A metal leg on a sculpture also keeps the willow off the ground, which prolongs its life immensely. None of the frame is visible once the sculpture is complete apart maybe from the bit that sticks in the ground to keep the sculpture standing safely upright.
The frame that I use is called an armature and it usually doesn’t bear any resemblance to the creature I am trying to create. The steel is there for support and safety as opposed to being a shape to follow!
Where does the inspiration come from?
Everywhere and anywhere! Obviously birds and animals are around us all the time and are fairly common subjects for garden art. I am currently working on some ecclesiastical figures inspired by a sculptor called Phillip Jackson which I hope to be bringing to shows and featuring on the website soon. I keep a list of ideas as they come to me so that I don’t forget them – they can hit me almost anywhere – walking on a beach, in the supermarket, watching TV – absolutely anywhere. If you see me in the street studying something chances are I am working out how I could make it in willow! Another great source of inspiration is 'Do you think you might be able to do a.......?' - I do love a challenge so if there's something you fancy having made on willow please contact me to discuss!
How do you get them to look like the animal they are supposed to look like?
I use reference images mostly sourced via stock images on the Internet. I do occasionally go and have a look at the real thing – just to get it clear in my head exactly what I am aiming for. Once I have a clear image of what I am trying to achieve I set to work creating a kind of skeleton in willow – using various shaped and sized hoops - on to which I then build the character in question. I use all sorts of devices to help me in this process because unfortunately I don’t have eight pairs of hands – string, cable ties, bulldog clips, wire – all very useful and mostly removed once the willow is secured.
How long do sculptures last?
It can depend on what the sculpture is, how much weather it is subject to and very specifically how wet it gets and how long it stays wet! If sculptures are cared for as per the instruction sheet supplied with them they should last at least five to seven years and possibly considerably longer. The texture and colour of the willow changes over time as it weathers but it should stay woven together and strong providing it is cared for correctly!
You mention spraying the sculptures - what do you spray them with and why?
The sculptures are made of willow which is effectively dead wood so I spray the sculptures with boiled linseed oil which effectively forms a skin on the surface of the willow and helps it to repel water which in return lengthens the life of the sculpture! All sculptures are supplied with a care sheet, which details how and when to spray. The care sheet also suggests other tips to prolong the life of the willow.