In 2011 I was working as a studio assistant at the Verocchio Arts Centre in Tuscany, run by Sculptor Nigel Konstam. Whilst I was there I met a woman who had been going there every summer for twenty years, she had received her art degree at Hornsey College of art, the predecessor of Central St. Martins, where I went to art school. So naturally we started to compare how we were being ‘taught’ art. After ten minutes of discussion she told me this story.
Note: I tried to contact her a few years ago about developing this idea into a workshop, but received no response. So I credit this workshop to her, in case she somehow reads it. The story is from memory so some of the details may not be accurate.
‘It was my first day at college; we were all gathered in one of the studios, waiting for our tutor. A man walked through the door, wearing a long leather coat. He had a confidence about him. I knew I had to be in his class.
“All of you wanting to do sculpture, this way.” We all followed him like ducklings following their mother into the sculpture studios, it was dusty and dirty with tools, materials and bits of sculpture everywhere. We all sat down and awaited our instructions. He said,
“Before you learn about sculpture you have to do some sculpture, you have to feel the materials and realise their potential as you will be working with them for years. In front of you there are some blocks of plaster of paris and some tools. With your eyes closed I want you to shape the plaster into a pebble that you would find on the beach.”
I sat for what felt like a very long time, feeling the pebble emerge in my hand, the plaster becoming what I imagined it to be in my mind.’
I invite you all to practice the technique explained in this story. Its slow process develops a meditative relationship with the material. Its erosion in your hand parallel to that of the effect strong winds or the sea have on rocks, glass and anything else that might fall into it, only smaller, in the palm of your hand.